Through out my 25 years in an abusive church (you can read about it in my book, “Girl At The End of the World”), many people told me what I should and should not do. My whole life was dictated by “shoulds” and “should nots.” And when outsiders started telling me what I should do–even a “good” thing like “leave The Assembly!”–it just felt like another person trying to control me.
I’ve maintained for years that Mars Hill Church is a dangerous and abusive church. Recently, I went so far as to suggest it was a cult.
But I’ve stopped short of telling Mars Hill Church what to do. Why? Because Mark Driscoll isn’t going to resign just because an outsider tells him to.
I mean, I understand the good intention behind the recent calls for his resignation. Those of us outside Mars Hill Church have become increasingly alarmed by the stories emerging from exiting members. We are trying to find a way to be helpful and supportive!
But I just want to issue a mild word of caution to those of us seeking to “help”: I remember what it was like to be inside an abusive church and outsiders telling us what to do only made that worse.
If outsiders had called for my grandfather’s resignation, I would have felt happy that the abuses were being brought to light. However, I also would have known that outsiders calling for his resignation wouldn’t make a difference in what my grandfather did or didn’t do. My grandfather wasn’t gonna resign just because outsiders said he should. Ultimately–when my grandfather refused to repent–I was the one who had to make the choice to leave.
I get lots of emails from parents, siblings, friends and lovers all asking me the same question: “My child/brother/sister/girlfriend/boyfriend is stuck inside a dangerous church. What can I do to help them?”
The answer is always the same: you can live your own life and be happy in it. You can be a welcoming, loving presence. But you cannot control, change or force a person to leave an abusive church or relationship. That’s not how life works. That’s not how freedom works.
Ultimately, I had to to make my own choice to leave The Assembly. I often feel that I stayed far too long. But that was my choice. The key to my freedom was that I chose it. And furthermore, I chose it when I was ready to choose it.
Freedom isn’t freedom when others force it upon you.
This is why I’m leery about bloggers and outside media telling Mars Hill Church what it’s supposed to do. Do I think Mark Driscoll is a dangerous leader? Yes. Do I think Mars Hill Church needs to drastically re-examine it’s systems and structures? Yes. Do I believe Mars Hill Church has engaged in spiritual abuse? Yes.
HOWEVER. It is one thing to provide information and quite another thing to start issuing orders telling Mark Driscoll to resign.
When people who are not a part of Mars Hill Church start issuing orders, we are doing exactly what Mark Driscoll does to his congregation: telling them what to do.
True freedom means giving those within Mars Hill Church the freedom to do whatever they believe is best for themselves and their church–even if we disagree.
I, for one, fully believe Mars Hill church members are capable of taking whatever action is necessary. Indeed, I believe their freedom to take action is profoundly necessary in order for true repentance to happen.
Despite the rampant abuses, members of Mars Hill Church can still exercise their free will and hold their pastor accountable. They can protest (which they are!). They can spark massive change from within. They can call for Mark’s resignation. And if that doesn’t work (which, in my opinion, it won’t work because the systems were set up by Mark to serve Mark), well, then they can leave.
I believe the sincere Christians inside Mars Hill Church have just as much access to God as I did when I was inside my abusive church. God is big enough to find us anywhere. Mars Hill Church members have the same free will I had. I know they can make the right decisions. I trust them with freedom. I don’t need to tell them what to do.
And when/if they leave, they will discover there are many spiritual abuse survivors out here. They are not alone.
UPDATE/CAVEAT: One scenario I do think could be helpful is if an outside pastor or leadership team from a trusted, healthy church stepped in to help Mars Hill. If the broader evangelical community sees what’s going on–then yes, an experienced pastor with good credibility could offer some invaluable help. In my humbly bloggy opinion, Mars Hill could use some of THAT outside help right about now.