Mega church pastor resigns after investigation into 'inappropriate conduct'

- A prominent Twin Cities mega-church pastor has resigned after an independent investigation found he engaged in “inappropriate conduct” with female church members.

The Board of Trustees of Evergreen Church rescinded Mark Darling’s ordination before he announced his resignation. 

In May, the Fox 9 Investigators told the story of Suzanne van Dyck who accused Darling of being inappropriate with her when she was only 19 years old

According to van Dyck, Darling would take her to Fort Snelling State Park and talk to her in an intimate way she never wanted, or encouraged.

“He was very, very, very much in need of knowing everything sexual that we did. Like, he would ask me what kind of sexual positions this guy liked, what I sounded like when I had an orgasm," she told the Fox 9 Investigators. "And it then became him hugging me. He'd have an erection and not letting go. And again, feeling uncomfortable."

The Fox 9 Investigators discovered other women had similar experiences with Darling.

"He would talk a lot about God and his vision, but I felt he was very obsessed with sex,” said Natalie Hoffman, a former Evergreen member. 

At Sunday services, Evergreen Community Church announced the results of its independent investigation at its churches in Bloomington, Lakeville and New Hope, as well The Rock and The Urban Refuge in South Minneapolis.  

According to Evergreen, an outside investigator, employment attorney Joan Harris, could not substantiate van Dyck's individual allegations of sexual abuse from more than 30 years ago. 

But citing the investigator’s report, which the Evergreen did not make public, the church said “the investigation does support the fact that Mark Darling, while holding a position of authority, engaged in inappropriate conduct.” 

“It's been a difficult time for all of us," said Terry Kriesel, Evergreen Board Member, told the Bloomington congregation. "Specifically, this conduct included spending time alone with women in private settings and inappropriate conversations of a sexual nature."

The biggest bombshell in the talk was that Darling, a founding member of Evergreen 30 years ago, was quitting after the Board of Trustees rescinded his ordination.  

"Recently the church has been informed that Mark Darling has resigned from Evergreen," said Kriesel.

The investigation also revealed Pastor Mark Bowen, another founding leader of the church, was aware 17 years ago of at least two other women who had similar concerns about Darling, but failed to inform the Board of Trustees or take appropriate action.

Bowen will now step down as Chair of the Board of Trustees.

"We all have blind spots,” Pastor Brent Knox told the Bloomington congregation.

For the Evergreen mega-church community, including The Rock, where Darling was lead pastor, it is a seismic decision.

"This has affected women and others in ways I regret and to her, I apologize," Knox said.

To van Dyck, it is a kind of vindication, 30 years in the making.

"The most insidious thing about all of this was framed by Mark as care and love, and it wasn't," she said.

Excerpts from the Investigation Findings and Board Action posted on Evergreen Church’s website on July 1, 2018:

“Suzanne van Dyck’s individual allegations of sexual abuse by definition could not be substantiated.”

“While the investigation revealed that some pastors of Evergreen Church had seen the phrase ‘emotional sexual abuse’ prior to Suzanne van Dyck’s post on an online forum on January 24, 2018, the EC BOT first learned of Suzanne van Dyck’s specific allegation of physical sexual abuse by Mark Darling from a post she made on an online forum on January 24, 2018.”

“A second draft of this letter was shared with Mark Darling, Mark Bowen, Brent Knox, Doug Patterson, and John van Dyck where the phrase ‘emotional sexual abuse’ was changed to ‘inappropriate sexual boundaries’”.

“In 2001, Mark Bowen was also aware of at least two other women who had concerns similar to Suzanne van Dyck’s about Mark Darling’s conduct as a pastor (inappropriate conversations of a sexual nature). (In 2001, apart from Mark Bowen (Chair of the EC BOT), the other members of the EC BOT were not aware of the concerns raised by Suzanne van Dyck and these other women regarding Mark Darling’s conduct and were not informed of the concerns.”

“From the investigator’s report ‘ECC failed to take appropriate action in response to misconduct allegations.’”

“In 2001, the four Evergreen pastors, Mark Bowen, Brent Knox, Doug Patterson and John van Dyck made aware of Susan van Dyck’s concerns about Mark Darling’s conduct acknowledged those concerns, and engaged with Mark Darling in a process  (Matthew 18) over the course of several months in a good faith effort to address her concerns, but failed to follow through and implement appropriate corrective action regarding Mark Darling’s conduct (conduct that failed to meet some of the standards spelled out in Titus 1:6-9 See Note C below).”

“From the investigator’s report: ‘ECC has no policies or procedures specific to reporting or receiving discipline’ for the misconduct attributed to Mark Darling.”

“The investigator concluded this severance agreement did not constitute ‘hush money’ or an attempt to cover up the allegations Suzanne van Dyck made in 2001.”

“From the Investigator’s report “the investigation does support the fact that Mark Darling, while holding a position of authority, engaged in inappropriate conduct…’Specifically, this conduct included spending time alone with women in private settings and inappropriate conversations with women of a sexual nature.’”

“The EC BOT rescinds Mark Darling’s ordination. He will not regain his status as an ordained pastor nor return from leave until the EC BOT and an outside third-party, acting on behalf of EC BOT, determine that he is ready to do so.”

“The church has been informed that Mark Darling has resigned.”  “Mark Bowen will step down as EC BOT chair.”

“Based on the investigation findings, the EC BOT, in unanimous agreement, will participate in and oversee the development and implementation of policies and organizational deficiencies revealed in the investigation.”

“The EC BOT will retain Ms. Harris’ law firm, Olgetree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., to assist with the development of the appropriate policies and reporting procedures.”

“The EC BOT with third-party assistance will work with the pastors to develop procedures to address pastoral accountability, performance, improvement planning and discipline.”

“The EC BOT with third party assistance will work with the pastors to develop a ‘grievance process’ and specific ways we can further open communications and improve the culture of safety in our church”

Read the entire posting to the church’s website: http://www.evergreenchurch.com/update/

A portion of a statement sent to the Fox 9 Investigators from Evergreen Church:

“We regret the incidents of inappropriate conduct and apologize for the pain it has caused these women and their families. Pastor Mark Darling has resigned his position and we thank him and his family for their decades of service during his time at Evergreen. There is much grief and sorrow that comes with brokenness and we will seek healing and restoration for everyone involved through God's mercy in the journey ahead.” 

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