Ex-Mars Hill Church members: 'We are not anonymous'

Ex-Mars Hill Church members: 'We are not anonymous'

SEATTLE - Disillusioned former Mars Hill Church members, faced with senior pastor Mark Driscoll's claim that they "remain anonymous," have taken to Facebook to deliver on-the-record explanations of why they departed the Seattle-based megachurch.

On the Facebook page, they have invited those who left the church to make a declaration:  "Dear Pastor Mark and Mars Hill: We are not anonymous."

The result is a message to Driscoll and his executive elders:  Whatever it preaches about God's life, Mars Hill has created a lot of hurt.

Driscoll delivered a modified, limited mea culpa last week in a video address to Mars Hill members.  He acknowledged critics among those who have left his flock, but said "a lot of the people we are dealing with in this season remain anonymous.

"And so we don't know how to reconcile, or how to work things out with, with people because we're not entirely sure who they are, and so that has, that has made things a little more complex as well."

Diana Normal Antoniello used the Facebook page to tell Driscoll who she is, and let him know why she left.

"My name is Diana Antoniello and my husband is Don," she wrote. "We are not anonymous because our son, Darren Antoniello, has been at Mars Hill since 2012.  He is still fully entrenched and has become a different person because he is following false prophets and doctrines.

"He has basically excluded us from his life.  His community group is now his 'family' and he is required to share the intimate details of his life with them."

Lee Brown served Mars Hill for six years, played worship in three bands, led a Bible study, and was with a group that cooked 500 hamburgers for a Golden Gardens baptism.

"But," he told Driscoll, "you've lost your way. Autumn and I sent you and others have sent you and others our resignations with no response.  We couldn't get a meeting with you …"

Driscoll wrote to his flock in March, with a promise that he was going off social media for the rest of the year and scaling back his outside speaking. The Mars Hill co-founder had come to what he called an understanding that he could not be a "celebrity" pastor while tending to his congregation.

The dissenting voices in his church speak of a harsh, judgmental, dictatorial environment.

"I'm quite sure he (Driscoll) sees only what and whom he wants to see:  He may have noticed the money I gave him, but never me," Margaret Bullitt of Seattle wrote on the Facebook page.

As well, added Bullitt, "The more I opened myself to pastors, my community group, to elders and to lay counselors, the more I felt injured. I felt crazier and crazier as I was judged and branded, misinterpreted and misheard, rebuked and ignored."

Sarah Eno wrote of encountering Mars Hill's concept of male authority in marital relationships.  "Marriage is not about control over a possession," she wrote on the Facebook page, "and when I cried out for help Mars Hill silenced me."

Driscoll drew one passionate defender to his critics' page.  Addressing Driscoll, who helped persuade him to join Mars Hill, Randall Crisman wrote:

"When I became disabled you came out and visited me at both the awful first nursing home and the better second one.  Your counseling got me through some of the worst times of my life and I suspect it was what helped save my life during that time."

Mars Hill claims 14,000 members, worshiping in 15 locations in five states.  Driscoll was profiled by The New York Times Magazine in 2009.

He has built the megachurch on Calvinist theology and with a male-centric view of marriage and church leadership.  When the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected Episcopal presiding bishop, Driscoll responded by saying:  "If Christian males do not man up, soon the Episcopalians may vote a fluffy baby bunny rabbit as their next bishop to lead God's men."

But to former members  - the Facebook site was set up Wednesday - the church's authoritarianism has reached intolerable levels.

Travis Barnes, a member for six years, wrote of "abuse of authority, spiritual abuse, and a plethora of un-Biblical practices exercised by the elders."

And, in the words of Bina Ellefsen, "I am not anonymous.  My husband and I voiced our deep concern for Mark and Mars Hill six years ago, and our concerns have grown each passing year.  Mark never responded to our approaching him."

The disillusioned still refer to their former pastor as "Mark." They speak with pain about a church in which they had faith and to which they contributed much.

"Dear Pastor Mark and Mars Hill," wrote Sonja Schroeder, "I fully and joyously gave you my time, talent and treasure for more than eight years, and you accepted.  I was not anonymous then, and saddened to hear that as an ex-member it's convenient for you to make me anonymous now."

Or as Sarah Eno ended:

"Just to be clear.  We are not throwing stones, merely placing the ones you had given us while under your care at the feet of Jesus."

One ex-member, Joanna Petry, did say:  "Mark and Grace (Driscoll's wife), here's hoping we can meet face to face soon and live out the gospel together in Jesus' love and peace."

But reconciliation seems a far-off prospect.

Facebook page: Dear Pastor Mark and Mars Hill: We are not anonymous