Mark Driscoll dropped from Hillsong Conferences

Controversial ex-Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll will not speak at this years Hillsong Conferences in Sydney or London, the church has confirmed.

In a statement released online, senior pastor of Hillsong Brian Houston said: "After personal interaction with Mark Driscoll today, we have agreed that he will no longer be coming to Australia or the UK to attend Hillsong Conference.

"It is my hope that Mark and I will be able to speak in person in the coming weeks to discuss some of the issues that have been raised, what – if anything – he has learned, and for me to understand better how he is progressing in both his personal and professional life."

Hillsong came under fire from critics after it transpired that Driscoll would be interviewed at their summer conferences, despite resigning from his Seattle megachurch after being found "guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner".

Driscoll has long been a controversial figure. He was embroiled in a number of scandals last year, including allegations of plagiarism and manipulating sales figures by paying a company to bulk-order his book. His leadership style garnered particular criticism, and Mars Hill was accused of fostering a culture of bullying and fear.

Some of Driscoll's more contentious remarks include his referring to women as "penis homes" for men. He taught conservatively on gender roles, and it was revealed in July last year that he had posted a series of condemning messages online under a pseudonym, in which he blasted the majority of Christian men for being "Promise Keeping homoerotic worship loving mama's boy sensitive emasculated neutered exact male replica evangellyfish."

A petition was therefore launched calling on Hillsong to remove Driscoll from their conferences, which has been signed by over 3,000 people. Initiated by gender justice specialist Natalie Collins, it said that Driscoll's appearance would be "disappointing and of great concern to many across the UK and internationally."

A Hillsong spokesperson previously said that the church was aware of the petition, but was standing by its decision to host Driscoll. "The whole point of keeping Mark (and Grace) Driscoll on the conference program is so Brian Houston can interview them about events of the past year," Mark DeMoss told blogger Warren Throckmorton.

"I don't think that is 'cheap grace,' but rather, a thoughtful approach to challenging circumstances. I think it would be fair for the petitioners to judge this appearance after it takes place, but advance judgment seems premature and a bit unfair, in my view."

Collins told Christian Today that she is delighted with the reversal of this decision. "It is so important that the church and its leaders take seriously power misuse," she said.

"The well documented ways in which Mark Driscoll has hurt so many and his ongoing lack of repentance and use of the platform to declare himself the victim must be challenged.

"Let us hope that Hillsong's decision will encourage the many who have been hurt by Mark Driscoll and other leaders in church to know that their pain has been heard."

Despite taking Driscoll off the bill this summer, Houston has said he will "not write off Mark as a person simply because of the things that people have said about him, a small minority of people signing a petition or statements he has made many years ago for which he has since repeatedly apologised."

Jesus' teaching, Houston pointed out, are "based on love and forgiveness". He attributed the reversal to not wanting to cause "unnecessary distractions" during the conference.

"It was clear to me that Mark's attendance had the potential to divert attention from the real purpose of Hillsong Conference, which is to see people leave encouraged in their own spiritual journey," Houston said.

"Clearly Mark has held some views and made some statements that cannot be defended. One or two of the more outrageous things he is purported to have said, I have heard for the first time through the media exposure over the past week."