Ministers are central figures in the lives of many. Parishioners look up to their local clergy for wisdom, guidance, and advice on spiritual matters. To say the least, it comes as a shock, then, when the moral integrity of a clergy member gets as much negative publicity as Mark Driscoll, leader of the megachurch Mars Hill. Driscoll has recently been accused by church elders for engaging in practices unbecoming of a man of the cloth. On the surface, it might seem as if church elders are putting their collective foot down, enforcing a code of accountability which preserves ministerial integrity, but a closer look reveals deep-seated, fundamental problems with church philosophy.

Making Ministers Accountable for Bad Leadership

orators It is heartening indeed to see church elders attempt to take the reins at Mars Hill, which operates fifteen churches in four states. It is a sign that church government is shifting toward a slightly more egalitarian if still highly unequal and patriarchal structure. For years, power has been consolidated at the top, with Driscoll wielding virtually unquestioned authority over his flock. That has begun to change with a lengthy letter submitted by nine church elders to their peers, in which they accuse Driscoll of everything from plagiarism to abuse of power and misuse of church funds. In their letter, the nine elders made the following decrees:

  • [W]e direct that he steps down from ministry, submitting himself under the authority of the elders of the church, who will oversee the details of his restoration plan.
  • He must step down not only from the pulpit, but from all aspects of ministry and leadership.
  • He will continue to receive his salary so long as he continues to cooperate with the restoration plan set before him by the elders of Mars Hill Church.

Warren Throckmorton, a Grove City College psychology professor, was able to obtain a copy of the letter, which originally appeared on a Mars Hill internal online network. Throckmorton regularly blogs about Mars Hill, providing updates on the controversy unfolding around church practices, with particular focus on Driscoll, who has temporarily stepped down from the ministry.

Mars Hill elders haven't minced words over their church's system of governance, which has largely relegated them to the sidelines of the decision-making process, silencing dissenters and concentrating power in the figure of Driscoll. Paul Tripp, a former member of the church's Board of Advisors and a respected evangelical minister, went so far as to say, "[t]his is without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I've ever been involved with", arguing that "[y]ou can't have a church culture where you essentially have a very tight circle and everyone else is your enemy". It would seem church leaders are finally putting an end to Mars Hill's ecclesiastical tyranny.

A Church on Shaky Ground

Despite church leaders' push for greater minister accountability and integrity, prejudice against women and LGBT people continues to stunt real progress. It may seem egalitarian when elders openly denounce the concentration of power in the hands of one man and his close companions, but all those words ring empty when it is learned that every single church elder is a man. Driscoll's wife, Grace, is quoted as saying, "As women, we're built to be home with our kids", while Driscoll teaches wives should submit to their husbands, with some church members interpreting this system of male domination as "respect for women". Driscoll has also denigrated homosexuality and non-traditional gender expression by criticizing the "Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ" of some mainstream churches.

If Mars Hill wants to be held up as a paragon of egalitarianism in church leadership thirty years from now, it is not good enough to challenge individual tyrants. The church must also look within and re-examine its attitudes toward women, sexual minorities, and other faith groups. Paternalism is just misogyny in chivalrous garb; "loving the sinner but hating the sin" is revulsion toward alternative sexualities disguised as altruism. Social attitudes are rapidly changing, and few people will remain who believe that respecting women means treating them as spiritually inferior or that the sole purpose of romantic love is procreation. Toppling the tyrant involves more than merely asking one man to step down; it entails righting the philosophy that created him.

As Universal Life Church ministers, we emphasize the circle over the pyramid the egalitarian exchange of ideas between church leaders over the consolidation of ultimate power in a single individual. This is part of the reason why we welcome all people of all backgrounds to become ordained online. What do you think about the Mars Hill controversy? Is it worth church leaders saving the church and reshaping it from the ground up, or should they just call it quits and dissolve the entire entity altogether?


The Huffington Post



  1. Kelsang Drime's Avatar Kelsang Drime

    When the tree is rotten, how can it produce edible fruit?

  1. Rev. Elizabeth Anderson's Avatar Rev. Elizabeth Anderson

    Being an ordained minister is a Spirits, emotional responsibility. I choose ULC because it reputation if not being judgemental but encourages unity of acceptance of all faiths. No one person should demand free will and individual thoughts to be contained. The Mar Hill church has every right to set guide lines on their expatations of the integrity of it's chosen LEADERS. JUST BECAUSE IT'S EASY TO OBTAIN A MINISTER'S LICENSE DOSE NOT GIVE ANYONE THE AUTHORITY TO ABUSE THEIR TITLE. After reading this post, I encourage the removal of Pastor Driscoll of all responsibles and forge forward to establish a TRULY UNITY in their churchs. Rev. Elizabeth Anderson, Clovis, Ca.

  1. scott's Avatar scott

    disbanding a group of organization, especially if it involves a large number of people, without a plan of evolution just creates a vacuum that can be quickly filled by equal or worse. Just look at the law of unintended consequences when heads of state are removed by coup or assassination. The cultural aspects that led the evolution and rise of the undesired state or status quo are still in place even if the de facto or titular head is removed. In the case of Mars Hill, regardless of how one feels about the beliefs perpetuated by the institution from an outside perspective, it has thousands of members who are comfortable with it's underpinning philosophies and practices. Therefore, a wholesale abandoning of the structure will just cause the bulk of it's members to congregate into groups that feel familiar and comfortable. I assume not all aspects of Mars Hill are to be pilloried? Are there not some or many aspects of a community organized around Christianity and a worship of God to be celebrated and preserved? After all, while the leadership may be tainted by a certain stench, that doesn't mean all is rotten to the core. Would it be wonderful and awesome if the Mars Hill church elders woke up tomorrow morning and decided that we are all beloved children of the Universe, that women and LGBT members of the community deserve and equal seat at the ruling council? Sure. But it is just as easy to ignore this subset of society. I personally live a full and rich life honoring those around me who live and love differently than I do. And before your blog post, I had never heard of Mars Hill. Nor do I really care if they continue to exist or wither on the vine. As long as they are not exploiting children, enslaving women against their will, or unduly affecting the legislative process, then I am willing to let them be on their own to thrive or wither on the vine.

  1. Melanie Wilson's Avatar Melanie Wilson

    Particularly dissonant in Seattle, a famously welcoming community.

  1. mlou1936's Avatar mlou1936

    There is no church house anywhere without some type of discomfort. It's what evil relies on - Satan perches on the shoulder of spokes people for God waiting for any small opportunity pray for leaders everywhere - that they remain true and dedicated to fundamental values. If they slip, hold them up in prayer - walk beside them - letting them loose from a particular ministry does not lessen their power - let them know you walk with them and beside them. Give them strength to turn away from what perches on their shoulder, hold them up and guide them toward our truth. It sounds like the Elders have done just that - cheer them on - pray over them - trust in their wisdom.

  1. Nancy Caverly's Avatar Nancy Caverly

    I feel that they should rethink their philosophy and rework the church. They should not be against women being elders, and should not turn away LGBT members. They could be bigger and better all around if they are not judging their parishioners.

  1. Melinda's Avatar Melinda

    Its not what man says for he is just a man,that should be so important it is what the Bible says about such things ..word for word..For the wages of sin is death...sure convicted but also restored right?MM

  1. JD Day's Avatar JD Day

    I had not heard of this church until I read this article. So, I searched for more info on it and found an article written in the Seattle Times, 9/13/14 by Craig Welch. As I read it, I was reminded of an old adage. "All those who gain power are afraid to loose it." By all accounts, Mark Driscoll is a charismatic, powerful orator and has called many to his church through his ability to reach people with his sometimes unorthodox sermons. He reached out not only to the mainstream folk that are the backbone of most organized religions, but also to the 'odd' folk. The tattooed, the pierced, the street folk and the nonconformist of the Seattle underground... and reach them, he did. The picture of Mark that slowly developed as I read more articles and blogs, became darker and tainted with that age-old curse that haunts all, being human. His power, drive and determination were the seat of this darkness, the very things that allowed him to lead and change lives, were also the things that lead him to his downfall. He did not like to share power and he fired 8 of his ministers who opposed his plan to condense the 'Council of Elders' to a smaller, more manageable group. Their objections were seated in the belief that a smaller group would give him almost total control of the Council and I feel that they were right. I remember Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker and there have been many others that have 'Fallen from Grace'. All have succumbed to the pull of 'Being Human', and abusing the power they had gathered by using the names God and Jesus. Are all powerful men/women of God corrupt? Does that same darkness dwell in their hearts? Of course, they are human. I would make the assumption that all powerful people wrestle with these dilemmas. In the end, it is our choices that show the world (and ourselves) who we truly are. May we all make our choices guided by Light and Love.

  1. pinkladycat's Avatar pinkladycat

    Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  1. Rev. Jonathan Nelson's Avatar Rev. Jonathan Nelson

    absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  1. JW's Avatar JW

    Following the story in both the secular and religious presses; watching some of Driscoll's teaching, interviews with people in the church who helped bring it to the size it is now, and comments by others-I think that Mars Hill has an excellent future. Yes, there are many problems, but all churches have them. And yes, it is a non-egalitarian expression of the Faith. That is regrettable, but God, in God's wisdom and patience, has allowed Mars Hill to come to this pass, and I believe the Eternal will continue to enter into relationships with people worshipping there. God, again, in wisdom has allowed expressions of the Faith that are not as accepting of all people, and must have a reason for allowing such. It is arrogant to second-guess the Holy One, and unloving to reject Mars Hill for either sin OR what we perceive as error.

  1. Ernie Thomas's Avatar Ernie Thomas

    My question is..."should we as ministers really be making judgments with knowledge of the situation that we have? Do you want others to make decisions as to the appropriateness of your ministry?....

    Love to all in Christ ET Ps..I have been in ministry many years longer than this, the words come with love and scars. Pray for all involved.

  1. lil timmy's Avatar lil timmy

    its easy to quit, its hard to fix something broken when nobody tries..that church is trying to hold someone accountable but paying them to do so, sends out a questionable " WHY ". If they are at fault, sever them to show that senselessness will not be tolerated or accepted..Paying one money for not doing their job is the wrong message..This church needs to show its congregation that forgiveness is acceptable, not necessarily forgettable..

  1. Rev. Rik's Avatar Rev. Rik

    It is time for a congregational meeting. That is where the decision should be made in all things pertaining to something of this magnitude with any church. Leading any group of folks searching for the Creator's guidance is a tough job and the more diverse the congregation, the more difficult it is to impart a relevant message to all. One can easily become consumed in their own divine aspirations and loose that empathy with those who seek you out for comfort and edification.

    It is especially difficult to be accepting of these conflicting social issues today, but it is for the Pastor to comfort and teach his people and show them the things that they need to know to make an informed decision as to what is right for them. We are given free will and just because I don't agree that a lifestyle won't work for me doesn't mean I must be judgmental and condemn others for choosing it for themselves. My path would be to help others see this and not fall prey to demonizing fellow worshipers for their choices.

    Nothing is so broken that it cannot be healed if it be His will to do so. We have so many examples of this throughout the history of Man. If Mark can find his way back to his original mission, then let him show this. Prayers for him will certainly help him find his way. He has become lost, but then, haven't we all at one time or another, lost our way? Did we not find the help we needed from another loving spirit to pull us back from disaster? I know I have.

  1. Frank Villari's Avatar Frank Villari

    This is the problem with churches, in my opinion. Get rid of the building, the money, and the leadership, and what you have left is faith.

  1. Rev. Jo-An Josephine's Avatar Rev. Jo-An Josephine

    I think it should be disbanded. I was raised a Catholic, but focus my own personal faith on Paganism and the Native Culture. In many Aboriginal cultures from all over the world it is a matriarchal society that prevails. Thus respect for women is greater. It has been said "if we believe that GOD creates everything, who are WE to decide what's an abomination and judge HIS creation? That is why `I believe we are created equal, regardless of sexe, politics or religion. And yes, I also believe that a good "Christian" if you will, does NOT need to attend a brick and mortar building in order to serve their god. All that is required is FAITH, in whatever god you choose, whether you call the Devine, God, or the Creator, or Allah, or Buddha or what have you. All you need is something to believe in. I believe in humanity and do not believe that all is lost.

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