Keeping Mark Driscoll off the stage at Hillsong Conference is important to me for a couple reasons. Firstly, I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian sect that was in many ways very similar to Mars Hill, led by an angry, outwardly charming man very much like Mark Driscoll. So I have a kind of insider's perspective. I've seen the harm that this sort of abusive leadership can do to people, from the inside, as I was eventually in the inner leadership circle at the church in which I grew up. (In fact, by the way, if you haven't had the opportunity, I highly recommend journalist Stefan Ulstein's brilliant book "Growing Up Fundamentalist", in which he shares the 30 best interviews among 100 interviews he did with people who grew up in fundamentalist churches)
Secondly, I'm from Seattle, and lived there for much of the entire existence of Mars Hill as an entity, although I moved to Melbourne, Australia, in late 2009. My wife and I went to an early service of Mars Hill rather a long time ago, when it was a much smaller concern than that into which it grew. Having grown up in quite a toxic church culture, I immediately recognised Mars Hill for what it was, on that first visit, and never went back. However, as it became a larger and larger organisation (and this is probably true for many folks in Seattle), I grew increasingly displeased with the growing number of people I knew, including a couple of people with whom I was close, who were terribly hurt by Mark Driscoll and the culture which he was creating at Mars Hill. I dislike it because I've been there and experienced that trauma and pain firsthand.
As you can likely imagine, I was super hopeful when it all started coming to light in a more public way, last year. I'm a gigantic fan of the idea that people can change and become more loving, less toxic human beings, because I myself have very much undergone that process. However, much like his own board of elders who found Mark guilty of a number of charges after investigating, I was very disappointed to see that Mark completely circumvented any process of repentance, change, and making amends to the many people he had hurt--choosing instead to resign.
Now, having demonstrated little to no evidence of any change, having undergone no visible process of repentance and making amends, Mark is exuberantly relaunching his career as a pastor, and Hillsong is very much helping him do so by putting him on stage in front of 20,000 people in Sydney. It's almost like the toxic Christianity he practiced is chasing me from my hometown of Seattle down here to Australia. He's obviously a brilliant speaker, and has used a couple of other recent speaking engagements in the US, to much smaller crowds, to cast himself as the victim, convincing many in spite of the reams of evidence that are available to the contrary. This is going to happen on a much larger stage at Hillsong Conference, and people are going to also be led to buy his books, listen to his sermons on his newly launched "ministry" website, and, in a word, Hillsong is going to very much help him launch a new church in Phoenix, which is apparently already in the works. Then people are going to be trampled and abused there much as they were in Seattle and in the church in which I grew up. (Also by the way if you haven't read it, I also gigantically recommend Jeff VanVonderen's brilliant book "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse")
I and a few others are planning to show up at the entrance to Hillsong's Sydney Waterloo location on Sunday morning May 31st for all three services, with signs, and hopefully engage people from hillsong in conversation, letting them know why we're there and encouraging them to put pressure on their leaders not to have Driscoll at the Conference. We plan to be peaceful and gracious.