A campaign aiming to persuade Hillsong to rescind its decision to have the disgraced former pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle at its Europe conference has been launched with an online petition.
Mark Driscoll resigned from the church he founded last year, following a string of revelations about his leadership style, which was said to be bullying and coercive. The church, which had grown to be one of the largest congregations in the US, folded at the end of last year, with its different campuses either closing, merging or becoming independent. It is facing a possible racketeering lawsuit arising from allegations that it misused funds given for church-planting work.
Hillsong's invitation to Driscoll to take part in its conference at London's O2 Arena (July 22-24) pre-dated his resignation from Mars Hill, and he will be interviewed by Hillsong founder Brian Houston rather than delivering a platform speech.
However, the petition says that allowing the invitation to stand is "both disappointing and of great concern to many across the UK and internationally".
It refers to the allegations of abusive behaviour including plagiarism in books by Driscoll, unethical actions taken to ensure a book by him and his wife Grace appeared on a list of best-selling books, and controlling and manipulative behaviour. It also refers to anonymous posts later found to have been written by Driscoll saying Americans were living in a "pussified nation" with "men being raised by bitter penis envying burned feministed single mothers".
"Although the statements are 14 years old, his more recent messages about 'feminised men' and women's roles being solely within the home suggest his views have not changed, although his language may have," the petition states. "Mark Driscoll has apologised for his communications in 2000, but his apology does not extend to the views he expressed or his ongoing negative attitudes towards women, gender non-conforming men and gay people."
While it says that people can be restored and forgiven, the petition says that Driscoll has not repented of the damage he has done to many former Mars Hill members and leaders. "It has been only six months since Mark Driscoll resigned and to give him such a platform as the O2 arena does not represent the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness, but that of cheap grace," it says. Hillsong is "both endorsing and legitimising Mark's messages about women and ignoring the concerns being repeated by many across the US and UK about his abusive behaviour, which has been corroborated by ex-members and ex-leaders of Mars Hill Church".
Gender justice campaigner Natalie Collins, one of those behind the petition, told Christian Today that she had tried repeatedly to contact Hillsong with her concerns, without receiving a response. She said: "Because the publicity has not been around sexual sins, it's as if it doesn't matter. Sexual sin is a no-no, but with others it lets people say he hasn't done anything seriously wrong."
She added: "The real question is about the extent of his repentance. He has never acknowledged the hurt he has caused to ex-Mars Hill members and leaders.
"Only six months later, he shouldn't be accepting an invitation to the biggest platform in Europe. It's too soon. He should be rejecting those platforms. We aren't saying he is forever disqualified from ministry, but this is too much, too soon.
"We aren't seeing him reject the privilege and power he has abused."
Hillsong was asked to comment for this story but did not immediately respond.