Pastor's church responds after he allegedly buys his way onto NYT bestseller list

'Outside counsel advised our marketing team to use Result Source,' Mars Hill Church said of Pastor Mark Driscoll's decision to pay a marketing company to ensure his book was a bestseller. 'While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again.'

Pastor Mark Driscoll wrote 'Real Marriage' with his wife, Grace.

On Friday we reported on the pastor who reportedly used church funds to buy his way onto the New York Times bestseller list, setting off a firestorm of criticism and controversy.

As we reported, Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle reportedly paid marketing company ResultSource more than $200,000 to artificially place his book, “Real Marriage,” on the elite bestseller list. World Magazine reporter Warren Cole Smith, who broke the story, called it “distasteful if not immoral” and pushed the pastor for an explanation.

On Friday, Mars Hill Church responded to the negative coverage.

“In 2011, outside counsel advised our marketing team to use Result Source to market the Real Marriage book and attain placement on the New York Times Bestseller list. While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again,” the Church said in a statement posted on its website.

It continued, “All monies from the sale of Pastor Mark’s books at Mars Hill bookstores have always gone to the church and Pastor Mark did not profit from the Real Marriage books sold either at the church or through the Result Source marketing campaign.”

The church also said the “true cost” of the marketing campaign was “much less” than what was reported in World Magazine – about $210,000. However, it didn’t say what the actual cost was.

While Driscoll has remained mum on the subject, an article in the Christian Post reports that his recent Sunday sermon struck an apologetic tone.

"I love you (the church) very much and I want to do the best job that I can, and I'm devastated when I don't," said Driscoll during a sermon about the power of "the tongue." "Jesus gave His best and you deserve the best."

But while the church’s statement and Driscoll’s sermon appears apologetic, a post on the religious site patheos.com suggests a significant change of message following the intense interest Driscoll’s book garnered.

As Patheos reported, when the bestselling scheme was first reported on March 5, Mars Hill Church defended the practice. In World Magazine’s article, the church’s communication director Justin Dean made this statement:

“Mars Hill has made marketing investments for book releases and sermon series, along with album releases, events, and church plants, much like many other churches, authors, and publishers who want to reach a large audience. We will explore any opportunity that helps us to get that message out, while striving to remain above reproach in the process. Whether we’re talking about technology, music, marketing, or whatever, we want to tell lots of people about Jesus by every means available. That’s what we’re all about and have been since 1996.”

As Patheos wrote, the initial statement and the one published after the news exploded in the blogosphere represent very different reactions, describing the use of ResultSource as “an opportunity,” and two days later, “an unwise strategy,” for example.

“[O]n this point, they have increased the confusion and left important questions unanswered,” writes Patheos poster Warren Throckmorton.

And while questions remain in this particular instance of publishing foul play, we can’t help but hope that for those considering such practices it rings a warning bell – and perhaps, for phony marketing campaigns, a death knell.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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