Oh, did I mention it’s a former United Methodist parish?
In 2007, First UMC Seattle moved from its longtime home (pictured above) in the shadow of the high-rises to a more efficient and better-placed parish building completed in 2011.
On the surface this is no big deal. Churches change hands and denominations daily, and while there’s a sense of sadness of the loss of an old house of worship, the joys that Christ will continue to be preached in a different way is often celebrated.
But what struck me was what the developer who originally purchased the property from the UMC is reported to have promised:
Finally in 2007, Nitze-Stagen (a Seattle developer) bought the building on 5th and Marion with a commitment to preserve the building’s historic roots.
To me, historic roots are deeper than retaining the sanctuary as a recital hall. Historic roots are in the flavor and tenor of the building itself, which was built as a United Methodist parish back in 1910. So the church building had almost 100 years of providing a United Methodist witness.
And it is for that reason that I’m saddened by the leasing of the property to Mars Hill in particular.
Mark Driscoll, the founder and pastor of Mars Hill whose sermons are broadcast to the multi-site church (there’s a campus in my new city of Portland, actually) regularly teaches values that are not just different but are anathema to a United Methodist heritage.
- Driscoll preaches complementarianism, or that men and women have predescribed roles based on scripture. You can guess what those are. These are contrary to the egalitarian polity and ordination practices of the United Methodist Church.
- Driscoll utilizes a sick form of shaming wrapped in the terms “church discipline” and members regularly shun and exclude other members who are under scrutiny. Because that’s grace, right?
- A myriad of other abuses chronicled by Matthew Paul Turner (Turner’s not a United Methodist but his exposés are incredible).
- Not to mention that Mars Hill is a Neo-Calvinist church, which is a theological perspective that John Wesley rejected. Indeed, he was one of the few theologians of his time that was able to resist Calvinism in all its forms (though Wesley did have some shifts late in life, I’m told).
It is for these reasons that I’m sad that a former UMC is being used by a church with these type of antithetical values and teachings. I know that dozens of former UM parishes each year are sold or leased to non-denominational churches that probably teach many things I’m concerned about. But none likely have the chronicled notoriety and hostility that Mars Hill has.
To some, the good works of the church negates the theology concerns. Will Mars Hill do good work in its context? I’m positive that they will. Their expressed purpose in relocating is to better reach and offer support to persons in the sex trafficking trap and the homeless. I’m glad the church will be used for ministry like that rather than torn down and made into another high-rise or equivalent. For those ends, I’m thankful and confident in the new partnership.
But the ends do not justify the means in my book. It’s the same sentiment that I offered in my epic article on Beth Moore (epic because I still get 3+ comments a week on it): the perceived benefits through ministry and mission do not justify the means of bullying, hegemonic, and disabling actions towards the rest of Christianity (especially namby-pamby progressives).
But maybe I’m overreacting.
It is just a building and I should be celebrating the continuation of mission and ministry, even though their methods of achievement are suspect. Surely Jesus is okay with the ends justifying the means, right?
In Luke 9:49-50, Jesus and John have an exchange that seems to speak to this situation. When I offered this criticism on Facebook, people referenced this passage as it seems to parallel offering criticism of other churches:
John said, “Master, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he isn’t in our group of followers.”
But Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him, because whoever isn’t against you is for you.”
However, the context (the preceding verses both here and in its parallel version in Mark) is about the Disciple’s perceived rank as Insiders and their relationship with Outsiders. It has nothing to do with the particular action but with the Disciple’s obsession over their rank in Jesus’ reign on earth. So it is with us. We also obsess and pick on other churches to see where we stand in God’s favor. That could easily be a criticism of my above post, I could see that. But I don’t see it as an embrace of “the ends justify the means” teleological value.
In the end, I am allowed to lament the replacement of a strong Wesleyan perspective, one that I value, with a Neocalvinist perspective whose leadership (let me stress that word…leadership) uses questionable means to achieve some good for to the margins of society. I lament because I know that the same ends can be achieved with means that I recognize as more uplifting (and they don’t have to be Wesleyan, just not…mean) than Driscoll’s who views Christian community as a zero-sum game.
First UMC in Seattle is going strong in their new location since 2011. So the Wesleyan perspective is still in that area of the city and going strong. And who knows, maybe the walls of the old church will ooze prevenient grace onto the Mars Hill churchgoers, disrupting the predestination claims. I believe in a Spirit that uses us like that.
But for the moment, I lament. And I truly hope that the individuals served by the Mars Hill church achieve whatever possibilities God places before them, and that the best of them reach a high level of critical compassion–a level that is beyond my ability to see at the head of their church.
And I rededicate myself to the lifting up of United Methodism in hopes that, with or without the institutional church, the Wesleyan perspective might survive even when the stones no longer shout.
Thoughts?(Image credit: a completely unmodified screenshot of google maps…completely unmodified I tell you!)