US megachurch Mars Hill has announced the closure of three of its campuses due to financial problems, a day before further offensive rants by lead pastor Mark Driscoll were discovered.
Mars Hill Church Phoenix will hold its last service at the end of this month, while the Downtown Seattle and U-District campuses in Washington will be consolidated with Mars Hill Church Ballard in October.
A statement posted by Dave Bruskas, an executive elder at Mars Hill, on the church's website admits that its Huntington Beach plant is "in jeopardy" unless donations increase.
Bruskas also reveals that Mars Hill has "ceased any further development of a Los Angeles church plant" in light of financial difficulties.
The church has faced much scrutiny in recent months regarding its leadership, and at least four pastors have recently stepped down from their positions.
Mark Driscoll announced last month that he is stepping down from ministry for six weeks while a number of allegations levelled against him are investigated.
The latest church closure announcement is therefore unlikely to have come as a surprise. A news bulletin released by Mars Hill two weeks ago attributes a significant drop in tithing to the "negative media attention surrounding our church".
"It is your continued support that is needed now more than ever. While we were able to end the fiscal year strong, giving and attendance have declined significantly since January. Specifically, we have seen a substantial decrease in tithes and offerings these past two months," the bulletin reads.
"We now find ourselves in a tougher financial position than we expected."
An updated statement posted yesterday then appeared to blame the congregation for the difficulties:
"Church budgeting is really a simple process in one respect: we are able to provide the level of staff and ministry programs that those who attend our church provide the resources for. In other words, it is ultimately our people, not our leaders, who determine how much 'church' we are able to provide."
Two hours after the statement was posted, however, a disclaimer was added, which noted that the original post "failed to acknowledge that the reason for much of the decrease in attendance and giving falls to us, the leadership of Mars Hill.
"We shoulder the responsibility for our past sins and mistakes - which has caused many to leave."
Patheos blogger Warren Throckmorton, who has been deeply critical of Mars Hill, has already questioned the legitimacy of this claim, amid concerns about the long-term future of the church.
"Can it be trusted? Clearly, each reader will have to decide what this is about and what shouldering the responsibility would look like," he writes.
Another Patheos Blogger, Libby Anne, linked to shocking comments made by Driscoll in 2001 in a post published yesterday.
It was revealed in July that the pastor 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."
Libby Anne's post reveals another of Driscoll's angry tirades – this time in which he appears to refer to women as "penis homes" for men.
"The first thing to know about your penis is, that despite the way it may see, it is not your penis. Ultimately, God created you and it is his penis. You are simply borrowing it for a while," Driscoll wrote under the name William Wallace II.
"While His penis is on loan you must admit that it is sort of just hanging out there very lonely as if it needed a home, sort of like a man wondering the streets looking for a house to live in. Knowing that His penis would need a home, God created a woman to be your wife and when you marry her and look down you will notice that your wife is shaped differently than you and makes a very nice home."
Driscoll goes on to equate sleeping with a woman other than your wife to "breaking into another man's home".
With regards to homosexuality, he says simply: "what a homeless man does not need is another man without a home."
"Notice that all women are portrayed as another man's penis home, whether or not they are married...every woman is some man's future wife, and that man owns her body even before they meet," Libby Anne writes.
"The claim that women are uplifted and honored as caregivers and nurturers in the home also rings hollow in this context...In a sense, Driscoll's downfall was only a matter of time."