In case you haven’t seen it yet, Matthew Paul Turner (who blogs, and tweets with the moniker @jesusneedsnewpr), has an amazing–and amazingly painful–story on his blog about a young man named Andrew who, after admitting to cheating on his fiancee, was subjected to overly harsh church discipline at Mars Hill Church. There’s a lot more to the story than that, and I encourage you to read it. (It’s in two parts, one and two.)

Allow me to add a few somewhat random thoughts before you click on over (or after you come back). First, this affirms one of the things I believe in more than I believe in just about anything else, and that is the power of stories. For the most part, Turner just tells Andrew’s story. Sure, he editorializes a few times here and there, but it’s mostly just one guy’s story of how a church and its leadership hurt him when he was most vulnerable. This, more than anything, is why I encourage you to read it.

My second thought relates to the fact that Turner has come under a lot of criticism (check the comments section and his Twitter feed) for telling only Andrew’s side of the story, and not talking to anyone else at Mars Hill. Turner rightly defends himself by insisting that what he is doing is not journalism, but blogging. Thus, he says, he’s under no obligation to any kind of journalistic rules. This is an interesting thing about blogging, and I’d like to think that, as a person who considers himself both a blogger and a journalist, I might hold myself to similar standars across platforms. But, that being said, I accept Turner’s defense, and think he’s justified in it. What I’d like to see now is for a journalist to pick up the trail–tell more of the story, get input from both sides, and bring this kind of spiritual and emotional abuse to light.

Finally, I know that some form of church discipline is necessary. And, when people commit themselves to a church, they also subject themselves to that discipline. This is applies to any kind of social organization–breaking the rules at work can lead to getting fired, cheating in school will get you kicked out, heck, you can even get booted from a bar for acting out of line. But, as Andrew’s story illustrates, church discipline is also the area where it is most easy for those in authority to take advantage of the power that has been entrusted them and to cross lines into manipulation and abuse. I have seen the damaging effects of church discipline gone wrong, as I suspect many readers have as well. In light of this, Andrew’s story is a chilling reminder of just how messed up we all–including our spiritual leaders–can be.

Anyway, if you haven’t clicked away yet, I really do encourage you to read the post.

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Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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  • http://stevebremner.com Steve Bremner

    Hey Bro
    I was thinking of leaving a comment like this on Matthew Paul turner’s blog but it might get lost.

    I’ve seen people defend the church’s actions stating some form of discipline is necessary. OK sure, but, the church from what I can tell is going overkill.

    I won’t exegete all of Matthew 18:15-18 here, but it applies when someone is in gross sin and you go confront the person one on one, and if they don’t listen, you go with a witness. Then if that doesn’t work, tell the whole crowd.

    This is NOT being applied properly or Scripturally to Andrew, if his story is correct. Why? HE voluntarily confessed his sin and sought to repent and deal with it properly. He’s not trying to stay in sin or refuse accountability. It seems to me like they’re just offended he bucked their authority, more than that he’s actually in some kind of shame.

    Remember, the passage in Matthew also states that if someone won’t listen (which does not appear to be Andrew’s case–again, if his version of the story is correct), he just doesn’t want their heavy-handed version of discipline. I wouldn’t either!

    What the guy needs is help and encouragement, not ostracization. Should he agree to or submit to some kind of accountability to help this area of his life? Sure, it seems right. Does it need to be in such bureaucratic methods and paper work with everybody knowing his business? No, IMO.

    As a friend of mine said when I showed him the story: “I guess I have reached the point where I am no longer shocked by the dysfunction and anti-christ beliefs and actions that are possible in the machine of Protestant Reformation-based religion.”

    Documents and ‘meetings’ like they wanted are what happens when relationship is absent from ‘church.’, but I find myself rambling.

    Thanks for posting this.

  • http://robertcargill.com robert r. cargill

    this episode confirms what many scholars have thought for some time:

    seattle based mars hill church is a cult. mark driscoll is the cult leader.

    charismatic. claims clairvoyance (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVyFyauE4ig). harsh, shame-based disciplinary tactics. strict control over the membership. heavy emphasis on neo-fundamentalist doctrine and ‘proper’ belief. security guards at the doors. deliberate recruiting of men (which driscoll refers to as ‘winning everything: the families, the women, the children, the money, the businesses – everything.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lex6orNNzTs)continually consolidating power structure into his own hands. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/magazine/11punk-t.html?_r=1&pagewanted=4).

    it’s harsh, and we may not want to believe it, but mars hill is a cult. mark driscoll is its leader.

    http://robertcargill.com/2012/01/24/how-much-more-evidence-do-you-need-mark-driscolls-mars-hill-church-is-a-cult/

    • TheoS.

      Thanks for telling it like it is, Professor.
      Unfortunately, too many Christian “leaders” are giving their consent – and in some cases outright complicity – to these abusive practices by their silence.

  • http://missionaljourneyman.com Adam Gonnerman

    The church I’m part of practices church discipline, and I’m sure those who are subject to it in many cases would write something up like this story about Andrew. It’s hard to say what the truth is without hearing the other side. In any case, I’m grateful my church’s focus is on discipline as restorative, rather than punitive. We have a few “restorations” of members every year, and celebrate them. We also have the rare formal exclusion. It happens and it’s necessary if we want to be serious about our discipleship.

  • http://www.theologyoutofbounds.wordpress.com Jon Coutts

    I have no desire to defend Mars Hill at all, but church discipline (best read in terms of the more positive word “discipleship”) is a sticky thing and it would seem preferable for the person in question to confront them directly with a third “party” involved rather than go to the interwebs. That’s not to say that Mars Hill shouldn’t be confronted, but I don’t think differentiating between the methods and ethics of blogging vs. journalism is really the decisive point if we’re talking about how Christians ought to sort such things out and confront them publicly. Surely there are good distinctions to be made between journalism and blogging but both realms would have their own rationale which would in turn, at least for Christians, be weighed along with the concerns to do things the most wise and loving and truthful way possible. I don’t raise that to make a definite judgement call on this situation, since I can’t possibly know all the factors involved. But it does seem like the “blogging v. journalism” defence is inadequate on its own (at least for Christians).

  • http://www.submommy.com Karen

    I’m not well-versed in the ways of such church discipline, but in my experience, there is an expectation of confidentiality on both the part of the church leader and the individual seeking this “restoration.” I see the roles as similar to that of a counselor and a patient.

    I have no idea who in my church family has been “disciplined.” NOR SHOULD I. As far as I can see, Andrew has been utterly betrayed by this so-called leadership by having them hold him up as a subject of ridicule and *gossip* under the guise of “restoration.”

    You know, gossip. One of God’s big no-no’s.

  • idonotexist

    my mother was part of the music ministry at the church i grew up in for years. through a series of events, it came out that my mom had gotten physical with the man who ended up becoming my stepfather. the pastor seemed to be the only one to understand the circumstances (that they hadn’t been that way in a long time, that my mom felt weird about it not only pre-marriage, but also so soon after leaving my father, etc), but it was certain members of the congregation that tried to destroy my mother’s reputation through it all. she only stepped down because she didn’t need to take the church’s money anymore to make a living off of (she directed music there, plus 3 other freelance piano/organ playing gigs she would get to make sure my sister and i weren’t homeless).

    what shakes me about this story is that i’ve only known church discipline to those active in church ministry.

    andrew here is just some guy involved in the church community, and clearly torn by his actions to the point of repentance. what the hell is wrong with these people?

  • Pingback: Provoketive: Driscoll Fail « unchained faith

  • St. Ralph

    Jonathan … are you aware that Jefferson Bethke of “Hate religion, love Jesus” fame attends Mars Hill, and that nearly everything he says in his video comes directly from Mark Driscoll?

    That being the case, it just occurs to me that excruciatingly punitive “church discipline” looks a lot like the big bad “religion” that Jesus supposedly came to abolish.

    Doesn’t it?

    • http://www.jonathandfitzgerald.com Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

      I do know this, and I’m happy you made this connection. I think you’re right on.

  • http://jbburnett.com john burnett

    MPT wrote, “…this letter comes off like the Roman Catholic church during the Dark Ages”. Exactly. In fact, the formal term for it was “excommunicatus vitandus”, i.e., “excommunicated [and] to be shunned”. Except that, in the RCC, such a sentence was reserved for notorious public sinners, like kings or nobles who grossly violated the community by their behavior and refused to repent at all. And the sentence could be overcome by a public act of repentance. But it was never imposed after a public act of repentance, as here!

    The more i hear of driscoll’s ‘church’, the more odious it seems. He ought to listen to one of his own church members on ‘why i hate religion, but love jesus’!

  • Anonymous

    One of the most common and damaging things I have noticed is Christian churches that pound into your head that pastors are put in place by God, they are authority, and you must obey them without question. This helps congregations lull themselves into a pattern of not listening to their hearts and seeking out the voice of God, unriddled with men’s voices and unbiblical perversities that tell you throwing someone who is seeking help out of a congregation and ordering people not to speak to him is WRONG. Christians, listen to the voice in your heart that says, “What the crap?! This is WRONG.” Yes, Andrew should have been required to attend COUNSELING, and REPENT. Yes, he committed a sin, yes it was wrong and yes it hurt someone. Start throwing stones if you have no sins and even if you do, have never hurt anyone. These people have forgotten JESUS forgives, and only He has the power to judge someone repentant or unrepentant. Mark Driscoll is not Jesus, and Mars Hill does not have the right to issue punishment or judgement on Andrew. And yes – it’s clear from the letter on Mars Hill’s On the City website Mars Hill will be the judge of Andrew and where he’s at with his walk with God, they removed Jesus being the judge of Andrew completely and put themselves in total authority. This is completely unacceptable behavior from a church that claims to be ‘all about Jesus’.

  • Angie

    One of the most common and damaging things I have noticed is Christian churches that pound into your head that pastors are put in place by God, they are authority, and you must obey them without question. This helps congregations lull themselves into a pattern of not listening to their hearts and seeking out the voice of God, unriddled with men’s voices and unbiblical perversities that tell you throwing someone who is seeking help out of a congregation and ordering people not to speak to him is WRONG. Christians, listen to the voice in your heart that says, “What the crap?! This is WRONG.” Yes, Andrew should have been required to attend COUNSELING, and REPENT. Yes, he committed a sin, yes it was wrong and yes it hurt someone. Start throwing stones if you have no sins and even if you do, have never hurt anyone. These people have forgotten JESUS forgives, and only He has the power to judge someone repentant or unrepentant. Mark Driscoll is not Jesus, and Mars Hill does not have the right to issue punishment or judgement on Andrew. And yes – it’s clear from the letter on Mars Hill’s On the City website Mars Hill will be the judge of Andrew and where he’s at with his walk with God, they removed Jesus being the judge of Andrew completely and put themselves in total authority. This is completely unacceptable behavior from a church that claims to be ‘all about Jesus’.

  • Kathy

    My guess is that if we add up the number of people who read this site and multiply it by the number of years each of us has attended church, it would come to a pretty big number.

    So here’s my question – has anyone ever heard of a church “disciplining” a member for the things that Jesus REALLY hated? Anyone ever been disciplined for being a hypocrite? For being greedy? For oppressing the poor with their business tactics?

    My own denomination recently spent three years deciding whether undocumented immigrants should be allowed to take communion… No one ever asked whether all those wealthy farmers who pay the undocumented workers sub-minimum wage and provide them with filthy housing should be disciplined.

    I’ve concluded that in many churches, the whole process of “discipline” is just our version of all the more prurient aspects of reality television.

  • http://jbburnett.com john burnett

    Angie, i don’t get why the guy should have been ‘required to attend COUNSELING’ (esp. in ALL CAPS). It seems to me that he is already repenting by confessing the matter to his elders. Seeing his particular needs, they might well encourage him to get some counseling, but isn’t this idea that he should be ‘required’ to conform to some kind of general program the very root of Mars Hill’s problem?

    We need to confess to one another, but the guy did that. He was already seeking counsel, if not ‘COUNSELING’. ‘Discipline’ (aka punishment), however, is not needed where there is already a sincere desire to amend, except perhaps in the sense of some practice (such as increased, but moderate, fasting and prayer, undertaken for a specific period), as a kind of therapeutic measure— if such a therapy can be administered by a wise physician (which it doesn’t seem like these guys are). Otherwise, and in any case, the church’s job is to manifest the forgiveness and reconciliation of Christ. And ‘the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easily entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy; and the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace’ (Jm 3.17-18).

    Kathy, I think your words are spot on, and i hope you yourself asked your denomination those hard questions. And i agree about the prurience. But i’ve always felt also that this whole process of ‘disciplining’ smacks above all of human arrogance and self-righteousness:

    ‘We’re obviously holier than you are, so if you want to be in good standing with us again— why, you’ll just have to jump through some hoops until we say stop!’

    Well, ‘brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted’ (Gal 6.1).

    I’ll acknowledge my sins and ask for forgiveness and help, but if my church required this kind of ‘disciplining’ and ‘counseling’ for something i was already broken up about, it’d be pretty clear at that point that such a church had no room for sinners. And just as clearly, I don’t belong there!

    Isn’t the idea that people have to conform to some kind of general program the very root of Mars Hill’s problem?

  • Ryan

    Frustrating. Troubling. Disconcerting. Sad. Frightening. I will freely admit that I underwent my own church discipline in 2000 at Overlake Christian Church and this story horrifyingly reminds me my own account, with much pain and trembling, even 12 years later. My heart BREAKS for Andrew. My flesh CRAWLS at reading this article. We are to be Jesus with skin on. We are to faithfully administer God’s GRACE in its various forms. Legalistic tarring and feathering of God’s chosen people, His royal priesthood, His holy nation, does NOT result in better community or better growth. It results in an impoverished church, a beleaguered sense of trust in God and the body of Christ, and cultivates a climate of fear-based worship where God’s children are walking on eggshells. I can only imagine what Andrew must feel right now. Andrew, I love you in Jesus’ Name. You are repentant, you have repented, and you are forgiven. I do not know you, I have never met you, but you are LOVED IN JESUS’ NAME. I am deeply proud of you for bringing your sin into the light, and for bringing Mars Hill’s leadership’s sin into the light as well. Knowing church discipline all too well, I can freely also admit that one sin that cost me my position of leadership, my community at the church, my connection to the body of Christ there, etc., also eventually lead to an even greater sin which cost me my freedom and sent me to prison. I do not blame my actions on the church or the leadership, but I will indefatigably say that there is an inexorable tie between the church discipline / excommunication I received from Overlake Christian Church, and my eventual crime. Do I wish I could take back my crime? Yes. But I also wish with all my heart that I could take back the church discipline I received, and replace it with something restorative like a warm hug. Alas, warm hugs are not mentioned in Scripture for those undergoing church discipline. And such a legalistic, grace-lacking approaches only send us further down the drain, with no hope of compassionate restoration. Wash your hands of us if you will, you beloved megachurches, and in the process so subsequently condemn yourselves as unloving, uncompassionate, and unbiblical. Jesus loves me the same that he does me, and that is my Amen, because truthfully I’d rather ALWAYS be the guy beating his chest, saying “God be merciful to me, a sinner” than be you.

    • truth

      First of all sin must be repented of by all of us without exception. Secondly if anyone in your life is so squishy soft as to ignore the mandate to “expose the deeds of darkness” than they are in league with satan not with the truth of the word of God and they are helping you damn your own soul…should you really be seeking to be hugged when your sin has so greatly offended God who is perfectly Holy and that you have so obviously offended and hurt the one(s) for whom you were forced into a prison sentence over??? It would be like saying…”I can’t follow Christ and His truth because people are being mean to me and asking me to tell the truth about my sin (confess) and further abandon my lies (turn and repent) which I have loved with all my life!” It reminds me of a story that a man who said he was seeking to get out of a homosexual lifestyle and the pastor said “We don’t accept fags at our church!” and so this man leaves and says he couldn’t possibly follow Christ because of this offensive pastor and what he had said to him in his greatest time of need. So I make this argument – Has God’s absolute truth changed in this circumstance? No-He and His truth are “the same yesterday, today and forever.” So then this man who is seeking to “escape the condemnation” of his own sin is not really interested in following Christ as Savior and His complete exposure of this man’s sin but rather have someone console him in his sin rather than call him out of it by the truth of the Word of God….You will indeed perish if you do not acknowledge your sin and repent of it and it will continue to destroy your soul and sear your conscience until you are unable to acknowledge your sin…Repent and be saved…if you don’t think your sin is sin then you don’t need a Savior and you have made Christ into nothing and He won’t be made into nothing even in your eyes…

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