I belong to Mars Hill Church.
Well, not officially. We haven’t done the membership interview and signed the membership contract. We haven’t really had time to do so. But we’ve been attending this church for a year, and attending a community group of other members for nearly as long, and I’ve been watching Pastor Mark’s sermons online since shortly after I was saved. His teaching has been enormously helpful in developing my faith and theology.
Pastor Mark has gotten a lot of flack over the years. He’s reformed, so many non-reformed Christians don’t like him. He’s complimentarian, so the egalitarians gets annoyed and the rad fems hate him, even though there are women deacons and such and women are greatly affirmed and protected in many ways. He’s real about this world we live in and the questions and struggles people face in it, particulatly in a culture that has sex all wrong, so people don’t like how real and blunt he is. He’s a continuationist so the cessationists don’t agree. He’s not charismatic so those who think that tongues is the baptism of the spirit don’t agree. He upholds traditional marriage and is pro-choice so the liberals get fired up.
You get the picture.
Lately, the criticisms have been taken to a new level, though, and if you’ve paid any attention to the blogosphere on this issue, you know what I’m talking about. I’m blessed to have a deacon in my community group who is in constant communication with some of the elders about these issues and who is happy to share the answers he gets, but some people have only the blogs. Here’s what I’ve noticed from the blogosphere.
1. Outright lies and unfounded/biased criticism.
Some people just want to watch a high-profile, conservative pastor burn. If you search these blogs, you’ll often also find tirades against Christians who believe in traditional marriage or a bunch of pro-choice rhetoric. The agenda is clear, biased, and not pretty. They’ll reach for anything and twist anything to make Mark and Mars Hill look bad. Truth is not required.
2. Out of context or exaggerated.
We all know that something taken out of context or exaggerated can make a situation look like something is wasn’t. The Strangefire incident is a prime example of this. Should Mark have gone and handed out his book there? Maybe not. But did that short video clip and the claims that went with it accurately represent what actually happened? No way. At worst, he was a nuisance, but not an outright liar and antagonist.
Another example would be an incident I heard about but never actually read about which apparently had to do with whether one of the campuses was violating laws with its location. I heard about it third hand, so I don’t have all the details, but what I understand is that in actuality, there was a conflict between county and state laws or something along those lines, so the church met the legal requirements of paying fees until the conflict between the laws was properly resolved. They then declined to sue to regain the fees they paid, not feeling that such an action was necessary or the best choice for a church in regards to such an issue. But of course, all the critics wanted to say was that the church was violating laws.
3. True, often blown up or without grace.
Mark and the leaders have certainly made mistakes. They are only human, and they’ve faced massive growth, often with little experience to help them handle it. That doesn’t excuse the sins, but it is only proper to put sins in their context to understand them.
One trend I noticed is that people want to see repentance and apologies, but every apology is met with criticism and any evidence of repentance and change is met with skepticism and assertions that it’s not enough or he needs to be more public about it.
The thing is, most of his legitimate public offenses have been addressed by public apologies and actions. Real Marriage, the discussion board comments, the one thing that actually was a plagiarism…all addressed. And the things that weren’t, like the other claims of plagiarism which the church and publishers investigated and found to be without basis, were explained.
Age the legitimate offenses that are being dealt with privately because they largely have to do with individuals, or because of the legal ramifications of saying anything publicly, are probably getting the most flack. In a recent video posted on the church’s website right before the Best Sermon Ever series, Pastor Mark explained that, while the actions being taken aren’t public and there’s little that can be said regarding them at this point, actions are being taken. And if he and the other elders are doing what they say they’re doing, then they are seeking real reconciliations insofar as possible.
Honestly, many pastors wouldn’t fair much better, and many even worse, if they were put under he scrutiny and publicity that Mark and the other executive elders have been facing. One of my previous pastors had been cheated on by his wife but reconciled with her. Another got kicked out of his position for his dishonesty with money, though I think he did love Jesus but just put money in the wrong place in his life, and another abandoned his struggling church because of outright greed. And this is just what I know of these pastors.
I think that, as leaders, Mark and the other elders should most certainly be required to show repentance. While they certainly have to be careful about who they apprise of the situations and to what extent, their Board of Accountability seems to have deemed them still qualified as long as they pursue reconciliation, and I’m willing to believe that that’s what they’re doing unless I see something definitive to the contrary.
It isn’t the easiest thing to be attending Mars Hill in this season. I fully understand why some choose to leave in this time, although I truly appreciate the ones who leave quietly and are willing to extend forgiveness, even if they never choose to come back. I truly pray they find or have found new church homes with people and leaders who love and teach the Bible.
My husband and I are — watchfully — sticking it out at this time. One thing we can say for Pastor Mark is that he’s always taught the Bible, often very well, and we certainly appreciate that. We are willing to extend forgiveness to our very human elders and to stay as long as we see repentance, and hope that other Christians see it in themselves to forgive as well, particularly where there is evidence of repentance.
Lord, I pray for the pastors to be able to repent fully, change the course of the church in they future so that their actions better reflect you, and that they can stand firm through the trials. I pray for the critics, that they may lose the strength of their criticism as repentance is seen and that perhaps their hearts may even be softened. I pray for those genuinely hurt or wronged, that they may find and accept reconciliation, and that many would be willing to make their acceptance public to shut the mouths of the unrelenting and extend grace to Mark and the other elders. In Jesus’ name, amen.