“Dear Matthew, I was one of the first people to be punished and ‘let go’ by Mark Driscoll (Mark) and his church’s leadership,” she wrote. “My now ex-husband and I were among the original Mars Hill members. We were a part of the ‘core group,’ the inner circle of the church, and great friends with Mark and his wife, Grace. We were close with the elders and their wives. And we both served within the church.”
Amy is one of nearly 100 former Mars Hill members who emailed me after Andrew’s story was posted. Something about her story stood out. The details. The history. The journey. She and I exchanged a few emails, mostly ones where I asked questions and she offered detailed answers.
I knew I wanted to share Amy’s story, but I didn’t feel like the timing was right until now.
In 1996, when Amy was twenty-years-old, she moved to Seattle. Tired of life in a small town and wanting a change in scenery, she says she threw a dart at a map of the United States (literally) and on the following weekend, clothes packed in a laundry basket and $400 in her pocketbook, moved to the grunge capital of the world.
After only a month, she officially hated Seattle–“mostly the climate,” she says–and was considering a move to the southwest. But that didn’t happen. Before she was able to plan her escape out of Washington State, a Seattle acquaintance introduced her to a man. He was seven years older than her, a musician who played in a Christian band, and three weeks after their first meeting, he became Amy’s fiancé.
“We were young and clueless,” she says, “we got caught up in a whirlwind mutual infatuation.”
In August, a month or so after they were engaged, that young infatuated couple became husband and wife.
That fall, two months after they were married, the same acquaintance who introduced the couple, invited them to attend Mars Hill Church.
“Our first time visiting was right when Mars Hill was launching,” Amy says.
After a few visits, they became members.
“We were one of the church’s core members right from the start. The church didn’t even have a building. We joined when it was meeting at Mark and Grace’s home.”
Prior to becoming involved at Mars Hill Church, Amy’s church experience was limited.
“My mother sporadically took my brother and me to a non-denominational church,” she says. “I attended a few youth group events. I did occasionally go through times when I tried to live up to the standards that I saw in some of my peers, but I don’t remember having a genuine interest in church.”
According to Amy, she and her husband were in agreement about joining Mars Hill. “We didn’t feel hesitant or uneasy about anything,” she says. “To me it seemed like a social club with some ‘Jesus’ thrown in. I admit that I was naive at the time, but I sensed no red flags.”
Amy also genuinely liked Mark. “My first impressions were all positive. He was funny, quick-witted, a bit of a smart-ass–all qualities that I can appreciate. He seemed to be a solid ‘dude’–hip, pop-culturally aware, and down-to-earth. And I thought he was an excellent speaker. In the beginning, his teaching style was engaging. He wasn’t intimidating or insulting. It was nothing like his style today.”
In that first email, Amy wrote that Mars Hill became her only social exposure.
Can you explain what you mean by that?
Well, nearly every aspect of my life was connected to Mars Hill. My friendships. My free time. Everything.
Tell me about your friendships.
Before joining Mars Hill, I had never been the type of person to have close girlfriends, but I developed so many wonderful friendships with the other “wives”. (Amy now groans using the word “wives” in its “Mars Hill” context.) And these women were people that I trusted, that I relied upon. I never questioned their sincerity. We went through our first pregnancies together. We threw baby showers for each other. We were a part of each others’ lives on a daily basis.
Were you friends with Mark?
Mark was my husband’s friend and leader for the most part. But Mark knew me well. We were close enough that he felt comfortable throwing out a one-liner or telling an off-colored joke around me. Foul language was used regularly, even around me. Sometimes it felt like I was one of the guys. That was one of the things that made him seem like a real person, imperfect and relatable. I didn’t mind it at all.
How about Grace?
Grace and I were never the closest of friends. To be honest, I always felt a little like the “lesser wife” around her. So I didn’t really confide in her. I had other women in my life that I shared things with. Grace and I hung out alone on occasion and I admired her devotion to being a supportive wife. She was extremely submissive! But after years of knowing Mark and Grace, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was as happy as they advertised. Because slowly, over the years, Mark’s controlling “head of household” ways came alive.
My husband and I never felt pressure to have Mark and Grace’s attention. Because honestly, we had it all the time. My husband was well-known because he was a musician in a Christian band and that gave us a little bit of priority in Mark’s eyes. On many occasions I heard Mark bragging to church visitors about my husband being a member of the worship team.
Though Amy and her husband seemed to adjust well to life at Mars Hill, at home, the couple was struggling to adjust to each other.
“The truth just sort of hit us about three months after our wedding. I think that’s when both of us realized that we had made a terrible mistake.
Amy’s quick to admit that their marital mistake was their own fault. “I was married to a stranger, and so was he,” she says.
However, she also says that they both tried to make things work. “Both of us wanted to be the ‘godly married couple.’ And I think both of us really tried to be the kind of husband and wife that Mark often preached about from behind the pulpit.”
Mark’s sermons played a pretty major factor in the breakdown of their marriage. Amy says that Mark’s preaching, both stylistically and thematically, changed significantly during her time there. Mark began sermonizing more and more about the roles of men and women in the home, using his words to empower men to rule over their households, and encouraging women to remain quiet, submissive, and above all, serve their husbands.
“My husband was always pretty stubborn,” says Amy, “but Mark’s preaching made that part of his personality worse. He most definitely felt empowered by Mark to rule over me. I experienced that more and more the longer we were married. The church encouraged it. And my resentment toward that grew over the years.”
Amy says that she and her husband felt a great deal of pressure to be that couple that Mark preached about. Much of that pressure came after they began going to Mars Hill’s marriage counseling.
“About a year after we joined Mars Hill, we began meeting with elders and sometimes deacons about our marriage problems. Usually that involved dinner with a member of church leadership and then after eating, we moved into the living room for ‘the talk’.”
During those talks Amy often felt invisible. “Mostly because I was the wife,” she says, “a woman, the ‘weaker vessel.’ Because I was a woman, my opinions and complaints fell on deaf ears. But my husband’s opinions and complaints, however, were always heard. Any complaint he’d make, I was told that I needed to repent. Often I’d leave those sessions feeling depressed and angry, feeling like a child because I’d been reprimanded for not being an obedient wife.”
Mark also counseled the couple. During one of those sessions, Amy remembers Mark saying, “Hey guys, tough shit. It’s too late now. You made a choice to get married. Get it together.” That “tough it out” sentiment, Amy says, was often the advice they received from many members of church leadership, not just Mark.
“Once, when I shared with Mark that I felt neglected in my marriage, he told that I was being a nagging wife and that I needed to suck it up. That was something Mark preached about a lot–the nagging wife.”
Not living up to Mars Hill’s marital standards had emotional consequences, at least for Amy. “I felt a lot of guilt and fear, fear of disappointing the leadership or failing our other married friends. Sometimes I’d go through long periods of deep depression.”
One of the bigger obstacles to their marriage working, at least within the confines of Mars Hill’s standards, was Amy and her inability to become like the other wives at Mars Hill. “The longer I was there, the more I realized that I didn’t share the same ideals as those leading the church. I didn’t fit into their ‘wife mold’.”
What was it about your personality that didn’t fit Mars Hill’s so-called “wife mold”?
I spoke up too much. I wasn’t, according to them, “obedient”. I had opinions. Listen, I tried all the time to fit into that mold–you have no idea–but it wasn’t me. I couldn’t do it and I didn’t. I couldn’t just put my head down and remain silent. I was called “fiery” and “feisty” all the time, and I’ll admit, I am fiery and feisty. But that’s just me, a hot blooded Italian, I guess.
But I’m sure you weren’t the only married woman at Mars Hill who spoke up?
I was the only woman I knew who spoke up. All of the wives I knew followed along. They didn’t dare speak out. But that wasn’t me. I’ve always had a little dark streak–not a “mean spirited” streak–I’ve just always had a darker sense of humor. I like a little shock value here and there. I have tattoos and dark features. I’m also a fairly accomplished artist (she’s a painter of abstract and modern types of work on canvas. And today, she’s internationally known) and have always had a tendency to be more free-thinking.
And that was considered wrong?
Yes. I was often made to feel that, because I am different, I was living in sin and not conforming, that I wasn’t being obedient in my role as a wife. Over and over again, I was told that I was the problem, that I needed to submit, and “get my shit together”.
Amy and her husband’s marital unhappiness went on for years (the couple was married for eight-and-a-half years). At the time, leaving Mars Hill wasn’t an option. Her husband wouldn’t give it a second thought. And Amy’s unhappiness grew.
“I felt trapped,” says Amy, “And the guilt from our circle of friends at Mars Hill was unreal, sometimes oppressive.”
Amy says that she and her husband discussed the possibility of leaving each other on several occasions throughout the years.
“We hashed over getting a divorce for years,” Amy says, “but then the fear, guilt, and pressure would take over and we’d end up staying together.”
On one occasion in 2001, during a time when Amy struggled to become pregnant, she confesses that she’d almost conjured up the courage to ask her husband for a divorce. “I knew it would be better to do it before I got pregnant.”
But then, out of the blue, Amy found out that she was already two months pregnant.
“I’ll never forget what my husband said when I told him. He was standing in the bathroom doorway. I said, ‘I’m pregnant’. He hung his head and said, ‘Well, I guess we better try and make it work.'”
Just about twelve months later, Amy became pregnant again.
Amy adores being a mother, but she also admits that those first years of motherhood were some of the most difficult days of her life.
“I was knee-deep in diapers for 3-4 years at home alone. I totally lost my identity and grew even more depressed. I lost myself and felt, not only stifled, but undeniably trapped in my circumstances and surroundings. It was my only reality and I literally feared I couldn’t survive much longer because mentally I was downtrodden and unheard, it was unbearable and I knew I couldn’t go anymore. I felt like such a chronic failure compared to the ‘wives’ [at Mars Hill] and what Mark would preach I was supposed to do or be. I just couldn’t hit the marks he taught. And honestly, I started to see that I didn’t even want to.”
On numerous occasions, throughout their rocky marriage, Amy’s husband would confide to Mark about what was happening at home. On many of those occasions, Mark would summon them to his office for a talk. Amy admits that, toward the end, at a time when she describes her marriage as “in absolute shreds,” the whole “getting dragged into Mark’s office” routine was getting old. It happened so often that Amy began referring to Mark’s office as the principal’s office. “I felt like a ‘problem child’,” she says.
But Amy was wrong. She wasn’t a “problem child”, at least, not according to Mark Driscoll.
Amy learned what Mark really thought about her during one of those visits to the “principal’s office”.
This meeting took place in a private room at Mars Hill’s Earl Building**. It was only the three of them: Amy, her husband, and Mark. Amy was sitting beside her husband on a leather couch. They were facing Mark.
“Mark started the meeting by telling us he was convinced that I had demons,” says Amy, “and then he went on to add that my demons were ‘sexual demons’.”
Amy describes Mark’s demeanor toward her as a “fiery tirade”. During this encounter, Mark told Amy he believed that every one of her sins were “sex based.” He said that the demons inside her were out to destroy every one of the marriages in their circle of friends.
“At one point,” says Amy, “he asked me which one of my husband’s friends I had imagined sleeping with.”
Amy was dumbfounded by Mark’s questions and accusations. But she also admits, because she no longer trusted Mark, she was also slightly terrified of what was about to happen. (NEED PROOF? Mark “Sees Things”)
“A part of me didn’t give a damn what Mark was saying or what he proclaimed as ‘truth,'” says Amy, “because by that time I was already one foot out the door and I wasn’t buying what Mark was selling. But then there was a part of me that was also pretty spooked.”
Mark then announced that he would be performing an exorcism. Amy says that was the word he used.
“Mark began the exorcism by praying a prayer of protection against Satan and anything else that was not of God. And he asked for a ‘shield’ to cover us.”
Right before he started the exorcism, Mark told Amy that he would be asking the demons very specific pointed questions. “He told me that it would feel like a normal conversation.”
Mark stared hard at Amy and began yelling questions at her “sex demons”. His fierce glare seemed to look past her as he screamed his questions at her face. He asked the demons what their names were. He asked them about sex. He asked them about Amy’s past sexual sins. He asked them about Amy’s current lustful thoughts. He asked them if they were planning to destroy marriages in his church. And then he asked whose marriages were they planning to destroy and how.
And then, according to Amy, Mark cast the demons out.
So, was Mark right? Did it feel like a normal conversation?
No. Not at all.
Why do you think Mark claimed that your “demons” were “sexual”?
It’s always his go-to topic. Ironically, my husband had more “demons” than one could imagine. But his demons were of no consequence and unimportant to the church. It was somehow my fault because “maybe I wasn’t the godly, providing wife” I was supposed to be.
That said, Mark was also aware that my husband and I had sexual troubles from day one. And regarding our sex life–because I was essentially grinning and bearing it most of the time–Mark concluded that I was a terrible wife to my husband. Even when my husband looked at porn, Mark blamed me because I wasn’t doing my “wifely duty”. I felt violated when sex was expected of me. I was intensely miserable and neglected throughout my marriage, but Mark deemed that irrelevant because I was the wife and my duty was to serve my husband sexually.
Of course, I had my own “sin” just like anyone else and I was open about it. I was frank and transparent about it. But my sin had nothing to do with sex and did not have anything to do with why I didn’t want to stay in my situation. Mark didn’t have a clue about what was in my head or in my heart.
Do you think Mark just made that part up?
I think Mark obsesses about sex. I know that many have debated whether or not Mark has an underlying issue related to sex and lust. I think that debate is valid because it is absolutely one of his core focuses. In my opinion, Mark projected his issues onto me when he told me that I had sex demons. I think he has a problem. Even when I called Mark my friend, I always found it odd how he would force sexual topics into sermons and into all of our counseling sessions.
How did your husband respond to the “exorcism”?
He was sold–hook, line and sinker. I think he felt exonerated. It was like his sins had been wiped clean because Mark Driscoll said that his wife was just chock full of demons.
How did you feel afterward?
I just wanted to hightail it out of that room as fast as I could. I was emotionally drained. I felt like I’d experienced psychological torture. I felt like an experiment.
**UPDATE**According to Mars Hill, Mark performed a “Spiritual Warfare Trial” (a definition and instructions for a Spiritual Warfare Trial can be found here, toward the bottom of the page). They also deny using the word “exorcism”.**
A few weeks later, in the spring of 2005, Amy woke up one Saturday morning and told her husband that she wanted a divorce. Her husband delivered the news to Mark in person. Amy says that, upon hearing the news, Mark once again summoned her and her husband to his office.
During that encounter, Amy says that Mark told her that she was no longer welcome at Mars Hill. However, Mark also told her that if she was ever “repentant” and desired to reach out to anyone that she should send a letter. “He assured me that my letter would be ‘accepted’ with a soft heart.”
A few days after that last meeting with Mark, Amy picked up the phone and called her best friend. When her friend answered, she told Amy that she was no longer allowed to have any contact with her and that she needed to hang up the phone.
“She was my closest friend for eight years. I’ve never heard from her since.”
Amy learned later that Mars Hill’s church leadership had instructed members that they were not allowed to have any contact with her.
“According to them, I was in sin. Being shunned shocked me. I wasn’t told that was going to happen. And it was devastating. A lot of lies got told about me. And the gossip was terrible.”
When the silence and loneliness of being shunned became too great to handle, Amy sat down and wrote six letters and stuck them in the mail. “I sent one of them to Grace,” says Amy. And then she waited. And waited. And waited.
She’s still waiting for one of those six women to respond.
Amy says that no one from Mars Hill has ever attempted to reach out to her.
“I guess they still think of me as a bad girl. Or perhaps I’m still being shunned or maybe I’m dead to them. But there’s one difference: I don’t care anymore. I stopped caring several years ago.”
Do you feel as though you’ve recovered from this experience?
Yes. But that took a long time. The abuse I experienced at Mars Hill had very damaging repercussions that lasted many, many years. Being shunned is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to go through. But I’m definitely a different, stronger person now because of it. I love my kids. They keep me alive and they adore me. They are such protective and compassionate people. And they are my world.
How is your relationship with your ex-husband? Is he still a member at Mars Hill?
Yes. He’s still a member at Mars Hill. He remarried nine months after our divorce. Our relationship has been extremely bumpy since his remarriage. I can only assume the blow to his manly Mars Hill ego when I left has consumed him and he’s grown bitter roots that are there to this day.
Why did you decide to talk about your experience now?
I read some similar stories from others who came out of Mars Hill and I learned that there was such a thing as spiritual abuse. I decided that enough time has passed that I feel comfortable telling the truth about my own experience. I’m also very concerned for my children. They still have to go to this “church” with their father on the days that he has them. I fear what they are exposed to and, in fact, there have already been negative effects.
What are your thoughts regarding God now? Do you still consider yourself to be a Christian?
I consider myself agnostic, I suppose. I don’t think about it too often. I definitely do not consider myself a Christian/believer. And, in fact, I’m not certain whether I truly ever did. My experience with Jesus was, in my mind, really not even a true one. It was born out of guilt and forcing myself to fit into the Christian mold that, for many years, I tried desperately to fit into. I had no other life outside of the church life and no other options or escape so I felt compelled to cling onto it as long as I could. I had a hard time fitting in that pretty little Mars Hill box and I had a hard time swallowing the pill of Christianity.
My hope and prayer is that Amy will continue to find peace on her journey and that grace will shine brightly on the path ahead.
**Late yesterday, I notified Mars Hill Church’s publicity department that I was running this story and offered them an opportunity to comment along with a few questions. Initially, they were going to issue a statement, but later said they would wait to comment until they read the story. They also directed me to this sermon series by Mark Driscoll.