The music critic Chris Estey, who used to attend Mars Hill in the early days, remembers the moment he started drifting away from the church. He was walking out of one especially long-winded service by Driscoll and joking to a friend: “Hey, that guy needs an editor!” He says he was “accosted” by other churchgoers: “They were saying, ‘How dare you! He has vision and you have no idea!’ I kinda started separating then. That was the first time I’d had that culty feeling.”
“I began to question their authority,” Lance says, “and their ability to make good decisions.“
In the midst of this, Lance had begun a long-distance relationship with a young woman in Colorado. Lance says that his pastor instructed him to end the relationship, even though their relationship was not yet physical and nothing improper had happened. Lance balked, but his pastor insisted: “I’m the authority over you,” the pastor said, according to Lance. “You agreed when you became a member that I am your authority, and you have to obey us.” Lance was torn—on one hand, he had signed that membership contract.
On the other hand, this was ridiculous.
In a final, tense meeting, Lance got fed up with the leadership’s harping about submission and authority. “How is this not a Jim Jones theology?” Lance remembers asking. “We don’t even think you were a Christian to begin with,” the pastor retorted, according to Lance, and left the room. The church told him to move out and, if he wouldn’t submit to church demands, to cut off any communication with members of Mars Hill.
Lance quit the church.
But the church didn’t quit him. Not only was he barred from speaking with his now-former friends at the church, Lance says his pastor threatened to contact any future church that he might attend. And then Lance’s pastor took the extra step of calling the father of Lance’s girlfriend in Colorado. “They were warning him how dangerous I was,” Lance says. “That I was on a path of destruction that could result in the death of his daughter.”
Lance calls the church culture “manipulative” and says, “I don’t want this to happen to other people… It’s how people wound up drinking Kool-Aid.” He adds, “I still love Jesus. But I can continue my spiritual walk just fine at a different church… Mars Hill seems crazy to me now.“
The woman who runs the blog is an on-fire-for-the-Lord type who tried, with her husband, to join one of Mars Hill’s new spin-off churches. They were frustrated by what they saw as demagoguery and poor leadership by the young, inexperienced men running the community groups: “EVERYTHING,” she writes, “always comes back to DOCTRINE, not JESUS.” Eventually, the couple left. Even though they had not become full-blown members, their community-group leader demanded an explanation from the husband anyway. When the husband said, in essence, it’s none of your business, he says the group leader questioned his faith in Jesus and ability to lead his family, and accused the couple of stirring up division (a common charge from Mars Hill). “We have never again heard from any of our friends from that group,” his wife writes.
“There were tons of people asking a bunch of questions.” Driscoll answered questioners in a sermon: “Some adults are just always questioning… these are people with critical spirits. These are people that if you answer their question, they’ve got 25 more questions, and they’ll have questions forever. And it’s not that they have questions, it’s that they’re sinning through questioning. The heart is not good.”
All church memberships were suspended, Wisniew says, and people were encouraged to reapply under the new organizational structure, with new requirements—or quietly leave.
-Brendan Kiley, “Church or Cult? The Control-Freaky Ways of Mars Hill Church
Mark Driscoll is the former pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. At its peak, the church had more than a dozen locations and in excess of 15,000 weekly attenders. Driscoll was buddies with Neo-Calvinist hot-shots John Piper, Mark Dever and C.J. Mahaney. But in 2014, Mark Driscoll’s little fiefdom came to a screeching halt. He was accused of plagiarizing content in his books, spending more than $200,000 in ministry money for personal gain, being a potty mouthed preacher and bullying staff members. While Driscoll had already become known for making misogynistic and homophobic comments, the 2014 controversies were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Following his resignation, Mars Hill Church soon shut down.
Common Christians; pew-sitters; giving-units; or rock-throwing peasants as I prefer to be labeled, have seen through Mark Driscoll for years. We knew him to be a charlatan and have repeatedly called for Christian celebrities such as those listed above to repudiate Mark Driscoll. Our pleas fell on deaf ears. Given the choice of doing the right thing or supporting a charlatan who “makes bank” the Christian celebrities choose the cash every time. Do you doubt me? Talk to Christian radio talk show host Janet Mefferd. She was the one who originally confronted Mark Driscoll on his plagiarism. As a result she faced numerous vitriolic attacks by the “respectable” Christian celebrities. Mefferd’s charges of plagiarism were factual and well-documented. They proved to be the beginning of the end for Driscoll. To my knowledge not one of the Christian celebrities has ever apologized to Janet Mefferd for the offensive way they treated her in defense of their buddy Mark Driscoll.
After Driscoll became toxic he was no longer useful as a cash-cow to the manly men in the Neo-Calvinist world. Ethical icons that they are, they dropped him like a hot potato.
Meanwhile, Driscoll, accustomed to the luxurious lifestyle that a $564,615 salary package (not counting conference appearance fees and book royalties) allows one to live, suddenly found himself unemployed. With his income stream drying up Driscoll quickly liquidated his $650,000 home and surveyed his prospects for future employment. It didn’t take Driscoll long to realize that his only hope of maintaining his wealthy lifestyle would be to remain in the religion business where his skill at bilking mindless Christians out of their hard-earned cash was unmatched. So the abrasive preacher dropped off the radar screen just long enough to appear repentant, yet not long enough for the Christian faithful to forget his name. No longer welcomed by the Neo-Calvinist crowd, Driscoll soon resurfaced among a different group of preachers. His demeanor changed to that of a humble, repentant man and the new celebrity preachers bought the act.
Driscoll worked hard at assembling a list of individuals that would endorse him and thereby lend credibility to his claim that he had repented for his past acts and was now ready and qualified to be pastor of a new church. Here is his list:
Did you notice the endorsement by Perry Noble? A preacher similar to Driscoll in his demeanor, it was announced on July 10, 2016 Noble had been fired from his position due to his ongoing addiction to alcohol. A fitting character reference for Mark Driscoll, in my opinion. I imagine that Noble will rehab his image and will be looking for Driscoll to return the favor. Check back next summer.
So Driscoll, with endorsements in hand, set about surveying the country to determine a location most in need of the gospel message. After intense
prayer market studies, Driscoll determined that Scottsdale, AZ was the place. Undoubtedly it was just a coincidence that Scottsdale is also one of the wealthiest suburbs of Phoenix.
So Mark Driscoll, not unlike the Mormon leader Brigham Young, left Seattle for Scottsdale, hoping to find a city more receptive to his message. Driscoll held his first “gathering” for those interested in exploring the possibility of joining in his new church plant in March of 2016. With him he brought long time Mars Hill pastors Brandon Andersen and Andy Girton, along with their families.
Andersen and Girton’s motives for accompanying Driscoll from Seattle to Scottsdale deserve scrutiny. Undoubtedly intelligent men, the duo are intimately acquainted with all the sordid details of Driscoll’s Mars Hill debacle in Seattle. Yet they have chosen to pack up and leave friends, family and familiar surroundings in Seattle. Surely they realize Driscoll is a charlatan. It’s hard for me to believe Driscoll has charmed them to the point that they believe Driscoll is a godly leader who has stumbled but repented and now is ready and qualified to lead a new church. More likely, in my opinion, is that these men made a handsome salary in Seattle and were promised even greater rewards by Driscoll if they would help him launch his new church in Scottsdale. It would appear these men have something to hide. As the Seattle Times reporter Nina Shapiro reported Driscoll, Andersen and Girton all neglected to mention in their bio’s that they were former pastors at Mars Hill:
In a folksy video on the site, which begins with a “howdy” from Driscoll, the pastor said he and his wife, Grace, sitting by his side, were “hoping, trusting, praying, planning and also a little” — he made a jokey grimace — “worrying about planting a church here.”
Driscoll also noted that he was “healin’ up” in his new home. And his bio on the site refers to the Driscolls recently facing “the most challenging year of their lives,” one that prompted the pastor to take a year off.
But aside from those remarks, there’s no reference to Driscoll’s troubled and controversial history at Mars Hill. Indeed, there’s no direct mention at all of the megachurch he presided over for 18 years in Seattle, until snowballing allegations of plagiarism, emotional abusiveness and misogyny led him to resign in October 2014.
“It’s the elephant in the room,” said Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Pennsylvania’s Grove City College who has diligently chronicled the Mars Hill saga on the Christian website Patheos.
The absence is all the more strange because Trinity’s website lists two other former Mars Hills’ staffers, Andy Girton and Brandon Anderson, as associate pastors of the new church. Their bios also neglect to say where, exactly, they once worked.
Girton appears to be computer savvy – a guy who maintains Driscoll’s presence on the Web and makes flashy videos. Andersen specializes in mobilizing volunteer workers to carry out the much needed work of renovation in the church they have recently purchased. (See here and here.)
As I consider Mark Driscoll to be one of the biggest scam artists in the organized religion business, I have followed him with interest for the past several years, occasionally writing a blog post about him. It had come to my attention that a lady named Deana Holmes has been faithfully picketing Driscoll’s start-up church nearly every week since its inception. She takes her stand on the public sidewalk in front of the church every Sunday morning, holding up signs in an attempt to warn the new church-goers of the spiritually abusive past of Mark Driscoll.
I made plans to join with her in picketing for one Sunday while back in Arizona this summer. July 3rd was the day that I was able to join Deana. It turns out that this was also the day that assistant pastor Brandon Andersen announced to the assembled faithful, numbering about 100, that they had just purchased the building they were meeting in and had been leasing. The price was not announced, but it is widely speculated that it was several millions of dollars. (The assessed tax value is $21 million but Andersen seemed to indicate they paid less than this.)
(Editor’s update: Today is November 16, 2016. Deana Holmes continues to faithfully show up every week in front of Mark Driscoll’s church conducting her informational picketting. It has come to my attention that on Sunday, November 13, Mark Driscoll attempted to intimidate Deana Holmes by hiring an off-duty police officer to park right next to the sidewalk where Deana pickets, once again confirming the fact that Driscoll is fundamentally a bully. Driscoll has never once spoken with Deana.)
The curious among us wonder how a church of 100 people can support three pastors and their families, and then spring for millions of dollars to buy the church. Andersen did announce that the church was now theirs, they had a mortgage to pay and they planned on being there for many years. The whole thing seems shady to me, but hey, I am no financial expert. I will wait for the facts to eventually be revealed. (Of course there is the small matter of a lawsuit filed against Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner, alleging, among other things, that $30 million in tithes from Mars Hill are missing.) Note: the lawsuit appears to be losing steam due to lack of money.
The church service started at 0930, so I proceeded inside to observe. Deana has no interest in ever attending the service, so I left her picketing outside. I sat in the back row, with nobody else seated anywhere near me. Immediately a man who looked like a character out of Duck Dynasty came over and sat one row in front of me and then turned around and attempted to make conversation with me. I answered his questions politely, but kept my answers as short as possible. It was readily apparent that this guy was a “handler.” They had obviously seen me picketing in front of their church and were worried about my presence. His family sat on the other side of the church and at one point his young daughter came over to him and he instructed her to return to where his wife was seated. Two to three other guys stood behind me for the entire service. I later realized that two of the three were assistant pastors Andersen and Girton.
Andersen started the service by making announcements up front. Of course the big announcement was about the purchase of the church. He then announced that Mark Driscoll and his family were on vacation that week, so there would be a guest speaker. That was the cue to run a video of Driscoll on the big screen up front announcing Darien Bennett, a pastor from the mega Scottsdale Bible Church, would be filling in for him. It was reassuring to hear that Mark Driscoll, who had been working hard for the past four months, was able to get away for a well deserved vacation. It was also nice to know that there was no additional stress placed upon assistant pastors Andersen or Girton to have to prepare a sermon in Driscoll’s absence.
As Andersen was making his announcements I turned on the recorder I have on my I-phone and placed the phone, face up, on the chair next to me. I was able to record for a mere 29 seconds before Andersen approached me and told me they did not allow recording or photos to be taken inside of their church. I responded by asking him: “Why, do you have something to hide?” He said no, they just like to keep it among their “family.” Of course they have no family to speak of, as there are no members, the church has not even officially launched, and those in attendance are merely the curious who have yet to determine whether they want to join “the family.” Andersen then asked me if I had a problem with his policy and I stated that I did not, I had a pen and notebook and would take copious notes.
Below you can listen to my short recording.
“Secrecy is the freedom tyrants dream of.”
As I mentioned on my Twitter account, I was left with a distinct feeling of being in the midst of a cult.
I must admit I was disappointed that Mark Driscoll was not in attendance. I had wanted to ask him some rather uncomfortable questions. I doubt I would have gotten any answers, but it never hurts to remind his “type” that people are watching him.
The church service was reallly no church service, and is actually billed as a bible study. There were the preliminary announcements, then Darien Bennett spoke for nearly an hour and this was followed by taking up an offering and a few more announcements requesting volunteers to teach Sunday school as well as do renovation work on the church building. They would be tearing up the old carpet that week and installing new carpet in preparation for the official church launch on August 7th. Again, it must be fantastic as a church to have such a great cash flow that you can afford new carpet! There was no music of any kind and the meeting was promptly adjourned.
Curious to me was the fact that Brandon Andersen announced that the church would immediately begin with two services, one at 0900 and the second one at 1045. I read that the church can seat 1,400 people. (Driscoll just announced in the video above that they would configure the building to seat 850.) There were about 100 in attendance. Why two services? It must be a business strategy.
Update: Josh Green, reporter for Seattle news King 5 was in Phoenix on August 7th to report on the official opening of Driscoll’s church. Driscoll, Girton and Andersen refused to speak with Green. King 5 reporter Josh Green was also told to stay off the property. You can view Green’s King 5 story here or listen to story below.
Bennett’s hour long oratory was mediocre at best. I did some research on the guy and discovered he is an assistant pastor in charge of men’s ministry at Scottsdale Bible Church. He seems like a one-trick pony. His teaching was long on his glory days of playing linebacker in college football and short on much biblical teaching. Below is a one minute video. Watch it and you will see his recurrent sports jock theme. You will also take away about as much in the one minute as I got in an hour.
Scottsdale Bible Church is a mega-church, multiple campus monstrosity in the Phoenix area. Perhaps it’s best known member is Wayne Grudem. Grudem has endorsed some of Driscoll’s books in the past, including his controversial book on marriage. Originally Grudem was on Driscoll’s list as one of the individuals praying for Driscoll and his new church, but he must have gotten word from somebody that he needed to get off that list, so his name has been removed. (Pity that he doesn’t remove himself from the list of those still backing C.J. Mahaney.)
I wrote the following email to pastor Darien Bennett. To date I have not received a response.
Dear Pastor Bennett,My name is Todd Wilhelm and I live in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I author a blog called thouarttheman.org in which I write mainly on spiritual abuse in American Evangelical churches. On July 3, 2016 I attended The Trinity Church service in Scottsdale, AZ. My hope was to observe the church service and ask Mark Driscoll some questions. As you filled in for Mark Driscoll Sunday the 3rd, you obviously know he wasn’t there. Nonetheless, I still plan on writing about my experience and have a few questions for you which I hope you can find the time to answer.First, how long have you known Mark Driscoll? Second, was Scottsdale Bible Church staff aware that you were speaking at Mark Driscoll’s church? Third, does Scottsdale Bible Church or any of its pastors endorse Mark Driscoll’s new church or his being the senior pastor of the church?Thanks in advance for your help in this matter.Kind Regards,Todd Wilhelm
As I left the church you can see pastor Andy Girton in the door, keeping his eye on me to the very end! At I mentioned elsewhere, it is a sad commentary on American Evangelicalism when you consider there are one hundred people willing to attend a church pastored by Mark Driscoll.
“A Tale of Two Pastors: Mark Driscoll and A (Medieval) New Year’s Proposal for the 2017 Church” (Link) –“What if the 2017 church took a page from the medieval church and took pastoral accountability seriously?”
“Why is the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) Silent on Larry Osborne’s Strong Support for Mark Driscoll and The Trinity Church? Does the EFCA Also Believe Women are Penis Homes?” (Link)