In 1984, my freshman year at George Washington University, I joined a social fraternity — Phi Sigma Kappa. The bond that was forged with my fraternity brothers during my four years as an undergraduate continues to this day. That bond is obviously strongest with the brothers from my own chapter, Lambda (which included brothers like Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who probably does not remember me as he was a senior and I a freshman when I joined), but that fraternal bond nevertheless exists as well with brothers from other chapters, some of whom I have never met personally (like actor Chris Sarandon or sportscasters Dan Patrick and Dick Enberg). These bonds allow me to view my brothers in a more favorable and charitable light, even if I don’t always agree with them on political, social, or religious issues.
Ten years later, in the fall of 1994, I began a new journey that would lead me to bond with another group of brothers (and sisters) — lawyers-turned-pastors. This group can’t be too big (some might think even one is too big), but it is probably larger than I realize. One well-known member of the group is Susan Sparks, the Senior Pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. Although I have never met Susan personally and, while I suspect we might come down on different sides of certain theological issues, I nevertheless respect her faithfulness to leave the practice of law to serve the Lord in NYC. As she could probably attest, sometimes dealing with legal clients is easier than dealing with church members.
Another member of the group is Paul Petry, a lawyer-turned-elder-turned-former elder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Mars Hill Church was co-founded by Mark Driscoll. Driscoll, who is no stranger to Southern Baptists (particularly of the Young, Restless, & Reformed variety) also is no stranger to controversy. From cussing in the pulpit to writing an explicit
sex marriage book, “Real Marriage,” Driscoll now stands accused of extreme spiritual abuse.
Petry and his wife, Jonna, have started a blog, “Joyful Exiles,” a site where they expose (in great detail) spiritual abuse that they allege occurred to them and former elder, Bent Meyer, beginning on or around October 1, 2007. Paul, an attorney with a ten-year old practice, was asked by Mark Driscoll in the spring of 2004 to join Mars Hill as a volunteer pastor/elder. A year later, Paul Petry was hired as full-time Pastor of Families and Member Care for Mars Hill, in addition to continuing as an elder of the church. On October 1, 2007, both Paul and Bent were fired as “employees” of the church and were suspended as elders, pending the outcome of a “trial” before the full elder board of Mars Hill. To read the Petry’s account of what transpired is to understand that the “trial” appears to have been nothing more than a poorly designed kangaroo court that lacked not only due process (and violated the church’s own by-laws), but also lacked any semblance of grace. Regardless of where one stands on particular theological issues, graceless responses (in Mayberry or in Seattle) are never Christ-honoring.
Thanks to articles by Wade Burleson (here) and The Wartburg Watch (here), I became aware of Paul and Jonna Petry and their truly sad (and infuriating) story. I have just started reading the detailed documentary evidence on the Petry’s blog. Funny how God sovereignly finds a way for former attorneys to still use their legal training and experience, even in ministry. We might go from law to grace, but that doesn’t mean that we allow our skulls to go back to mush. We still continue to approach problems and situations “thinking like a lawyer,” although our thinking is hopefully Christ-like and Spirit-led (and, no, Christian Attorney is not an oxymoron).
I do not know Paul or Jonna Petry. To be quite frank, I had never heard of them before reading about their story on Tuesday. Whether he knows it or not, Paul and I share a bond. We are both attorneys that God called into ministry. We have gone from law to grace and, in the process, have sometimes witnessed and experienced a side of Christianity and the Church which is less than grace-filled. While there are always at least two sides to every story, I appreciate Paul and Jonna sharing theirs. As to why now, Jonna writes:
If Mark and the organizations he leads do not change, I fear many more will be hurt, Mark and his family included. To not speak is to not love or care and shows no thought or consideration for those who have been wounded and those who will be in the future. We are witnesses. There is a pattern. There is a history. There is an ethos of authoritarianism and abuse. Mark is the unquestioned head of Mars Hill Church and the Acts 29 Network. His elders have no way to hold him accountable. Those under him likely fear him and want to garner his favor so they don’t daresay nor do anything that might anger him. This is tragic. . . . A Christianity which perpetuates the exaltation of mere men to god-like status, while belittling and wounding so many of God’s children in the process, is completely antithetical to what Jesus taught and is just as harmful to the leaders as it is to those who follow. Sadly, this is not the love of Jesus. (from “My Story,” by Jonna Petry)
The story of spiritual abuse alleged by the Petrys is not something that can be dismissed or swept under the rug, particularly by Southern Baptists. Mars Hill, which is an autonomous church not affiliated with the SBC, can set up church governance anyway they want, even if it appears to be a non-Biblical and non-baptistic ecclesiology. Why should Southern Baptists even care about the Petrys’ story or what happens at Mars Hill? Because Mark Driscoll and the Acts 29 Network he leads have significant influence within Southern Baptist circles, particularly among young seminary students, a few seminary Presidents, and even our own North American Mission Board.
Will Southern Baptist churches be asked to financially support churches who are associated with Driscoll’s Acts 29 Network? Will Cooperative Program contributions and Annie Armstrong funds be given to Acts 29 churches through NAMB? Will certain seminaries continue to endorse — either directly or indirectly — Mark Driscoll and his ministry? Why ask these questions? Because what Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill, and Acts 29 models — both in ecclesiology and in grace — will most certainly be copied by younger pastors in SBC churches across North America. These are questions that some may or may not like asked. Authoritarian pastors usually don’t. Lawyers-turned-Pastors usually do!