Last week another “church survivors” blog got started. This time it’s about Mars Hill, and the stories are so familiar to me. In 2007, another similar blog got started, called SGM Survivors, and on June 9th a second civil suit is being opened in court against the parachurch ministry. When SGM Survivors first got started, I read everything, ravenous to discover that I wasn’t alone in my cognitive dissonance in what the church taught and what I was experiencing there as a member.
I suspect that there are many in Mars Hill churches who will be contributing to this new We Love Mars Hill blog with their stories. Perhaps discovering that their experiences with spiritual abuse there are common will be the sea change for many bound in bondage to abusive religious leaders (like Mark Driscoll, below) to start asking hard questions and begin to leave.
For those who have never been in a cult-like group, these stories may seem really bizarre and the people may appear stupid. But no one joins a cult knowing it’s a cult, and Elizabeth Esther has a really good synopsis of why educated, rational people join cults:
And that’s what cults are all about — seduction. Becoming enthralled.
People join cults because they fall in love with a beautiful dream.
They see something they desperately want or need.
They feel like they’ve found The Answer to life’s problems.
If you’re capable of falling in love, you’re capable of joining a cult.
Dalton Roraback tells his story of what happened after he resigned from his position of middle-level leadership because his questions went unanswered:
I asked a number of questions: I asked about tithe money being used to purchase a NY Times Best Seller title. I also asked why Mars Hill allows a lead pastor who admitted he was involved to carry on without any serious consequences. I pointed out that if any one of us did this, we’d be removed and rightly so! Other elders have been fired for much less (just ask Phil Poirier). Furthermore, I asked why elders who leave are seemingly forced (or heavily pressured) to sign NDAs and non-compete agreements. (In some cases they were told if they did not sign the agreement, they would not receive their severance).
The elder at the CG Sync responded to everyone in the room saying, “I don’t care at all about NDAs and non-competes.’ You could hear a pin drop in the room after that.
Christine Carter tells about how, right after she and her husband withdrew their membership from the church over some concerns, her husband (and father of their three small children) disappeared and was found to have fled the state to live a double life. The church’s response to the plight of this woman who had attended there for 9 years is terrible, but doesn’t surprise me one bit:
The story quickly flooded all local news channels. So much was happening all at once it’s hard to articulate it all. So many people came to help right away. It took three days before my former campus pastor contacted me. When he finally did call the first thing he said to me was, “Would you be willing to recant your membership resignation? We are unable to help you if you are not a member.” The words were cold. He sounded more like my employer than my pastor. In that moment I felt abandoned by my beloved church. To me it did not matter that we had resigned I needed the leadership that I had known and trusted for so many years. I was shocked by his question. He did not ask how I was. He did not ask what he himself could do to help. Suddenly he became an enemy in my mind. I was already scared and now I felt like I was talking to a snake. I do not think the man that said these words understands the wounds they inflicted.
And Adam Wygle tells about what it was like to be on staff at Mars Hill during the time when Paul Petry and Bent Meyer (whose stories can be found on Joyful Exiles), were excommunicated for challenging Mark Driscoll’s authority:
It was shortly after coming on staff that Paul Petry and Bent Meyer were fired. I found out about it after chewing out Bent’s assistant for messing with his email account without asking the tech team to help. I can’t exactly remember why it bothered me so much, but when I found out why a few hours later, I went back to her and apologized. She was clearly in shock. The whole air of the office for the next few weeks was thick with unasked questions.
I went to my boss and asked if he could tell me the story. He told me that I needed to trust the leadership was doing the right thing. Again, I had a fear that my skills were unmarketable and so I had to take his word for it and stick around or lose my job.
As I said before, I believe this is the beginning of the end of New Calvinism (or as my friend Zach Hoag recently called it, Neo-Fundamentalism), and I will be watching the development of the Mars Hill story with great interest.