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A Victim’s Anguished Letter to Dave Harvey Revealing Sexual Abuse & Its Alleged Cover Up at Covenant Fellowship Church

Covenant Fellowship Church (CFC) is the second most powerful church in SGM after Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville.  Dave Harvey was based there until he left in June 2013.  Mark Prater, the Executive Director for SGM, is based there.  I wrote about him recently in Executive Director Mark Prater Effectively Calls Victims of Sexual Abuse Liars on Behalf of All Sovereign Grace Leaders.  Andy Farmer, one of seven Executive Committee (Board) members for SGM, is based there.  Other prominent pastors on staff include Jared Mellinger (sr. pastor), Marty Machowski and Jim Donahue.  

Last Friday, I posted Sex Abuse Victim Asserts Prominent SGM Pastor Marty Machowski "Threw My Children and I to the Wolves.”  Today’s post is a sequel.  It concerns a completely different victim who was also a witness.  This victim-witness can pretend no longer.  She must “speak out for the truth.”  She writes Dave Harvey out of anguish and assumes he knows nothing about some of these matters.  This happened last year.  It is recent history and a true indicator of how SGM continues to cover up sexual abuse and deal with victims. 

I have removed all names except for those of the CFC pastors.  I’ve added clarifications and explanations in brackets [ ].  I’ve interspersed comments in bold print.   

From: [Name of victim-witness]  
Sent: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 8:54 PM
To: Dave Harvey
Subject: An explanation given, in a time when I have to speak out for truth... 

This is [first name] formerly [maiden name].  My married last name is [last name].  My husband and I have two children.  We have an eight year old daughter, and a three year old son.  He has Down syndrome and juvenile diabetes.  You were having lunch with your daughter one time a while back and your daughter recognized us from church.  We no longer wish to be apart of sovereign grace ministries, and for months now, we have wanted to explain why.  We don’t owe anyone an explanation but I have so much anger inside and emotional pain about what happened to me while being a part of covenant fellowship church, that if I don’t tell someone the truth, it will continue to eat away at me.  The only reason why u [I] have not come forward with all of this up unit now, is because I have been afraid.  I’ve been afraid of being judged and afraid of what certain people might think about me, if I speak my mind and tell the truth.  But we aren’t ever coming back to covenant and I should have nothing to fear.  Thee [There] are good people who attend covenant and I sure that some of the pastors are honest people but some of the experiences that I had at covenant fellowship have shaken my faith to its very core.  And because of these things, I have not been able to become a part of a local church ever since. 

Comment:  She begins to confide in Dave Harvey thinking he is a “good guy.”  She has been afraid to tell anyone the truth for fear of being judged.  Her experience with pastors at CFC has shaken her faith to the core.  Their handling of her has been so traumatic she’s not been able to get involved in another church.

My husband and my two children and I are on the verge of wanting to join this other local church but wrote we could, we felt we needed to be honest with the pastor there, so we told him everything that happened at covenant end [and] why we can’t ever come back.  He not only agreed with us but he encouraged me to tell you everything because he felt that you must not be aware of some of these things.  He said that he felt that if you were aware of what truly happened, then you would have called us or addressed these things. 

Comment:  Dave Harvey was fully aware because he was the senior pastor when all this was taking place.  More than aware, he was directing his staff.  Harvey didn’t install his replacement, Jared Mellinger, until October 2008.  Everything referenced in this letter “truly happened” under Harvey’s eagle eye.  This outside pastor assumed Harvey was honest and didn’t act because he didn’t know.  Surely he would “have called us or addressed these things.”  I understand the naiveté of this pastor but nothing could be further from the truth.  As has been proven time after time, Harvey is a master of deceit.

I know that you have a lot on your plate and I don’t mean to burden or overload you but I have to get these things off my chest so that I am able to put the past behind me, and move on.  Recently within a few months ago we talked about joining covenant we even emailed Andy farmer [a CFC pastor] and joe Stigors [Joe Stigora, a CFC pastor] to tell them we would be attending membership classes.  But we realized we were only going to join to prove to certain people that what they did to me and how they treated me, didn’t bother me or effect me.  But what has happened did effect me it hurt me very deeply a d [and] effected me very deeply and so I can’t pretend that it didn’t so I can’t join just to make people think that they haven’t hurt me or effected me.... So we simply cannot go on pretending....

I came to covenant fellowship for the first time when I was nineteen years old.  I was completely amazed and wanted to become a member.  I grew up in a Christian home, and had never been a part of a Church that was so alive before.  I began attending a college age care group and shortly after that, I joined.  I began serving in the child care area of the alpha program.  The first course went quite smoothly and everything was going really great.  But then at the beginning of the second course, the man who was heading up the child care portion, [member 1], stepped down and a different man took his place, Leroy Wilson.  M. [Mr.] Wilson seemed nice at first, but he began to do really bad things.  He began to say inappropriate and even sexually explicit things to me, he pulled my bra straps, slapped me on my behind, and I was so distraught over it.  He was this way not just with me but with other young women who were also serving as well.  I went to [member 2] and Jim Donahue [a CFC pastor] and I told them what was going on.  I also told them that unlike [member 1], that mr Wilson asked for my cell phone number the first night he served and claimed it was to be able to go over the alpha lesson plans for the kids program so I gave it to him before he had said or done anything inappropriate.  He began calling me a lot and would ask me what I was up to or where I was at and I told him that if it wasn’t about alpha that I needed to hang up and could be [he] please not call me again.  Jim Donahue also knew this as well.  But instead of them helping me, they made things worse for me.  Jim Donahue told me that I was taking the things that lee [i.e. Leroy] was doing and saying, in the wrong way and out of context.  He told me that I was judging him and that I owed him an apology!  Lee continued to call me when he told the pastors that he wouldn’t, and I began to notice him behaving I appropriately [inappropriately] with the children.  So again I went to [member 2] and Jim Donahue and I told them that he shouldn’t be allowed near the kids and that I was afraid for their safety and could they please remove him to keep the kids safe. 

Comment: At this point, member 2 and Jim Donahue were mandated under Pennsylvania law to report Leroy Wilson to police.  There was no pastoral exemption for Donahue under these circumstances. 

After that, I was told again that I was judging him and that he would not be removed.  The next week when I went to serve, lee told me he found a new lead teacher and didn’t need me to serve anymore.  He asked me to leave.  I cried the entire way home because I knew the truth, that he was a predator and that he knew that I knew what he was doing or going to do and I was powerless to stop it from happening.  I walked into my house and begged my parents to call and talk to Jim [Donahue] because I told them I knew he was a danger to those kids.  My parents didn’t want to get involved.  I guess it was about six weeks maybe eight weeks later, that a district attorney called me from the media courthouse [also called the Delaware County Courthouse] and asked me to come and give a statement about lee Wilson because he molested and raped a little boy who came thru my classroom during that alpha course :(

Comment:  This victim-witness helped out with child care during the Alpha Course at CFC.  Leroy Eugene Wilson was convicted on July 1, 2005 on 3 counts: 1) involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, 2) indecent assault, and 3) corrupting morals of children.    

A civil trial was later scheduled for September 24-28, 2007.  Sovereign Grace Ministries and Covenant Fellowship Church were both named as Defendants.  It appears there was an out of court settlement for damages.  C.J. Mahaney and Dave Harvey never told me about this civil lawsuit against SGM. 

I felt completely heartbroken and somehow responsible.  If I had just taken control and made him leave somehow if I had defied Jim Donahue and [member 2] and just did what I knew was right and made them listen somehow if I had spoken up again and again I don’t know.  I just felt like this kid being molested was partially my fault... When I sat down with Jim Donahue he spoke these words, that I will never forget he said “well, if he really did molest that little boy, at least the little boy was only four years old and probably won’t remember it.” 

My heart just sunk.... I warned them that this man had sexually assaulted me and harassed me and other young women in the church, and that he was inappropriate with the little kids, and they dare not remove him and tell me that I owe him an apology and now ha e [have] the nerve to say this about the child being abused?!  I felt anger, frustration, and sadness.  My heart just broke that day, and never mended fully again. 

So when I went to give my statement to the police, and I told them about all the complaints I made to Jim Donahue about mr Wilson prior to what took place, when they [the police] asked him [Donahue] about it, they told me that he [Donahue] told them [the police] I lied and that I never complained about mr Wilson... It gets worse...

Comment:  I absolutely believe this woman!  SGM leaders will we make up all kinds of lies about anyone they want to discredit in order to cover their tracks.  This is a common tactic.  They will stop at nothing. 

When I was a little girl, I myself was a victim of rape.  I emailed you this before a while ago but not that many people know this.  The first person I ever told, was a pastor at covenant fellowship church [she does not say which pastor].  The rape started when I was seven, and it went on for three and a half years, until we moved.  It was a neighbor friend’s stepdad.... Due to what happened to me when I was a little girl, I developed a severe battle with anorexia and bulimia, at a very young age and that battled lasted over a decade and I almost died from it.  I can tell you that abuse effects a child for a very long time and what Jim said about that little boy being so young that if it did happen he wouldn’t remember it, he minimized it and it made me feel like he was minimizing what happened to me, and that made me feel very small and very sad.  I told this particular pastor about what happened to me, in confidence, and it should not have left that room, ever.  But when I testified in court about the lee Wilson case, mr. Carey [Robert J. Carey] who was Wilson’s attorney, brought it up during my testimony and attempted to use it to somehow discredit me as a witness!  So this pastor leaked that private and personal information about me, to the attorney and it was brought up in a courtroom in public for the whole world to know and hear about.  I was ashamed, I was scared, I was embarrassed and completely traumatized by the entire thing.  

Comment:  Likely because she did not report it.  That tactic was repeatedly used in the Nathaniel Morales trial to discredit the testimony of the victims.  There are other possibilities also.  Defense lawyers for sex abusers will drudge up anything to attack the credibility of victims.  It is despicable.  Harvey, Farmer, Donahue, Prater, Mellinger, and Machowski did not want Leroy Wilson to be convicted because a civil suit against Covenant Fellowship Church had already been filed for damages.  A guilty verdict in the criminal trial would go a long way in winning the civil trial to follow.  This pastor was leaking private and personal information about her rape to the Defense attorney in order to get Wilson off the hook. 

Furthermore Jim said that if he [Leroy E. Wilson] was convicted that they would no longer stand behind him.  Well he was convicted and went to prison yet they still stood behind him and I was shunned and treated like vermin because I did what was right and told the truth.  And lee somehow got himself out of jail after a year and began coming back to covenant with open arms and I continued to be talked about.  One couple in particular came to see me about it, and they told me that Jim Donahue was not speaking highly of me and he told them [the couple] that I lied about different things and they told me that they told him [Jim Donahue] that he was judging me and that they felt I was ostracized for speaking the truth and for trying to do what was right by that innocent little boy who’s life was now changed forever, from another man’s reprehensible sin. 

Comment:  Donahue knows this victim-witness can harm him and the other CFC pastors if she speaks out and tells the truth.  Therefore, he must slander her behind her back.  This is damage control SGM style.  The pastors also shun her while they defend and welcome back the convicted felon.    

But it doesn’t stop there.  When my husband and I had been engaged for a few months we began sleeping together before our wedding and we found out about four weeks before the wedding that we were pregnant.  A few pastors told us that we didn’t want to compound that mistake with another one and that we shouldn’t get married even tho we were already engaged for months before we got pregnant.  We knew have [having] pre marital sex wasn’t the best idea but with what happened to me when I was a little girl I was nervous about how I would feel and if it would be ok and not traumatizing to me so we began sleeping together before our wedding day.  So they told us that to get married would be a mistake?  not their place!  And here we are two kids later and still happily married over nine years later!  Still not everything. [i.e., she has more to say]  I am a musician.  I play piano and sing and write music and I’ve never been allowed to use that gift at covenant fellowship.  I served in many other areas and was involved in a care group for a long tie [time] and there were always excuses made for why it wasn’t the right time for me to be involved in music ministry ... At the church I grew up in I was always allowed to use my gifts and was always involved in music ministries at the church.  People at covenant just always made me feel badly about myself, like I was always less than or not good enough of a Christian for God to use me or my gifts etc. but there’s more.  I used to be friends with [name of female child molester].  She confessed to me that she molested a four year old little boy, and she told me that the pastors convinced the family not to press charges on her and that she went thru counseling.  But she later worked for a long period of time, at a local daycare center full time and the pastors knew she had molested a child and that she was working with children at a daycare center! 

Comment:  If true all the pastors should be charged and arrested for conspiring not to report this heinous crime to law enforcement as required by Pennsylvania law.  Inevitably, this child molester went on to abuse.  

After experiencing what I experienced at covenant I still wanted to try to become a member just to prove to certain people that they didn’t scarr [scar] me or scare me or hurt me.  But the truth is, that they did.  I feel like what happened to me when I was young doesn’t matter to them, and wasn’t a big deal in their eyes, I feel like they think I was wrong for testifying In the lee Wilson case, and after hearing what happened with [name of female child molester] straight from her mouth, I am terrified, terrified to stay.  I can’t pretend that all the things that happened didn’t happen.  I trid to, I tried to just ignore it but I just can’t do it anymore.  The icing on the cake was when my brother in law passed away at twenty four years old, a year and a half ago.  My mother in law wanted Jim Donahue to do the service so he and joe Stigora got involved.  We believed that my brother in law was a Christian and we asked them to please not talk about hell and stuff like that that the family was already in a state of shock over the sudden loss etc. they of course agreed.  Well, Jim’s entire message during the funeral, was about hell and about how God must punish sin.  Ask my parents [names given but removed] if u don’t believe me.  They couldn’t believe it and after the service joe Stigora came up to my mother in law and apologized and he said to her “I’m so sorry I have no idea what he was thinking” he left dozens of young adults angry and never wanting to set foot into another church ever again.  And my mother in law?  That is the final memory she will have that is the message that she has to think of whenever she remembers having to burry her young son... My parents said they were mortified.  They still attend the church [Covenant Fellowship Church] and like I said we were going to join but after much prayer we decided that we can’t just pretend that all of this didn’t happen.  No church is perfect but the way I was treated and the way my husband’s family was treated is beyond wrong.  I walked away from covenant and what I feel, is small, and like the truth doesn’t matter and that I don’t matter... That my feelings and my experiences and my faith and my relationship with God, didn’t matter... I am completely disillusioned by what I have experienced and I am so scared to even get involved in another church....

With all the allegations that are facing sovereign grace [Sovereign Grace Ministries] right now, knowing what I experienced, I believe very single one of them.  I witnessed for myself, a sovereign grace church [i.e., CFC] asking me to apologize to a man [Leroy Wilson] who was assaulting me, I witnessed for myself a sovereign grace church [CFC] not wanting to involve the police when a child had been molested, and I witnessed for myself a sovereign grace church [CFC] ostracizing an innocent person [herself], for telling the truth and for trying to keep children safe.  I’m not saying that every person in sovereign grace ministries isn’t a Godly leader, but I am saying that this idea that counseling and accountability alone, can cure a pedofile [pedophile], is beyond, a ridiculous notion, and what about all the other children who are at risk, because these families have felt forced to forgive, and the person can then move on to harm the next child?  And children having to forgive right away?  Families having to forgive right away?  I have barely forgiven my predator and its been decades since it happened and I’ve never done it face to face... Completely wrong and traumatizing... After all of this has now come out, sovereign grace ministries needs to seriously rethink their views and policies with regards to these issues... I have been afraid to make my feelings known but I’m not afraid anymore... The truth is coming out all over sovereign grace ministries all by itself.... And the saddest part, is that for those of us who have been abused, the worst things that someone can do, is belittle it, and act like it doesn’t matter…. 

Comment:  The pastors in Covenant Fellowship church are some of the most corrupt but powerful leaders in all of Sovereign Grace Ministries.  No one should support or endorse them.  35 minutes after receiving this email, Harvey forwards it to Marty Machowski, Jim Donohue; Andy Farmer; Mark Prater and Jared Mellinger with a note.  

From: Dave Harvey
Sent: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 9:31 PM
To: Marty Machowski; Jim Donohue; Andy Farmer; Mark Prater
Cc: Jared Mellinger
Subject: FW: An explanation given, in a time when I have to speak out for truth... 

Well boys, I hate to be the bearer of sad news but I think this is something we’re going to have to give immediate attention to.  I will also need counsel on how to respond to [first name of victim-witness], preferably sooner rather than later.  

Talk more tomorrow…


Comment:  This email should have crushed Dave and resulted in his immediate repentance and a call for repentance from the other pastors.  Instead he refers to it as “sad news.”  There is no indication this has to do with their “sad” (wretched) handling of the victim, etc.  Harvey appears to be demeaning the victim-witness.  Here’s what clear.  Not one of these men suggests they meet to humbly discuss their actions before responding to this person who has been so horribly handled.  Without a hint of remorse, they immediately resort to damage control.  The next morning Andy Farmer writes a suggested response for Harvey.  Harvey uses it almost verbatim.

From: Andy Farmer
Sent: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 7:52 AM
To: Dave Harvey
Cc: Marty Machowski; Jim Donohue; Mark Prater; Jared Mellinger
Subject: Confidential 

Guys.  I’m going to come in this morning with a suggested response to the email Dave received.  Please don’t forward te [the] email in electronic form to anyone or comment with the content in the body of anything you send 


Sent from my iPhone 

Comment:  This is familiar territory.  These men are experts at damage control.  First, there is a complete lock down on the email.  None of the other pastors, staff or members of CFC can see it.  It must not be forwarded it to anyone.  Second, Harvey, Machowski, Donohue, Prater, and Mellinger are not to include any of “the content in the body” when they provide comment (input) to Farmer’s suggested response.  Farmer knows this email is dangerous because contains incriminating testimony.  It can’t see the light of day. 

From: Andy Farmer
Sent: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 10:53 AM
To: Dave Harvey
Subject: confidential 

[first initial of first name of victim-witness]

Thank you for sending me this.  I know the situation you talked about in your email was very difficult for you.  And I know Jim and other pastors have tried to communicate care to you since that time.  If there is anything else you feel you need to share with us I or any of the pastors you’re comfortable with would really like to meet with you and hear your thoughts.  We want to continue to do all we can to keep our church a safe and secure place for everyone who comes.  Its important that we to deal with any suspected abuse in a way that protects victims, honors the law, and allows those who are seeking to help to feel our support in their efforts.  It really does matter to me and the pastors that you’d take the time to communicate your concerns to us.  If you think that a conversation with the pastor you’re talking to would be helpful please know we’d be happy to talk with him as well.

Comment: Andy Farmer isn’t writing this response with the interests of the victim-witness in mind.  He is only concerned about protecting the self-interests of the pastors.  There is no concern for the truth.  He knows the victim-witness may forward her email to others including law enforcement.  That’s why he says, “We want to continue to do all we can to keep our church a safe and secure place for everyone who comes.  It’s really important that we deal with any suspected abuse in a way that protects victims, honors the law, and allows those who are seeking to help to feel our support in their efforts.” 

This is an absolute slap in the face to the victim-witness.  She is pointing out from personal experience and eye witness testimony how they have failed to make the church safe and secure, protect victims, honor the law, and support her in any way, shape or form.  This is the SGM approach to damage control.  Lie, deny all charges, provide no meaningful or accountable response, and put yourself forward in a godly light.  Then libel the person to others in private.  If the person goes public, label them a slanderer and command people to avoid them and their writings.   

From: Dave Harvey <>
Date: 02/27/2013 10:59 AM (GMT-05:00)
To: [Victim-Witness]
Subject: RE: An explanation given, in a time when I have to speak out for truth... 

Morning [first name of victim-witness].  

Thank you for sending me this.  I know the situation you talked about in your email was very difficult for you.  And I’m aware Jim and other pastors have tried to communicate care to you since that time.  If there is anything else you feel you need to share with us, please know that I or any of the pastors you’re comfortable with would really like to meet with you and hear your thoughts.  We want to continue to do all we can to keep our church a safe and secure place for everyone who comes.  It’s really important that we deal with any suspected abuse in a way that protects victims, honors the law, and allows those who are seeking to help to feel our support in their efforts.  It matters deeply to me and the pastors that you’d take the time to communicate your concerns to us.  In fact if you think that a conversation with the pastor you’re talking to would be helpful please know we’d be happy to talk with him as well. 

Comment:  Start with fake appreciation for the email.  Commend and justify Jim Donahue and the other pastors for their care.  That sends a loud message we are not open to your critique.  They’vedone nothing wrong.  He hasn’t lied.  He has slandered.  No one leaked information to the Defense attorney.  Acknowledge no wrong doing.  Acknowledge no legitimacy to anything in the letter.  Don’t provide a written reply of any kind.  Just ignore her.  

Appear humble and invite her to meet if she feels the need but convey the pastors feel no need to meet or confess any wrong doing.  That means nothing she has written warrants a response from them.  This clearly communicates they see no need to ask forgiveness, investigate further, take additional action, etc.  They pretend to be humble, however, by offering to meet to hear her thoughts.  How condescending.  The have already heard her thoughts in the letter but are utterly unresponsive to all her pleadings.  In fact, they effectively reject all her concerns.  It would be no different in private.  

Furthermore, they know she won’t want to meet after she receives this response.  That is by design.  This repudiation only gives her more reason to fear and distrust them.  It is pure manipulation to say “It’s really important that we…allow those who are seeking to help to feel our support in their efforts.  It matters deeply to me and the pastors that you’d take the time to communicate your concerns to us.”   Outrageous manipulation.  Farmer/Harvey’s response communicates no support for her efforts whatsoever and it doesn’t “matter deeply” that she wrote.  

It’s been our hope that you’d find a place in the church family here, but if you have found another place that better meets your needs and the needs of your family please know that we pray that the Lord’s blessings would be with you along the way. 

Comment: A lot of former members in SGM have experienced this kind of manipulation.  “We really want you to stay” (even though they hope and pray you leave) “but the Lord bless you if you find a better place” (even though they think they are the best place).  This humble sounding tactic is used to move undesirable people on to other churches when calling leaders to account, etc.    

Thanks [first name of victim-witness]


Comment:  Here’s a sampling of what this victim-witness experienced on an emotional level. 

“I have so much anger inside and emotional pain about what happened to me while being a part of covenant fellowship church. … Some of the experiences that I had at covenant fellowship have shaken my faith to its very core. … What has happened did effect me it hurt me very deeply a d [and] effected me very deeply and so I can’t pretend that it didn’t. … I was ashamed, I was scared, I was embarrassed and completely traumatized by the entire thing. … I am completely disillusioned by what I have experienced and I am so scared to even get involved in another church.” 

In their collective response, Andy Farmer, Dave Harvey, Mark Prater, Jared Mellinger, Marty Machowski, and Jim Donahue offer no apology of any kind.  Not even a pathetic, “Oops.  Maybe we messed up somehow.  Sorry, if we hurt you.  We want to talk.”   

These men are calloused and hardhearted.  They are also corrupt.  They will lie, deceive, cover up and manipulate in order to protect their sinful self-interests.  The fact that they are key leaders and pastors in Sovereign Grace Ministries is frightening.  Mark Prater, the Executive Director, has repeatedly used the same kind of approach in doing damage control for SGM.  That’s why he didn’t stop this horrific response from being sent to the victim-witness.  He fully supported it. 


continue to hold SGM accountable for its actions, write about lessons to be learned, work for criminal justice, seek reform in the Body of Christ, and care for victims who have been harmed.  Much of what I do is unseen.  Would you please consider a gift or donation?  We are in need of your kind support.  Thanks! 

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Letter of Confession to Bent Meyer & Paul Petry from Mars Hill Elders

In 2007, Bent Meyer and Paul Petry were addressing serious issues in Mars Hill Church. It led to their firing by Mark Driscoll and the elders. Yesterday, 18 of those elders publicly confessed the wrongful ways in which these two men were treated. Praise God!

Letter of Confession to Bent Meyer and Paul Petry
Sunday, November 2, 2014 

Dear Paul and Bent, we want to publicly confess our sin against you regarding events that took place at Mars Hill Church back in 2007. We were wrong. We harmed you. You have lived with the pain of that for many years. As some of us have come to each of you privately, you have extended grace and forgiveness, and for that we thank you. Because our sin against you happened in a public way and with public consequences, we want to make our confession public as well with this letter. 

On September 30th 2007, you were both terminated from your employment as pastors at Mars Hill Church. Your status as elders of the church was suspended, according to the church’s bylaws at the time, pending an investigation of your qualification for eldership. It’s hard to imagine just how disorienting and painful this experience must have been for you. That night, Bent, you called Mike Wilkerson, your direct supervisor, to let him know that you’d been terminated. Within hours, Paul, you emailed all of the elders to notify us of what had happened to you that night. We had the opportunity and the responsibility to intervene, to care, to listen to you, and to make sure that any harmful treatment against you was corrected. Instead, we allowed the process of your investigation and trial to continue unimpeded and we participated in it. By failing to intervene and by participating in that process without protest, we implied to the members of Mars Hill Church, to each other, and to you and your families that your termination was above reproach. We stood by as it happened, and that was wrong. 

We now believe that you were grievously sinned against in that termination. We believe that the termination meeting’s content and tone was abrupt, one sided, and threatening. Hearing each of you recount your experiences of this meeting is shocking and sad. By failing to intervene, we enabled a growing trend of misuses and abuses of power and authority that would be feared and tolerated by the rest of the church’s eldership. We now understand that these sorts of overpowering actions against elders were some of the very concerns that you had each expressed regarding some of the pending proposed changes to the bylaws. It is tragic that you were proved right by your own experiences. The harm permitted by our failure to protect you has had a devastating and lasting impact on you, your families, Mars Hill Church, and the watching world. 

Paul, On October 15, 2007, all twenty-three elders at the time—including most of us signers of this letter—voted that you were in violation of the biblical qualifications of eldership. The alleged violations included a “lack of trust and respect for spiritual authority”. All but two of the elders then voted to remove you from eldership based on these perceived violations. 

We now believe our decisions were invalid and wrong. The entire investigation and trial process was skewed by the implication that your termination was above reproach and for just cause. If there had been sin in your life that might have warranted a warning about possible disqualification from eldership, we should have patiently, carefully, and directly addressed it with you before the matter became so extremely escalated. By reporting our wrongheaded assessment to the church, we put doubt about your character in the minds of church members, though you had done nothing to warrant such embarrassment and scrutiny. By doing this, we misled the whole church, harmed your reputation, and damaged the unity of the body of Christ. 

Bent, On October 29, 2007, all twenty-three elders at the time—including most of us signers of this letter—agreed that you were guilty of “displaying an unhealthy lack of trust in, and respect for, the senior leadership of Mars Hill Church”. We also unanimously approved that, based on your repentance, you would remain an elder of the church on probation. 

Bent, we were wrong to have called you guilty of lacking trust and respect for the senior leadership of the church when you had good reasons for challenging the church’s senior leadership. We were wrong to have insisted that you repent of this lacking trust as a condition of your continued eldership, because it was not sinful on your part in the first place. 

Bent and Paul, you each had every right as an elder to openly express your strong concerns about the bylaws and to influence our thinking so that we might have made the most informed decision possible. You also had good reason to contact the church’s attorney about those bylaws. These were not sinful acts of mistrust on your part, but reasonable acts of due diligence. We needed to learn from you at that time and we should have trusted you and respected your spiritual authority as elders of the church to educate us about potential problems with those bylaws. Instead, we silenced your voices through our complicity in your terminations and our decisions to remove Paul as an elder and keep Bent on probation instead of examining the issues more closely. 

Paul, On December 5th, 2007 those of us who were elders at the time voted to instruct the members of Mars Hill Church to treat you as an unrepentant believer under church discipline after you had resigned your membership from the church. This treatment was to have included “rejection and disassociation” in the hope that you would “come to an acknowledgment of [your] sin and repent.” This instruction was given with the weight of all twenty-seven elders at the time. This disciplinary rejection led to great loss to your family in extreme financial hardship, sudden loss of long standing friendships, spiritual and emotional trauma to your family, and the public shaming of your character. We share responsibility for those losses due to our participation in the vote. 

A church disciplinary act of this magnitude is extreme. It’s perhaps the most powerful that can be enacted upon a pastor. We now think that motion was hasty and harmful. We should have challenged the motion rather than approving it. Instead, we used our voting power as elders in a way that resulted in further harm to you. Further, we brought disrepute on the Church and its responsibility to exercise church discipline in a godly, loving and redemptive way. We failed to love you as a fellow elder and brother in Christ.

Confessing our sins against you has been a process that has taken us some time. We have engaged in self-examination, challenged our memories of what happened by reviewing the documents and interviewing one another, and spent time listening to you and your wives tell your heartbreaking stories. Many of us have met personally with each of you over the years to confess our sin and to seek forgiveness for our sinful actions and inaction. We don’t intend to convey by this letter that we are the only elders or former elders who’ve come to similar conclusions, and we hope that in time, the others will join us in public confession. Our desire is to clear the reproach from your names. 

We hope that our confession also brings healing to the many past and present members of Mars Hill Church whose hearts were broken for you and your families as a result of our sin. As part of our commitment to walk in repentance, we invite anyone who has been impacted by our sins against you to contact any of us so we can continue to walk in repentance by listening, confessing, and asking for forgiveness. 

Paul and Bent, we are sorry for our sinful behavior toward you, for harming you, and for bringing shame to Christ’s church. We hope that you will forgive us. May the peace and grace of our Lord heal our hearts. 


Mars Hill Elders as of October, 2007

—Scott Thomas

—Dave Kraft

—Gary Shavey

—Steve Tompkins

—Brad House

—Phil Smidt

—Mike Wilkerson

—James Harleman

—Lief Moi

—Adam Sinnett

—Jesse Winkler

—Zack Hubert

—Tim Reber

—James Dahlman

—Dick McKinley 

Additional Mars Hill Elders as of December 5th, 2007

—Jon Krombein

—Matt Johnson

—Joe Day