Gospel Shame? Driscoll’s ‘Mars Hill’ uses only one

2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 #CEBtour

Matthew Paul Turner of Jesus Needs New PR has a rough story that just rips at my heart. A member of Mars Hill church was confronted about some of his actions by the MH leadership. And what follows is commonplace in rural fundamentalist Calvinistic churches…but I didn’t realize how intrinsic it was to the Neo-Calvinist resurgence.

Part 1 of the story is essentially this: A church member Andrew was engaged with another church member, cheated on her, the relationship ended and Andrew confessed his sin to his accountability group friend. After the church leadership got involved with many meetings, each time Andrew felt more and more ground under their feet. Andrew learned he was “under church discipline” and what that meant:

Something in his spirit told him not to trust them. Something caused him to believe that the men sitting in front of him were far less interested in restoring him than they were in having control, feeling powerful, throwing their spiritual weight around. Beating down a sinner like Andrew.

Andrew says that many of Mars Hill’s men feel beaten down. “Because that’s what happens there, especially when you question a pastor. You get beaten down. Until you submit.”

Andrew was offered a discipline statement to sign. Jesus Needs New PR has it on their blog post, but it entails (edits by MPT, CG = small accountability group):

Andrew will attend XXX’s CG and meet with XXX on a regular basis (define).
Andrew will not be involved in serving at MH.
Andrew will not pursue or date any woman inside or outside of MH.
Andrew will write out in detail his sexual and emotional attachment history withwomen and share it with XXX.
Andrew will write out in detail the chronology of events and sexual/emotional sinwith XXX and share it with XXX and Pastor X.
Andrew will write out a list of all people he has sinned against during this timeframe, either by sexual/emotional sin, lying or deceiving, share it with XXX and develop a plan to confess sin and ask for forgiveness.

So far, this is okay. I’ve done a behavior covenant before with a parishioner who needed it. That’s okay if a individual needs it and in your pastoral concern it would seem helpful. Fine.

Part 2 of the story gets REALLY scary: Andrew declined to sign it and told the pastoral leadership that he was leaving the church. The leadership wrote back that he would still be “under discipline” if he left and it would be “escalated.” Andrew had no idea what that would entail: Mars Hill posted on the church’s private social network an extensive letter about Andrew’s sins and how the church parishioners should act with Andrew in public in “permissible” and “impermissible” ways. For example:

What is not permissible? Refrain from associating with Andrew in social settings, such as eating a meal, attending a concert or movie together [Scripture references]. Such disassociation from Christian Community is designed by God to help him realize the seriousness of his sin and need for repentence (gospel shame – 2 Thess 3:14)

Read it all here. Amazing.

While others have written that this type of church discipline is closer to John Wesley than the UMC might be, I’m more interested in the term “gospel shame”

The term “gospel shame” is taken from 2 Thess 3:14 which says in the Common English Bible:

 Take note of anyone who doesn’t obey what we have said in this letter. Don’t associate with them so they will be ashamed of themselves.

But how often do the Church Discipline crafters go on to the next verse 15:

Don’t treat them like enemies, but warn them like you would do for a brother or sister.

As the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary states:

On the one hand, the larger church has the authority to shame the erring ones because of the latter’s deviation from the writer’s word as given in the letter (v.  14). On the other hand, the parameters of the reform are clearly prescribed: The larger church must not regard the erring ones as enemies, but (as in 1 Thess 5:14) they must “warn” or “admonish” them as believers.

Maybe I’m from the University of Phoenix of religions, but I think that refraining from social contact, posting a warning to other churchgoers about a forsworn former member, always reminding him in every social interaction that he is “unrepentent” sure is treating the individual more like an enemy than a brother or sister.

So…Gospel shame? Is this the Gospel? I’m not sure. But I’m pretty sure it’s mainly shame, or the relying on psychological and sociological pressure to enforce biblical rigidity rather than relying on the Gospel and the love of Christ to transform hearts and minds.

I think this is a situation that reminds us all to examine our church disciplinary norms and procedures and see if we are treating the other with love or with rancor, with a twisting of Scripture to exert control.

As MPH closes his blog series with:

When I first read this letter, I was sitting in Starbucks, and I was shaking. Shaking because I was hurting for Andrew. And too, I was shaking because I was so angry that somebody (heck, a lot of somebodies–not just Mark) would use the words and messages of Jesus in such away.

And if this is how they plan to treat Andrew–as an “unbeliever”? How in the world do they treat people who really are non-Christian? (And not to mention the fact that Jesus hung out with Gentiles, tax-collectors, etc.)

Fine. If they don’t want Andrew to be a member of their church, take his name off the list! But this? I mean, seriously, did any of this letter, except for perhaps the “heavy heart”, infer that Mars Hill loves Andrew? Oh I know they think their actions represent love. But really, many of us have experienced firsthand that kind of “love,” and we know very well that it’s an abuse of the term.

I honestly wouldn’t wish this so-called “gospel shame” on Mark Driscoll, let alone somebody I know personally, somebody I’m called to love, somebody I am hoping to help restore.

And you know what’s sad? Many (not all) of Andrew’s friends (from Mars Hill) are “obeying” the advice in this letter. While every one of them has implied that they believe Mars Hill is completely out of line and blowing this out of proportion, they all end up using some variation of the words that Mars Hill told them to say.

Indeed. Thoughts?

(Image credit: MG_4003 by Mars Hill Church, posted under Creative Commons license)
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  1. ryan says

    Andrew, if you read this, you are welcome, with open arms to come to any of United Methodist Churches you like! God loves you and only wants the best for you… you should not feel like you have to go through this kind of punishment from your church.

  2. says

    Appalling. Andrew would be welcome in my church. And he’d never be under church discipline…it doesn’t exist in our tradition. We’d love him, and help him figure out how to rebuild his life.

  3. SeanO says

    I think it’s a shame the gospel is being twisted & manipulated this way. Not helping the cause.

    Yes, the ban on social contact with someone who leaves a church is controlling & manipulative. It’s also scary, that the church leadership thinks they can say that & the congregation will obey. But in my opinion, the “discipline statement” is the most alarming. There’s something really prurient & downright creepy about it. After tons of meetings where he confessed & recounted cheating on his partner, now this dude is supposed to “write out in detail his sexual and emotional attachment history with women”?!? Why? If he’s sinned and repented, why do church leaders need to hear his entire sexual history?

    I’m amazed by how much “purity” driven Christians fixate on “sexual sin.” Reminds me of a parable about a prostitute & a holy one who lived across the street from one another. The holy one spent all their time staring at the prostitute’s house, incensed by & obsessing over all the sexual sin they imagined the prostitute engaged in. The prostitute spent all their time staring at the holy one’s house, wistfully imagining what it must be like to do nothing but praise God all day & do good works. Upon death, the holy one was punished, having developed a sinful, hateful heart. The prostitute, of course, was blessed…

  4. says

    This makes me sick to my stomach, but having read up on Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll, it’s no surprise. In fact, I would be surprised if Andrew hasn’t already been the subject of a sermon series.

    Serious question: Is Driscoll the new Jerry Fallwell or Jimmy Swaggart? I hate to put people in boxes, but it’s starting to look like a comfortable fit.

  5. Devin says

    Why are the words discipline and accountability so demonized? Paul writes about discipline all the time. Parents discipline their children. God disciplines us. We’re encouraged to discipline ourselves. To be a member of that church, Adam had to take a class and actually sign papers and go through a process. To call him a member doesn’t just mean, he simply attends. His relationship within that church had very much to do with his understanding of the accountability that would go along with it.

    Also, in this article, it simply says he was unfaithful to his fiance. Like that’s some “whatever” kind of thing. Forgivable, yes, always, but light? No. Infidelity is something that requires some serious counseling to deal with. It ruins people. Adam seriously messed with his own ability to have a relationship, likewise his former fiance’s ability to trust. It doesn’t sound like he’s too eager to deal with it if he won’t go to counseling. In order to repent, sin needs to be brought into the light. This is the very reason why I’m getting married in front of an audience. I just don’t want a bunch of people to clap for us, I want people to watch us who actually love us, knowing that someone will love me enough to actually eff me up if I fall out of line with my vows.

    “Come as you are.” Yes that’s biblical truth PT! BUT. “Stay as you are,” Heresy.

  6. Nancy says

    I don’t recall Jesus “shaming” anyone. In fact, with the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery, (it’s always the woman – sigh), he was quite compassionate and merciful.

  7. Haley says


    I don’t think the problem here is with discipline or accountability, but with the church taking them too far and using them as an excuse to be abusive. I’ve been following this story all over the internet, and I don’t see anyone, even Andrew, trying to excuse what he did. If it is glossed over, it is only because the article is not about Andrew’s sin so much as Mars Hill’s response.There’s a thin line between discipline and abuse, and Mars Hill has crossed it. Just as the MH clergy feel the need to hold Andrew accountable for his sins, other clergy now feel the need to hold MH accountable for theirs.

    As for Andrew, he was the one who confessed the sin and brought it to light in the first place. He is clearly repentant. He attended meetings with the clergy and church leadership. He is, at the very least, trying to atone. Should the church continue to hold him accountable? Absolutely. Should they continue to punish him? No.

    That’s the problem I see. This is neither discipline or accountability, but punishment, and abusive punishment at that. You don’t spank your kid in public, and you don’t keep spanking them for months over the same offense. And you certainly don’t kick them out of the house if they object. Shunning someone to show them you love them is like spanking someone to get them to stop crying. Cause and effect, quite simply, doesn’t work that way.

    The MH leadership are using a single verse pulled out of context to justify shunning Andrew, when the Bible as a whole tells a very different story. They said other members should treat Andrew as a tax collector, which, if you read the gospels means the exact opposite of what they’re trying to make it mean. Jesus invited Levi the tax collector to be a disciple. He invited Zaccheus the tax collector to share meals with him (something Mars Hill has specifically forbidden its members to do). Just as when you catch someone in a lie you wonder what else they’ve lied about, catching them in a false teaching makes me wonder what else they’re twisting. There is obviously some seriously bad theology going on at Mars Hill, and as a Christian and a pastor, I’m concerned.

    Sexual misconduct is no small thing, and the Mars Hill leadership is very correct to take it seriously. It tears people and communities apart, but God’s grace is also very big, and I see none of it in MH’s response to Andrew. Their response is basically, “Do what we want, or we’ll take our marbles and go home.” That is unacceptable behavior when a person is a representative of the love of God. Full stop.

  8. says

    This hits close to home.

    Devin has a very good point. There’s an incredibly fine line (in the eye of the beholder, perhaps) between lovingly keeping a person accountable– *helping them* be accountable, actually– and using social pressure and power to shame someone and calling it love. To the person being shamed, the line is not fine; it’s a Grand Canyon.

    Briefly (ha!): my freshman year in college, I was part of the only Christian group on campus. I’d been raised Catholic, but these non-denominational types seemed to have so much fun (most of them attended a Wesleyan church). I said myself a sinner’s prayer in the women’s bathroom, and told them I was born again. Instant friends! I was elected to the leadership team, entrusted with the care of a small group, and part of the cool kids in the group. It was lovingly suggested that I date the only other single male in the Christian Fellowship, but I wasn’t really interested in him. We all went to church together and hung out on Friday nights together eating pizza and watching Veggie Tales. I wish I was exaggerating.

    But sophomore year I met a guy. Quirky, funny, smart, (sexy,) and a professed atheist. Son of a pastor. You know the type. Hell in sneakers and a baja hoodie. We started dating and eyebrows went up. I said I loved him and the proverbial feces hit the air circulation device. You can’t love someone who isn’t Christian, who isn’t your exact kind of Christian. You’re unequally yoked. You’re flirting with temptation. You have to break up with him.

    I did not.

    A mid-year election replaced me on the leadership team. My small group was no longer ruled one of the official ones (besides, the leader read the Bible in all sorts of funny, non-literal ways and asked questions you really shouldn’t ask). No one sat with me in church. The group adviser’s *fourteen year old daughter* wrote me a letter about how I had disappointed her. My former roommate and best friend wrote another letter of concern. It was widely rumored– oops, I mean, prayed about aloud when I wasn’t present because good Christians don’t gossip– that I even had intimate relations with the guy (falsely, at least initially). I left the group. I left the church. The guy and I church-hopped and eventually went back to the Catholic church even though I at this point was planning on going to seminary to become a pastor and obviously needed a different denomination (the guy’s mom was a Methodist pastor, but the Methodist church in town was all old people and were really pushy when we went). I’m not friends with a single person from that group, with only two exceptions on facebook (my aforementioned roommate and her husband). The group adviser sent me a friend request a few months ago, and I spit my coffee all over my iPhone.

    One person in that group exhibited love toward me during that time. He was the boyfriend of the group’s president. But he took me out to lunch one day and told me he supported me, that he wanted me to be happy and whole in both my faith and my relationships, and that he regretted the actions of the rest of the group. Unfortunately, as his girlfriend was spearheading the efforts to shun me, that was the extent of our conversation. Otherwise, I did not feel loved. I did not feel forgiven. I did not experience grace. I did not find support to live into a new way of understanding my life, my love, my faith, my priorities, and how all those things weave together. If I had who knows? I may actually have come around to what they wanted of me in the long run. I hope not. Anyway, there were ways they could have been loving even in their disagreement with me, and supported me in a time of transition. Getting back to the Mars Hill example, I think there are lots of ways the pastor and congregation could support Andrew (covenant group and personal meetings with a partner are not a bad thing!), but those do not include excommunicating him (here meant to imply communion with the group, not the sacrament), or reading a list of his sexual sins– reminds me of Puritan era “confessors” who seemed to be aroused by hearing the sexual sins of others. For shame. Theirs, not Andrew’s.

    And the guy? Still doesn’t buy the whole God thing, although he thinks Jesus is pretty cool and wishes more people actually tried to live as he taught instead of worshiping him. And he attends church every Sunday, which is not bad for an atheist. He sits up front and runs the powerpoint and sings in the choir. He is sleeping with the pastor, mind you, but since we’re married, no one brings it up in prayer groups anymore. I hope.

  9. Bill says

    I wonder if there are any Bible scholars who could shed some light on the use of the word “shame” for me. It seems to me that the word gets thrown around and used in a number of different ways and I’m trying to figure this out.

    This phrase “gospel shame” strikes me as an oxymoron. I am in recovery and in those circles learned a helpful way to distinguish guilt from shame – Guilt is ‘i’ve done something bad’ while shame is ‘i am bad.’ This makes a great deal of sense to me and it seems to square with the good news that there is “no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” I take that to mean that we should not feel shame. We should not feel that we are bad, unworthy, unlovable. We should feel guilt, which can lead to repentance and reconnection to God. Shame though only leads to disconnection. I don’t see how Gospel and shame could be in the same phrase.

    What I’ve found is that not everyone shares that understanding of shame. I don’t know that it’s particular to Christians, but I’ve run into it more with Christians. The troublesome thing for me is that the way Mars Hill uses “gospel shame” seems reasonably drawn from the scripture it quotes (2 Thess. 3:14). So, it seems like Paul is advocating using shame as a teaching method. I think there must be some disconnect in my understanding of shame and Paul’s use of it. As a parent, I do not want to use shame as a corrective method. There is discipline, yes, but it does no good to tell my children they are bad, or flawed as a way to modify their behavior. When I see Paul suggesting that, it makes me question the trustworthiness of his ecclisiastical advice.

    Any thoughts? How do you define shame? What is the Biblical use and is it different than a modern use of the word (at least in counseling/self help and recovery circles).

    I appreciate any input. Thanks.

    • Matt Scott says

      Shame in most Asian traditions and in the Hebraic tradition was, indeed, quite different than that of the western tradition. Shame for these traditions is not something that one person holds upon another, but is, instead, a matter of communal failure. When a husband decides to divorce his wife, for instance, communal shame cultures seek reconciliation on the group level (much like the whole ‘bring it before the church concept’) the difference is that the questions brought up in the reconciliation ask how the community failed as a whole, not *just* how the individual failed. Reconciliation is seen in terms of how the community is diminished because of the loss of the individual rather than the individual’s loss of the community. Seen in those terms, the community tends to act (although not always) in support of the individual, rather than all this rejection nonsense Mars Hill promotes.

  10. says

    Mars Hill is taking things a step too far in my opinion- but I find their overbearing attempt at church discipline only half as disheartening at all the repentance-free cheap-grace running though much of the comments above.

    We are called to pursue holiness with all our being. The young man in questions fornicated and lied and then refused to take actions to earn back the trust of the church. Whatever the sins of Mars Hill, they don’t mitigate the sins of Andrew. But here sit a bunch of namby-pamby mainliners with our watered-down version of the Gospel just drooling over the opportunity to complain and judge the big-mouthed Calvinist that we have failed to seriously consider that a young man’s sexual misbehavior puts him at risk of hell fire.

    It is high time we reconsider John Wesley’s sermon about the dangers of being “almost Christian” and reconsider the full-throttle vision for sanctification he and other early Methodists pursued. If we Methodists today were like our ancestors, we could model healthy church discipline and correct our brothers and sisters at Mars Hill instead of simply unloading with snarky, hypocritical attacks while knowing that we are too morally and spiritually bankrupt to offer a better path to holiness.

  11. says

    From my freedom-of-the-pulpit/freedom-of-the-pew Unitarian perspective, I have trouble with the exposition of this entire situation. I can’t fathom joining a church where this sort of “discipline” was a possibility. That being said, and accepting that apparently lots of people sign themselves up for this sort of abuse (and it IS abuse), I have some thoughts. I agree with Bill that something has been lost between guilt and shame. Shame is no way to discipline people. Forcing Andrew to repeatedly rehash what he did for the pleasure of those church leaders is shameful, but I agree with Becca: shame on them. Jeremy and I discussed this just briefly on Facebook, and I have been incredibly confused and disheartened since I read the original post from there. Stories like this one are one of several reasons I chose to disassociate myself from Christianity as a whole, even though I know amazing Christians like Jeremy. I see the leadership of Mars Hill as people who need help for whatever psychiatric disorder has lead them to seek power in order to abuse others, not as people who should be leading others to Christ. However, I appreciate that folks like Jeremy and Matthew brings these situations to light. You guys are modern-day Luthers, IMHO. Thanks.

  12. Ryan says

    Frustrating. Troubling. Disconcerting. Sad. Frightening. I will freely admit that I underwent my own church discipline in 2000 at Overlake Christian Church and this story horrifyingly reminds me my own account, with much pain and trembling, even 12 years later. My heart BREAKS for Andrew. My flesh CRAWLS at reading this article. We are to be Jesus with skin on. We are to faithfully administer God’s GRACE in its various forms. Legalistic tarring and feathering of God’s chosen people, His royal priesthood, His holy nation, does NOT result in better community or better growth. It results in an impoverished church, a beleaguered sense of trust in God and the body of Christ, and cultivates a climate of fear-based worship where God’s children are walking on eggshells. I can only imagine what Andrew must feel right now. Andrew, I love you in Jesus’ Name. You are repentant, you have repented, and you are forgiven. I do not know you, I have never met you, but you are LOVED IN JESUS’ NAME. I am deeply proud of you for bringing your sin into the light, and for bringing Mars Hill’s leadership’s sin into the light as well. Knowing church discipline all too well, I can freely also admit that one sin that cost me my position of leadership, my community at the church, my connection to the body of Christ there, etc., also eventually lead to an even greater sin which cost me my freedom and sent me to prison. I do not blame my actions on the church or the leadership, but I will indefatigably say that there is an inexorable tie between the church discipline / excommunication I received from Overlake Christian Church, and my eventual crime. Do I wish I could take back my crime? Yes. But I also wish with all my heart that I could take back the church discipline I received, and replace it with something restorative like a warm hug. Alas, warm hugs are not mentioned in Scripture for those undergoing church discipline. And such a legalistic, grace-lacking approaches only send us further down the drain, with no hope of compassionate restoration. Wash your hands of us if you will, you beloved megachurches, and in the process so subsequently condemn yourselves as unloving, uncompassionate, and unbiblical. Jesus loves me the same that he does me, and that is my Amen, because truthfully I’d rather ALWAYS be the guy beating his chest, saying “God be merciful to me, a sinner” than be you.

  13. Anonymous says

    That’s church’s reaction is basically what cults do to people who leave them.

    Disturbing. Christianity is not a cult!

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