When Mars Hill Church was having zoning problems in Santa Ana in 2012, church leaders told members of the Orange County media--including OC Weekly--that the congregation may have been the subject of religious discrimination.
But the head pastor at the time now says it was all a big lie and that his bosses and elders in Seattle knew early on they'd leased a building--then the rock club The Galaxy, now the rock club The Observatory--that was not zoned for a church.
Kyle Firstenberg, who was executive pastor of Mars Hill Orange County--which later moved and now goes by Mars Hills of Huntington Beach--has been on a truth-seeking mission of late to convince elders and uber-pastor Mark Driscoll to fess up.
Firstenberg has done so via his blog "Sin Repentance Grace Forgiveness" and as a named source of Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, who blogs for Patheos.com ("Hosting the conversation on faith").
In June 2012, Driscoll told the media and his church that Mars Hill Orange County might be the victim of religious discrimination because the city of Santa Ana said the church was in violation of the city's zoning ordinance. Here's what former Weekling Josh Dulaney wrote in "The OCeeker: Mars Hill Church Orange County and the Sex-Crazed Preacher:"
Driscoll said the church has hired lawyers to look into the matter, and "if we do find that we're just getting bullied by a political discriminatory agenda against Christianity and the church, we'll hold our ground. If we find out as well that it's just somebody on a council somewhere with an axe to grind against Christianity, we'll hold our ground."
Firstenberg, who back then was a new arrival to Orange County from a Mars Hills Church in Seattle, now says church leadership knew the Santa Ana venue was not zoned for a church long before Driscoll said that. Disagreement with the ordinance is fine, Firstenberg notes, but it was disingenuous to suggest the church had moved into the Santa Ana space with no warning of the zoning conflict, started generating congregants and media attention and then anti-Christian city officials swooped in to shut the place down.
He includes correspondence with church leaders on his blog to bolster his argument.
"The picture painted by Firstenberg is that Mars Hill leaders knew the OC church was out of compliance, ordered subordinates to continue in non-compliance, willingly paid fines using church money, and then appeared to distract attention by raising the possibility of religious discrimination," Throckmorton writes.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
In the follow-up "Does Mars Hill Really Want to Mediate With the 20 Former Pastors?," Throckmorton writes about ex-Mars Hill pastors co-led by Firstenberg now seeking mediation with the church leadership.
Among their concerns are Mars Hills policies seeking to delete old emails and strip former pastors and other employees of severance and benefits if they don't sign non-disclosure agreements, as well as evidence sales numbers were inflated for a New York Times bestseller by Driscoll.
Throckmorton writes that Mars Hill elders have proposed a friend and colleague of Driscoll's serve as the mediator.