One of the three former executive elders at the recently dissolved Mars Hill Church has publicly apologized for his behavior while serving there.
In a series of blog posts published over the past few weeks, Sutton Turner has taken responsibility for his role in a book-buying scandal and for helping to perpetuate a culture of fear and intimidation at the Seattle megachurch co-founded by Mark Driscoll.
“Early on in my time at Mars Hill, I unfortunately operated in a sinful way that was consistent with the existing church culture that had grown and been cultivated since the early years of the church,” Turner wrote. He later clarified that statement in an email to me, saying, “I don’t want people to think I blame the culture. I take responsibility for my own actions.”
Turner does not mention Driscoll by name in any of the blog articles detailing his time at Mars Hill. When I asked him specifically about Driscoll, he said, “I would prefer to answer questions about me and what Jesus has taught me through my experiences.”
Turner said he wrote these articles – three so far – “to help other leaders like me. I pray that someone – even just one person – can be spared the consequences of his/her own mistakes by paying careful attention to mine beforehand. I also pray that my public confession of sin and admission of mistakes will further enhance opportunity for reconciliation and restoration among those whom I have experienced conflict.”
Critics of Mars Hill Church have so far praised Turner’s public confession. Rob Smith, a former Mars Hill deacon who became a vocal critic of Driscoll and the church, said he hoped Turner’s “willingness to admit error” would begin “healing and reconciliation that could be a powerful testimony to Seattle and to the world.”
Turner said he has been meeting with individuals associated with the church, and that the repentance and reconciliation process actually began last year.
“Since March of 2014, I have reached out to 25 people with whom I had a relationship where there had been issues,” he said. “I have had meetings or phone calls with 21 of them. The remaining have yet to meet with me after multiple requests on my part.”
At its peak, Mars Hill operated 15 church “campuses” in five states. Most of these campuses have since become independent churches. Other churches also have formed. For example, Tim Gaydos, who left Mars Hill in 2013, now pastors a new church in Seattle with 200-300 worshippers and an understated name, “A Seattle Church.”
Turner summed up the feelings of many who are picking up the pieces in the post-Mars Hill era in Seattle: “I look back on 2011 and 2012 with a lot of regret, but I’m also very thankful for the Holy Spirit and his ability to grow us all to be more like Jesus.”
Meanwhile, Driscoll, who refused an interview request for this article, has kept a low profile since he stepped down as Mars Hill’s pastor last October. But he received some attention recently when his Seattle-area home went on the market for $1.6 million and after he appeared a few times as a speaker at churches and conferences. On at least one occasion his appearance brought out protesters. Pentecostal megachurch Hillsong invited Driscoll to speak at a conference in Australia this summer. But Pastor Brian Houston rescinded the invitation in the wake of unfavorable media accounts and online protests.
“The teachings of Christ are about love and forgiveness, and I will not write off Mark as a person simply because of the things that people have said about him,” Houston told Australian media. “However, I do not want unnecessary distractions during our conference.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Warren Cole Smith is vice president of WORLD News Group.)