Before he agrees to let me share his story, a narrative of events that will be split up into two separate posts–part 1 today and part 2 tomorrow, Andrew says, “I don’t want this to be something I do out of vengeance. But I believe the story needs to be told. I need some more time to think about this; I want to be sure I’m doing this for the right reasons.”
Eight days pass before I hear from him again. “I’m ready.”
The following is part 1 of Andrew’s story.
Shortly after graduating from high school (he was homeschooled), Andrew wanted a change in scenery. The then Tennessee resident says he needed a change in scenery. He needed to get away. He needed to grow up. He needed to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
So when he turned 20, Andrew moved away from his quaint life in America’s Bible belt, and he moved to Seattle, and yes, in hopes of finding himself.
Once he was settled into life in the great Northwest, Andrew took the advice of an older sibling and visited Mars Hill Church, the congregational home of Mark Driscoll.
Andrew was born and raised Independent Fundamental Baptist, so not only was Andrew accustomed to Mark’s anger-laced fiery style of sermon, he had a deep appreciation for it. In the beginning, some of Mars Hill’s reformed theologies rubbed against Andrew’s Baptist roots, but Mark’s enthrallment for preaching “Jesus Christ crucified” eventually was what relieved Andrew’s doctrinal concerns, and it wasn’t long before he became a member. Soon thereafter, he was wading heart deep amid the friendly, committed Mars Hill community, becoming more and more comfortable in his born again reformed skin, guzzling the Driscollized water.
According to Andrew, joining Mars Hill was a good move for him. While he didn’t agree with every theological declaration that came out Mark Driscoll‘s mouth, he loved his community, a devoted group of believers who seemed to love, support, and value him the way Jesus commanded. Over the next couple of years, Andrew became well connected. He volunteered. He became active in a community group. He even volunteered on Sundays as church security.
Toward the beginning of 2011, Andrew met and eventually began dating the daughter of a church elder at Mars Hill. The two fell in love quickly. Last fall, they were engaged to be married.
But shortly after becoming engaged, Andrew made a costly choice, one that involved hanging out alone with a female friend he knew from the community college he attended. Andrew and his college friend messed around. They didn’t have sex. But they got close. But what they did and didn’t do isn’t the issue. He cheated on the woman he was planning to marry. On the following morning, Andrew felt devastated, his brain flashing memories of what he’d done the night before, his heart full of shame, guilt, and hindsight’s remorse.
That evening, Andrew met his fiancee at community group. As soon as she saw his face, she knew something was wrong. After the meeting was finished, they walked outside to his car (he was planning to give her a ride home). A long hard conversation ensued, but at some point in the middle, Andrew confessed.
For obvious reasons, she was devastated, lost. They parted ways: She returned inside and he got in his car sped off. But again, his conscience screamed: You can’t run away from this. So as he turned around, he called one of the small group members and asked, “Can we talk?” He agreed, and when Andrew pulled back into the driveway of house where his community group meets, he confessed to his friend (and fellow community group member) what he’d done the night before.
As so often is the case with church drama like this, the following month was, for Andrew, filled up with meetings. A meeting with his old community group leader (he was forced to join a new community group). A meeting with his new community group leader. A meeting with his fiancée’s step-father. A meeting with his trusted friend who also happened to be the leader of his mens small group. So many meetings. And some of those meetings required second meetings.
Over the course of that month, Andrew also confessed more of his sexual baggage/history.
“I confessed to my mens small group leader–a close friend of mine–that my relationship with my fiancée was physical, too.”
That confession led to more meetings and more than enough long (and sometimes ridiculous) text message conversations with church leadership at Mars Hill.
“On several occasions, I was called a Wolf,” says Andrew, “which at Mars Hill, is like the worst thing you can be called.”
I ask him why.
“Because it means you’re a man who preys on innocent people–nothing more than a predator.”
According to Andrew, at Mars Hill, the cliche “it takes two to tango” isn’t true. Why? Because Pastor Mark teaches that women are “weaker vessels,” and therefore, when a girl and boy engage in consensual sexual activity, it is always assumed that it’s the man’s fault because he failed to lead the woman (or “weaker vessel”) toward righteousness. (And everybody knows that women can’t find righteousness unless a man leads her there. Ugh.)
“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I take responsibility for my actions. I messed up. But that doesn’t make me into a predator.”
At this point, despite all of the meetings, conversations, and tear-inducing confessionals that Andrew has engaged (some by choice, some not by choice), Andrew is not under “church discipline”. Nobody has even mentioned it to him as a possibility. That is, until he begins pushing back.
“After a month of trying to jump through all of their hoops, I’ll admit, I started questioning whether or not Mars Hill was the right church for me.” He admits this isn’t the first he had those thoughts. For a year or so, Andrew had questioned the many of the ideas/values of Mars Hill.
The week before Christmas, Andrew’s community group leader sent him another text message: What’s your schedule like on Wednesday? Another meeting was to be planned, this time with one of Mars Hills family/counseling pastors as well as Andrew’s new community group leader.
Andrew admits that, by this time, he was exhausted. The thought of one more meeting overwhelmed his already very full brain. “But I took some time to pray, and decided that I needed to meet with them and hear what they had to say.”
On the evening of December 18, Andrew met with the pastor and small group leader. It was during this meeting that Andrew first learned that he was being “brought under church discipline.” Despite it feeling like he’d been going through church discipline for a little more than a month, he didn’t say much. He did a lot of listening.
And his ears listened, his eyes began opening, too. For a couple weeks, amid all of the various conversations/meetings/confession sessions, Andrew had noticed what he believed was a strange shift in how people were treating him.
The things he noticed weren’t exactly subtle differences either. There was something about their tones, a certain change from being serious and kind toward him to always coming across intentionally serious and sometimes harsh. He’d also noticed a difference in the words they used, a switch from words and phrases that depicted gentle care and concern to words/phrases that sometimes caused him to feel like a criminal on trial, certainly not a longtime member of a loving, forgiving church environment.
But now. During that meeting. All of the things he noticed. The tones. The words. The differences. They were definitely not his imagination.
Andrew sat in that meeting wondering, questioning whether he could/should trust the two men sitting in front of him. The two men that he was supposed to trust, that he was supposed to deeply respect.
But something made him doubt that.
Something in his spirit told him not to trust them. Something caused him to believe that the men sitting in front of him were far less interested in restoring him than they were in having control, feeling powerful, throwing their spiritual weight around. Beating down a sinner like Andrew.
Andrew says that many of Mars Hill’s men feel beaten down. “Because that’s what happens there, especially when you question a pastor. You get beaten down. Until you submit.”
Andrew began tried shaking the negative thoughts that overwhelmed his brain, Pastor X looked at Andrew and said, “I’ll write up a church discipline contract and send it over to you in a few days.”
What did he just say? Something about contract? Did he just say that he was going to be sending me a church discipline contract?
A few days later, Andrew received an email from Pastor X. In the subject line was the word “contract”.
Andrew- Here is a copy of your discipline contract. Please read it over and let me know if you have questions. Blessings. -Pastor X
Andrew opened the attachment. Justified to the left, right next to the Mars Hill “M” logo were the words “Mars Hill Church Church Discipline Contract”.
Sure enough. It was a contract. A list of Andrew’s sins. And a list of all the hoops that Andrew needed to jump through. But why? To prove his repentance. To prove he’s worthy of God’s forgiveness. To prove he’s worth of the fellowship of Mars Hill…
Here’s the contract that Andrew received.
But what is church discipline in 2012 really about? Seriously. Why would anybody subject themselves to the antics of somebody like Mark or somebody working under somebody like Mark?
Would you sign a church discipline contract?
Is this how “church discipline” is supposed to work? While I know that many Bible verses speak about “church discipline,” do any of them recommend a contractual agreement? Is “true repentance” accomplished with a list of sins and a contractual to-do list?
So again, if you were in Andrew’s shoes, just a regular 25-year-old guy who messed up but yet repeatedly repented of his sins, would YOU sign this contract?
Would YOU put your trust in the church’s system for repentance?
Does your answer change when the pastor in charge of that system is Mark Driscoll?
Find out how Andrew answered that question on Wednesday.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Until then. How about that church discipline?
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