Mark Driscoll and his chief elder Sutton Turner demonstrated a "pattern of racketeering activity" in how they ran the now-closed Mars Hill Church (MHC), according to a lawsuit filed against them yesterday.
Mars Hill, based in Seattle and formerly one of the largest US megachurches, was hit by waves of scandal leading to its closure at the end of 2014. Its pastor Mark Driscoll was found to have treated staff in a bullying and domineering fashion and to have made inappropriate social media posts. He was also accused of plagiarising parts of his books from other writers. In addition, the church was found to have artificially boosted the sales of Mark and Grace Driscoll's book on marriage in order to improve its position in the New York Times bestseller list, and is alleged to have used funds donated for missionary work in India and Ethiopia for other causes.
Driscoll started a new church in Phoenix, Arizona, a month ago with backing from prominent evangelical leaders including Robert Morris and Jimmy Evans, two Texas megachurch pastors.
Yesterday's suit was filed under Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations [RICO] laws designed to tackle racketeering. According to the lawsuit filed on behalf of plaintiffs Brian and Connie Jacobsen and Ryan and Arica Kildea, Driscoll and Turner "engaged in a continuing pattern of racketeering activity by soliciting, through the internet and the mail, contributions for designated purposes, and then fraudulently used significant portions of those designated contributions for other, unauthorized purposes".
The suit alleges that this was "a pattern of racketeering activity that extended through a myriad of [sic] MHC projects, including the Global Fund, the Campus Fund, the Jesus Festival, and the promotion of Driscoll's book Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together." It says the behaviour involved "corrupting the very mission Plaintiffs and other donors believed they were supporting".
It also names the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and its president Dan Busby as co-conspirators, saying they conspired to deceive donors by saying MCH met its criteria when they knew it did not.
The plaintiff's attorney, Brian Fahling, said: "Driscoll and Turner engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity so deeply embedded, pervasive and continuous, that it was effectively institutionalized as a business practice."