A Majority of Park Street Church Members Vote Against Affirming Mark Booker as Senior Pastor. The Hot Potato Passes to the Stunned Elders. (2024)


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Below is a letter submitted to the Elders by the petitioner group. I think they make a lot of good points here.

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June 13, 2024

Dear Elders of Park Street Church,

We are writing in response to your “Reflections on the Special Meeting” letter to the congregation dated June 7, 2024. You wrote that you are praying for the congregation, and we are also praying for you. Christ is the head of the church and we write out of love for Christ and for his church of which you are a part.

Results of the Special Meeting

The Board’s letter did not announce the motion and vote taken at the Special Meeting, as it did following the votes at the Annual Meeting. Why? This is not transparent and does not give the congregation information to understand what happened at the meeting.

The motion made at the Special Meeting was: “I move to affirm the BoE decision of July 30, 2023 that there is no evidence of disqualifying sins, as described in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, of such severity that they call for the senior minister to be disqualified from pastoral ministry.” This motion was defeated. Of 428 votes cast, 56% (or 242 members) of the congregation voted no, we do not affirm the motion. 43% (186 members) voted yes, or we do affirm. And 1% (6 members) abstained from voting.

The clear plain meaning of that vote is that the congregation disagrees with the Board’s July 30 decision and believes that there is or may be evidence of disqualifying sins on the part of the Senior Minister.

Please do not attempt to remake the meaning of this vote into a generalized “congregation’s lack of trust in the Board’s collective judgment.” While it is true that the majority of the congregation has lost trust in the Board, it is a distortion to portray the vote as such.

Final authority in our congregational church lies under Christ with the congregation, to whom the Board of Elders is accountable. This is clearly stated in the By-laws of Park Street Church [link], which state, “The Board of Elders is responsible to the congregation. As such, its decisions are subject to review and modification at any duly convened business meeting of the congregation” (Art. IV, 1.A(ii)).

The Board has staunchly stood behind the Senior Minister, “linking arms” as has been expressed, despite the testimony of 8 elders and ministers expressing common themes of 1) deception, 2) lack of reconciliation, 3) lack of genuine repentance, specific apology, and restitution, 4) control of information, 5) unwillingness to accept feedback and differing opinions, 6) forcing decisions upon fellow ministers and the congregation, and 7) lack of compassion, empathy, and basic kindness.

A majority of the congregation does not agree with your stance. The congregation has rejected the Board’s determination that there is no evidence of disqualifying sins. Additional “processing sessions” are disingenuous because you have chosen not to listen to the congregation’s clear message on Sunday, June 2, 2024.

Requests Based on the Congregational Vote

The Board states that rebuilding trust with the congregation is a top priority. If this is the case, we pray you enact the following requests which are proper responses to the congregational vote.

Qualified, Truly Independent Investigation to build trust with the Congregation

This action has been requested by many congregants since October 2023. The congregation has concluded that there is or may be evidence of disqualifying sins on the part of the Senior Minister. The proper response is to commission a qualified, truly independent investigation by GRACE [link] of the abuse charges brought against the Senior Minister. The Vicinage Council is neither qualified nor truly independent (see below). What is the reason for refusing to take what is the obvious right step when an allegation of abuse is made within the church (let alone when multiple credible claims have been made regarding unacceptable behavior patterns by an individual in a power position who claims spiritual authority)?

Since the Board is confident of the Senior Minister’s character and integrity, why not submit to a truly independent investigation by experts to settle the issue and put the congregation’s concerns to rest? The Board’s continued deflection of the issue and avoidance of a truly independent investigation will only erode trust further.

If the Board had conducted a proper investigation following Michael’s 17-page memo of July 15, 2023, there would never have been a need for the public sharing of private testimonies; the Board is accountable for the necessity of public sharing and should not blame those with testimonies for following their consciences and speaking out after having been given no other choice.

An independent investigator would have access to whatever documents, people, committees, or lists they deem appropriate. The report would be presented to the Board and congregation while respecting the confidentiality of victims at same time, with no advance editing by the Board or anyone else, at another special meeting. The report should contain their recommendations so the congregation can vote on them.

When abuse was alleged against the former City Engagement Minister, the Board undertook a third-party investigation, with Mark’s full support [link]. There is no reason the Senior Minister should be treated differently. To treat the two cases differently is to use unequal weights and measures, which is an abomination to God (Prov 20:10, 23). We hope that you seek to lead the church in a godly manner in accordance with the Bible; please do not continue this unjust course of action.

The Senior Minister must go on leave of absence

It is not appropriate for the Senior Minister to preach or offer pastoral care while he has been accused of spiritual abuse and the majority of the congregation has voted that there is or may be evidence of disqualifying sins.

It is not appropriate for the Senior Minister to administer communion when he is not reconciled to many others (Matthew 5:23-24). We follow the Bible. Please honor the holy scriptures.

The Senior Minister falsely stated on his resume that he planted Church of the Cross, and he was presented improperly as a candidate to the congregation. To gain trust, he should publicly produce his Oxford diplomas and transcripts, which have been repeatedly requested.

The Senior Minister must not return to active ministry, nor is it good for him to do so, until all the above are resolved.

Ministers who have resigned should be invited to remain and be reinstated until the investigation is completed, with no more firings in the interim.

Why were Damian, Julian, and Ray’s final paychecks including vacations paid out on Monday, the day after the Special Meeting, without even a pause? Why were they further removed from staff meetings after service removal? Why did Mark and the personnel committee tell Tim Leary he can no longer go to staff meetings and must continue to keep silent? Did the Senior Minister and Board of Elders not take any time following the Special Meeting to be still before the Lord, to seek the Holy Spirit, and to reflect on their past decisions and what would be a godly and wise future course of action? Are the decisions that proceed from the Board of Elders of Park Street Church led by the Holy Spirit or by human wisdom?

If Mark and the Board are unwilling to invite these ministers to return while a further investigation is conducted, the Board is forcing its own will on the congregation, and will provide further evidence to the congregation that Mark, and now the Board, refuse to honor a fair process.

Limitations of the Vicinage Council

By its vote, the congregation rejected the Board’s determination and also that of the Vicinage Council. The Board’s letter portrays objections to the Vicinage Council’s credibility as “outcome-based.” This is untrue, and the Board knows it is untrue. Petitioners notified the Board of strong objections to the Vicinage Council process before the VC process began. That letter to the Board is linked and attached. (Petitioners had asked for a CCCC investigation in October, before it was known that Ron Hamilton, who headed the VC and selected its members, had a relationship with Mark and had advised him not to resign, exhibiting bias, and before there were widespread allegations of spiritual abuse beyond Michael, and even then expecting that qualified independent experts would be brought in.)

Returning this matter to the VC is a wholly unacceptable response to the congregation’s vote at the Special Meeting. Among other things:

The VC already rendered their decision and the congregation has said it disagrees. Therefore we should not go back to the same body. Please do not defy the congregation.

Despite asking the Board for a qualified independent investigation, the five ministers were told that they were expected to participate with the implication that non-participation could affect employment. During interviews, the VC stated the ministers’ actions were not under question yet subsequently referred to these ministers as “unethical” and “insubordinate” in their written report. Please do not subject them to this process again.

The VC process was inherently biased. Its chair, Ron Hamilton (who selected the other members of the VC) counseled Mark not to resign prior to being asked to conduct an investigation. It is unlikely that the VC chair would conclude that Mark was disqualified from pastoral ministry after previously counseling him not to resign. In the judicial system, an ethical judge must recuse him/herself from a case if he/she has any kind of relationship to the parties involved, particularly if they have already exhibited prejudgment on the matter at hand.

The VC is composed of past and present senior ministers, who will be inevitably sympathetic to the experience of a fellow senior minister. Inherent, unconscious bias is neither intentional nor an imputation of character. Humility requires that we do not deny bias which exists in all people, but instead strive to wisely recognize the various biases we each hold.

The VC lacks any individual with expertise in spiritual abuse investigation or psychology, and declined to modify its composition to add such a person. Moreover, in its very uninformed ruling, the VC has demonstrated its lack of understanding or expertise regarding spiritual abuse. In the VC’s report, it states the following as evidence of “conflicting” testimony to Michael’s charges: “Many testified that they have not witnessed or experienced aggressive behavior by Mark.” Abusers do not abuse everyone. If they did, it would be obvious to all. Rather, mistreatment is typically reserved for particular individuals, or sometimes even just one. The VC’s own report demonstrates its lack of the most rudimentary understanding of the dynamics of abuse.

The VC appears to judge not with biblical standards but worldly standards. Among other things, it states a significant opinion for which it offers no biblical basis that, “A newly called pastor should not be bound to work with staff that was hired by the previous pastor.” Jesus did not tell Peter this before he ascended to heaven. The foremost calling of a pastor, an undershepherd of Christ, is to love and care for the flock (John 21:15-17). Removal of all existing fellow ministers who know and love the congregation is not a way to care for the flock, nor is it a way to build trust. It also should not be needed for ministers of the gospel who live by the Book and are able and willing to reconcile. Our Senior Minister is in the power position and has the ability to create or destroy a climate of reconciliation, but has demonstrated a repeated pattern of inability or unwillingness to reconcile with others.

The VC has further lost credibility by failing to address whether “the Board’s process of determination was appropriate in the light of the severity of [the] charges [against the Senior Minister].” This was a critical issue that the VC was charged to review. Nowhere in its report does the VC address what the specific steps of the Board’s process were, or why those steps and omissions were just and appropriate.

There is no purpose in submitting “additional” testimonies to the VC as if they will be truly considered. Many of those testimonies were previously submitted to the VC, but the VC did not adequately weigh or even mention any of the testimonies in their report.

The outcome of turning this matter over to the VC once again is demonstrably predetermined. Please do not pursue this time-consuming, unwise, and unjust course of action, which will not be accepted by the congregation.

Accountability and Trust

The Senior Minister is accountable to the congregation. The Senior Minister has stated multiple times that he is “open handed” regarding his position as Senior Minister at PSC and that he wants to grow in accountability to the congregation. Genuine open-handedness and accountability would mean respecting the vote taken at the Special Meeting by stepping down from the pulpit and taking a leave of absence, and welcoming an independent investigation as has been repeatedly requested.

It is inappropriate to portray the prior reviews of the Senior Minister’s conduct by “three different bodies” as if a qualified, independent investigation has taken place. The congregation is aware of these reviews and a majority has rejected them. None of these reviews was a qualified, truly independent investigation.

Board subcommittee’s internal review. This was improper for many reasons, foremost among which is the subcommittee’s failure to call witnesses outside of Mark and Michael despite the existence of available, credible witnesses (former elders Leslie Liu, Nick Dedeke, and Yannick Assogba have testified regarding this unacceptable process). This was a violation of God’s standard of justice, as well as standards of justice established in our society. God has clearly established a rule of justice requiring two or three witnesses (Deut 17:6,19:5; Num 35:30; John 8:17; Matt 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1). Seeking witnesses is never the job of an individual reporting abuse; it is always the job of the reviewing body. God’s justice requires careful investigation by the leaders of a community for protection of both claimant and accused. Despite Michael’s plea to call other available, credible witnesses, the Board subcommittee inexplicably refused to call other witnesses and interviewed only Mark and Michael, creating one witness for each. The subcommittee proceeded to vindicate Mark and condemn Michael based on only one, arguably self-interested, witness. This violates God’s justice.

Additional reasons for the impropriety of the Board subcommittee’s review include, among other things: (1) inherent bias due to pre-existing relationships with Mark, who attends every Board meeting and works closely with the Board (opinions and impressions from pre-existing interactions create inevitable bias; unconscious bias is neither chosen nor intentional); (2) complete lack of understanding or expertise regarding abuse or its dynamics; (3) disparate treatment of the Senior Minister and the former City Engagement Minister when both were charged with spiritual abuse; (4) a process by which the full Board never heard from Michael and only from the subcommittee; and (5) the process was rushed and did not give the full Board time to adequately consider, discuss, and pray about the decision.

VOCA review. This was not an investigation and was never portrayed as one. VOCA stated that they are not qualified to assess the presence of spiritual abuse, although they then improperly commented that they did not find what they were unqualified to look for. VOCA is an organization focused on executive coaching and leadership development. Please do not insinuate that their organizational review was an investigation of abuse.

Vicinage Council. Their process and resulting report were improper due to bias, lack of qualifications, and the other reasons set forth above. Please do not pursue this time-consuming, unwise, and unjust course of action, which will not be accepted by the congregation.

Your letter states that reestablishing trust with the congregation is a top priority. If this is truly the case, please have the wisdom and humility to seek God’s wisdom and change your course. We desire that Christ will rule over and be glorified by Park Street Church. Like you, we long for a reconciled and united body at PSC. The way to achieve this is not by conducting another improper review by a well-meaning but unqualified, inherently biased council that lacks credibility with the majority of the congregation. We beseech you to take the steps outlined in the three requests above. Please make the decision to seek truth and pursue the justice God requires. This is the way to honor God and unite and heal our congregation.

To encourage a change in direction that leads towards our church’s healing, we request a response before Damian, Julian, and Ray’s resignations are final, no later than June 17, which is one day before Damian Long’s last day of employment at PSC.

A Majority of Park Street Church Members Vote Against Affirming Mark Booker as Senior Pastor. The Hot Potato Passes to the Stunned Elders. (2024)
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