By the time Mark Driscoll gets to Phoenix


The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports…

“Ex-Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll, whose Seattle megachurch imploded in 2014, is seeking to rise from the ashes in Phoenix with formation of The Trinity Church, equipped with “pastors of apostolic giving.”

“We open our Bibles to learn. We open our lives to love,” proclaims the church website.  Trinity Church is named after a church founded in the Seattle area by parents of Driscoll’s wife, Grace.

Its incorporation papers said Trinity Church would not have members. But Driscoll says now:  “Once the church is established, a class and process for spiritual church membership will be offered.”

Driscoll has both moved and moved to make  a quick comeback. It has been less than 16 months since he resigned as senior pastor at Mars Hill, which once had 15 “campuses” in five states, and barely 13 months since Mars Hill formally disbanded.

He quit at Mars Hill after an investigation sustained claims of bullying and abusive conduct lodged by 21 former pastors and church leaders.

At the time of Driscoll’s resignation, on Oct. 15, 2014, the church said in a statement:

“The investigation of formal charges against Mark Driscoll has revealed patterns of persistent sin in the three areas disclosed in the previous letter by the board of overseers.

“In I Timothy 5:20, it requires that an elder be rebuked for persistent sin. Our intention was to do this while providing a plan for his eventual restoration to leadership.”

The Mars Hill Church announced two weeks later that it was dissolving. But Driscoll had already made an appearance at the Gateway Conference in Texas, talking about how he had been persecuted and endured death threats and circling news helicopters in Seattle.

Since then, circumstances of Driscoll’s departure have been airbrushed. Introducing “Pastor Mark” at the Zion evangelical conference last month, pastor Jimmy Witcher made light of the 2014 implosion, saying of Driscoll:

“He was doing a tremendous job, and through some internal things that were going on there,  it became necessary for him to resign . . . And Pastor Mark had to go through a very difficult, kind of almost a public trial, with the media on his front lawn, helicopters flying overhead, his every move being discussed in blogs and on social media.”

The reality was far different.  Driscoll faced plagiarism allegations over his book “Real marriage,” for which he had received a $400,000 advance.

Questions were raised — and never answered — about the disposition of “church planting” donations supposedly earmarked for Ethiopia and India. Internal memos indicated the money was being spent in the United States.

Acts 29, a ‘church planting” network of 500 churches co-founded by Driscoll, removed both “Pastor Mark” and Mars Hill from membership.

Its directors wrote to Driscoll:

“Over the past three years, our board and network have been the recipients of countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you and what we consider ungodly and disqualifying behavior.

“We have both publicly and internally tried to support and give you the benefit of the doubt, even when multiple pastors in our network confirmed this behavior.”

They urged that Driscoll take a leave of absence from ministry.

He has not. Driscoll had a website up even before Mars Hill closed down, and was offering and marketing sermons.  As 2016 began, he was preaching on the topic “Overcoming Anxiety” at North Valley Community Church in Phoenix.

The new church lists four pastors providing “wise counsel,” two associate pastors, as well as a prayer team.

Driscoll preached a male-centric Gospel at Mars Hill, emphasizing the husband’s leadership role in marriage and the home, condemning homosexuality, and once claiming that feminism was producing a “pussified nation.”

The strictures of Trinity Church:

“Pray first

“The pedals on our bike are Bible teaching and relationships

“Loving relationships are the mark of good theology

“Fun is fundamental

“Build people up, don’t beat people up.” (The complaint from 21 ex-Mars Hill pastors and elders alleged exactly the opposite pattern of conduct at the church that Driscoll had cofounded in 1996.)

The list goes on to a final stricture:  “$ Vision requires provision.”

Warren Throckmorton, a Pennsylvania academic who writes for Patheos — and chronicled the 2014 unraveling — summed it up in an email:  “He’s baaack.”


Anti-gay church facing foreclosure


Christian Today reports…

“LGBT groups have raised funds to buy a New York City church previously known for its firm opposition to homosexuality.

Atlah Worldwide Church is to be sold in a public auction on the orders of a state judge after amounting more than $1m in unpaid bills and tax liens.

Two LGBT groups are raising funds in the hopes of buying the site which has displayed stridently anti-gay messages such as “Harlem is a sodomite free zone” and “Jesus would stone homos”.

A nearby LGBT-friendly church, Rivers of Living Water, hopes to turn the site in to a permanent venue for the parish.

However another group, the Ali Forney Center, is hoping to use the space to expand its homeless LGBT youth shelter.

“I think it would represent a real healing of a terrible wound that’s been in that neighborhood,” said Carl Siciliano, founder and executive director of the Ali Forney Center.

Siciliano said that every night the centre turns away about 170 to 200 youth who need shelter.

“Every bed we are able to obtain is precious,” said Siciliano. “And I have to say, it is a very rare thing for a local neighborhood [to ask] for a homeless youth housing program.”

The Ali Forney Center has raised over half of its $200,000 target and Rivers of Living Water has raised $18,000 on its fundraising page.

However Rev David Manning, former-pastor of Atlah church, has denied that the church owes any money.

“I think it’s just an uninformed move by people trying to do a land grab,” Manning said.

He added that he did not care that more than $100,000 had been raised by LGBT groups hoping to purchase the building.

“I don’t care what they do,” Manning said. “People do a lot of things.”


Pat Mesiti up Goose Creek


Lance (Group Sects) writes…

Pat Mesiti has preached at a US church, days after a Sydney court heard allegations of domestic violence against the motivational speaker and former church minister.

Mesiti has pleaded not guilty to assault occasioning bodily harm and common assault after a New Year’s Eve incident in which Police allege the 56 year old was ‘heavily intoxicated and in a fit of rage over a family issue’.

He is required to comply with an interim protection order, preventing him from approaching his second wife Andrea within twelve hours of consuming alcohol or illicit drugs.

On January 24, Mesiti preached at the New Life Christian Fellowship Church in the Charleston suburb of Goose Creek in South Carolina.


Gays at the back of the Hill$ong bus



The Daily Beast reports…

“….When Alex Pittaway’s youth pastor stood before a group of 800 evangelical Christian boys and men in Sydney and shouted, “Shirts off!” everybody listened. Boys as young as 13 and their leaders, some as old as 30, all ripped off shirts in a sign of godly macho solidarity. Someone jumped on stage and was shouted down, with jeers of “Go to the gym, mate!”

It wasn’t just pastor Scott “Sanga” Samways (the nickname is slang in Australia for a sausage sandwich) who utilized partial nudity as a church-approved bonding technique, Pittaway said. At youth group and Bible camp, or any time when men and women were separated, Alex remembers “a hell of a lot of homoerotic behaviour.”

For Alex—a closeted gay teen and member of Hillsong—the command was terrifying. Did the brothers in Christ slapping his back or complimenting his abs know he was gay? If someone knew, would he think Alex was “looking”?

Alex quit the church in 2008, after a traumatic coming out where he says he was referred by his youth pastor to counseling that proposed to make him straight—the kind of conversion therapy we now know is based on pseudoscience, as ineffectual as it is damaging.

For years, in fact, coming out to a Hillsong pastor landed a church member in just such an ‘ex-gay’ program. According to former members, Hillsong first helped congregants struggling with their sexuality pray their gay away in Exit Ministries, started by Frank Houston, or Mercy Ministries for lesbians; the church then outsourced the conversion work to Living Waters (self-shuttered in 2014) or Exodus (closed in 2013), or maybe an online course like Setting Captives Free (banned in the Apple Store in 2013). Self-proclaimed reformed gay, and former executive director of Exodus, Sy Rogers—who now identifies as transgender and is married to a woman—wrote books and tapes and would preach at Hillsong conferences about overcoming his gay demons. He’d tell the struggling faithful: “You gotta learn to bow down and obey and deal with it.” Rogers’s current ministry has moved away from the ex-gay message and though Rogers hasn’t said so publicly, Brian Houston told a blogger that Rogers probably regrets his involvement with Exodus.

But Hillsong doesn’t try to “fix” gay congregants anymore. Sometime around 2011, Houston distanced his church from conversion programs, and he now talks often about the “weight” the church bears when it comes to its treatment of gays and lesbians. “They feel like ‘maybe I’m gay’ and they go to a youth leader and they are rejected,” Brian said in a 2013 sermon. “At that moment a great hatred comes in. At that moment some of them have gone so far with the rejection and gone to parents who didn’t understand and ended up committing suicide. That’s the weight we live with.”

It should be said here that Alex, now an openly gay seminary student in Indiana, still thinks of Hillsong fondly, speaks of it warmly, and often catches himself humming the church tunes. He says that while he didn’t feel safe or comfortable trying to find God in a building where most of the people in it thought he was going to hell, for those who don’t define themselves by their sexuality, who can compartmentalize, it’s a fine place to “worship anonymously.”

Ben Fenlon, a three-year member of Hillsong’s London satellite, explained his reasons for quitting the church in a piece for the Huffington Post. He wrote, “I can’t worship at a church knowing that I am not fully accepted and considered equal to all those around me. Surrounded by people that might love me as a person but do not accept me as being gay; instead tolerate me. People who might tell me that being gay is okay, but on the inside are praying for me to let Jesus move in my life and change me. People who don’t recognise that any relationship that I have with a man is part of God’s plan and that it would be full of love, equal to any other.”

Alex told me about a gay friend who had been booted from his position in Hillsong’s children’s ministry after he came out and another who, after coming out to Hillsong leadership, was relieved of his duties as an usher. “He wasn’t even allowed to serve cups of coffee or help direct traffic in the parking lot,” he said. (Hillsong did not return requests for comment on these alleged incidents.)

“Gay people need to know that when they go to Hillsong, they have to go to the back of the bus.” Alex said. “Hillsong is hip and attractive and contemporary, but there’s certainly nothing contemporary about what LGBT people will face if they want to be a leader in the church or offer themselves up for service. That’s something [Hillsong] will have to be upfront with, and they haven’t been so far.”

To be fair, Hillsong’s task isn’t an easy one. How does an extremely conservative pentecostal church fight irrelevancy and attract those coveted millennials—a group that’s been running from churches and overwhelmingly supports gay marriage and equal rights for LGBT people—and maintain its tithing, if intolerant, base at the same time?

Hillsong has taken certain halting steps that place the church to the left of its conservative counterparts, some of which have labeled the Aussie megachurch as unbiblical, and say its leaders have sold out God’s word for a younger, more tolerant crowd. For example: Hillsong Leadership College recently removed homosexuality from the list of “sexual sins” in the student code of conduct. And some members have taken Pastor Carl Lentz’s stance—basically that homosexuality is a sin, OK, but no worse than any other, and he gets why everyone is always asking, but he’d rather not address it, because Jesus pretty much didn’t, and Hillsong loves everyone anyway—as a move in the right direction.

It’s not just conservative churches that are criticizing Hillsong’s stance. Anna Flowers, pastor at Greenpoint Reformed Church in Brooklyn—a “progressive, young and vibrant church” where she shares the pulpit with two lesbian pastors and one transgender male pastor—has tweeted about what she calls Hillsong’s false permissiveness. “not as hip as Hillsong Hipsters, but we actually love and accept everyone,” she said in one tweet. In another: “drives us NUTS when Hipster evang. churches fool ppl into thinking they are progressive.” Flowers tells me, “there are far more truly progressive churches than people realize. And sometimes churches look more progressive than they really are.”

I read as many of Lentz’s statements on the LGBT issue as I could find and he gave what I consider the most straightforward answer to Jonathan Merritt at Religion News Service in August of 2015:

“Our beliefs on biblical marriage and sexual morality have never changed at Hillsong church. Yet we stay open and desperate in our pursuit of the whosoevers.”

What that means in practical terms is that Hillsong wants anyone and everyone in the seats, but neither supports same-sex marriage nor allows LGBT people to serve in positions of leadership. As Brian Houston clarified last year, following the sacking of a choir director who announced his same-sex engagement to another member of the choir, acceptance of gays and lesbians extends only as far the the pew.

And for some, including Josh Canfield and Reed Kelly, the couple at the center of the choir controversy, that’s enough. For now at least.

Ben Gresham also still attends Hillsong in Sydney, despite a complicated past with the church, because he believes gay and lesbian members are key to helping the church move forward. “I try and speak to church pastors and leaders when I can and have had some encouraging discussions,” he said.

Gresham has told the story of coming out at Hillsong on his blog. After three years of ex-gay therapy, constant praying, even undergoing an exorcism, he realized he would never be straight. The thought of never being able to enter the kingdom of heaven, to marry a woman, to be the person Hillsong told him that God wanted him to be, led him to cut himself with a razor blade, and one night, to drive his speeding car nearly off the side of a highway. He considers the last-minute change of heart a miracle.

“For me, Hillsong still feels like home. It has been a source of harm for me in the past but continues to bring me much joy and help me grow in my faith, which is invaluable,” he said. “As a gay man and a Christian I would love to see Hillsong fully affirm and include its queer members. I hope it happens sooner rather than later but given my experience I remain doubtful.

“Hillsong is a big church and so it takes time to move it forward. I just wish they would move a bit faster.”


Pastor suggests Syrian refugees be destroyed


WIAT reports…

“An Alabama pastor made some controversial statements about Syrian refugees.

Pastor Ted Sessoms is the pastor of Arbor Springs Baptist Church in the Samantha community of Northport.

Sessoms recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Alabama Baptist Newspaper.

The letter say in part:

“I am against allowing the refugees the rights to America’s soil and my neighborhood. These are the same people that hate America, hate Christians and have vowed to take over the world by destroying our way of life. Perhaps our leaders should study the Old Testament when God gave specific instructions to destroy these people (even their women, children and animals). Why would He give such instructions? Because He knew the impact these idol worshippers of false gods would have on His people. It is not a matter of loving your neighbor. My neighbors are the people that value the same standards of life and way of life that I value.”

Wednesday night, we talked with Sessoms after a prayer meeting at his church. Sessoms tells us he stands by his statement.

“In this country we are under attack by terrorists and we don’t know who those folks are,” Sessoms said. “And so by allowing these refugees to come in and not know their background. But we certainly know their past is to hate Americans and hate Christianity.”

Sessoms says he wrote the letter to the Baptist newspaper to express his frustration with other Baptist leaders who have advocated for allowing refugees to enter the country.

The pastor says he’s not a racist and loves people. He just doesn’t believe the federal government should allow refugees in the country

Several people have shared their thoughts about Sessoms’ letter on the Church’s Facebook page.

“Your church members should be very proud to have a man such as you as pastor,” T. Anderson wrote. “Thanks again so much for writing what a lot of us are thinking.”

G. Fuller posted to the page, saying, “Your pastor’s words are hurtful and completely anti-Christ.”

Weigh in on the conversation on our Facebook page or in the comments below.”


Support for pastor accused of embezzlement


KOCO reports…

“Problems are growing for an Oklahoma City pastor accused of embezzlement. Velio Estrada was the leader of one of the city’s largest Hispanic congregations at El Tabernaculo de Fe.

Edwin Dubon has known him for more than 18 years and says he’s tired of hearing all the negative comments made against his friend.

“I don’t think he’s capable. I don’t think he’s done the things he’s accused of,” he said.

Dubon said that everything has an explanations, such as the poor records kept. He said that’s because he runs a small church with simple people who aren’t used to running a church like a business.

“You go to an American church and you have doctors and lawyers, business owners,” he said. “Most of the people who go to that church are waiters and roofers, not the owners, but the guys putting the roof on.”

Dubon said the legal battle with Oklahoma District Council of the Assemblies of God of the State of Oklahoma is taking a toll on Estrada.

Recently the bank filed a foreclosure notice regarding Estrada’s Edmond private estate.

According to the Oklahoma County Assessor’s Office, the home is worth about $475,000 and was titled under El Tabernaculo De Fe Inc.

Court documents list several people on the notice, which says more than $360,000 are owed on the home. Online county records also show there’s more than $24,000 owed on unpaid taxes for the last four years.

Dubon said this supports his claim that Estrada is innocent. “They say he has all that money. Why are they taking his house away if he had all that money?” he said.

A call to the attorney representing Estrada in the foreclosure case was not returned.”


Creflo Dollar Highway


WSB reports…

“A state senator wants to rename part of Old National Highway after megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar.

Dollar’s church, World Changers Church International, has been a part of the College Park community for 30 years.

State Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, introduced the proposal Monday. Dollar’s church is in her district.

James told Channel 2’s Matt Johnson that the pastor has done more good for the community than his reputation may suggest.

“I would love to see a Creflo Dollar Highway,” James said.

James is a strong supporter of Dollar. She says the leader of World Changers gets a bad reputation and deserves the honor after his years of service in the community.

“This is a church that’s doing things in the community to make things better,” James told Johnson.

James introduced Senate Resolution 805, which would dedicate Old National Highway between Highway 138 and Interstate 285 as the Creflo Dollar Highway.

Dollar made headlines last year when he and other church leaders asked followers at World Changers to raise $65 million for a top-of-the-line luxury Gulfstream G-650 jet.

James recently joined Dollar’s church but said she did this because her constituents asked for it.

“So many people have requested this, not even people who go to World Changers,” James told Johnson.

Disbelief was the reaction Johnson got from some people who live along Old National Highway as they said they’d rather see it dedicated to someone else.

“Oh Lord have mercy, good God almighty, Lord no,” one man told Johnson. “He’s not meeting the whole community needs in order for this right here to be named after him.”

“He might impact the people who go to his church but not like College Park or Old National as a community,” another person told Johnson.

Last year, James won approval to name a portion of Atlanta’s Spring Street as the new Gladys Knight Highway.”




Guglielmucci tragedy


The Adelaide Advertiser reports…

“A man who was struck and killed by a bolt of lightning during a church camp in the Adelaide Hills was a father of four and a youth pastor with a northern suburbs church.

Kris Guglielmucci, 39, of Greenwith, was fatally injured at Cornerstone College just after 2.30pm on Friday, as a storm cell swept over Adelaide and the Mt Lofty Ranges.

Mr Guglielmucci worked with young Christians through Victory Church at Pooraka.

A statement on the church’s website said: “Kris was a much loved member of our staff and church and our hearts go out to Lisa and the children during this time. Our thoughts also extend to Pastor Danny and Sharonne Guglielmucci, as well as the Edge Church family.

“Our priority now is to care for the children who attended Summerfest, the amazing youth leaders of Victory Youth and our church family. We have been in contact with all those involved and are offering counselling to those who require it.”

Mr Guglielmucci was running Summerfest Youth Camp for about 100 high school students at the Mt Barker college when he was struck by the lightning bolt.

Police said it was unclear whether he died at the scene or in hospital.

A 19-year-old woman — also a member of the church — was rushed to Royal Adelaide Hospital with leg injuries. She was discharged on Friday night and is recovering at home.

Victory Church senior pastor Tony Rainbow said the circumstances of Mr Guglielmucci’s death were a tragedy.

“(Mr Guglielmucci) was a fun-loving, much-loved member of our church community but it went much broader than that,” he said.

“Kris had an impact not just in our local church but many churches and through his involvement with Planetshakers (an international church) has a global reach.

“The tragedy is he leaves behind a lovely wife and four young children.”

Church officials have spoken to members of the congregation.

One churchgoer on Friday said: “It’s a bit of a rough night — there are a lot of family and friends that have just found out.”

The college oval, where an afternoon of activities was planned, was deserted late on Friday.

A giant tarp used as a slip and slide, children’s pools, water balloons and ropes were strewn across the oval.

It is understood the church camp was abandoned as police investigated the freak accident.

Cornerstone College principal Craig Fielke told The Advertiser the group had been due to finish their two-day camp on Saturday.

“It is an absolute tragedy — we are trying to support them as best we can and we will do that all next week,” he said.

Police will prepare a report for the Coroner….”


Church lawyer letter ‘over the top’


Listen to ABC ‘PM’ report


The ABC reports…

“The Catholic Church is in damage control after one of its lawyers demanded that a child sex abuse survivor repay an out-of-court settlement because she spoke to the media about her case.

Lawyers for the Diocese of Wagga Wagga also sought a public apology from the woman for “untruths” she told to the local newspaper.

But after being contacted by the ABC on Wednesday, the Bishop of Wagga Wagga said he did not instruct the lawyer to make the demands and he would not be pursuing abuse survivor Gina Swannell for the money.

Ms Swannell said she was repeatedly abused by a priest when she was just six years old at a church in Urana, west of Wagga Wagga.

At the time, she was a boarder at the nearby St Francis Xavier school.

Ms Swannell was one of the original campaigners for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. In 2013, she was one of the first to give evidence to the commission in private hearings.

She later decided to sue the church and the order of nuns which ran the school, the Presentation Sisters, in the NSW Supreme Court.

She alleged the late Father Charles Holdsworth sexually abused her eight or nine times in the confessional box of St Fiacre’s Church, Urana.

In November, after an interview with the ABC about the church’s refusal to mediate with her, she received an out-of-court settlement.

Last week, Ms Swannell spoke again to the ABC and The Daily Advertiser in Wagga Wagga about the settlement.

Days later she received a letter from a lawyer for the Diocese of Wagga Wagga, who branded her comments to the newspaper as “complete rubbish” and demanded the settlement money back.

In the letter, Tim Abbott from Walsh and Blair lawyers stated: “Your client has clearly breached the nondisclosure condition and [we] therefore request that she return the settlement funds within seven days.”

Mr Abbott went on to say:

“We also note that your client has communicated untruths to the newspaper including comments such as: that she launched legal action against the Wagga Catholic Diocese (which it did not);

“That the church awarded her damage (which it did not);

“She had to fight to the death they were so competitive (untrue);

“That she would never have even got mediation if it wasn’t for the media pressure from the ABC and The Wagga Daily Advertiser (complete rubbish);

“That at the mediation she had to ‘stare down 14 church barristers in the marathon mediation session’ (grossly untrue given the church was only represented by the writer and the mediation took place over a period of about three hours).”

Mr Abbott concluded: “We expect apart from return to the settlement funds that your client publicly apologises to the diocese for the untruths set out above.”

Ms Swannell said the letter had re-traumatised her at a time when she was hoping to get her life back on track.

She denies that she breached the terms of settlement.

“The only thing I agreed to is not to disclose the amount of money,” Ms Swannell said.

“Should I have agreed to accept money and stay quiet, that to me would have been a bribe. If I was then to have taken that money and still kept my mouth closed that would have made me an enabler of the underhanded process that I and many of us are subjected to.”

Ms Swannell said she felt like she had been kicked in the stomach when she read the letter.

“I was nauseous and I was shaking. I was absolutely devastated because the whole time I have fought this fight … for the victims who cannot speak. The ones that are dead, that are friends of mine, all those people waiting in the wings that know this has happened to them, but don’t know how to go about it, that was the fight,” she said.

Francis Sullivan, from the church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, said the letter was “ham-fisted” and did not reflect the pastoral approach of the church on child sexual abuse matters.

Mr Sullivan said he had spoken to the Bishop of Wagga Wagga, Gerard Hanna, and was pleased that he had told him the diocese would not be pursuing Ms Swannell for the money.

In a statement to the ABC, Bishop Hanna said while he had instructed the lawyer to send a letter to correct the public record, he did not instruct him to demand the money back nor did he instruct him to demand a public apology from Ms Swannell.

“But I wanted to make the point a mediated agreement was made in good faith and should be respected by all parties,” he said.

The bishop later said the lawyer had acted “independently” in making the demands because the bishop was away on holidays at the time.

He said he intended the retain the services of the lawyer but in future, the diocese would review his letters to ensure he did not go “over the top”.

Bishop Hanna said the letter was meant to be an “expression of our disappointment that it had come to this” and that he had instructed the lawyer to “close it down, as we agreed we would”.

Mr Abbott stood by his letter and said he believed it was appropriate.

He said he took “general instructions” to send the letter from the business manager of the diocese, because the bishop was away on holidays at the time.

Ms Swannell said she would never be silenced.

“Everybody who has encountered me during this fight knew I was in this for the people. For the victims, for the little ones, for the children,” she said.

“That’s why I did what I did. That’s why I will continue to do what I do. Because I will never be quiet about sexual abuse of children. Ever.”



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