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Reporting the Truth.
Restoring the Church.

Mark Driscoll’s Safe Space: How The Embattled Pastor Built A New Church And Became An Online Influencer

By Chris Moody
Mark Driscoll (Video screengrab)

After the dramatic implosion of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church in 2014, its co-founder and pastor — Mark Driscoll, an unapologetically confrontational preacher who resigned when church leaders accused him of abusive leadership — decamped with his family to Scottsdale, Arizona.

Cast into a ministerial wilderness, Driscoll quickly began hunting for new allies and opportunities. Driscoll had sights on starting a new church, but with his reputation mired in controversy, he would need to cultivate support from local ministry leaders first. And he would need the platform to communicate and grow his large digital audience. 

While forming his plans, he quietly huddled with pastors from several churches in the area at Scottsdale Bible Church outside Phoenix. Surrounded by about a dozen men, Driscoll introduced himself as a newcomer to the valley, a man who had been through a very public ordeal. He had repented and was ready to begin again. He said he had made missteps with his former church and vowed not to repeat them. He had learned from the experience. The pastors listened. They prayed with him. They challenged him on what he would do differently. Over time, Driscoll would meet with more than 70 pastors from the valley before launching his new ministry. 

Driscoll postured himself with humility, recalled Mark Buckley, founding pastor of Living Streams Church, who attended the Scottsdale Bible Church meeting. 

“He just wanted to say, ‘Hey, I’m here. You’re going to hear stories about me. I made mistakes in the past. I’ve done things wrong. If I restart here, I’m going to do things differently,’” Buckley said. “He was very humble.”

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mars hill church
Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash. (Courtesy image)

Buckley, who had visited Mars Hill Church before in Seattle and was impressed by Driscoll’s uncanny ability to connect with a cynical and skeptical generation of young people, wanted him to succeed. 

Moved by Driscoll’s openness and willingness to start anew, Buckley offered to support him as he built a new church in the valley — even lending his name to a public list of pastors who would encourage and pray for Driscoll’s new ministry. 

“He has had a fresh start here, in a way, and I think that’s what the Lord wanted to give him,” Buckley said. “Mark has a gift for bold preaching that clarifies in people’s minds the truth of Scripture. He is not a compromiser. Not everybody’s going to agree with some of his stances and approaches, but he boldly proclaims Scripture, and that’s why I love him.”

Seattle’s bad boy pastor

Driscoll’s fall from grace followed decades of fame as the leader of one of the most dynamic, powerful and popular evangelical churches in the country. At its height, the Mars Hill Church counted more than 14,000 attendees at 15 campuses. Hundreds of thousands more tuned in to watch Driscoll’s preaching online. 

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Mark Driscoll preaches at The Trinity Church. (Source: Video Screengrab)

His booming ministry at Mars Hill, however, was plagued with tumult. In 2014, church leaders accused Driscoll of fostering a toxic spiritual environment through “domineering,” “verbally abusive” and “arrogant” leadership. A group of Mars Hill pastors signed a letter calling for Driscoll to step down from the pulpit and undergo a restoration plan before returning to ministry. Paul Tripp, a member of Mars Hill’s Board of Advisors and Accountability, said Mars Hill was “without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.”

Lifeway Christian Bookstores stopped selling Driscoll’s books. National religious conferences disinvited him from speaking slots.

As best he could, Driscoll played the victim. He claimed that people tried to pelt his children with rocks while they were playing in their yard. “I’ve cried a lot lately,” Driscoll said while speaking at a conference in 2014. “It’s been a rough season for the family.” Years later, he would allege that church leaders had threatened to frame him by publicly accusing him of adultery to force him out.

Driscoll rejected the elders’ proposed restoration plan and abandoned the church entirely. The Mars Hill empire crumbled. His resignation letter conceded that he was “an imperfect messenger of the gospel” who had confessed to having “pride, anger and a domineering spirit.” Driscoll held that he was free of any accusations of “criminal activity, immorality or heresy,” hinting that he would still be eligible for public ministry elsewhere. 

Life after Mars Hill

After leaving Mars Hill, Driscoll wasted little time. He rebranded his personal nonprofit, Mark Driscoll Ministries, as “Real Faith,” where his growing repository of sermons, podcasts and books would reside. His new opportunity in the age of social media has allowed him to rebrand as a content creator, an influencer. His brand is Christian alpha male, anti-woke, plain-talking culture warrior with a dash of right-wing politics.

Less than two years after his resignation, in 2016, he founded The Trinity Church in Scottsdale. 

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The Trinity Church in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Photo via social media)

The church purchased Scottsdale’s old Glass & Garden Community Church building, a beautiful and artistically distinct historic concrete circular structure lined with inverted elliptical columns. Designed and constructed in the 1960s, it originally had an outdoor space adjacent to floor-to-ceiling windows so visitors could watch services from their cars as a “drive-in” experience. A domed roof with stained glass hung above the center, topped with a cross. With 10,000 square feet of space inside the church, Driscoll, a mastermind of church marketing, would have plenty of space to grow his ministry. 

The neighborhood surrounding the church is full of neat, mid-century single-family homes with tastefully-designed desert landscaping. Tall saguaro cacti loom over pebble lawns and swimming pools. Exclusive enclaves of multi-million-dollar mansions hide in the hills. The jagged peaks of Camelback mountain loom in the distance. It’s a ripe mission field for the new church, one filled with parents looking for connections for their children and potential donors with deep pockets. 

Located just off the 101 freeway, the eye-catching church building, a slab of shimmering white set against a vast and blue desert sky, is impossible to miss. 

It’s not just the church building that draws attention. Throughout the year, the church displays carnival-like rides and exhibits for children in the parking lot to draw families to the congregation. Complete with bounce houses, water slides, petting zoos and colorful balloons around the property, it’s the kind of place few parents can drive by with a minivan full of children without them begging to stop to see what all the fun is about. The church advertises on children’s television programming for its seasonal events, such as the summer carnivals or Christmas parties, where the church fills the desert lot with snow. Driscoll likes to throw these lavish all-age parties as part of worship — the fun, he tells his congregants, is “practice for heaven.” 

The family-friendly environment, combined with Driscoll’s engaging preaching and a heart-pounding worship band, has led the church to grow steadily since its founding seven years ago. The church is also renowned for its hospitality to newcomers: A small army of greeters waves to cars in the parking lot, while more stand near the door and others mingle in the lobby. New families receive a personal welcome from a member of the church hospitality team moments after they sit in the worship center and are swiftly invited to orientation gatherings, coffee meet-ups and communal meals. 

There’s no denying Driscoll’s talent as a public speaker. His sermons can be attention-grabbing, provocative and emotionally convicting. They are almost always entertaining. Between the opening joke and the benediction, his voice can modulate from a booming and arresting yell of passion to a quiet, intimate whisper, like a father speaking to children. 

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Mark Driscoll speaks at The Trinity Church on Sept. 27, 2020. (Source: Video Screengrab)

“You will feel like you’re part of something,” said Tiffany Eneas, a former member of the church’s hospitality committee. “It’s a show. It’s a complete production. And it’s very welcoming.”  

But despite Driscoll’s early assurances to change, many of the same leadership traits that led to the problems at Mars Hill have carried on at the new church, according to former Trinity staff members and church attendees. Attendees described how Driscoll and other pastors pressured them to cut off ties with their family and close friends. Former staff members have called the working culture “toxic” and told of how they were pressured to stop speaking to people who had left the church. Others described the church as “cultic” and said Driscoll was “controlling” and “narcissistic.” 

“You don’t ever question their leader. You follow his orders or you’re run over,” said Katherine Manuele, a former Trinity attendee who said her family was shunned from the community and allegedly surveilled by private investigators hired by the church after a disagreement with Driscoll. “You’re destroyed. You’re ruined. You’re slandered.” 

Former staff who have spoken out said they have been served cease-and-desist letters from the church, according to several sources. Others said they were fearful of facing litigation from Driscoll. 

“I sat in a meeting where Mark Driscoll looked me straight in the face and said, ‘We have millions of dollars, $10 to $11 million set aside; we’re going to bankrupt people and bleed them dry in court if anyone ever crosses me,’” Chad Freese, the church’s former director of security, told The Roys Report. “He looked me dead in the face and told me that.” 

Religion Unplugged went to great lengths to reach Driscoll and Trinity Church leaders in hopes of hearing their side of the story. This included making a visit to the church in Scottsdale on Memorial Day weekend in 2022. Driscoll was not made available for an in-person interview. 

Driscoll did not respond to telephone calls or text messages to his personal cell phone requesting comment for this story. Multiple emails to the church’s primary address requesting interviews with staff members went unreturned. Mollie Kukkola, Trinity’s director of communication, did not respond to messages requesting comment. A detailed list of questions sent to Kukkola and the church email address went unreturned. While reporting this story, the reporter was blocked from seeing Driscoll’s social media posts (Editors at Religion Unplugged were still able to see Driscoll’s posts). Trinity Church’s public-facing Twitter account is closed to the public. 

In person, however, Trinity Church is open and welcoming. On a Sunday morning at Trinity, members of the church’s welcome team roamed up and down the aisles looking for new faces. They welcomed newcomers with a warm handshake and an immediate offer to join a church small group or share a meal with attendees. A multi-piece band belted out a series of rocking praise and worship songs as attendees who filled the darkened sanctuary sang along, swayed back and forth and raised their hands in praise. A series of videos on jumbo screens played a series of high-production videos promoting the church’s upcoming events: summer parties for children, date-night dinners for parents and other benefits of joining the church. 

For several minutes, Driscoll was nowhere to be seen. Flanked by a security team, he entered the sanctuary through a private door. Rows in the front of the church were blocked off around him, where he sat with family members and a security detail. He generally avoids contact with congregants on Sunday mornings, attendees said. Following the music, Driscoll began to preach on the story of Abraham’s order from God to kill his only son, Isaac. (The command was a test; an angel of the Lord stopped Abraham’s knife at the last second.) Driscoll read from Scripture displayed on the screens and preached verse by verse while weaving his rapid-fire commentary into the narrative. When he finished, he offered communion to the congregants, who gathered near the back of the sanctuary to partake of the sacrament and pray. Driscoll departed with his security team before the service ended. 

In a brief interview after the service in the lobby, Trinity Church Executive Pastor Brandon Andersen said that Driscoll has a general policy of avoiding interactions with the media. 

“We honestly are not going to contribute, good or bad,” Andersen said. “We’re just going to be a church. We’ll let it be, and we’re just going to focus on what God’s called us to do.”

Driscoll hasn’t always been so shy. Years ago, while growing his church empire in the Pacific Northwest, he routinely participated in profiles that landed his name with glowing stories from secular media publications. He sat for interviews with National Public Radio, debated Deepak Chopra on ABC’s “Nightline” and wrote a column for the Seattle Times. Salon, a left-wing website, praised Mars Hill’s embrace of community as “truly utopian” and described Driscoll’s congregants as “the fierce new face of American evangelism.” The New York Times magazine described Driscoll as having the “coolest style and foulest mouth of any preacher you’ve ever seen.” In the late 1990s, liberal magazine Mother Jones pegged him as Generation X’s refreshing response to baby boomer megachurch evangelicalism, celebrating Mars Hill as “a model church” that served as “fundamentalism’s answer to MTV.” “I’m very confrontational,” he boasted to Mother Jones. “I’m not some pansy-ass therapist.” Donald Miller’s popular faith memoir “Blue Like Jazz” titled him, rather appropriately, “Mark the Cussing Pastor.”

As he has aged, Driscoll’s appetite for public confrontation has subsided. He now largely reserves his public exposure to friendly interviews with sympathetic pastors, friends and podcasters, a retreat into safe spaces that protect him from confronting uncomfortable, lingering questions about his church’s organizational structure, scrutiny of its finances and the ongoing allegations of mistreatment of churchgoers and staff members. 

In 2021, Christianity Today released “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,” a deeply reported multipart podcast series that investigated and interrogated Driscoll’s life and ministry. The program featured dozens of voices who accused Driscoll of having an abusive and demeaning leadership style. The show was a surprise hit. Driscoll chose to remain silent and did not participate. 

Although Driscoll has remained largely quiet in the face of such a public flogging, his supporters have enthusiastically defended him. For Driscoll, cancellation was temporary. The seats of his new church are full. Pastors lined up to publicly support his 2018 book “Spirit-Filled Jesus.” His new book, “New Days Old Demons,” was released in 2023. He’s found a home again speaking at conferences across the country. 

Mark DeMoss, a friend of Driscoll’s who led his public relations campaign during the pastor’s resignation from Mars Hill, told Religion Unplugged he believes that Driscoll has earned the right to continue in ministry. 

“I’m not one that believes or thinks any pastor who has had a ‘fall from grace’ is necessarily banned from productive ministry forever,” DeMoss said. “I believe Mark has demonstrated the right to continue teaching/preaching. I don’t think he should be stalked, and I don’t think inviting churches and organizations should be harassed for trying to conduct gospel ministry.”     

‘Total control’

It is common for American churches to establish a board of elders to provide accountability to ministry leaders and guide pastors in decision making. These bodies typically comprise members of the church who live locally and have access to day-to-day goings on at the church. This structure aims to provide a layer of accountability to church leaders. 

In setting up his new church, Driscoll appears to have rejected the network of elders that proved to be such a thorn in his side at Mars Hill. This, critics say, is by design. By all accounts, Trinity Church does not have a board of local elders. Those who attend Trinity are not even formally considered “members.” They have no say in the church’s finances. 

In 2016, Trinity’s website listed names of four men from outside the congregation who would serve as the church’s “wise council”: Larry Osborne, Randal Taylor, Jimmy Evans and Robert Morris. Those names have since been scrubbed from the site. 

Driscoll Morris Taylor Evans
In a January 28, 2020 Facebook post, Mark Driscoll (center) and his wife, Grace, pose alongside (L-R) Randal Taylor, Jimmy Evans, and Robert Morris. (Screengrab)

Taylor, who lives outside Arizona, appears on Trinity’s financial records. Evans did not return a request for comment. In a statement to Religion Unplugged, Lawrence Swicegood, a spokesperson for Morris, said Morris had no formal affiliation with Trinity. Osborne did not return a request for comment.

“Pastor Robert does not serve on the Board of Directors of The Trinity Church in Scottsdale,” said Swicegood, executive director of Gateway Media at Gateway Church, where Morris is senior pastor. “He is a pastoral friend to Mark Driscoll as he is to hundreds of pastors from around the world. However, he has no official oversight or authority at The Trinity Church or with Pastor Mark Driscoll.”

Instead, Driscoll, who employs several members of his family at the church and his nonprofit, Real Faith, has publicly referred to his ministries as “a family business.” (Driscoll’s ministry business appears, at least from the outside, to be lucrative for the man and his family. In 2021 he bought a new, loaded first-edition Ford Bronco. “Since Jesus comes back riding a horse (Rev 19) the answer to What Would Jesus Drive is obviously a Bronco,” Driscoll wrote on Instagram.) Real Faith reported gross receipts of $1.6 million in 2022, according IRS data. According to the most recent publicly available Real Faitha 990 forms in 2020 and 2021, Driscoll received a salary of  $118,473 and $109,500, respectively. Driscoll’s compensation, however, could be higher and paid through the Trinity Church, which doesn’t have to file a 990. 

“The church is more of a religious business than a church,” said Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College who has studied and chronicled Driscoll’s ministries for years. “The thing he learned was to set himself up as the sole authority. There are not functional elders in the Trinity Church. He learned to structure things so that he is in control.” 

The lack of oversight is intentional and by design, said Sutton Turner, Mars Hill’s former executive elder. According to Turner, Driscoll told him that he would one day establish a church without elders. 

“Mark stated to me directly many times that if he ever started a new church, he would make sure that the governance was set up in a way that he had total control,” said Turner. “Today, Mark Driscoll has total control of Trinity Church without any accountability.”

Despite Driscoll’s past and reputation, people still flock to the church. The Trinity experience enticed newcomers like John Baker, a retired pastor who had spent 40 years in ministry and started attending Trinity Church with his wife, Barbara, when the couple moved from Oregon to Arizona in 2018. Baker had heard the stories about Mars Hill but wanted to give Driscoll a chance after a friend recommended it. 

“I wanted to see if God was working,” Baker said. “There are always two sides to the story. What I saw was definitely that Mark had made some mistakes, but also I saw a guy who had asked for forgiveness for those mistakes and was starting over.”

As newcomers, the Bakers received the full Trinity treatment: Church volunteers posted around the campus greeted them in the parking lot, welcomed them through the front door and spoke to them warmly in the sanctuary. Baker, an amateur musician, found the worship band exciting and full of energy, reminding him of Motown. When Driscoll preached, Baker watched in awe at a man who taught the Bible verse by verse but was able to apply it to modern life in a way few expository preachers can. 

“That was pretty impressive,” he said. 

Feeling amply welcomed, the Bakers were hooked. They quickly got involved with the young church. They both joined the welcoming committee and led small groups during the weekdays. Baker joined the church’s men’s ministry and was adopted into the praise band, where he played piano. 

Baker, a self-described “flaming people person,” took special joy out of being part of the church greeting team, the same committee that had welcomed him and Barbara so graciously on their first Sunday in Phoenix. In little time, they were part of an exciting and growing community of Christians after relocating to a city where they hardly knew anyone. They made friends fast through the church. They even grew close with Mark and Grace Driscoll, whom Baker wanted to see succeed after their prior hardships. As a retired minister, Driscoll always referred to Baker as “pastor,” a sign of deferential respect that Baker appreciated. 

It was an exciting time to be part of Trinity Church. The church was expanding. As a member of the welcoming committee, Baker met people from around the country who drove hours just to attend church. Baker greeted people who traveled from California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Some even relocated to Phoenix, which Baker attributed to the welcoming impression at Trinity. 

The Bakers relied on this community during an especially trying time in their lives. In 2021, Barbara was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and the Driscolls surrounded their family with support. Mark and Grace Driscoll regularly prayed with her. Mark Driscoll gave Baker his cell phone number and insisted that Baker keep him updated on her condition. “It was good to have that kind of support,” Baker said. “We really needed that.”

Despite the personal warmth, the Bakers began to question how the church was being run. When Driscoll installed his new son-in-law, Landon Chase, as a pastor, Baker wondered why a young man without seminary training would be given such a title. After raising his concerns about Chase’s lack of credentials with members of church staff, Baker was cautioned to drop the issue.

In 2021, Dustin Blatnik, the church’s popular minister of music, was fired. His departure blindsided church attendees, who were left in the dark as to the reason. (Blatnik declined to comment.)

“He was walked off campus and never came back,” Baker said. “That was sort of a red flag for us.” 

The unusual behavior continued through the year. In the spring of 2021, Baker received a call from another church attendee, Angelo Manuele, who had heard of Barbara’s cancer diagnosis. Manuele’s first wife died of complications from cancer in 2011, and they bonded. Baker spent a day with Manuele, and he later posted about it on Facebook. What Baker didn’t know was that Manuele and his family were involved at the time in a feud with the Driscolls over a relationship between Manuele’s son and Driscoll’s daughter, both of them teenagers. What resulted was an episode that Trinity Church attendees would still whisper about for years to come.

Katherine and Angelo Manuele had joined the church during the pandemic in 2020. After nearly a year in the congregation, Angelo Manuele had a dispute with Driscoll over a relationship between their children. (There are no allegations of criminal wrongdoing or immoral conduct against either child.)  The family was banished from church property, according to Katherine Manuele. The family was served with a no-trespassing order. Their son was kicked off the worship team. Shortly before Easter in 2021, the Manueles allege, the church hired a private investigator to follow the family’s movements around town. The friends they had cultivated at the church, a tight group, were told to stop speaking to them, and they did. 

“They staked out our street and followed us everywhere we went,” Katherine Manuele recalled. “We were basically blacklisted.” 

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Chad Freese (Courtesy Photo)

In an open letter posted to a now-defunct website, Freese, who was in charge of security for the church at the time, described carrying out the orders against the family. Freese said he was the one who recommended the church hire someone to follow the Manuele family after Andersen asked to hire a private investigator to gather information about Angelo Manuele. 

“Any leads on a professional to have eyes on Angelo would be great,” according to a chat log Freese posted but has since been deleted. “For liability reasons, we should stay away from anyone unlicensed.” 

According to Freese, Driscoll was prepared to file litigation against Angelo Manuele, especially after reviewing the amount he gave to the church. 

“He only tithes $25 per month,” Driscoll said, according to Freese’s account on his website, referring to the family’s financial gifts to the church. “He doesn’t have much money so bankrupting him will be easy.”

(Freese has since asked forgiveness for his role in organizing and enforcing Trinity’s security apparatus: “I have repented for my behavior in this, and I ask for forgiveness for being a part of this culture and environment,” he wrote in his open letter.)

The surveillance and intimidation carried over to people who spoke with the Manuele family. When Baker returned home after meeting with Angelo, he noticed that his name had been removed from the church worship team. When he arrived early for church at Trinity the next day to serve on the welcoming committee, he was called into the office of Eden Fine, Trinity’s campus pastor. Baker was surprised to see members of Trinity’s security team posted outside the door. According to Baker, Fine demanded to know why Baker had met with Manuele. Fine called Manuele “demonic,” Baker alleged, and said that the Manueles were to be cut off from the church congregation. Baker, perplexed, said he had no idea that he wasn’t allowed to speak with other church attendees. Fine responded by saying that if Baker wanted to continue to be a part of church leadership, he would stop speaking to members of the family. Having only met Angelo once, Baker agreed. (The church did not respond to questions directed at Fine about this incident.)

“It felt like an interrogation room,” said Baker, whose meeting with Fine was confirmed by Freese in his open letter. “I had never been in any kind of a meeting like that before.” 

Later that week, Baker sent an email to Manuele explaining what had happened and that he had agreed to no longer communicate with him. He sent Fine a copy of the e-mail, thinking that was the end of it. The following Sunday, the Bakers went to church, as they always did, but this time was different. Wherever Baker went, he found himself shadowed by church security. Baker said members of the security team followed him around the church grounds as he spoke with other families and remained close during his conversations in the sanctuary. When the service ended, they continued to follow him. According to John Baker, Barbara Baker claimed that she, too, had been surveilled by a woman in the church who had been asked by security staff to watch her during Bible study meetings.

According to Freese, the Bakers weren’t wrong to be paranoid about being watched and followed. Freese alleged that “pastors monitor the cameras to spy on congregants and those working or volunteering.”

“They pull up the video feed during service and even while they are away, off-campus, from their phones to see what people are doing or listen to what they are saying,” Freese wrote in his open letter about the church. 

The following Tuesday, Baker wrote a note to Driscoll and the other pastors saying he was leaving the church, citing the directive not to speak to other families. 

Barbara Baker died in 2022. Since that time, Baker, who operates a retreat center for people in ministry, said he often works with people like him who have left Trinity. 

“A lot of my ministry this past year has been working with people from Trinity Church,” he said. 

Like many other former Trinity members, Baker wondered how he hadn’t seen the warning signs earlier. 

“Things started becoming more clear as people began to leave the church,” he said. “I have a B.S. meter that’s pretty high. At least, I thought I did.” 

The COVID boom

Driscoll’s ministry in Phoenix grew rapidly during the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. After just a brief closure in the pandemic’s earliest days, Driscoll made the decision to open the church, making it one of very few that held in-person services during that spring and summer. In response, people poured in by the thousands. 

Meanwhile, Driscoll took part in weekly private Zoom calls with a group of other pastors overseeing large churches in the area to share strategies for safely holding worship in those unprecedented times. According to pastors who attended the meetings — which went on for months — Driscoll was a source of encouragement and inspiration. 

The congregation ballooned from 800 or so people at first to more than 2,000 in just two years. The masking policy was lax at the church, according to former attendees, making it one of the few public spaces for people to congregate during a time of mass isolation.

Ben and Tiffany Eneas, a couple who had moved to Phoenix in May 2020, were two people who found the church during the pandemic. As newcomers who moved to a new city during the height of the pandemic lockdowns, they were hungry for community, and Trinity was one of the only places they could find it. They started attending regularly. 

Ben Eneas was drawn to Driscoll’s willingness to speak boldly about current events — even controversial issues. He enjoyed Driscoll’s public defense of the Second Amendment, as well as his skepticism of mask mandates and the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines. He felt at home, both spiritually and politically. 

“It felt really good to hear a pastor boldly say what you already feel,” Ben Eneas said. “All of that resonated with me.”

The couple wasted no time getting involved. Tiffany Eneas served the hospitality ministry welcoming newcomers as they had been welcomed. Ben Eneas was recruited to join the church security team. They attended a home group Bible study and then hosted one at their home. Both regularly went to special groups for the church’s men and women. They were made to feel like they were part of a movement, something special. 

“We had the community we desired,” Ben Eneas said. “It was checking all the boxes.”

One Sunday in February 2021, while Eneas was volunteering with security, a man who lived in the neighborhood walked into the church and sat alone near the back. It was early in the morning, but he reeked of alcohol. While Driscoll preached on stage, the man stood up and began walking down the aisle. He rapidly made his way onto the stage and walked directly toward Driscoll. Eneas, who was sitting behind Driscoll’s family, leapt toward the man and intercepted him.  

Driscoll was furious that his security team had not acted quicker. He fired the head of security, according to Eneas. The next morning, Andersen sent a note to the security team calling for a meeting. Eneas gathered with other remaining members of the group of men. According to Eneas, they were told they should have tackled the man. They should have drawn their guns (the security team carries guns, according to former members of the team) and been prepared to shoot him. 

Eneas felt that would have been an overreaction. “All he did on the stage was ask the pastor to pray for him,” he said. 

Still, the incident proved to be good for Eneas, who grew closer to the Driscolls as a result. After all, he was the one who stopped the man. “Now we were worthy,” Tiffany Eneas said. “We had done something to earn our spot.”

It didn’t last long. 

Tiffany Eneas was close friends with Trina Blatnik, the wife of former Trinity worship leader Dustin Blatnik, who had been let go from the church. After posting photos on social media with Trina Blatnik and others who were no longer in good standing with the church, Eneas said she was reprimanded and told to cut them out of her life. Eneas was told that they were “unsafe.” 

“This is cult behavior to manipulate people and friendships,” she wrote in a letter about the incident.

Ben and Tiffany Eneas left the church soon after. 

The most painful stories about Trinity come from families who have had relatives marry into the Driscoll family, only to find that they have been cut out of their lives. 

Luke Chase, who grew up in Seattle before moving to Phoenix with his family as a teenager, had long been a fan of Driscoll’s preaching when he started attending Trinity Church in 2017. His family had relocated to Arizona to start a nonprofit camp for foster children led by his parents and his older brother, Landon. 

The family, who had attended Mars Hill, dove into church life at Trinity. Chase, who had a talent for music, joined the worship team as an intern. 

Chase was impressed with the amount of time Driscoll spent with people in the church, especially given his level of notoriety. Driscoll was famous, but warm, friendly and engaging. 

“At the very beginning, Mark would stay, hang out and meet people. I never really saw that at bigger churches,” Chase said. “It’s what I really liked in the early stages of the Trinity Church.” 

As Chase became more involved, he moved up the ranks in the worship team. He landed a paid gig playing worship songs on Sunday mornings. 

Meanwhile, Chase’s older brother, Landon Chase, became engaged to one of Driscoll’s daughters. But as Landon Chase spent more time with Driscoll, he began to grow distant from his family, Luke Chase said. It was around this time that people in the church began commenting to Luke Chase about his parents, who would soon join the Driscolls as in-laws. According to Chase, church leaders urged him to stop speaking to his parents. They told the impressionable teenager that his parents were “toxic” and that he should cut them out of their lives. (A few years later, in 2022, Driscoll delivered a sermon entitled “When to sever ties with toxic family members?” that explored the topic.)

Before Landon Chase and Ashley Driscoll married, the Driscolls invited the Chase family to their home for dinner. During the meal, Driscoll announced that he wanted to offer Landon a full-time job at Trinity Church, which would pull him away from the nonprofit that he helped found with his family. It came as a shock to his parents, who had relocated the family to start the organization with Landon. A few minutes later, Driscoll started making negative comments about the Chase family. According to Luke, Driscoll stood up over Pauline Chase and began berating her. He told her she was a terrible mother and person until she was brought to tears. 

“He tore my parents to shreds,” Luke Chase said. “Mark wanted to be the alpha parent and cut my parents out of the equation.” 

The Chase family was left in shock. Doug Chase later demanded that Driscoll apologize to his wife, and he refused. 

Luke Chase left the church shortly after that. At the time he spoke to Religion Unplugged, he said that his brother Landon Chase who formerly served in the church as its “Pastor of Fun” had not spoken to him or his parents for more than a year. The only way they were allowed to contact him was through a P.O. Box, where they could send letters, Luke Chase said. For a long time, they did not know where he lived. Luke Chase said they began talking again late in 2022. Landon Chase, who now works in real estate, did not respond to a request for comment.

“I used to feel angry,” he said. “Now I just feel disappointment and sadness for everyone who’s still there.” 

The Chases’ experience followed a pattern for other families whose children married into Driscoll’s family. 

Jolene Monea’s daughter, Chloe, married Driscoll’s son, Zac Driscoll. A week before the wedding, her parents were asked to leave the church. A month later, her daughter cut off contact with them. (They have since reconciled.) In 2021, Todd and Janna Davis, whose daughter, Lanna, married Andersen, told The Roys Report that they had not spoken to her in years.  

In addition to these, another family spoke to Religion Unplugged about missing relatives deemed “lost” to what members described as a “cult” — including those whose loved ones are currently working at Trinity — but did so on the condition of anonymity out of fear that their family members still in Driscoll’s orbit would be harmed by public disclosure and out of hope that they might one day reunite with them.

Meanwhile, Driscoll’s former lieutenants at Mars Hill have continued to monitor his Arizona ministry from afar and have been vocal in their criticism. In 2021, more than 40 elders at Mars Hill released a joint letter calling for Driscoll to step down from ministry. 

“We believe that Mark is presently unfit for serving the church in the office of pastor,” the letter read. “Knowing that we have no formal authority in this current matter, we hope that Mark will voluntarily resign his position immediately. We also hope that those who have influence over Mark would encourage him to do so.”

Former members of both churches have formed a private online forum to share their stories and support one another. They gather and discuss regularly on a locked Facebook group called “The Sound and Valley Connect,” named after the Puget Sound area that was home to Mars Hill and the Trinity’s location in the Arizona valley. 

Turner, the former executive pastor at Mars Hill who helped organize and write the letter, said he speaks often with Trinity Church members who have described many issues similar to those he and others faced in Seattle. He described Driscoll as “a narcissistic leader” who perpetuated a “culture of fear” over his staff and congregants. 

“His behavior has continued. I have literally met with hundreds of people since 2015 to either personally reconcile with them or at least empathize with the hurt they suffered through Mark’s leadership,” Turner said. “It was incredibly traumatic to hear those stories. We have heard similar stories from the people at Trinity Church, and we hurt for the people who have been hurt.” 

‘For my enemies’ 

Despite all the controversy around his ministry, Driscoll appears unphased. 

A video message of Driscoll from Father’s Day this year is titled, “Why we need more fathers and less government.” It opens with a slick video montage set to a muscular soundtrack and ad slogans such as “More hand-ups, less handouts. More educating, less brainwashing. More meat, less vegetables. More paychecks, less bailouts. More blessing, less cursing.” 

Driscoll comes on stage and introduces his sermon, saying, “If you’re offended, you’re wrong!” He goes on to praise “active” men who stand up and “get in harm’s way” to protect women and children, and he derides “passive” men who are too timid and cowardly to stop evil. He says his videos reach 300,000 or more men who want to hear teaching on how to be men and follow God. He praises the men in his church for attending men’s groups, pursuing God’s heart and driving growth in new building projects and expansions at the church.

On another Saturday afternoon in October 2021, Driscoll climbed onto a lounge chair next to a backyard pool to rest and prepare for his coming Sunday sermon.

He pulled out his phone and snapped a photo of the pool and typed out a message to his followers, his supporters and, most of all, his foes. 

”This is where I dial the sermon in and pray with gratefulness,” he typed before posting a picture from his perch beside a poolside desert scape, “for my enemies who have pushed my life into this season.” To those words, he added emojis of hands clasped in prayer followed by a laughing face. 

This story was originally published by Religion Unplugged.

Chris Moody is a freelance correspondent. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN Politics, The New Republic and other publications. 

Editor’s note: Click the image below to hear the first of a two-part podcast featuring Chad Freese and other former staff member at The Trinity Church.

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26 Responses

  1. Driscoll has a large on-line presence, including publishing short clips of his sermons on Instagram. Reading the comments, it would appear that many people who have no awareness of his past are eating up the read meat he is tossing out to the masses. I often will contribute to the comments with information about his history with Mars Hill, etc.

  2. Where are these pastors who co-signed him starting a church in Phoenix?  Don’t they realize their decision might be harming their own churches.

  3. All I can say is, having read several quotes of Driscoll’s comments about women, and about women’s place in marriage, I will stay as far away from a man like that as I possibly can. He has a mind like a sewer. 

    1. I originally saw this article on Religion Unplugged also. It’s extraordinarily well done and gives a good update on what’s happened post-implosion of Mars Hill, Seattle. I find it deeply saddening/disturbing that the young adults who have married into Driscoll’s family are all estranged from their parents. How can this kind of isolation be part of God’s plan?

      When I lived in Seattle and visited Mars Hill, Driscoll’s church seemed so much to be church + machismo+ cultic vibes. A quick glance at Driscoll’s YouTube account shows that not much has changed. When will the church learn the lesson that character, kindness, and empathy matter more than charisma and bravado? I am concerned about the fallout that might happen in this community (Is probably already happening??). The rumor in Seattle post-implosion was that Christian counselors were kept extremely busy caring for those who had essentially pledged their lives to Mars Hills. If you are a mental health counselor looking for work, Scottsdale might be the place for you. We should be spreading the word about what a cult looks like too: isolating members from friends or family, surveilling members, and giving church attendees loyalty ratings is just plain bad. Any church that shuns or blacklists people consistently is not doing kingdom work.

    2. It looks like Mark is trying to rope in the same type of male audience that would be attracted to Jordan Peterson.

      1. Actually Mark Driscoll was famous and respected for doing what Peterson is doing back in the Mars Hill days.

  4. Mark Driscoll is an unaccountable, narcissistic sociopath, masquerading as a pastor. I would run not walk away from this cultish enclave. Seattle Mars Hill was only a train-wreck. The rails are off now. Where this church is headed should be of grave concern.

  5. My grandmother told me when I was growing up “Never let the same dog bite you twice.”   It works in many ways…..

  6. Tremendous reporting from this website. This is why I come here time and time again, to dig deep, ask hard questions, and try to unveil what is going on. Is a church a family business?

    I come from a congregational background, so I believe strongly, even though it can be a mess, in members having a say over the budget and priorities of their faith community. I know there are other models. How else do we have accountability? Correction?

    1. Agreed. Excellent long-form reporting by Religion Unplugged.

      Based on the article, I would define this group in Scottsdale as more of an audience rather than a congregation. Life in a local church of redeemed sinners is indeed messy at times. It appears that Driscoll’s approach is to quickly expel such difficulties rather than to resolve them in a Christ-like manner. When criticism could no longer be easily dispelled, Driscoll exited Seattle. I expect him to “rinse and repeat” this pattern in Arizona.

      The most telling revelation in this post is that attendees are not considered members. Nathan, a variety of church governance models do exist, yet by all accounts Driscoll intentionally avoids accountability and correction.

      1. Mark Driscoll practices a shunning process eerily similar to Scientology’s “disconnection” technique.

  7. It appears that Mark could never seek employment in any other occupation other than a pastor. Hence the problem.

  8. I do not see any evidence that Mark loves people, even fellow believers. I do know how you can take the mantle of pastor yet not love souls. He’s motivated, but it doesn’t appear his motivation is love for the church

    1. It is the love of what is in their pockets/bank accounts/retirement funds, and motivated by how to control them to give him what he wants, to maintain that sweet lifestyle.

    1. YES!!! Any minister/pastor/priest/clergy member who has engaged in abusive behavior toward congregants should be forever (at least during this worldly existence) excluded from public leadership-oriented ministry. External thanks to Julie Roy’s for exposing these scum bags!!!!

  9. The title is interesting . . . Driscoll creates a space that is safe for him and unsafe for everyone else.

  10. Excellent article but this is not first time we report on Driscoll. The audio interviews on this websites were also very powerful but it had 0 impact on Driscoll it seems. I can’t believe he is still getting support and no accountability.

  11. I first heard Mark Driscoll at a Youth Specialties conference in the 90s. I was green in ministry, and troubled by what I heard, but in retrospect, what he communicated was more dangerous than I knew.
    I returned to a fledgling pastoral ministry in South America–one that eventually became Lead Pastor of an increasingly international English-speaking church. Along the way, I jumped through all the hoops toward becoming an Acts 29 church “adoption.” I was rejected as an A29 Pastor, because I was found to not be “Kingly” enough (part of Driscoll’s grading system for Pastors). I was told that at the Boot Camp in March 2012, it was announced that Driscoll was out as A29 President.
    Over the past three years, that experience (and the CT Podcast on Driscoll’s demise in Seattle) has unexpectedly helped solidify my perspective on women in ministry. At the core is the (woefully misunderstood) word at the heart of 1 Timothy 2:12. I now believe “domineer” would lead to clearer teaching than “have authority.” I find it ironic that the closest English translation to that is the old King James, which uses the phrase “usurp authority,” and the word in the Vulgate became “domineer.” I believe Paul’s firm, stern words of warning to Timothy would have carried over to Mark Driscoll. I suspect there were women acting like him in the Artemis-dominated Ephesian sub-culture, and that was what Paul was addressing. There were two domineering women at the church where I previously held the role of Lead Pastor. They had usurped authority long before I arrived and continue to wield the same influence.
    I don’t believe 1 Timothy 2:12 is to be prescriptive or normative, but needs to be seen as descriptive and narrative, and applied where necessary…regardless of who usurps authority.

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