Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston has revealed that Mark Driscoll, former pastor of Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, will no longer be attending their upcoming conferences, citing concerns that an appearance from the embattled pastor would distract from the larger event.
"After personal interaction with Mark Driscoll today (Sunday), we have agreed that he will no longer be coming to Australia or the U.K. to attend Hillsong Conference," Houston said in a statement Sunday.
The initial announcement that Driscoll would appear at the Hillsong conferences in Sydney, Australia, and London, England was met with widespread criticism, due in part to crude comments he made in 2000 under the pseudonym "William Wallace II". An online petition calling for his appearance to be cancelled gained more than 3,000 signatures, with many accusing the church's leadership of "endorsing and legitimizing" Driscoll's controversial views about women by hosting him.
In his statement, Houston emphasized that the online petition had little do with his decision to drop Driscoll from the list of speakers.
"I will not write off Mark as a person simply because of the things that people have said about him, a small minority of people signing a petition or statements he has made many years ago for which he has since repeatedly apologized," he wrote.
However, he added, "Clearly Mark has held some views and made some statements that cannot be defended. One or two of the more outrageous things he is purported to have said, I have heard for the first time through the media exposure over the past week."
Houston said he did not want "unnecessary distractions" during the conference. "It was clear to me that Mark's attendance had the potential to divert attention from the real purpose of Hillsong Conference, which is to see people leave encouraged in their own spiritual journey," he said.
"It is my hope that Mark and I will be able to speak in person in the coming weeks to discuss some of the issues that have been raised, what, if anything, he has learned, and for me to understand better how he is progressing in both his personal and professional life," Houston added.
Last summer, Driscoll, who was accused of plagiarism, bullying, and an unhealthy ego during his time at Mars Hill, apologized for mishandling the dismissal of several of the church's formal staff.
Shortly thereafter, he was dismissed from church-planting Acts 29 Network, which he co-founded, and his books pulled from LifeWay's 180 Christian bookstores across the states.
Later in 2014, he confessed and repented specifically to "past pride, anger and a domineering spirit" and requested to take a minimum of six week leave of absence from the pulpit. Just a few weeks later, Driscoll announced his resignation as senior pastor of the megachurch. The subsequent fallout from the implosion of his leadership and ministry at Mars Hall eventually led to the church's closure, with its satellite campuses closing, merging with other churches or becoming stand-alone congregations.
After his resignation, Driscoll appeared a week later to briefly speak at the Gateway Conference at a Dallas Fort Worth-area megachurch, which he had been scheduled to keynote. At the time, he discussed the emotional toll the scandal had taken on his family, saying,"I've cried a lot lately. It's been a rough time on my family."
In May, he resurfaced once again at the Thrive Conference at Bayside Church in California, where he revealed that he is relying on the Holy Spirit to help him forgive those who have wronged him.
"I don't want to take this opportunity to talk about me--I want spend this time to serve you," he told attendees, emphasizing that he wanted to speak specifically to "struck shepherds." "When sin happens, someone has to pay. Forgiveness is where the offended pays," he said. "As shepherds, we can sometimes preach a message of forgiveness without practicing it."
However, he clarified that he was not claiming to be "entirely a victim," for "sometimes when the shepherd is struck it's because they've punched themselves in the head."