To tell this part of my story is very difficult for me. While I’m pretty open to talk about other aspects of my story this part I have not shared publicly, though asked many times to do so. To me my experience at Mars Hill is small and insignificant. I don’t really understand why so many have asked to hear it. When Nicholas (my first husband) disappeared in February 2008 the story was covered by a great number of local and national media (if you don’t know the story hang tight I’ll explain in a moment). Every single news outlet wanted to know why just two days before his disappearance we resigned our membership at Mars Hill Church to which we had been faithful and serving members for nine years. To be honest I didn’t see what the big deal was to the media that we had resigned from our church. I became frustrated and confused and just wanted the help to find my husband and felt that talking about Mars Hill would shift the focus of the search for Nicholas onto the mess currently going on at Mars Hill.
In February 1999 I was attending The Art Institute of Seattle and had just met the man that I would marry. A week after we started courting Nicholas and I began attending Mars Hill Church, which was congregating just a few blocks from my apartment in Seattle at the First Presbyterian Church. We were immediately drawn into the unique atmosphere and excited to finally be hearing a pastor preach that was not afraid to dig deep and dive into the hard scriptures that many pastors wouldn’t dare preach on a Sunday morning. I was raised Conservative Baptist and Nicholas was brought up in the Catholic Church. Needless to say Nicholas and I had many discussions about religion and God and often we did not agree but that is a different story for another time.
Nicholas and I grew in many ways at Mars Hill. We were baptized by Mark Driscoll, attended weekly pre-marriage classes in Mark’s home, and then Mark officiated our wedding in January 2001 (at that time I was led to believe that Nicholas and I had come to agree on the theological and doctrinal issues we once disagreed on). We spent nine years at Mars Hill and in that time we served in different ways, we were faithful tithers, we attended community group regularly and all seemed well and good. I loved our church deeply and the people in it. Looking back on those nine years I see so much damage that was done to Nicholas, myself and many others by those in leadership at Mars Hill. It all happened like a slow drip of poison into our veins. Just a little at a time. It’s hard to notice when it’s happening slowly and over an extended period of time.
I thought I knew what abuse was as I lived in a home with an abusive father for the first twelve years of my life. I experienced a wide spectrum of abuse and thought that I could see it coming. I did not see what was happening at Mars Hill as abuse. I took what I was being fed and foolishly believed it because it was disguised so well with scripture. I believed what was preached numerous times over the years about how a woman should look, so much to the extent that I thought I was being a good wife by starving myself so that I’d be pleasing for my husband to look at almost to the point of my death just after the birth of my second child. I believed the elders that told me that I was not trusting my husband enough (I believe it was in the beginning of 2007) when I went to them, scared, and told them how I felt my husband didn’t love me and that I feared and suspected that he was cheating on me for quite some time. I’ll never forget sitting in that counseling session and explaining how I felt and having the elder look over at Nicholas and ask, “Do you love Christine?” and when Nicholas responded with a simple and cold, “yes”, the elder was satisfied and told me that I needed to trust my husband and that I was the one that needed to change. I’m not a perfect wife and never claimed to be but what was said to me and how it was said was not okay. When that elder then asked Nicholas if he was cheating on me and Nicholas responded by looking me in the eye with a heartfelt, “no” the elder then repeated to me that I need to trust my husband and let go of my past wounds. You see I was told that because of my childhood I was holding onto distrust and that I had a good husband and I needed to fix myself up and be more available. So I did just that. What I understood them saying was that all of what I was feeling was my fault and I needed to suck it up and figure it out. This was all too familiar and I just swallowed it ignoring the many alarms going off inside of me. There is much more to what I have just spoken of and I have left out other incidences, many details, too many for this time.
Fast forward to the fall of 2007 and Pastor Paul Petry and Pastor Bent Meyer had just been fired. You can read about this at . These were the last two men I ever thought would be fired. Like many others this raised my eyebrows and caused me to start seeking answers. I did not like what I was finding. I read the new bylaws over and over and so much didn’t sound right. I found myself confused. These men that are our pastors they are not suppose to lie to us they are suppose to lead us in a gospel-centered direction. I was supposed to be able to trust the pastors in my church. The curtain had been pulled away and we were all seeing the leadership as it really was and it was so frightening. It still is. Like many, I idolized Mark and Mars Hill so when the truth was coming out and my idol was falling to the floor it was frightening. In seeing the sin that was occurring in leadership I was facing my own sin as well. So many out there have had the wool pulled over their eyes and refuse to acknowledge it and remove it. Ignorance is not bliss, it only leads to more pain and in this case more sin. Idolizing your pastor, putting him on a pedestal, is sinful and easier to do than you think especially when it is a little at a time.
It was February 2008 and we were still at Mars Hill though at this point we had made the decision to leave. We met with the Petry’s and had a good long and eye opening conversation. Leaving their home that Thursday night we had firmly decided that we would not be returning to Mars Hill. There was no way we could dispute the facts laid before us in black and white. That next Monday, February 11, 2008 we emailed our membership resignation letter. It was received and accepted. Two days later, February 13, 2008 my husband of seven years and three kids (I was 6.5 weeks pregnant with our third) did not come home from work.
Here are a few links to give you a brief summary of the story:
Lifetime Movie also available on iTunes.
The Other Side
The story quickly flooded all local news channels. So much was happening all at once it’s hard to articulate it all. So many people came to help right away. It took three days before my former campus pastor contacted me. When he finally did call the first thing he said to me was, “Would you be willing to recant your membership resignation? We are unable to help you if you are not a member.” The words were cold. He sounded more like my employer than my pastor. In that moment I felt abandoned by my beloved church. To me it did not matter that we had resigned I needed the leadership that I had known and trusted for so many years. I was shocked by his question. He did not ask how I was. He did not ask what he himself could do to help. Suddenly he became an enemy in my mind. I was already scared and now I felt like I was talking to a snake. I do not think the man that said these words understands the wounds they inflicted. As I understand it he is no longer with Mars Hill. You also may not understand why they cut so deeply. Those words told me that I did not matter to the leadership. I was just a number with a bank account to help pay the salaries of the elders. That he was only contacting me because it had become damage control as word was getting around that the church was unwilling to help. I was told by a friend that was helping with the searches, also a Mars Hill member, that when they asked to use the copy machines for missing posters at the church they were turned down because I was no longer a member (seriously! I resigned just two days prior after nine years!). And what does being a member of a church have to do with helping find a missing person? As I recall it being told to me they were told that the church would not be helping at all.
A few days later I was brought into the police station for interrogation (I was being looked into as a murder suspect in the disappearance of my husband). During that interrogation they asked me numerous times if Mars Hill had anything to do with the disappearance. I was asked over and over again if I thought that Mark or any of the other elders went “old testament” on my husband. This made me angry. I wanted them to stop asking about Mars Hill and just go find my husband. At that point I was six and half weeks pregnant, my husband was missing, my church leadership had turned their back on me and I was sitting in an interrogation room being pressed for answers about my missing husband, I was fingerprinted and accused of murdering him and scamming the public for donations. Needless to say that was a horrible week.
When I went home that night a bouquet of flowers was waiting with a card. I opened the card. It was hand written by Jamie Munson and there was a donation check from the church. My first thought was, “I wish he would have called me and at least pretended to care how I am and how the kids are.” While I was very grateful for the financial help to be honest I wanted to know that they had not abandoned me. I had asked numerous times for Mark to come and pray with me. He refused to even talk to me. In that moment I just couldn’t understand why asking my pastor of nine years to come and pray with me during the worst time of my life was so outrageous, regardless of my current resignation. To be very clear, the members and attenders of Mars Hill, for the most part did not turn their back on me (though some did and still do as I found out recently when I bumped into them at a function). They were an amazing source of support along with many, many people outside of Mars Hill. They were able to take any differences we had about Mars Hill and set them aside to help my kids and me walk through this. In fact some relationships were reconciled. They showed gospel-centered love. All of these people came together and demonstrated the church as laid out in scripture and guess what, they didn’t need a fancy building or large salaries to do so. They just let the love of Christ pour out of them regardless of which church organization they were a part of.
About a month after Nicholas disappeared and his double life was discovered I sent an email to Mark and he ended up calling me and talking with me for a short bit. He also came to my home with my former campus pastor and talked with me. Though it was more about how to handle the media than how to start moving forward he did answer one question that I had, and that was if I had biblical justification to divorce Nicholas. Even though I was confident that I did at the time, for whatever reason, I needed to hear it from Mark. There were some things said by Mark during that meeting that rubbed me the wrong way and contradicted some sermons that he passionately preached in the past that I took seriously (like caring for the widows and the orphans). It was good to have some closure on that chapter of my life.
To this day I am extremely cautious of pastors, tithing to a specific church, church membership and the like. I am not afraid of church I just don’t blindly trust the men running them. Trust is earned and I will not give it freely, especially to a pastor. I am tired of being abandoned and abused. The wounds inflicted on me by Mars Hill and others are deep and still healing. You know the ironic thing…. I ended up marrying a pastor (not from Mars Hill). There is much more to say, more to the story, but for now this is all that I feel led to share so perhaps I will write more on this at another time.