Don’t call your church Mars Hill…

Curiouser and curiouser. Is it just me or is Mark Driscoll on a fast track to laughing stock status. First. He decided he had the gift of discernment.

A special gift that meant we should listen when he slammed video games as stupid, Avatar as Satanic (clips/soundbites from sermons that Mars Hill chose to release as clips/soundbites), and effeminate worship leaders as a scourge on our churches…

Then he started telling us about his semi-pornographic visions – the TV in his head – that helps him see the deep, dark, and sinful leaders of those he counsels (a sermon on the Mars Hill website). I won’t embed the YouTube video because it’s awful (but he again claims the “real gift of discernment”). Lately he’s been getting a bit Westboro Baptist and telling people that God hates them (a clip from a sermon Mars Hill chose to release as a clip/soundbite – but that they later pulled)…

The point of the parenthetic statements is that these are deliberate decisions being made as part of Driscoll’s online branding. As part of Mars Hill’s branding. They’re not being pulled from context by critics, but rather by the organisation themselves.

Somebody is doing an awful job of brand strategy at Mars Hill. From a gospel perspective. Because now the church has decided to send cease and desist letters to other churches named Mars Hill – in this case Mars Hill Sacramento, California – when they’ve all pulled the name from the Bible (Paul’s Areopagus Address – the Areopagus takes its name from Mars Hill). This obviously has nothing to do with Mars Hill’s expansion plans, where they’ve already announced a Mars Hill campus in Orange County, California.

Enforcing one’s copyright rights at the expense of the gospel isn’t likely to win you any friends – especially if you’re the big guy in the playground and you’re going after the littler guy (it goes the other way if a big guy tries to steal a little guy’s identity).

It’s sad. Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll had such potential to be a real asset for the church more broadly, but something about their model is far to tied up in ego and the idea that they’re the ones doing everything right. There’s a lot they do right – but sooner or later that’s not just going to be easy to ignore because of the bad stuff, we’re going to be forced to ignore the good stuff because the rest is so bad.

UPDATE: Mars Hill has attempted to clarify the situation a little bit.

“When cases like this arise in the business world, it’s customary for a law office to send a notice asking the other organization to adjust their branding to differentiate it. This is commonly referred to as a cease and desist letter. On September 27, 2011, our legal counsel sent such a letter to these three Mars Hill churches requesting that they change their logo and name. In hindsight, we realize now that the way we went about raising our concerns, while acceptable in the business world, is not the way we should deal with fellow Christians. On Friday we spoke with the pastor of Mars Hill in Sacramento to apologize for the way we went about this. We had a very productive conversation and look forward to continuing that conversation in the days and weeks ahead.”

UPDATE 2: One of the pastors at one of the other Mars Hills has responded to the response.

Everything is Remixed

These are good. Watch them. Check out the blog. I had no idea that Star Wars was such a pastiche (see part 2). Brilliant. It’s all very Ecclesiastes.

Remix. Remix. Everything is a remix.

Or perhaps, to quote Ecclesiastes:

8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.

Here’s a line from part 2:

“George Lucas collected materials, he combined them, he transformed them. Without the films that preceded it, there could be no Star Wars. Creation requires influence. Everything we make is a remix of existing creations, our lives, and the lives of others.

Everything is a Remix from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 2 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Here’s the take on Avatar:

“Of the few box office hits that aren’t remakes, adaptations or sequels, the word “original” wouldn’t spring to mind to describe ‘em. These are genre movies, and they stick to pretty standard templates. Genres then break-up into sub-genres with their own even more specific conventions. So within the category of horror films we have sub-genres like slasher, zombie, creature feature, and of course, torture porn. All have standard elements that are appropriated, transformed and subverted.

Let’s use the biggest film of the decade as an example. Now it’s not a sequel, remix or adaptation, but it is a genre film — sci-fi — and most tellingly, it’s a member of a tiny sub-genre where sympathetic white people feel bad about all the murder, pillaging, and annihilation being done on their behalf.

I call this sub-genre “Sorry about Colonialism!” I’m talking about movies like Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai, The Last of the Mohicans, Dune, Lawrence of Arabia, A Man Called Horse, and even Fern Gully and Pocahontas.”

This extended look at Kill Bill’s hat tips to everything in cinema is a little too violent for me to embed. But check it out.

Patents are a virtue

This is a fascinating feature on the guy who invented the intermittent windscreen wiper and sparked decades of patent lawsuits against major motoring companies. It delves into the murky depths of patent infringement and what does and doesn’t constitute intellectual property in the United States (and globally).

Copyright and Intellectual Property stuff gets really murky. And I think is a product of selfishness. On both the part of the infringer and the producer.

“In the last decade or so, the boundaries of what is patentable have expanded. In 1972, a molecular engineer named Ananda Chakrabarty applied for a patent on a microbe he had engineered that would help break down crude oil. The Patent Office rejected his application, citing a clause in the patent code which says that life forms are not patentable. Chakrabarty appealed, and in 1980 the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, 5-4, creating a brand-new sector of intellectual property: life. Last February, the National Institutes of Health applied for thousands of patents on human genes. The prospect that the United States government may soon own the gene that causes, say, green eyes has naturally created a certain amount of controversy, with some people predicting a kind of land grab at the cellular level–the Japanese patenting brown eyes, Swedes patenting blond hair, Italians patenting Roman noses.”

The story of Ford’s (and plenty of other motor companies’) infringements of Robert Kearns’ windscreen wiper patent is a sad one. He lost his marriage and possibly his sanity in the singleminded pursuit of justice. And what Ford did was wrong.

“Roger Shipman, a Ford supervisor, announced to Kearns that he had “won the wiper competition.” He told Kearns that his wiper would be used on the 1969 Mercury line. Kearns was given the prototype of a windshield-wiper motor to commemorate the occasion. The other engineers welcomed him aboard Ford’s wiper team. Then, according to Kearns, Shipman asked him to show his wiper control to the rest of the team. Wipers were a safety item, Shipman explained, and the law required disclosure of all the engineering before Ford could give Kearns a contract. This sounded reasonable to Kearns, so he explained to the Ford engineers exactly how his intermittent wiper worked.

About five months later, Kearns was dismissed. He was told that Ford did not want his wiper system after all–that the other engineers had designed their own. Kearns remembers that one of the engineers taunted him as he was leaving. “

But that was possibly the result of a systemic flaw in Ford’s thinking – from the founder himself.

“Henry Ford loathed patents. One of Ford’s lawyers once boasted, “There is no power on earth, outside of the Supreme Court, which can make Henry Ford sign a license agreement or pay a royalty.” Ford thought that the patent system should be abolished, because, he said, it “produces parasites, men who are willing to lay back on their oars and do nothing,” and because patents afford “opportunities for little minds, directed by others more cunning, to usurp the gains of genuine inventors–for pettifoggers to gain a strategic advantage over honest men, and, under a smug protest of righteousness, work up a hold-up game in the most approved fashion.””

Inventors are cool though.

“The lawsuit against Ford became Kearns’ life. He put every penny he had into it. He was driven by an uncynical, almost spiritual belief in justice and an equally pure hatred of the automobile industry. At a hearing in 1980, Kearns said, “I want you to understand that I am wearing a little badge here, and that badge says that I am an inventor, and it says I am a net contributor to society. And it is like maybe you can’t see the badge, and these other gentlemen can’t see the badge, and I don’t think anybody is going to be able to see the badge until my trial is finished in this courtroom and I will find out whether I am wearing the badge or not.”


You know what is worse than Christians flagrantly disregarding copyright and intellectual property laws* (you know the whole “Thou shall not steal” bit of the Bible)… Christians flagrantly disregarding copyright for the purpose of bad commercial parody.

Making money by stealing other people’s intellectual property is much worse than just stealing their intellectual property for yourself. Making money by stealing someone’s material for second rate parody “Jesus Junk” is somewhere down the bottom. Here’s a story that made my stomach churn.

Jesus Junk - a really bad shirt

Trademark attorney Michael G. Atkins of Seattle said legal parodies of commercial trademarks are protected under the First Amendment, but such religious products generally don’t fall into that category.

“You could take Microsoft and change their logo around to make fun of Microsoft, and that would be legal,” he said. “But I can’t use the Microsoft logo to promote my Christian theme because there’s no real connection there. That’s illegal.”

Here’s what one of the creators and purveyors of Jesus Junk had to say for himself (as reported in the USA Today story)… Kerusso is the company responsible for producing a bunch of terrible shirts.

Kinnett views the commercial spoofs — which only make up 15% or so of Kerusso’s merchandise — as modern-day parables.

“If Jesus were here today would he make parody T-shirts? I doubt it,” Kinnett said. “But in his day, he did use parables. He used things that were common and recognized in everyday life to make a point or say something with a deeper meaning.”

* I still think Christian copyright holders should not “hold” their “rights” for the sake of the kingdom – but if they don’t then the end users have to respect that decision (and the law).

More on Copyright

Mikey linked to this article by his fellow Tasweigian – Will – who wrote a thoughtful piece on a Christian approach to Copyright that I agree with most of.

Except for the bit where he makes a distinction between tangible and intangible assets. Which I have a problem with. We have turned the intangible into a commodity. Ideas are worth money. Entertainment is big business. Companies rise and fall on the back of protecting ideas. Creativity is worth money. And while Will asserts that borrowing someone’s story does not constitute a violation of commandment number eight – I would suggest that there are ways that it can.

Sermon illustrations are a grey area. I’ve never had one pinched. But I know people who have. I think there’s enough out there without stealing people’s real life anecdotes and presenting them as your own. There’s a place for appropriate attribution.

But, as I’ve indicated in discussions both here, and elsewhere, I sympathise with Will’s position.

“IP restrictions in general are bad for Christian proclamation. I listen, watch and read widely as I prepare my sermons. I have been known to, ahem, “borrow” an illustration or two. I have been known to read quotes from books in order to make a point. God help us if these sources were to stand on their IP rights. “

And I find this statement interesting…

“The Biblical practice of remuneration for gospel work is primarily one of patronage – a stipend, gift, donation so that you may be free to give of yourself, not a wage so that you can earn your keep. “

It has implications for the way we approach our own rights in the context of our ministry.

Andrew Katay has been posting about the nature of remuneration for ministry.

I came to the conclusion elsewhere (in one of my old posts linked below) that the church has a responsibility to pay its financial dues to those whose work it uses, and workers have the responsibility to live out the gospel and serve the body with their gifts.

I think when we want to use someone else’s IP, even when they have sacrified their right to that IP, we should be attributing it to them. While I believe all exercises of spiritual gifts to be spiritually inspired I think acknowledging the work and contribution of the person is the right thing to do. So I’d draw the line at stealing personal sermon illustrations without attribution to the person. If it’s a good illustration it should cope with the attribution without falling over in a pile of steaming awfulness.

Copyright is a complex mix of ethics, law, and theology. Here are some great resources for thinking through the issue…

Simone is a Christian songwriter of repute – she posted about copyright, song writing, and changing song lyrics. She got lots of comments. And she posted a follow up.

Communicate Jesus has a bunch of great posts about copyright for churches, and a post for Christian creatives to consider how they can generously give of their abilities. Steve from Communicate Jesus also points out that it’s illegal to screen YouTube videos in church without a CCLI video license (CVLI) or consent from the video’s producer.

This PDF is a handy guide to copyright for churches.

And here are my previous thoughts on the matter

Hopefully some of these links will prove helpful for anyone traversing the murky waters of copyright and IP in the church.


Simone has brought up the old copyright chestnut again – head on over for the fun. I’ve commented a couple of times already – no doubt I’ll comment many more…

“This argument didn’t sit right then and still doesn’t now. I’m convinced that there is something different about a song. Last night I gave away a kids club that I spent weeks and weeks writing. I’m happy for people to use it however they want. Change bits. Whatever. I don’t care. (Though my fonting and layout is nice). In terms of work hours, this kids club probably cost me about $4000. No single song has cost me that much. It’s not a time thing. I don’t think it’s a selfishness thing either. But there is an all-or-nothingness about songs that there’s not about other things.”

Free thinking

Andrew and I have continued to discuss the implications of my “open source” Christian music idea.

Clearly both sides of the argument contain truths – particularly when applied to Christian music. Songwriters want their ideas spread as widely as possible, while they also need to be paid to write if they do it full time. There’s another paradigm to consider when it comes to whether or not God “owns” work produced through spiritual gifts. Then he’d own the intellectual property, and the copyright.

It’s part of a much bigger and broader argument about open source that’s going on in the upper echelons of thoughtful journalism – and a lot of the discussion is about the future of journalism and paid media in the context of the free media offered by the web.

Malcolm Gladwell – one of my favourite authors is engaged in a debate with Wired Magazine editor, and author of a book called “Free”, Chris Anderson.

Anderson wrote his book on the premise that “ideas and information” want to be “free”… that’s a nutshell summary.

Here’s Anderson’s take on music and the Internet as quoted in Gladwell’s review of the book (which was negative)…

“In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.” To musicians who believe that their music is being pirated, Anderson is blunt. They should stop complaining, and capitalize on the added exposure that piracy provides by making money through touring, merchandise sales, and “yes, the sale of some of [their] music to people who still want CDs or prefer to buy their music online.”

It’s a great article. Here’s another interesting passage from Anderson’s book, again quoted by Gladwell…

“Anderson describes an experiment conducted by the M.I.T. behavioral economist Dan Ariely, the author of “Predictably Irrational.” Ariely offered a group of subjects a choice between two kinds of chocolate—Hershey’s Kisses, for one cent, and Lindt truffles, for fifteen cents. Three-quarters of the subjects chose the truffles. Then he redid the experiment, reducing the price of both chocolates by one cent. The Kisses were now free. What happened? The order of preference was reversed. Sixty-nine per cent of the subjects chose the Kisses. The price difference between the two chocolates was exactly the same, but that magic word “free” has the power to create a consumer stampede. Amazon has had the same experience with its offer of free shipping for orders over twenty-five dollars. The idea is to induce you to buy a second book, if your first book comes in at less than the twenty-five-dollar threshold. And that’s exactly what it does. In France, however, the offer was mistakenly set at the equivalent of twenty cents—and consumers didn’t buy the second book. “From the consumer’s perspective, there is a huge difference between cheap and free,” Anderson writes. “Give a product away, and it can go viral. Charge a single cent for it and you’re in an entirely different business. . . . The truth is that zero is one market and any other price is another.”

Gladwell’s critique cites YouTube as an example.

“Why is that? Because of the very principles of Free that Anderson so energetically celebrates. When you let people upload and download as many videos as they want, lots of them will take you up on the offer. That’s the magic of Free psychology: an estimated seventy-five billion videos will be served up by YouTube this year. Although the magic of Free technology means that the cost of serving up each video is “close enough to free to round down,” “close enough to free” multiplied by seventy-five billion is still a very large number. A recent report by Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube’s bandwidth costs in 2009 will be three hundred and sixty million dollars. In the case of YouTube, the effects of technological Free and psychological Free work against each other.”

Chris Anderson has since responded to Gladwell’s criticism on his blog. He uses blogging and bloggers getting book deals as a case study. Interesting stuff and worth a read. Seth Godin – the “guru” – has chimed in on the subject declaring Anderson right and Gladwell wrong. The Times Online’s tech blog predictably took the side of established journalism and declared Gladwell the winner.

Gifting gifts

The thread I essentially highjacked on Simone’s blog has come to a gripping conclusion – of sorts. I think we’ve agreed to disagree – Simone may still disagree but we’ll see.

But it was a worthy exercise.

It raised, for me, a question about how Christians should use their gifts. And how we should balance use of gifts in a part time capacity verses using them in a full time capacity in vocational ministry.

My thinking is that particular gifts lend themselves to “vocational” use at different times. In the past paid organists were as much a part of church furniture as the organ. They were also essentially resident composers.

Now – web masters and graphic designers are playing an increasingly important role in the spread of the Gospel.

My gut feeling is that the Biblical principle of a worker deserving their keep holds for all excercise. If a job needs doing – and there’s nobody to do it – then pay for it.

The worker then has a decision to make – like Paul did – as to whether to accept this payment (he chose to work instead).

I also think there comes a time where a worker playing an essential role should be paid full time in order to free them from that work for the cause of the Gospel.

So the responsibility of the church is to pay – while the worker should consider their gifting as God’s providence and receive the payment (or not) accordingly.

There are different ways that this can work – an article I read about Mars Hill suggested that graphic designers who attend that church “tithe” their time and talents. There’s also an interesting discussion happening at “Communicate Jesus” about how the church should approach the issue. And another discussion in a similar vein at Sydney Anglicans.

The Communicate Jesus article features a quote from the Mars Hill creative director which would seem to indicate some sort of contradiction with the other post –

“I once had a chat with AJ Hamilton who runs all the media stuff for Mars Hill Seattle. I asked him about how he managed to achieve the quality of design across so much of their output – the online work for Death By Love being a prime example. He said they make a habit of recruiting the best designers. Okay I said, but how do you keep them? Answer: they’re the best paid staff in Mars Hill.”

It’s interesting that this is all coming up at around the same time – it creates an opportunity for some synchronous thinking.

Your thoughts?

Open Source Songs

An interesting discussion has been occurring over at Simone’s blog after a Sola Panel post raised her song writing hackles. It all started from a discussion about amending lyrics to make them more theologically palatable.

In my mind it’s a discussion on the “open source” nature of ministry material masquerading as a copyright debate. There’s a useful document on churches and copyright here (PDF).

I sympathise with Simone’s artistic position – as a graduate of the Creative Industries faculty at QUT I can do little else. But I don’t think our understanding of things created as ministry tools should be shaped by our understanding of “secular copyright”.

Bach famously signed off his compositions with a Latin acronym SDG (the phrase Sola Deo Gloria – meaning to the glory of God alone). His understanding was that his creative works belonged to God. At least that’s my understanding of his understanding.

If, as Simone argues, words (and music) belong to the songwriter alone – then there are some broad ethical considerations to make. Her argument opens up, in my mind, an ethical can of worms when it comes to reappropriating and retuning old hymns. It’s legal – because they are “public domain” but just because it’s legal doesn’t make it ethically right. If a song is a possession then it’s odd to argue that its intangible nature makes it somehow different from a material thing. A dead person’s belongings remain with their estate in perpetuity – and yet we’re happy to tinker with their no doubt prized works. 

My thinking – and indeed my “preference” – is for a “creative commons” approach to ministry. There are now almost 30 comments on the thread on Simone’s blog – and the majority are from me. It’s an interesting (in my mind) issue to think through. And I’m glad it has been raised.

Even going down the “Copyright” path opens up avenues where I’d suggest congregations should be free to change things. If ministry is essentially working as God’s employees (1 Corinthians 3:9) then our employer owns the copyright for works we produce – so his word should change the content. If a song is theologically wrong, but can be easily redeemed – then I say redeem it. 

I don’t know why artistic endeavours are placed on some pedestal over and above exercising other God given gifts. I sympathise. I consider myself a “creative” person. But I don’t see why writing words that glorify God in song is different to writing a recipe that glorifies God through hospitality – and you don’t see chefs jumping up and down when someone tinkers with their ingredients.

I used an argument based on writing media releases too – in the comments – which I quite liked. So I’ll reproduce it.

“I write Media Releases for a living. I agonise over every word because they’re often of a political nature or important to get right. It’s important that they communicate a truth. Just as it’s important that your songs communicate a truth about God.
I get angry if they’re misconstrued and used out of context.
But if they’re being used appropriately to communicate my organisation’s point but my words are not used verbatim (except the bits in direct quotes) then I rejoice. Because they have achieved their purpose.”

If I wrote a song – and learned people were changing it in a way I did not approve of – I’d defend my original position but I don’t think I’d die in a ditch over it.

Scroll to Top