Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. -Martin Luther King, Jr.
I apologize that we have not gotten to the topic of spiritual abuse resources. We will get to them next week. (Promises, promises). The last two days we have focused on legal ways to leave your church. especially if you have signed a membership covenant. We said that the threat of legal action might need to be employed and this raises the question of the biblical injunction against lawsuits. Kind of sad, isn't it?
1 Corinthian 6:1-6 (ESV)
When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, …
Here is why I believe that you have the right to use the legal system in a church matter. Your church has already started the process! Huh? Most membership covenants have been thoroughly vetted by attorneys. in other words, the church has already sought legal advice. Here is what makes it worse. They do not tell the members that they are signing a document which has legal implications.
Why? Can you imagine this scenario. Pastor "Hey Susie, you need to sign this covenant to show your commitment to our fellowship. I need to tell you that this document has been thoroughly vetted and approved by our church attorney and may have some legal ramifications should you decide to take legal action against the church. But don't worry, just sign it."
Most people would hesitate, and rightfully so, before signing such a document. Instead, the church presents it as a "covenant." It sounds really nice, doesn't it? God makes covenants all the time, doesn't He. Except, He is God and the church leadership is made up of men who are prone to sin, just like the rest of us.
I find this practice DECEPTIVE on the part of church. I believe that any open and honest church would advise its prospective membership of the potential legal ramifications in signing such a document. In fact, this is a good test of the church you are joining. See if they advise you of the lawyers lurking in the background. If they do not, they have failed their first test of honor.
Ken Sande is the head of Peacemakers Ministries. Did you know that all participants in the peacemaking process must sign non-disclosure agreements? "So what", you say? Do you know that they are signing a form drawn up by a lawyer? Yes, Sande is a lawyer. These nice little formalities could be used to limit the freedom of the participants if the process is not fair or takes a bad turn. Everyone who participates in this process should be informed that it is their right to protect themselves. They should to encouraged to consult with their own attorney prior to signing any of these forms.
We believe that it is high time for churches and para-church organizations to own up to this dirty little secret. Churches already have gone the legal road and every church member has the right to respond in a legal manner.
There is an important line in these verses. It states: "Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers?" From my view in the "cheap seats, I see far too many pastors today who take the authoritarian route in their churches. There seems to be a fallacy running around that if you complete your M Div at a Calvinista seminary and you do a one year internship at one of the NeoCalvinist churches, you are now "The Shepherd". Not so gosh darn fast!
Dictionary.com defines wise as "having the power of discerning and judging properly as to what is true or right; possessing discernment, judgment, or discretion." In these stories about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill, I see precious little wisdom. So the answer to the Apostle's question is a resounding, "No!' And this is one more reason why you should never give up your right to legal recourse.
Now, our Founding Fathers were wise. They knew our country was populated by people fleeing from the discriminatory religious systems of Europe. They knew that mere men have the propensity to sin and hurt the faithful. They built in a legal system to give just recourse and equal access so that those who are abused by unjust men, including religious leaders, had a voice. Never, ever diminish or downplay that right. Only tyrants win when the legal system is ignored.
Today we have a testimony by a man willing to go on record with his name. His story was told, in part, in the NY Times and he was interviewed by Molly Worthen. Mars HIll and Mark Driscoll proclaim that they are a church which answers the questions of today's young generation. But, it seems to us, that you better ask the right questions or you will be in BIG TROUBLE. Mark Driscoll jumps up and down, saying all sorts of things to gain the attention of the people. But, when he gets that attention, he whines like a stuck pig when it isn't the attention that he thinks he deserves. Well, he got our attention we are are not impressed.
Please pat attention to the issue surrounding "anonymous" comments at Mars Hill.
The Story of Kevin Potts:
After reading your article on the blog regarding Andrew, and seeing Bent Meyer's response, I thought I would tell my own story. I left in 2008 from Mars Hill Church.
Their culture of abuse is frightening in its implications. Everything said on your blog, on Matthew Paul Turner's site, and on the Stranger is alarmingly accurate: the members are not encouraged to stand up to the leadership when it's acting with wrong motivations or wrong actions, they are told to remain quiet and to trust the leadership. There is nobody to hold the leadership accountable to, and the church's authority structure is such that the only people to go to if you have an issue with one or more of its pastors is, unsurprisingly, another pastor. I can't imagine this being an environment, for anyone who takes a few moments to consider its implications, where anyone would feel safe expressing concerns about the leadership, let alone about Mark Driscoll.
For myself, my story is perhaps one of their earlier examples. At the time, I had been a member for nearly 8 years, having started at Mars Hill in 2000 and becoming a member just two months later with a much less rigorous membership process (which amounted to a quick 2-hour lesson from Driscoll on church leadership's structure, an indication of what being a member meant, handing out membership covenants to those attending, and letting us decide on our own if we wanted to become members). I had been having misgivings about the growth of the church and the increasing separation between the leadership and the congregation, but had largely kept this to myself.
Driscoll, in 2008, was preparing a sermon series entitled "Ask Anything", the intent being to set up a website where questions could be posted and voted on, with the top 5 questions (those that received the most votes) being the ones that Mark would build his preaching series on. Anonymous comments were allowed due to the software that was being used, and people used this to start bringing up questions about the firing of Paul Petry and probation of Bent Meyer that they felt they couldn't ask in the church itself, since they had been directly instructed by (then) pastor "A," in an open letter to the members via the password-protected members' website (The City hadn't yet come into being, though it was close at the time), to remain quiet on the issue while the leadership worked to produce a unified document explaining their actions.
I made one comment on this site under the pseudonym of Kel, and had no further comments published. At the time, one person was using the title of "Concerned" in the comments, and was raising a bit more of a stink, though with some thoughtful and probing questions.
Around this time, I decided to transition away from the main Ballard campus over to the then-titled Wedgwood Campus, as it was geographically closer to where I lived (the campus became the Lake City Campus, which is now closed; its staff were largely absorbed into the Shoreline campus). I was serving as a stage manager in the morning for the Ballard campus, and had an exit interview with the head of the production department, "V". In this exit interview, a discussion of my discomfort with how the Petry/Meyer issue had been handled arose. I made a statement of "I have no interest in causing division. It would be easy to do so with how well connected I am in the church, but I have no interest in doing so."
This was communicated to senior leadership as "Kevin Potts indicated he's going to cause division in the church."
Shortly after that, I received an e-mail from the a person in charge of technology (and creator of The City. He asked me point-black if I was "Concerned", the poster raising issues on the Ask Anything site. I indicated to him directly that I wasn't. A couple of days later he responded and indicated he thought I was, in fact, "Concerned", as that individual was making statements that echoed my exit interview with V, as well as a statement I had made on the members' site in response to one member indicating it would be a shame if the leadership had to start tracking IP addresses between member posts and the anonymous comments on Ask Anything in order to figure out who were random posters and who were disgruntled members hiding behind pseudonyms. I indicated this wasn't a course that was wise to take, as there were people upset with the leadership, and such an action wouldn't engender the trust the leadership needed to get Mars Hill through the trying situation at the time.
This, according to Pastor V, was me displaying an "unhealthy distrust for the leadership" at Mars Hill (eerily echoing the accusations levied against Paul Petry and Bent Meyer), and it was indicated that my membership was being put on suspension pending a meeting, as three elders had apparently concluded I was "in sin" (without ever having spoken to me first to hear my side of the story).
After much prayer and consideration, I chose to conclude my membership at Mars Hill Church. I sent an e-mail to Pastor V, as well as the then-head pastor of the campus I was transferring to, Pastor X. No "discipline contracts" were offered to me, as I don't think they'd have thought of something like that at the time. Some momentary communiques occurred between me and PastorZ(who is now a Mars Hill pastor at an out of state campus ) shortly after both the Stranger and the Seattle Times had gotten ahold of me, as my name was on a list someone had circulated to those papers as people of interest to speak with regarding the truth, as we understood it, behind Paul and Bent's dismissals.
When I had spoken with Jonah Spangenthal-Lee from the Stranger, and Janet Tu from the Seattle Times, I had indicated in both instances that I didn't want my name used in their articles. I was still, at the time, living in a house owned by Mark Driscoll in Montlake, and didn't want my living situation jeopardized, as I didn't trust Mark or his assistant to do the right thing in light of this. In both discussions with the reporters, I only confirmed what they already knew, referring them to Mars Hill Church and Bent Meyer and Paul Petry for further discussion. "Y" eventually called me to find out if I was, in fact, the person who had spoken with the Stranger and the Seattle Times (and I doubt I was the only one who had), and I confirmed it for him, at which point he proceeded to lay a guilt trip on me, indicating I needed to go to the church and ask the forgiveness of the people I had harmed in talking with The Stranger (who he was sure to note to me "was no friend of Mars Hill, and no friend of Christ") and the Seattle Times.
Keep in mind I was already no longer a member at Mars Hill at this time, and yet he thought that he could still control me to the point of having me apologize to people I was no longer involved with in an attempt to repent of sin that it seemed he was the only one accusing me of, he and those he represented.
At a later point, Molly Worthen from the New York Times Sunday Magazine spoke with me. At that point all ties with Mars Hill were severed for me, and I would have suffered no ill consequences for speaking with her. I gave her my full permission to use my name in her article, Who Would Jesus Smack Down,which can be found here Curiously, she chose not to use my name, though on the 4th page of the article in the link I gave you, I'm the member she referenced in the third paragraph, the member who "complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended".
I was able to get out before they implemented the kind of behavior that Andrew is now experiencing. I'm horrified to hear he's experiencing it. Feel free to use my name and my story here in a blog post if it would be remotely helpful to anyone else who's going through the horrors of attempting to separate from Mars Hill Church.
Here is a quick tutorial on spiritual abuse. You should be able to ask your church any question about anything that concerns you. If you become the problem after asking the question, that is spiritual abuse. There is a problem at your church. Get out of there, pronto! Kevin responded wisely. We are most grateful for his willingness to share his story. May we all have ears to hear.
For all of us who are a part of The Fellowship of the Wounded-this is our song of a loving Shepherd who stands in stark contrast to the pastoral arrogance that we have been reading about recently.
Lydia's Corner: Isaiah 37:1-38:22 Galatians 6:1-18 Psalm 65:1-13 Proverbs 23:24