In Defense of My Honor
MY STORY, IN MY OWN WORDS
To my dear friends and family, here in Minnesota and around the country,
The last 9 months of my life (January – September 2018) have been the most devastating, difficult, gut-wrenching, and heartbreaking time of my whole life. I am writing this document in the hopes that it might help many of you out there whom I have loved so dearly and served with my life for the last almost 32 years. I hope to clear up some of the confusion and questions some of you may be having about things you may have heard regarding the allegations against me, and what has unfolded the last 9 months.
Proverbs 18:17 (Living Bible) states: “Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight.”
I have been silent for these 9 long months and I felt it was time to share with you my side of this story. I wish each of you all God’s very best. By God’s grace and mercy, I am moving forward to find new ways to serve Him and others, for the rest of my life.
Because of Jesus,
20 Facts you should know about Mark Darling and the last nine months of these false allegations
For 9 months since this false allegation was leveled against me through a tweet sent out to approximately 20 people, I have not been afforded the opportunity to share with you my side of this story. When Evergreen decided to publish this accuser’s unsubstantiated allegation against me, on the church’s Facebook account to over 6000 people, no one heard my side of the story. When slander, false allegations, and hateful things were written about me online, day after day for months, no one heard my story, in my own words. When Fox 9 news put out their supposed news story, no one heard my story, in my own words. When Evergreen decided to publish their report, and the subsequent things they have stated about me, implied about me, or written about me, since July 1st when I resigned, I have not been afforded one opportunity to speak to the people I have served and loved for 31.5 years of my life. This then, in fundamental fairness, is what I would like you to know, in my own words. – Mark Darling
1. In my 39.5 years of marriage, I have never been sexual in any way with another person, other than the holy, intimate relationship with my precious wife, Kathy.
2. On the Fox 9 news story, which aired on May 2, there were 3 individuals accusing me of vile, and salacious, inappropriate behavior. I have in my possession, a total of 19 handwritten letters from these same people, written by them, during the time/years (25 to 30 years ago) they now allege I said and did these terrible things. In these letters, in my possession, they state in their own glowing words, their tremendous respect for my life, and my character. They express their genuine Christian love for my wife and family and for me. They thank me enthusiastically for the spiritual guidance and help I gave to them.
Their own words, written in their own hand, contradict everything they now allege. All these letters I sat and read out loud to the investigator. My attorney gave all these letters to the church attorney, and we assumed the board of trustees, however, we are not certain they ever saw or read through the evidence book, which my attorney gave to the church’s attorney.
3. In my 31.5 years of pastoral ministry, the vast majority of my limited counseling of any women has been primarily through email, then the telephone, and in a very limited way, in my living room, always with my wife and kids in the home.
4. When being interviewed by the investigator in this investigation, with my attorney present to be an eyewitness to my interrogation, I was asked by the investigator, “Mark, have you ever met alone with women?” I respectfully said, “Before I answer, may I ask you a question”? She said yes. I asked, “What do you mean by alone?” She seemed taken aback I would ask such a question.
I then said, “Early in my ministry years, 87,89, 90, 91, and on a few other limited occasions through the years, if a woman really wanted advice, or some spiritual counseling, and insisted on meeting face to face, they could come and sit in my living room. I was on one chair, they across from me on our couch. This was a large living room, with a doorway, and kitchen, where my wife would sit doing homeschooling with our kids. Is that alone?” The investigator said, “No.” I said, “If my wife walked down to put in a load of laundry, is that alone?” The investigator said, “No.” I said, “If my wife walked through the living room to go 20 feet down our hallway to put a child to bed, is that alone?” She said, “No.”
I made it clear that it is not my practice to meet in a home with no other people in the home but myself and another woman. I do not meet in an office space alone with people and the door closed.
It came to my attention after the release of the BOT report, that a woman informed EC staff, that about 3 years ago, I met with her alone at my house. When my son-in-law found out who this person was, we were incredulous. At the time in question, this woman called me on the phone distraught about something her husband had done. I had just come from visiting with him for approx. 3 hours. I asked if we could talk over the phone, she said, “I would really like to come to your home.” I said, “My wife just left to go run errands, but my daughter and her husband are here as they live with us downstairs.” She said that would be ok. We sat in my living room as she poured out her grief and pain, I listened and sought to comfort and advise. My daughter and son-in-law were in the home the entire time and clearly remember the day she came over.
This person greatly misrepresented the situation and gave an impression that was not accurate. I know of others who have done the same. Context matters, and I am stunned by how inaccurately things have been portrayed. It is not right for Evergreen to redefine what alone means when the investigator they hired defined it one way, that I explained above, and they were not in my meeting with the investigator. Now, they redefine what alone means in their own way. I answered the investigator’s questions truthfully and honestly based on what was asked of me there and of the definition the investigator gave to me, which my attorney witnessed firsthand.
Let me state emphatically, that if I were told years ago that in every meeting I ever have with a woman in my home who wants advice, or help, that my wife must sit with us through that meeting, or I cannot do my job, I would have politely told them that is absurd, and I cannot take the job. My wife is not paid by this church, my wife is not a defacto women’s counselor or pastor. She is my wife, the mother of our 4 children, and was in our home educating them and caring for the needs of our home and family.
5. I was very straightforward and truthful in my interrogation with the investigator. I have spoken at 195 conferences. Here in the states and several other places in the world. I almost always stay in a motel where the conference is held. I have never taken a woman to my room who wanted to visit. Never. I have had hundreds of conversations in the lobby area with men and women, or outside the room where I was speaking, or outside the auditorium I just spoke in. Men and women often have questions or want to share something with me, regarding things I spoke about. All of these were done in a public area.
6. I do not go out to dinner or lunch, or coffee with just me and another woman. However, I would like to explain an exception that happened several years ago. A mother, whom my wife and I helped greatly years ago, called and asked if I would meet with her daughter. She said it was a desperate situation that needed immediate attention. The daughter had just been through a very traumatic, devastating experience. I have known this young lady since she was a toddler. I explained that my wife was not home right now, and I could not have her come to my home. I asked the mother if she was ok if I met her daughter at a coffee shop near our home, which is a very public place. The mother approved of that and was deeply appreciative so that is what I did. This young lady has since written me a letter expressing to me her deep gratitude for that meeting and the way it impacted her whole life for good.
7. In the very early years that I helped start Evergreen, my wife and I had 3 little children. My wife also had severe chronic fatigue syndrome. I was not only pastoring, teaching, etc., but I was our worship and bandleader. I had to arrive at least 90 minutes before the service started early on Sunday mornings. Kathy and I only had one car, as that was all we could afford. There was no way I could ask Kathy and 3 little kids to get up super early, and ride with me to the building and just sit and wait. I could not possibly afford to buy a second car, as we were just starting the church, and I hardly made enough to live on. Therefore, I needed a ride to the church building to practice music before the service. None of the men in the band lived near our home. There were, however, several female singers who I sang with that lived nearby, or could easily come by to pick me up. This was exactly 4.5 miles from my front door to the building we used to meet in for services. It took 8-9 minutes to drive from my home to the building. It was during this time, I was at times alone, with no one else but the female singer, as we carpooled to the church building.
8. One woman alleges that on 10-15 occasions, I drove from my home in Bloomington, MN, approx. 15 miles to the University of Minnesota campus, to pick them up, then turn around and drive about 15 miles back to Fort Snelling State Park, where I supposedly met with them alone to counsel them and then drove them back home and then I returned home to my family. This did NOT happen.
9. Over the years, I have written tens of thousands of emails. No one has produced anything written by me containing anything untoward, sexually inappropriate, or salacious in nature.
10. I have never owned a smartphone. I don’t text, I don’t sext, I don’t take photos of myself to send to anyone, ever. I don’t do social media and have no personal social media site.
11. As we all know, everyone can be brave behind a computer screen, writing an email. Yet I have never received an email from any woman, where she was asking for clarification about something untoward that I supposedly said, or suggesting that I said something sexual in nature that was offensive to her.
12. During the course of my ministry life in the last 31.5 years, I have counseled and visited with hundreds of people, both men, and women. In the course of many of those conversations, people will open up to me and share on their own initiative, personal things about their lives, their story in its rawness. They may share some of their struggles with things that were done to them by others that were of a sexual nature, or the immoral things they did. I have never asked deeply personal, salacious questions of them, or egged them on to tell me more and more details of sexual matters. I have always sought to direct them to God’s grace, God’s truth found in the Bible for dealing with the hurts, or betrayal, or shame and guilt they may feel for things they have done, or the things that were done to them.
13. I do not engage in long, extended hugs with anyone, other than my family members. The only other time this has occurred with a non-family member was with people dealing with great grief, whose sorrow has overwhelmed them, and they hug me for a bit longer than normal.
14. Over the 31.5 years of pastoring and planting churches, I have endured some tremendous ridicule and unbelievable abuse. I have been bullied, suffered many vicious personal attacks and mistreatment. I have been slandered, lied about, and defamed online for years by others, and the last 9 months has been the most abusive and vicious I have ever endured. It took a tremendous toll on me, my precious wife and my kids. I communicated this with Pastor Brent Knox and Pastor Mark Bowen in the month of May, with my son-in-law John, present. I resigned July 1st from my pastoring role at The Rock and Evergreen, primarily because I refuse to take the abuse and mistreatment I have endured, anymore. I communicated to Brent and Mark that that was the primary reason I would be resigning when I met with them in May.
15. I was offered a severance agreement by Evergreen. However, after the things that were stated from the pulpit, written, and communicated about me on their website, in the last 3 months since I resigned July 1st, I did not feel I could accept the churches severance in good conscience. After much prayer, a letter was hand-delivered to them on Tues., Sept. 4th, respectfully stating that I was declining their severance money, and defined those reasons why clearly to them.
16. My attorney Bret Merkle, who has practiced law for 25 years is a passionate, devoted Christian. His own faith has been tested in a most severe way, and he has written a book about it called Tragic Blessing. He stated to me, and others, that in his 25 years of practicing law, what has been done to me the last 9 months is the greatest injustice he has ever witnessed.
Here are a couple of Bret’s noted points:
1. The investigator did not ask Mark specific questions during the interview about the details of claims despite our written request for that information in an email to her on April 2, 2018. We requested the following: 1. Names of the accuser(s), 2. Specific allegations made, 3. Dates or approximate time periods of each alleged incident, and 4. Any evidence discovered to support each claim. We also directly requested this information from EC more than once, but those requests were all denied. Instead, the investigator only asked Mark questions that were general in nature with no names, dates, or any other details of each allegation to allow Mark a fair opportunity to respond.
2. To this date, Mark has not been provided any corroborating evidence of the claims against him discovered from the investigation.
3. The attack on the Honorable Justice Kavanaugh is no coincidence in its timing relative to the similar attacks against Mark. In Justice Kavanaugh’s situation, his confirmation hearing was essentially an employment interview. Similarly, Mark’s situation involved his employment. Both involved unsubstantiated claims in an employment situation, however, Justice Kavanaugh was afforded basic constitutional rights of due process which allowed him to respond and counter the allegations against him. Mark was not provided that same kind of justice leaving those he served for over 30 years in the dark as to his side of the story. Proverbs 18:7 states, “The first to plead his case seems right until another comes and examines him.” This is one of the many Biblical truths requiring Godly justice that can be found in the US Constitution, which is not only reserved for the courtroom. We know that God’s Word applies to all situations of life. To make matters worse, EC published several written explanations in an attempt to rationalize its handling of social media claims by way of an outside third party investigation that further damaged Mark and his reputation as a Godly man and faithful pastor, in complete disregard of the Holy Word of God and the US Constitution.
In my 31.5 years of pastoring, working with churches, and many complicated, difficult situations in churches, I have never witnessed a greater injustice or abusive situation than this one.
17. I personally abhor sexual violence and the vulgar, derogatory things that get said to women. I have spoken out about these things during the course of my 31.5 years of public ministry, and I would never engage in them.
18. I have consistently, publicly and privately, boldly, passionately and courageously proclaimed God’s truths, found in the Bible, whether it was popular or not. In fact, I have suffered much because of it. My life has been defined by my loyalty and commitment to the truth. That is why through all of this ordeal, I have stood where I stand, and done what I have done, because of my passionate commitment and loyalty to truth. It breaks my heart that this ordeal has caused any division at all, but know this: I did not create any of this division, whatsoever. I did not speak out in my own defense. I did not yell and scream at others, as I was being lynched, beaten and defamed. When all was said and done, I simply took my stand on the truth I know to be fact.
19. In what has been written and said about me, I have been accused of a certain pattern of behavior. Let me state clearly and emphatically, while I could not possibly remember every single word I have spoken over the last 32 years of my life, nor could anyone, I absolutely and perfectly remember my consistent pattern of upright behavior in my treatment of women. I treated them with kindness, respect, dignity, thoughtfulness, purity, and a caring, fatherly heart as I treated my own daughters. Always in a very honorable, Christlike way.
20. From the beginning of this investigation, a very important biblical truth was violated! Let me explain: the Bible clearly states in 1 Timothy 5:19 not to even receive an accusation against an elder, unless you have 2 or 3 witnesses. In other words, you need eyewitnesses to confirm that the allegation brought, actually happened as the accuser said it did. Yet this investigation started from an allegation brought by one person alone with absolutely no evidence at all and no eyewitness to substantiate what was being alleged. There is none.
I told the church’s attorney over the phone when he contacted me in February, “You are setting a terrible and dangerous precedent, that someone can send out a tweet, that is slanderous graffiti on the internet bathroom wall, and you turn a man’s life upside down on the basis of an unsubstantiated accusation, with no other eyewitnesses to the alleged allegation.” This was absolutely wrong, and it has caused great harm and irreparable damage to my life. Most of us watched the public torment and horrific injustice that Justice Brett Kavanaugh suffered on live television because of an unsubstantiated accusation. He was not being viewed as innocent until proven guilty. In fact, many were screaming for his destruction. I know first hand how that has felt. I was told on the phone that I would be neither innocent nor guilty, I was being put on a paid leave of absence, and that I could not be publicly defended.
In conclusion, let me share this with you:
“My love for Jesus remains fervent and strong, my passion to serve others remains, my conscience is clear, and my faith is intact.”
“The man you have known and seen with your eyes, heard with your ears, and observed with your senses, the fruits of his life over decades is the man that I am! Not someone’s mischaracterizations and innuendos of me.”