Churches are at their most private, even opaque, when called upon to investigate in-house charges of misconduct. The troubled Mars Hill Church is acting in that tradition while probing allegations brought by 21 former church elders against Senior Pastor Mark Driscoll.
Driscoll announced Aug. 25 that he was taking “a break for processing, healing and growth for a minimum of six weeks,” while a board of elders would investigate accounts of abusive, duplicitous conduct toward staff and pastors at the Seattle-based mega-church.
The redoubtable Warren Throckmorton, a Pennsylvania-based professor who writes for the Patheos website, has exposed a myriad of internal secrets at Mars Hill.
He has been on the Driscoll watch as one of two nationally watched investigations into clerical error. The other is a Vatican probe of whether Bishop Robert Finn is fit to continue leading the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese. Finn pleaded guilty to shielding a priest accused in a sexual misconduct case.
Of the Driscoll investigation, there is apparently contradictory news. Throckmorton talked to both former elders and witnesses. What he found, backed up by persons who have talked to SeattlePI.com, is:
– “After a slow start, the formal charges presented by the former elders are being investigated. … Generally, they (former elders) said the interviews were being conducted by the Board of Elders. Some interviews have yet to be scheduled but the pace of discussions has quickened in recent days.”
– “On the other hand, the letter written by nine then-current pastors has not been acted upon. In that letter, various allegations were lodged against Driscoll and other members of the executive elders and the (church) Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA).”
Eight of the nine men who signed the letter, a private expression of anguish that became public, have resigned or been laid off. Mars Hill has been forced to cut staff and is closing three of its 15 campuses.
The nine signers were church insiders, ministering and directing worship at its major campuses, not alienated former members who had gone public.
But they quoted just-departed BOAA member Paul Tripp describing Mars Hill as “the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.”
“We are seriously concerned about the state of our church, especially the state (of) our leadership at the highest levels and our continued lack of transparency in general,” they wrote.
The church said officially that charges by the nine would be “thoroughly examined and a report issued when the review is complete.” The Mars Hill flock were told the letter would be taken “very seriously” and the concerns “addressed,” with leaders “taking the appropriate actions to honor Jesus.”
Despite the promise, Throckmorton reported Friday, “no further action, serious or otherwise, has been taken.”
“According to former pastors I spoke with, none of the concerns or allegations have been investigated or addressed,” he added. “They have not been contacted about the letter since their last days in the church.”
Driscoll is being investigated within a church that he co-founded, and has long dominated, and by persons with whom he has been closely associated.
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