Austin Stone Community Church is a large church in Austin, Texas, that has recently caught the nation’s eye when news revealed that Austin bombing suspect Mark Conditt once attended the church regularly. Mark Conditt revealed himself to be a conservative in blogs he was assigned years ago for a college class, but a friend said there was no way he still had the same religious beliefs he once held, if he was able to do such heinous acts. Here’s what you need to know about Mark Conditt’s faith, his religious beliefs, and Austin Stone Community Church.
1. A Friend Said Mark Regularly Attended Church in 2013, But Could Not Possibly Still Have the Same Religious Beliefs
Jeremiah Jensen, 24, was also homeschooled in Pflugerville and was close friends with Conditt in 2012 and 2013. He told the Statesman that he would often go to the Conditt’s home for lunch after church on Sundays, and he would attend Bible study with Conditt. He said that Conditt regularly attended Austin Stone Community Church on St. John’s Avenue.
Jensen said that he doubts Conditt was still religious and holding onto his faith in recent times, although it was important to him in the past.
“I know faith was a serious thing for him. I don’t know if he held onto his faith or not. … The kind of anger that he expressed and the kind of hate that he succumbed to — that’s not what he believed in in high school. I don’t know what happened along the way. This wasn’t him.”
Mark Conditt wrote a series of blog posts in 2012 as part of an assignment for a government course he was taking at Austin Community College. On the blog, he described himself as conservative and wrote posts stating that he was opposed to gay marriage because it was “not natural,” opposed to abortion, but he supported the death penalty. He also believed that putting someone on a sex offender list for something they did as an adolescent was wrong. However, each blog post was apparently a response to an assignment or a question, so there’s no good way to know if he truly believed what he wrote or if he was just trying to write for the assignment given. A photo was circulating from MyLife.com which showed he was a registered Democrat, but MyLife.com details can be edited by anyone.
2. Austin Stone Community Church, a Southern Baptist Church, Has More Than 7,000 Attending Five Campuses Each Weekend
The Austin Stone Community Church is regarded as nondenominational by many, but it’s actually still technically considered part of the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC lists Austin Stone as a member church on its website here, although the details such as church membership are outdated. The church was founded in 2002 as a church plant by Matt Carter and Chris Tomlin. Tomlin is no longer part of Austin Stone; he left in 2008 after being awarded Male Vocalist of the Year in 2006 and 2007. In 2013, the church was listed as the 28th largest in the Southern Baptist Convention. In 2014, Austin Stone had 7,000 attending each Sunday and it was listed as the 27th largest church in the SBC. Austin Stone has five campuses: one on St. John, one in south Austin, one in west Austin, one downtown, and one in north Austin. The church just chose a new permanent home on the West Austin campus at 916 Capital of Texas Highway. They will use half of the 55,000-square-foot building and lease the rest to help support operating and owning the building.
Austin Stone Community Church doesn’t share any messages that would be considered radical or that might have influenced Mark Conditt’s actions. The church’s website states: “We seek to be a community who gives glory to Christ above all things and welcomes all people to join us in worshipping Him. We want to bless our city, believing that as we seek its peace, we will display the grace, freedom and life that Jesus Christ offers to anyone who believes in Him.” The church focuses on reaching out and helping lower-income neighborhoods. In 2007, they launched For The City, a nonprofit that built a church, nonprofit hub, and community center on 15 acres in the center of St. John’s. The facility hosts a food bank, a foster care agency, and an international missions organization. They helped renovate Reagan High School, launched a support group for teen moms, and offered after-school programs.
The church’s counseling center released the following statement on their website about the bombings, before Conditt was caught: “In the past 2 weeks our beloved city has experienced 5 bombs that have taken 2 lives and injured 5+ others. The locations of the explosions have been in different parts of the city – all residential except for the latest one that went off while in transit at the FedEx facility. Two of the bombs were set in lower-income neighborhoods while the most recent explosion occurred in a middle-class neighborhood in Southwest Austin. There has been speculation as to whether they are coordinated and targeted – a hate crime or something else – but that is still unclear. This leaves residents in a difficult and precarious position. We don’t know what to expect. At this point it seems like a bomb can be placed in any neighborhood in Austin, at any time, leaving no one feeling safe and many experiencing fear and anxiety like never before. No one is immune to this it seems. Personally, with each incident I have found myself having to process new layers of fear. It has caused me to ask questions and imagine scenarios I never would have thought I would be capable of until now. It has led me to ask what can I do?” The website went on to suggest biblical ways to respond, including being watchful and cautious, staying prayerful, staying faithful, and being a light in the darkness by loving the city rather than hiding at home.
3. Austin Stone Immediately Put a Pastor on Leave After He Was Accused of Covering Up Sexual Abuse at a Different Church Years Earlier
Austin Stone quickly put Larry Cotton, former director of the church’s internship and residency program, on leave after Jules Woodson accused him of covering up a sexual incident at a different church in 1998, the Statesman reported. She was quoted in a blog post as saying that he covered up an incident in 1998 at Parkway Baptist Church in Houston, after she told him that another pastor made her perform oral sex on him. In response, Austin Stone immediately put Cotton on leave and removed him from the website. The church said in a statement: “We grieve for what happened to Jules Woodson. It was wrong and unjust; we cannot overly express our sadness for what this woman experienced in God’s church.” They hired a third-party organization to investigate Cotton in order to remove any potential bias they might have, and Cotton later resigned, saying in a statement that he failed to report sexual abuse and regretted that decision. Andy Savage, the pastor she accused, has also resigned from being pastor of Highpoint Church.
4. In 2013, Mark’s Mom Said He Was Considering Being a Missionary
In February 2013, Mark’s mom Danene Conditt wrote on Facebook that her son was still figuring out what he wanted to do and was considering a possible mission trip. Danene received her education from an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America college called Gustavus Adolphus College, according to her Facebook. But friends said that Mark attended Austin Stone church, not a Lutheran church.
Mark’s sister, Christina Conditt, often wrote about her religious faith on Facebook. She once wrote: “Being a Christian Athlete doesn’t mean praying for your team to win. God doesn’t give an edge to those who pray over those who don’t. Hard work does that! Being a Christian Athlete means Competing for Christ. In a way in which you always give your all for Him win or loss. You thank him for the ability and opportunity to play. It means giving all the Glory to God, no matter the outcome.”
5. The Texas Home School Coalition Said that Mark ‘Walked Away from His Faith’ Years Ago
Tim Lamber, president of the Texas Home School Coalition, addressed questions about Mark Conditt’s faith, USA Today reported. He said the entire homeschooling community was shocked and in disbelief about what happened. He said in a statement: “Raised by both parents in a Christian home, Conditt reportedly walked away from his faith several years ago. Today’s revelations about the Austin bombings provide a stark reminder that we live in a fallen world. Unfortunately, no form of education, public or private, can ensure a tragedy like this will never happen.”
He said the staff was praying for families of the victims and the Conditt family.
Conditt had just been let go from a job with Crux Semiconductor in August, where he had worked since he was 19, for failing to meet expectations, USA Today reported. The official said he was never confrontational, just “quiet, introverted, and reserved.”
Investigators said that when searching Conditt’s home, they found a list of future targets and addresses.