5 Thoughts Regarding Mark Driscoll and Us

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Yesterday, the Christian internet convulsed as 14 year old documents, allegedly recording Mark Driscoll’s psuedonymed rants on the Mars Hill website, spread through the virtual public square. We, like the rest of humanity, love a good scandal, and Driscoll never fails to deliver. Because of accusations of plagiarism, crashing parties he wasn’t invited to, and brazen language against anyone he deems effeminate, the name “Driscoll” garners attention.

Honestly, it’s tempting as a blogger to drop his name (which I realize I am ironically doing). Soon after I started blogging I shot off a post directed at some irresponsible things Driscoll said and, in the process, discovered the power of his name. It was one of my most widely read posts, got me cited on other blogs, and drove up my Twitter followers. Pavlov’s dog was being reconditioned, only this time the buzzer was blog attention.

It would be easy to castigate Driscoll this time around. I mean, honestly, there is so much wrong with what he says in these old posts. So much that it reveals about his view of gender, sexuality, leadership, and pastoring. I understand that he said it fourteen years ago, and I do hope he has repented, but I’m afraid any change that has taken place is simply tone. Denouncing him would be simple, and many are doing so. What’s harder, and this is what I want to do, is to learn what this says about us as Christians and us as the Church.

Here are a couple things I think are worth noting as I have reflected yesterday and today about the whole situation.

1. Insecurity is pervasive in masculinity, and the church isn’t helping.

Men spend an inordinate amount of time trying to prove they are not women or, at least, that they are not effeminate. As Michael Kimmel says, “Femininity, separate from actual women, can become a negative pole against which men define themselves. Women themselves often serve as a kind of currency that men use to improve their ranking with other men.” When the church emphasizes gender roles in black-and-white “men are like this and women are like this” stereotypes they perpetuate the fear among men that they are not a man. Getting married, having kids, being the breadwinner all become means by which one proves that he is a man. And for many churches, one is suspect as a man until they fulfill all these requirements. This leads to a hyper-masculine bravado meant to assuage, not only the doubts of the individual, but to all those around that they are in the presence of a real man, and if you don’t like it, then you must not be one.

2. Christians love a good scandal.

We are just as drawn to the train wreck as anyone else. In America, we love to root for the underdog and see the person at the top fall. It’s why we hate the Yankees. What needs introspection is whether, even as Christians, we love the scandal more than we love grace. Even though grace is the biggest scandal of all, in the year and half I’ve been blogging, stats alone tell me our deepest love is reserved for scandal. I can’t help but wonder what that means. I don’t have answers here, just some questions and wonderings. If you have thoughts, be sure to leave them in the comments.

3. We measure fruit, but we maybe measuring the wrong kind.

One of the questions that goes ’round and ’round my brain is, “How come the church has so many people in national leadership positions falling so hard?” Now, the obvious answer is sin. I understand that no one is perfect, we all have flaws, and even the people at the top can have major character flaws. That’s obvious. But lately, it seems to have picked up. The internet and social media have definitely played a role in this. Nothing is hidden from the public anymore.

(3a. Nothing is hidden from the public anymore.

‘Nuff said.)

American corporations reward its leaders based on the leaders fruit. Can they increase market share? Can they manage an organization? Can they increase revenue? This is the fruit our corporations measure their leaders by. These metrics have impacted what fruit churches look for in its leaders – we just cover it with different language. Heavy-handed leadership is overlooked as long as budget is being met. Outbursts of anger can be downplayed as long as the organization doesn’t suffer.  You get the point. We measure fruit, but it isn’t the fruit of the Spirit. Conference speakers are not chosen because their lives are marked with gentleness and self-control, rather, they are chosen by how quickly their church increased its market share grew in attendance.

4. The end justifies the means.

Maybe we are willing to overlook obvious flaws in character because we do believe that the end justifies the means. After all, as long as people are saved from eternal torment in hell, what else matters? But for the Christian, the means are a part of the end. Our action in the world gives witness to the end we are working towards. They two are not inseparable, but intimately linked.

5. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

How many times have you sat in church or at some church camp and heard the speaker say, “We would all be mortified if our sins were listed on this screen for all to see.” In a very real sense, Mark is living that nightmare. And the possibility that my sins could be put out there for everyone to blog about scares the hell out of me. I understand that public people are disciplined publicly. I understand he has hurt many, many people. I understand his words have wide-spread influence. I get all that, and for that reason believe he should be disciplined. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I have some sympathy for him. Because I wouldn’t want to be under the fire he is. It’s too easy to say, “That would never happen to me.”

But there for the grace of God, go I.

 

Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America: A Cultural History (New York, Oxford University Press, 2012), pg. 5.

 

 

  • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

    I hear people talk about nationally known leaders being more likely to getting into sin of a sort that should disqualify them from leadership than leaders of smaller churches. But I doubt that is really true. One, as many well known leaders that do get into sin issues that should disqualify them from leadership, they seem pretty small in comparison to the actual number of nationally known leaders. I recently read Douglas Wilson’s fictional book Evangellyfish and he basically says the same thing (which is why I have been thinking about it.)

    But there are literally about 300,000 churches in the US. There are probably somewhere around 1600-1800 megachurches but about 10% of the average weekly attendance goes to those megachurches. It just seems odd to think that there are more megachurch pastors (and we should probably include large parachurch organization, and speakers and writers that are not either megachurch pastors or parachurch organization leaders) that are leaving the role over sin than in smaller churches.

    I have some experience in local church ministry from a denominational perspective and the numbers would seem to me to be higher at the small and medium size church where there is less capacity for oversight. Yes there are some personalities that just require everyone agree with them and lead to an authoritarian oversight. But that seems to be less likely (not more likely) in a mega church than in a small church.

    But I think this is more about the availability of news that covers large churches in a way that does not cover small churches.

    (Sorry for the somewhat off topic response. I agree largely with what you are saying here otherwise.)

    • http://www.natepyle.com/ Nate Pyle

      There is, likely, an illusion happening where it seems that megachurch pastors fail more than other pastors because of the spotlight that is on them. Again, we love to see big towers fall, and when the do, a big crowd gathers. I think, and again, this may be wrong to assume, that those who get to the positions of greater influence have greater character, not just greater ability to manage an organization. I would love to see a study that shows failure rates are lower in megachurches and positions of influence.

      • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

        I am unaware of research that is good regardless of size. So I don’t think anything can really happen either to prove or disprove. I would just say that I think caution is important. If there isn’t good research (and there maybe good research, but I haven’t found it if there is) then making assumptions about moral failings being more prevalent among mega-church pastors is problematic because it is being based on perception, which is going to bias most of us based on reporting, which may not be reality.

        (Think of perception about childhood safety, children are far less likely to be abused or kidnapped today than 30 years ago, but most people assume it is the opposite, primarily because of the differences in reporting.)

        • Kaity

          About child safety, why do you say children are far less likely to be abused or kidnapped today than 30 years ago? i work in public child welfare. There are better laws about mandated reporting and follow up now but i think this brings more abuse to light and upon further investigation reveals additional layers (generations) of abuse that were not previously reported or addressed. Awareness has shed more light but has not necessarily mitigated it to the extent of being “far less likely.”

          • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

            Sorry I wasn’t intending to hijack this. And I was less than clear in my comment. What I was intending to say was stranger criminal abuse of children like kidnapping. That is virtually non-existent. A recent Dept of Justice report I read suggested that of the approximately 800,000 child abduction reports, 90% of the children were back within a day, and most of them were runaways, not abductions. Of the approximately 200,000 abductions, 115 in the study were actually stranger child abductions. The rest were usually either mistakes in communication or custody disputes. That does not mean the kids weren’t in danger, but it isn’t stranger danger.

            Similarly, child murder is almost always parent, relative or friend. Only 3% of child murders are complete strangers.

            Crime against children, like virtually all other crime, is at near 40 year lows. And what crime exists is almost always committed by a parent or relative. Any crime against children is horrible, but children are basically about as safe as they have ever been.

            But if you watch Nancy Grace or local news you would never know that.

          • Kaity

            I can concede on “Stranger Danger” but i would disagree on “safe as they have ever been” in that most abuse against children by their parents/relatives/friends are not necessarily crimes or prosecuted as such so there is a false sense of security regarding child safety. And while most of the abduction reports were runaways, the greater question is what were they running away from?

          • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

            I think the best way to look at it is that what is now considered criminal was considered not only normal, but required in the past. Whipping a child is was normal and no one was prosecuted for it. My uncle talks about the fact that he was literally thrown through a wall by my grandfather (someone that I only knew as a kind godly man and the construction of the home was poorer than now).

            Every instance of abuse is bad, but abuse that is bad now is considered criminal by pretty much everyone, including those that do it. That same abuse 50 or 100 years ago, was considered part of normal parenting.

          • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

            I guess my thought about both of these things, megachurch pastor’s sin and child safety, is that if our perception is wrong (that megachurch pastors are much more likely to sin in inappropriate ways like Driscoll and children are in more danger now than in previous generations) we start making decisions based on the wrong concerns.

            In the case of children, we start encouraging children to only play inside or with structured activities. But if recent studies are correct, children are becoming obese primarily because of lack of activity. And that lack of activity may be hindering brain development in other areas like self control and academics. And if children are not actually more in danger, then we are creating problems not solving them.

            In a similar way, if megachurch pastors are not more likely to sin (and either just as likely or less likely) then creating inappropriate restrictions for them (Billy Graham’s never be alone with a woman) or outright rejection of the megachurch as a model is probably creating problems that don’t really exist.

            I am of course not suggesting that all children are safe or all megachurch pastors are free of problematic sin, just that we might need to be a bit more careful in our language and the way we think in order to not actually create more problems.

  • pipermac

    I believe that a big reason boys and men are insecure is that, from an early age, they have been, an are being molded into the wrong templates. They are also being judged by the wrong metrics. Society has established templates and metrics for boys and men which very few can or will ever attain, but that doesn’t keep them from trying. If they “succeed”, fame, fortune and stardom are their rewards. If they fail, feelings of inadequacy are their punishment. The vast majority WILL fail, if those are their templates and metrics.

    Unfortunately, even a large segment of the church has bought into that mentality. Men in the church who are “successful”, ie, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, etc, are often “rewarded” with leadership positions in the church, even if their “Christ-likeness” is woefully lacking. This is not to say that being “successful” and “Christ-like” are mutually-exclusive. Being Christ-like is the most important qualification for leadership in the church, and lacking that, they become examples of what NOT to be like.

    God’s Word, the Bible must be our guide for faith and practice, and the Lord Jesus must be the template by which we mold our lives. Boys and men who model their lives after the Lord Jesus will never go wrong, regardless of their temporal success or failure.

    We like a scandal because it allows us to look down our long “holier-than-thou” noses at the one who fell. Speaking of falling… Have you noticed that the ones who fall are some of the biggest “stars”? Being a “star” makes one an idol, and “stars” often idolize themselves. Star-worship and idol-worship are an affront to God, and sooner or later, God will bring them down. Are we blind to the fact that God can, will, and does use Satan to bring down those whose heads have gotten too big? Is it any wonder that sexual sin is one of Satan’s favorite tools for bringing down and discrediting Christian leaders?

    “There, but for the grace of God, go I” is PRIDE! In case we have forgotten, even that little “fib” is as much a sin in the eyes of God as adultery, so to gloat (pride) over someone else’s sin is as heinous as the sin that was revealed. Rather, we should be singing; “Pity a helpless sinner Lord, who would believe they gracious word, but oh my heart, with shame and grief, a sink of sin, and unbelief.” and “For sinners Lord, thou camest to bleed, and I’m a sinner vile indeed, Lord I believe they grace is free, oh magnify that grace in me.”

    Seeing other’s sin should humble us, rather than cause us to be puffed-up. Only then will there start to be true healing in the church, and men can start becoming the man God desires them to be.

    God bless!

    Steve

  • Paul Vroom

    Yesterday, I read through “Pussified Nation” and I got sick to my stomach. As a gracious complementarian who went to an Acts29 bootcamp in WA, I am deeply grieved by Mark Driscoll public and private statements/comments.

    I am reminded in this that one’s salvation is both a radical recalibration as well as a slow, steady march, which allows us to be more and more like Christ each day. For some of us, it take longer… much longer. The good news is that grace not only saves us, it also trains us.

    I am also reminded that we all get comfortable with a moral standard to which we can attain, and then pass judgment on all those that can’t. Our pride and self-righteousness are just as offensive to God as the sins of the prostitute and the pimp.

  • Roger Williams

    Deeply appreciate this post. I often wonder if I were responsible for tens of thousands (instead of tens of dozens), if the pressure and all the trappings would lead me down a similar path. We all have this “bentness” in us and I would be concerned that mine would be magnified in such a situation – particularly if arrived at relatively young – as did Driscoll. Obscurity can be a good thing.

    One thing I might add is that we love to love a superman (in addition to a scandal). We delight to make heroes out of ordinary guys who were in the right place at the right time. I wonder if it is because many of us secretly nurture the hope that we, too, could be a hero like that. It seems to be me to be a subtle form of self-salvation. Consequently, when these over-hyped “heroes” are exposed as real human people with real flaws, we criticize as abundantly as we previously venerated. Or, more likely, we criticize with the same strength as others venerated.

  • kylejnolan

    1. You’ve got better things to do than write about Mark Driscoll, Nate. No criticism to anything you said. But, point number two.

    2. Proofread. “Here are a couple things I think are worth…” ;)

  • http://practicingresurrection.wordpress.com/ Bill

    I appreciate that you are attempting to draw lessons from this mess, rather than just stir the poo more. It’s a shame that this kind of thing keeps reinforcing whatever negative impressions unchurched/unbelieving people have of us Christians. As you say, Conference speakers are not chosen because their lives are marked with gentleness and self-control, rather, they are chosen by how quickly their church increased its market share grew in attendance And those who are stars in the church growth world probably aren’t characterized by their humility. Almost by defintion those who are the most humble are going to be the most obscure. And those who become celebrities probably suffer from the flaws that accompany insufficient humility. There are exceptions of course (Billy Graham comes to mind), but it seems to me that those who achieve this level of fame are probably those most likely to fall.

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