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Mars Hill protest and coverage overblown

Demonstrators held banners Sunday on the sidewalk outside of Mars Hill Church reading "WE ARE NOT ANONYMOUS." Others called for Pastor Driscoll's resignation. (AP Photo)

There was a story in The Seattle Times today — front and center — that was a bit odd to me because it really wasn’t much of a story, certainly not one that should be the lead on their website. It centered around a protest (of about 60, coming and going) against Mars Hill Church in Bellevue that called for the ouster of the church’s founder Mark Driscoll.

The story says:

Part of what sparked Sunday’s protest was a video posted for church members last week in which Driscoll said he could not address some members discontent in what he called a “season of learning” because the complaints were anonymous.

In answer, demonstrators held banners Sunday on the sidewalk reading “WE ARE NOT ANONYMOUS.” Others called for Driscoll’s resignation, criticized him as a bully, or accused him of objectifying women.

The story gives the impression that only “some” of the protesters were affiliated with the Church — meaning most were not (I spoke with the author of the story and she wasn’t sure how many protesters were actually affiliated with the church). Why would these folks protest a Church they don’t belong to? Well, that’s why this isn’t really news to me.

On the one hand, you likely have folks who just don’t like organized religion or don’t like Driscoll that may be getting involved. I know that the Stranger gave their readers (dare I say readers who may not like the Church or religion) details on how to attend the rally (“I’m sure they’d love to have you” wrote Paul Constant). They say ‘[a]theists, agnostics, and, as one protest organizer put it, ‘anyone with an axe to grind with Mark’ is welcome to attend.” It’s news that activist atheists, agnostics and people who don’t like Driscoll may have attended a protest against a church? Hardly.

On the other hand, you’ve got former members who don’t like how Mars Hill and Driscoll operate. Fair enough. It seems like there are some legitimate concerns, among them that “the church has acknowledged using church tithes to hire a firm and buy copies of one of Driscoll’s books to pump up its sales,” according to the Times. But this isn’t a one-church city and folks leave their church all the time. If you don’t like the church, then you leave. You are not stuck with Mars Hill. Go elsewhere.

So why the protest? Why try to hurt a place of worship when you can simply go elsewhere? And, even more, why report on this on the front page of the Times website? They focus on the gripes of a few churchgoers — but why is that newsworthy when folks have gripes all the time? Why not focus on why they think they should protest instead of just go elsewhere to find a church they can appreciate? There’s not even a lawsuit here (though if there is, then that would seem newsworthy).

What these protesters don’t realize (the ones who actually are religious), protests like this just give ammunition to the anti-religious crowd (ammunition that isn’t even warranted — at least not yet — because these are the types of gripes that normal people simply use to go to another church, not protest) to turn into a bigger story than it actually is. You’ll likely get the gloating of the Stranger crowd to use this protest to take on and mock Christians — not just Mars Hill, but Christians in general. And what’s particularly troublesome about this is it was a protest that didn’t even consist primarily of former churchgoers, but of atheists and agnostics so their gripes are now being passed along as gripes of churchgoers.

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