Stories about ousted Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll are surfacing again, now that the former Seattle mega-church leader has resurfaced in Phoenix with a new church plant and no repentance toward the carnage left behind in the Pacific Northwest. Mars Hill, his now former church, has put up for sale $25 million worth of property. What's happened to all the proceeds from the sale of church property is anyone's guess.
Of all the outlets I’ve scanned, the Daily Beast thus far has come up with the best reporting about the matter. You might want to first read Joel Connelly’s blog atseattlepi.com that in December told us the story of Driscoll’s move to Phoenix.
Connelly has been following Driscoll for years. If you need to bone up on his clips and some of Driscoll’s history, click here. Here's a brief summation of the latest news, which appeared Feb. 1 in The Seattle Times:
Mark Driscoll finally made it official: He’s starting a new church in Phoenix. The culmination of a comeback that has been gaining steam over the past year, the former Mars Hill pastor announced the news of The Trinity Church on Monday by email, Twitter and a new website.
In a folksy video on the site, which begins with a “howdy” from Driscoll, the pastor said he and his wife, Grace, sitting by his side, were “hoping, trusting, praying, planning and also a little” -- he made a jokey grimace -- “worrying about planting a church here.”
Driscoll also noted that he was “healin’ up” in his new home. And his bio on the site refers to the Driscolls recently facing “the most challenging year of their lives,” one that prompted the pastor to take a year off.
But aside from those remarks, there’s no reference to Driscoll’s troubled and controversial history at Mars Hill. Indeed, there’s no direct mention at all of the megachurch he presided over for 18 years in Seattle, until snowballing allegations of plagiarism, emotional abusiveness and misogyny led him to resign in October 2014.
It does seem weird that Driscoll seems to have taken up a southern accent in his new digs.
The Times story gives us just the basics, including a quote from blogger Warren Throckmorton who’s on every journalist’s Rolodex for Driscoll coverage. Throckmorton blogs regularly about the pastor and just ran a piece on Thursday asking the Washington State attorney general's office to investigate what's happened (after the church closed) to the millions of dollars donated to Mars Hill that helped buy that $25 million worth of property. The Times has been incredibly laggard in reporting on Driscoll’s fall, so I’m not surprised this story is minimal.
A Phoenix TV station that mainly quotes Throckmorton added an interesting note: No one knows where this new church is located, nor when it opens. The address on Driscoll’s new church website sends one to a UPS store in north Scottsdale.
Now to the Daily Beast story. While I wouldn’t call this first-person news feature the most objective, balanced reporting on the planet (That “a macho, vengeful God” reference? Get serious), the reporter did more shoe leather reporting than other outlets in getting quotes from former followers in Seattle. She combed through former members’ blogs, interviewed folks who used to attend Mars Hill and contacted some of the church leaders listed on Driscoll’s new Phoenix church site. She ends thus:
I reached out to dozens of ex-Mars Hill members and elders to ask if Driscoll had contacted them to reconcile. Of the 11 who responded, all said they hadn’t heard from him since his resignation, and they didn’t know of anyone else among them who had.
In a video promoting his new church, Driscoll says he’s met with “around 50” pastors in the Phoenix area to have coffee, dinner, or go on double dates in preparation for The Trinity Church’s launch. Meanwhile, the hundreds from the husk of Mars Hill wait.
“He never owned up to [what happened to the elders],” Ron Wheeler told me. “What’s telling is that there’s not one of his former friends or ministry partners who support him, outside of his wife.”
“Had he submitted himself to the process he had put in place, it would have all gone much differently. As a brother in our faith, we would have loved him and walked beside him and supported him,” Wheeler added. “That was our hope, but instead he chose to bail. And now the concern is: Do we have an existing responsibility to the people of Phoenix?”
When the secular media are taking you to task for not acting Christian enough, it's got to be bad.
All this sounds so familiar. Back in 1988, I covered the fall of Jimmy Swaggart and flew to his World Faith Center in Baton Rouge to listen to his tear-filled speech. He was going to take time off, he said, and work within his denomination’s rules that an erring pastor must take two years off. No exceptions. But three months later, he was back in the pulpit. And things for him went from bad to worse.
I searched the Religion Newswriters Association database to see if there are any RNA members, aka religion reporters in the Phoenix area, but I found none.
Oh well, hopefully someone down there will cover the next phase of this story: Whether folks in Phoenix do some fact-checking on Driscoll’s background and who ends up attending his new church.