Four former deacons and members at Mars Hill Church sued on Monday, asserting that ex-senior pastor Mark Driscoll and general manager Sutton Turner engaged in a “pattern of racketeering” at the defunct Seattle-based mega-church.
The RICO (Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act) suit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle describes a pattern of activity under which “a deadly toxin was injected into the MHC body, ending in complete destruction of the church.”
As one example, the suit contends that Mars Hill raised $2.3 million for an international missions project, of which only $120,000 “was actually sent overseas.”
“They want to know where the money went,” said Warren Throckmorton, a Pennsylvania college professor whose investigative pieces on Mars Hill have appeared on Patheos.
Two of the plaintiffs, former deans Brian and Connie Jacobsen, donated more than $90,000 to Mars Hill Church between 2008 and early 2014. They left in April of 2014, just as the implosion of the church was beginning.
The suit comes weeks after Driscoll, relocated in Phoenix, has launched a new Trinity Church. The former Mars Hill pastor is also active on the evangelical lecture circuit.
The suit focuses on a number of controversial Mars Hill financial dealings, including:
- The Book Deal: Mars Hill contracted with a firm called ResultSource, Inc., a California marketing company, to get Driscoll’s book Real Marriage onto The New York Times bestseller list. The use of church resources, under a contract signed by Turner, included a $25,000 fee and purchase of at least 11,000 books valued at around $210,000 using multiple payment methods. The contract outlined tactics to outsmart systems put in place by The New York Times to safeguard its bestseller lists. It said: “Note: The largest obstacle to the reporting system is the tracking of credit cards.RSI uses over 1,000 different payment types (credit cards, gift cards, etc).” The Driscoll book spent a week on the NYT bestseller list.
- Mars Hill Global: The fund was promoted as “church planting” in Ethiopia and India, but money allegedly went into general operations. A famous Mars Hill internal memo stated: “For a relatively low cost (e.g. $10K a month) supporting a few missionaries and benevolence projects would serve to deflect criticism, increase goodwill and create opportunities to influence and learn from other ministries.” The lawsuit contends the global fund was taking in $300,000 a month by May of 2014. Nearly $2.3 million was donated to the fund between July of 2012 and July, 2013. “However, disbursements from that fund were not reported, nor have they ever been made public.” The lawsuit continues: “Though disbursements from global fund are not reported, it appears from the information that is in the 2013 annual report that only $120,000 (5 percent) of the $2.3 million raised for international missions was actually sent overseas.”
- The Jesus Festival: Mars Hill set out to raise $2 million, over and above its normal budget, for projects including an “evangelistic, outdoor reach” called the Jesus Festival to be held at Marymoor Park in August of 2014. “We’ve got something brand-new and super cool,” Driscoll said in a Dec. 1, 2013 sermon. “We’ll pick a nice day, be outside, We’re going to have bouncy houses for kids, lots of fund stuff. We’re also going to do baptisms, and preaching, and music at Marymoor Park.” “Guess what? HE DID IT! (God). We’ve received $2,991,852 above our budget by Dec 31,” said a church announcement on Jan. 13, 2014. On May 13, however, a quiet post by Mars Hill Sammamish announced that the Jesus Festival had been “postponed for a future time” and that “an event of this scale is too expensive at this time.”
“The Jesus Festival was canceled, and MHC has never provided information about the amount received, if any, by the global Fund,” the lawsuit contends.
“… defendants failed to use the majority of funds received from the end-of-year campaign for the purposes designated by the donors. Instead, the majority of the designated donations were fraudulently redirected to other uses.”
The suit alleges. “It was a pattern of racketeering activity that extended through a myriad of Mars Hill Church projects including the global fund, the campus fund, the Jesus Festival and the promotion of Driscoll’s book ‘Real Marriage’ . . .”
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