In 2014, the Christian “church-planting” network Acts 29 kicked out Pastor Mark Driscoll after multiple allegations of spiritual abuse. The head of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington had been caught trolling his own church website’s forums and using church funds to game the system and turn his book about marriage into a bestseller. There was also all the plagiarism. And then, of course, there were the awful sexist, provocative things he’s said over the years.
(Christianity Today is about to release a podcast series about the “rise and fall” of his ministry.)
But none of that seemed to stop him from just setting up shop somewhere else. In 2016, Driscoll launched The Trinity Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. He now makes $118,473 a year for 25 hours of work per week, according to his ministry’s most recent tax returns. The church’s finances, which are separate, are a mystery even to many people who work there.
Over the past several weeks, there have been a number of allegations that Driscoll has returned to his abusive behavior, controlling the lives of his own staff in ways that resemble a cult far more than an evangelical church. There are loyalty oaths and non-disclosure agreements they have to sign. Making matters worse, this time, there are no elders at his church to oversee what he’s doing. There are no built-in checks to his power.
Here’s what that looks like in practice. There’s a family that began attending Driscoll’s church, and one of their sons began dating Driscoll’s daughter. Nothing weird about that at all. But word got back to Driscoll that the two of them kissed… and he went batshit crazy, eventually driving the family out of the church. Driscoll also got into his 17-year-old daughter’s email and sent a message to the boy saying, “Please delete all communication with her and social media that pertains to her. Their [sic] will be no further communication.” And then Driscoll allegedly told church members to sever ties with that family — shunning them.
Wait. It gets worse. According to reporter Julie Roys:
Trinity’s former head of security, Chad Freese, a cybersecurity expert and a former Marine, said Trinity hired a private investigator to surveille the [boy’s] family 24/7. He says teams, including pastors, tracked the [family] as they went to local shops and businesses — even their own neighborhood.
All because two teenagers acted like teenagers.
That former head of security, Chad Freese, has now published a lengthy account of his time working there, as part of a website called Dear Driscoll, which documents even more instances of his abusive insane behavior. The account is wild. Freese writes in his letter’s introduction:
… I served as the Director of Security for only seven weeks (Feb 27th – Apr 18th, 2021) until I resigned due to the pastor’s immoral, unethical, and unbiblical actions. I did not see these issues until I became part of the inner circle where I attended meetings and participated in “top-secret conversations.” I acknowledge I was complicit in executing the duties of my position. I did not get fired, nor was I kicked out of the church as others have been. I could not continue down the same path as the “leadership” of the church, as that is not who I am, nor who God called us to be.
He shares stories about how Driscoll got mad because a man got on the church’s stage asking for prayer and security didn’t pull a gun on him quickly enough. There was another time that Driscoll demanded that everyone on his security staff attend a training session even though only Freese and one other person needed to be there.
… It was a careless and knee-jerk decision, causing much pain for the men on your staff. Tyler had to cancel his son’s birthday party. Pastor Eden had to disrupt vacation plans with his wife months in the making, and another had to cancel marriage counseling that was crucial to their relationship. These personal family issues may seem minor to you, but to them, it was crushing.
What about protecting children? They’re not safe at this church either. There was one incident where a security officer noticed something concerning between a staffer and a child. He wanted to report the incident in a formal way… but was told not to because it might lead to bad press for the church:
On Thursday, March 11th, Paul W., a security team member, brought forth serious concerns involving a staff member’s actions with a child. He was specific in examples of activities which if true, would violate child safety practices and potentially trigger a report to child protective services. When Paul reported this incident to a member of Mark Driscoll’s security detail, Paul was called into a meeting. He thought he would be asked to retell what he witnessed in order to document and trigger an investigation. Instead, the decision had already been made before the meeting that Paul and his family were immediately kicked out of the church, his life group, his real men’s table, as well as the Chaplain Certification Program. This happened because he attempted to report an incident that involved a staff, and it would be too damning for the church and the Driscoll brand.
There are all Freese’s allegations (with plenty of corroborating evidence). They all point to the same conclusion — one that Driscoll’s critics have been making for years: He’s an abusive Christian cult leader who thinks he’s above reproach and he seeks vengeance against anyone in his orbit who dares to challenge him. His actions don’t need to be illegal to be unethical and disturbing. And he’s gotten away with it for this long because the people around him rarely have the courage to call him out on it. When they do, he marks them as targets and instructs his congregation to do the same.
None of this is surprising. He’s the same horrible human being he’s always been — and this time, there isn’t much anyone can do about it. He can’t be fired; unless his staffers and congregation walk out, he’s still in charge. He only got to that point because the Christians who worked with him in the past were too weak to push back and took far too long to rein him in. His response wasn’t to become a better Christian leader; it was to start fresh and eliminate any sort of serious oversight.
Thankfully, a few former members of his current church are now bravely speaking out. The question is whether anyone in the cult will have the courage to listen to them.