The pastor of one of the Pacific north-west’s most successful evangelical mega churches stepped down on Tuesday, amid allegations that he bullied dissenting members and plagiarized.
Mark Driscoll announced his resignation from the Mars Hill church in Seattle, Washington, in a letter to church accountability advisers published by Religion News Service and later on the Mars Hill website.
“I readily acknowledge I am an imperfect messenger of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Driscoll. “Specifically, I have confessed to past pride, anger and a domineering spirit,” he said.
Described by some as an “evangelical bad boy,” Driscoll founded the now-14,000-member church in 1996. The pastor gives sermons the way some explain neurology in Ted Talks, and he’s credited with bringing evangelicalism into the digital age.
Last Easter, for example, the church’s 15 locations in five states packed in more than 21,000 attendees for its service, and another 50,000 people watched the downtown Seattle service online. Other online promotions, like Mars Hill GO, have the look and sound of an iPad app, but support the church’s missionising theology.
Despite the church’s sophisticated online presence, some of Driscoll’s theological views have been cited as opposing modern sensibilities. Complementarianism, one of the church’s teachings, reasons that men and women were created by God equal in dignity, but that the sexes have specific and distinct roles to play. Men, for instance, are expected to lead the household – and their wives.
After years of pressure, Driscoll took a six-week leave of absence from the church in mid-August, and tendered his resignation to the church’s board of advisers and accountability that investigated him.
“Other issues, such as aspects of my personality and leadership style, have proven to be divisive within the Mars Hill context, and I do not want to be the source of anything that might detract from our church’s mission to lead people to a personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ,” Driscoll said.
Controversy began to coalesce around Driscoll in 2007, when he attempted to reduce the power of church elders through the congregation’s bylaws, according to the New York Times. Later, the nine church elders who asked Driscoll to step down resigned or were fired, Driscoll’s books were pulled from the 186 stores of the LifeWay Christian Resources retailer, and petitions called for an investigation into financial mismanagement.
Leaders told RNS that Driscoll was never charged with heresy or immorality, but that, “Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.”