(RNS) The pastor whose Seattle megachurch imploded two years ago now is accused of raising funds for overseas missionaries and spending it at home, among other allegations.
Four former members of the now-defunct Mars Hill Church are suing its controversial former pastor Mark Driscoll, accusing him of "a continuing pattern of racketeering activity."
The 42-page civil racketeering lawsuit was filed Monday (Feb. 29) by Brian Jacobsen, Connie Jacobsen, Ryan Kildea and Arica Kildea in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. The lawsuit was filed as part of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, intended to prosecute the Mafia and criminal organizations.
It comes as Driscoll recently announced he is starting a new church in Phoenix.
The suit alleges that Driscoll and Mars Hill executive elder John Sutton Turner solicited donations through the mail and Internet, then used that money for other purposes.
Among the allegations: It contends that millions donated by church members to support missionaries overseas appear to have stayed in the U.S. It also claims the church paid $210,000 to a company called Result Source to land Driscoll's book, "Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship and Life Together" on the best-seller lists of The New York Times and others.
Because of this, it said, "a deadly toxin was injected into the (Mars Hill Church) body, ending in the complete destruction of the church." Driscoll resigned from the church in 2014 amid claims of plagiarism, abusive behavior and critical comments he made about feminism and homosexuality under a pseudonym on a church message board. The church's 15 campuses closed that December.
The lawsuit does not name a specific amount the plaintiffs are seeking in damages, but it said the Jacobsens had donated more than $90,000 between 2008 and 2014 and the Kildeas, $2,700 between 2011 and 2013. Had they known how the money was being used, they would not have donated nor made Mars Hill their home church, according to the suit.
An email to Driscoll was not immediately returned, and efforts to contact Turner were unsuccessful.
(Emily McFarlan Miller is an RNS correspondent)