The ECFA’s Inadequate Response to Mars Hill Church’s Financial Shenanigans

As of last week, Mark Driscoll has officially resigned from Mars Hill, the Seattle megachurch he founded. Over the years, Mr. Driscoll had stirred a number of controversies, most famously for his domineering leadership style and intolerance of dissent. Before his resignation, things had gotten so bad that Mars Hill was expelled from Acts 29, a church planting network that Mr. Driscoll had cofounded. Although it was Mr. Driscoll’s unrelenting arrogance that ultimately led to his being forced out, two acts of financial dishonesty played a key role in his downfall.

ECFA TrustFirst, in March 2014, journalist Warren Cole Smith revealed that Mars Hill had paid a consulting firm at least $210,000 to get one of Mr. Driscoll’s books onto the New York Times best seller list through fake sales. After initially defending the expenditure, Mars Hill eventually admitted that it was “unwise.”

Second, over the course of the past year, it has come to light that the lion’s share of donations to the Mars Hill Global Fund, which was advertised as a fund for global missions, were actually spent on church planting in the United States. According to internal church memos, the fund was designed to entice global listeners of Mars Hill podcasts to make donations to the church and the plan was to give a small amount of money to support some high-profile international work while the majority of funds raised would go to expanding Mr. Driscoll’s empire in the United States. However, donors thought that the funds were earmarked for international missions work. In other words, Mars Hill Global was essentially a scam. The church leadership has consistently refused to answer donor questions about how the money was actually used.

Many of those donors have appealed to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) for help. Mars Hill is one of a handful of churches that have actually joined the ECFA, and the ECFA’s response to the donors’ pleas has shown how meaningless that membership is.

In response to petitions signed by hundreds of Mars Hill donors, the ECFA has refused to comment on Mars Hill and even went so far as to remove from its website a page that had previously promised that ECFA would investigate all donor complaints regarding breaches of ECFA guidelines. Seriously. The ECFA purged its website instead of following through on its pledge to donors. Blogger and psychology professor Warren Throckmorton, who has carefully documented the unfolding scandal at Mars Hill, wrote to ECFA president Dan Busby asking for an explanation. Mr. Busy has yet to respond. Mars Hill remains an accredited member of the ECFA.

 

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