Mars Hill leaders may face racketeering charges

Mars Hill pastor Dave Bruskas, set to be named as a defendant.YouTube video screenshot

Elders and former elders at Mars Hill Church in Seattle may face a civil lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

Mars Hill announced that it was to cease operations in January following a string of revelations about the conduct of its leadership team, and that its satellite congregations would become independent churches if they were financially viable.

Allegations that money raised in donations for its Global Fund for church-planting work in Ethiopia and India were diverted to general purposes were denied by the church.

However, according to Warren Throckmorton, who has reported extensively on developments at the church in recent years, former deacon Rob Smith and Seattle attorney Brian Fahling are preparing to launch a lawsuit naming former pastor Mark Driscoll, Sutton Turner, current teaching pastor David Bruskas and Jamie Munson as defendants.

As well as the church diverting funds from their proper use, the suit will also say that the general fund was used to rig the New York Times best-seller list to promote a book by Driscoll for his personal benefit.

Smith has been raising funds for a legal action against Mars Hill. On the fundraising website he has called for a halt to the dissolution of the church pending the resolution of the issues, saying: "Because of the abuse of both people and money, it is essential that the dissolution of the church be delayed until the abuse can be clearly articulated by the church leadership, and repentance and restitution be made.

"At this point, only a just legal action will stop the dissolution of the church. A legal team has been hired and the delay of the dissolution will be sought so that true repentance and restitution can occur."

Mars Hill said that it had contacted donors to the Global Fund and asked them if they wished to redirect their gifts specifically to church-planting work in Ethiopia and India. It said: "Additionally, in 2015 we expect to make a final donation to Vision Nationals in India, and New Covenant Foundation in Ethiopia, prior to distributing net assets to the new independent churches, and some of the new local churches hope to continue the legacy of supporting these missions."

Throckmorton said: "From my vantage point, it would be to the advantage of Ethiopian and Indian pastors if the dissolution of the church could be stalled to allow Mars Hill more time to disclose how much money should go to them. The Global Fund brought in millions and an investigation would help clarify how much money should be funneled to those who were used to raise the funds which ultimately were used to support Mars Hill's expansion."

Throckmorton said that Mars Hill had been alerted to the pending lawsuit and that those bringing it hoped that talks might avert the action.