The Aftermath

It’s been a week since I wrote my open letter. As I expected, no one within Acts 29 has responded. I’ve had more hits on that post than any other I’ve ever written: thousands. Hundreds of reposts on Facebook. And so on.

But, from A29? Silence.

I’ve had some pretty interesting feedback about my letter, though. Mostly, it’s been positive, supportive. But, a lot of people have been bothered by my use of the word “shit.” I’m honestly not sure how else to say, “own your shit.” I guess that’s what happens after removing oneself from a certain cult(ure) for over four years; some things just aren’t a big deal any more.

But, something that confuses me more and more as time goes on… A lot of people really want to know “where I’m at with Jesus.” Because of my experiences, have I “rejected God”? Do I still “follow Jesus”? And so on.

I’ve almost come to the point where this could be the dividing line between one type of religious person and another. The first type is someone who is self-confident. Someone who knows who they are, what they want in life. Someone who has goals and is working toward them. Someone who loves life, NOT for what may or may not come after, but for the now. The other type of religious person, though, is someone who seems fearful – about him or herself, about the future, about their own fate. Fearful about “the world.” Worried about who is in or out of their club. Or who might end up in heaven or hell. Or who might not be walking the same path that they (think they) are.

At this point in my life, these kinds of questions (which usually feel like an interrogation – an inquisition – no matter how sincere) confuse me. I just don’t know how to answer them, because it always makes me wonder why someone is asking. What if I said, “Jesus is awesome”? Would that be good enough? Would I be “in”? What if I said, “Jesus probably never existed”? Would this interrogator have a legitimate comeback? How about, “I don’t really like Jesus” (which would seem to be a more honest self-appraisal than most Christians)?

Usually I fumble through something vague about thinking Jesus was somehow unique and that I can’t deny my own experiences and the influence certain interpretations of Jesus have had on me. But, maybe I should stop doing this. Instead, maybe I should follow Jesus’ example, and pivot toward a different set of questions altogether.

I might enjoy hearing stories about people who have moved beyond a fundamentalist form of religion toward something more egalitarian, something more humanistic. But, in the big scheme of things, I really don’t care if someone is “in” or “out” anymore.

Here are the questions that matter to me: “How are YOU doing?” “Are you doing things YOU love?” “Are you spending time with the people YOU love?”

I don’t know what that makes me. I don’t know what category that puts me in. And I don’t really care.

An Open Letter to the Acts 29 Network

If you’re reading this, and you have no idea who Mark Driscoll is, you should probably stop reading. And you should thank me for sparing you. For those of who choose to keep reading, you may not have any idea of my connection to Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill, Acts 29, etc. Many of you I know from a long time ago, or I have met since I walked away from that world. To make a long story short, I was a Driscoll-ite for several years, until I became a staff member at an Acts 29 church. Then, I saw behind the curtain, and walked away.

 

 

Dear Acts 29 church planters, pastors, deacons, church members, etc.:

I read today that you have decided to dissociate yourselves from Mark Driscoll.

I’m not sure if “courage” is the right word, but I do want to congratulate all of you for simply doing the right thing. For making the right decision. Maybe “bold” is fitting, considering Driscoll co-founded the network. Whatever the best language is, it was a good decision.

But, I have to say that this turn of events is eerily similar, for me, to something that happened here in Raleigh a few years ago. I worked for an Acts 29 church called Vintage21 from September 2007 until January 2010. Over time, our Executive Pastor became more and more out of line. He was doing and saying things that were simply inappropriate. I was personally fielding almost daily complaints about him. Dozens of individuals and families left the church because of him. It was obvious to anyone who was paying attention that this person was not qualified to be a pastor. But, he was allowed to stay. For years beyond what should have been.

Eventually, this pastor left the church. A few months later, he confessed to some things that he was doing, while working for the church, that were beyond his disqualifying arrogance. This seemed to come as a shock to certain members of church leadership. But, to those of us who had already left the church, it wasn’t shocking at all. It was expected. To Vintage21 leaders, for some reason, those more recently revealed actions were seen as much more “sinful” than the other things, and mysteriously worthy of announcing to the entire church. Arbitrary.

Along with the public airing of dirty laundry, how did the church leadership react? From what I could tell, there was no collective ownership of a broken system. No apologies for allowing this person to stay in leadership even before this turn of events. No personal responsibility. All I heard was blame. This person had caused all of the problems in the church up to that point. The church was in a bad place solely because of him. And now that he was gone, they could finally be whole again.

Scapegoat.

Since leaving your world in early 2010, I’ve read about, or spoken with, several people who have left Mars Hill. Most of them have left and revealed things that many of us already knew were true. But, I’ve also seen a lot of personal ownership from these people. Admitting they were wrong, and that they shouldn’t have stayed as long as they did. Confessing that they, too, were part of the problem. That they had contributed to it simply by participating. Guilt by association? When there is abuse involved, yes.

But, your PR move today doesn’t sound like an apology. It reads like yet another scapegoating, shifting all of the blame for all of the problems associated with not only Mars Hill specifically, but Acts 29 as a whole, onto one person. It’s hard for anyone outside of your bubble to take seriously.

While I genuinely want to believe this is what people in your world call “repentance,” I was always under the impression that repentance required confession of wrongdoing. If you haven’t done anything wrong, what is there to repent of? No, I – and everyone else watching from the outside – clearly see that this is something else entirely.

The third line of your public letter to Driscoll reads:

Over the past three years, our board and network have been the recipients of countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you…

It sounds like Mark has finally made you look bad enough for it to hurt. It sounds like your collective ego has been broken. So, now it’s time to flex your muscles. Because that’s what real men do, right?

It’s strange though, that this arbitrary line has been drawn now. After everything else that has happened over the past ten plus years. I don’t have to list it all here. If you’ve been “in the world” and not existing solely in your own cult(ure), you’ve seen the articles. If you’ve been shepherding actual people – which, from what I understand, should be your primary responsibility – you’ve heard a lot of stories. Stories of abuse.

But, the problem isn’t Mark Driscoll. He’s part of the problem. A large part? Yes. But, there is culpability to go around. A lot of it. It’s been over four years since I left, but I even still bear some responsibility for participating as long as I did. I get it. We make decisions and then have a hard time dealing with the consequences. We have bills. And reputations. And relationships.

Honestly, this is all we want to hear: we just want you to own your shit. If you want to repair your network, if you want to do it primarily for “the cause of Christ,” then just do this one thing: confess your sins – publicly – and repent. All of you.

I could stop here. I’ve said a lot already. But, from what I’ve also seen and heard from almost everyone who has left your world, these problems run deep. People don’t exhibit similar systems to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after leaving a safe, healthy environment. I’ve unapologetically said this for a long time now: Acts 29 – as a whole – operates like a cult. The only people who don’t realize this have already drank the Kool-Aid. And, again, this isn’t just Mark Driscoll. It’s not just Mars Hill. The entire network is committed to a broken “theology” (if what you idealize is worthy of the name). Until that changes, these problems will persist.

The cult(ure) Driscoll has created has made it pretty difficult for any Acts 29 leader to take seriously the words of a “blogger.” I’m sure you don’t genuinely care what I think. But, that kind of attitude is part of the problem, too.

Sincerely,

Rob Davis
Raleigh, NC
August 8th, 2014