There is a podcast taking portions of the Evangelical world by storm right now. It is The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. If you've never heard of Mars Hill, perhaps count yourself lucky. But if you are in Evangelical spaces or even in a church at all, it might be wise to give it a listen.
Mars Hill was a church started in 1996 by a young guy by the name of Mark Driscoll and a couple of other guys. But Mark catapulted himself to Evangelical stardom in the decades that followed by building a megachurch empire on the shoulders of rigid theology, macho masculinity, a win at all costs mindset, and the gross abuse of power.
While I don't know anyone who was involved in Mars Hill in Seattle, I know a lot...a LOT of people, including myself, who find aspects of the church and the culture that fed into and fed off of that church, eerily familiar.
The fear of them vs us. The arrogance. The certainty. The law hammered down with an iron fist.
The big question people ask is why didn't anybody speak up? Why didn't anybody put a stop to this before it ended up in such a train wreck. I'm sure people did speak up. I'm sure there are people who tried to stop it. And if you listen, you will find out what happened to the people who spoke up. And it wasn't pretty.
And I can tell you that this happens all the time. I can tell you what happens when people speak up about something that just isn't' right. Something that is hurting them. Something that is hurting others. Something that doesn't seem to be at all in line with who Jesus was.
What happens? Our concerns are minimized. Our needs are wrong. We are too critical. Too pessimitic. We aren't giving people the benefit of the doubt. We are expecting too much. We are projecting our bad experiences onto the church. We are wallowing in a victim mentality. We aren't respecting those in spiritual authority over us who apparently know better than we do. "Shut up and drive."
If we persist, we are called gossips. Divisive. We might even be accused of being wolves by the very wolves that are attacking the sheep.
If we give up and share our concerns and experiences farther afield we are "making the church look bad." Image management becomes the goal, not the protection of the wounded slumped over in the pews.
So what happens? The wounded give up. They see nobody who listens. Nobody who takes them seriously. Their lives don't matter. Only the teaching matters. Only the theology matters. Only the authority matter. And so the wounded crawl out the back door of the church and don't look back. And nobody comes after them. Becasue nobody wants to know. They have a good thing going.
It's a complex issue, it really is. Good things happened at Mars Hill. It is those good things that enable the toxic culture and abuse of power to grow and morph into a machine of destruction. It seems that great evil is often mixed with great good so that it goes down easier. A spoonful of sugar and all that.
Jesus said that you will know them by their fruit. I think the problem is that sometimes we have a skewed view of what is indeed good fruit at all. Is it numbers? Is it salvations? Baptisms? Theological knowledge? Children who can parrot the catechism or a biblical worldview? Is it saved marriages? Or large families? Is it money? Buildings? Ministries? Is it our political affiliation? What?
All of that can come crumbling down in a heartbeat.
I encourage you to listen. This is a cautionary tale. One we all need to learn from.