Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How to Respond to Religious Bullies, Some Thoughts on Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle

In the past week there has been quite a controversy surrounding a Facebook update from Seattle mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll in which he posted: 
"So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?"
For those familiar with Mark Driscoll this kind of comment is nothing new as he has developed quite the reputation for saying controversial things (and quite a record for having to apologize for the things he’s said).  Yet for some Christians these kind of judgmental and hateful words were the final straw that demanded a response en mass. 

Rachel Held Evans, author/blogger

I was introduced to this controversy at Rachel Held Evans’ blog where she compared Mark Driscoll to a bully and encouraged her readers to stand up to him by writing/emailing the church and the elders to call Driscoll to accountability and repentance.  While I frequently read Rachel’s blog I have never seen a topic garner so much feedback in such a short time—some 513 comments and 9,000+ shares on Facebook.  Apparently she was not alone in feeling that Driscoll needed to be confronted for his history such inflammatory and hurtful words (I will not rehash his past comments as Rachel Evans has quite a sampling of them on her blog). 

While I have read a couple of books by Mark Driscoll in the past and really enjoyed them (partly for his edgy and in-your-face style of writing) I have come to feel troubled both at his way of communicating as well as his theological bent which, in my opinion, is quite destructive in the long run.  It seems to me that in recent years Driscoll’s attempts at being edgy have actually caused a loss of credibility in his message.  In the media Driscoll has continued to occupy the place reserved for reality TV divas that people watch not for their insightful social commentary but for the over-the-top drama that they seem to stir up in every situation in which they insert themselves.  This is heartbreaking because Mark Driscoll is truly one of the most effective Christian communicators of my generation and yet he has continually chosen to go down a path that, in my opinion, distracts people from the good news of Jesus Christ.

So when Rachel Evans asked her readers to stand up to this bully I was ready to join in the charge… at first that is.  Yet once I gave it more thought I became a little bit more conflicted with what the right response might be in this situation.  While I certainly don’t agree with his statements, I don’t know if a mass protest is the most redemptive way to deal with these issues or if it will truly work for a change in his heart.  Sure, after a few days of comments and thousands of emails Driscoll did apologize for what he said (well, kind of) but I can’t help but wonder if this was just another “I’m sorry” or if there is truly a commitment on his part to change.  

The great modern philosopher Bono once wrote, “They say that what you mock will one day overtake you, and you become a monster so the monster will not break you.”  My concern is that in our attempts to confront a bully we may just as well end up moving in the same spirit.  When this happens everyone loses.   

When I consider this situation I take comfort in the life of the Apostle Paul.  Before his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was a fervent persecutor of the church.  He preached against Christianity as a heresy, hunted Christians down and even consented to their executions by his tribe of religious zealots.  Paul only became the famous Christian apostle, church planter and author of nearly half of the New Testament after he had encountered the grace of Jesus Christ.  What caused Paul’s change of course was neither persuasive intellectual arguments or protests, or even the example of Christians around him, it was nothing short of encountering God himself.

As I look back on my journey with Christ there are definitely some stretches of which I am very embarrassed—the years when I was quite the jerk to anybody outside of my very narrow view of Christianity.  I look back now and cringe at how I used to love arguing with people about anything from abortion to evolution to sexuality and how self-righteous I felt when I encountered resistance thinking that I was being persecuted for Jesus when in reality I was being persecuted for being an ass.  However something happened to me.  Even in my zealous self-righteousness I began to experience the unrelenting grace of Jesus Christ.  I have come to realize that God has loved me in my worst sins when I wasn’t a believer and didn’t have any hope in this world as well as in my moral arrogance when I gleefully persecuted Christian and non-Christian alike who didn’t believe the way I did.  It is precisely this unrelenting grace that has changed me and continues to form me within. 

So as much as I want to confront Mark Driscoll, I wonder if perhaps I should trust him to the grace of God.  After all that grace changed the apostle Paul… and a former fundamentalist like me.    

Maybe this line of thinking is just a copout from someone who isn’t a big fan of confrontation.  Maybe a very public outcry is exactly what needs to happen in this situation.  What do you think?  How ought Christians react to fellow Christians who say ugly and hurtful things in very public ways?


steven hamilton said...

there is such wisdom is this Crispin! While I cannot condone Driscoll (it seems more and more as timje goes by), I think the "action" to take place has to be among those locally, in his own neighborhood so-to-speak, which means his own community. I cannot let his distractions get me off what the Spirit is doing right in front of me, which may or may not be related in any way.

So, if I didn't think anyone was e-mailing his community to let them know about this, then yes, I might be provoked to respond. But to tell the truth, it would not have even been on my radar if a few friends (like you) hadn't brought it up, and the response seems to be all ready takiong place, so rather than piling on, I go back to my small piece of work for the Kingdom of God...

Pi Man said...

I believe the bible teaches that we are to speak to and correct each other in love when we have a Spirit led concern. We all make mistakes. And we all need loving and insightful guidance. Can it be an act of avoiding confrontation to not say anything? Yes. Is it every time? Certainly not. That's where discernment and wisdom comes in, and both are generously given by the Father to those who are persistent in asking for them. So I would advocate speaking to anyone and everyone that one feels led to do so. Just try to do it with love.
An excellent blog as always Crispin. Thank you. TA

Crispin Schroeder said...

Good stuff Tim. I agree that confrontation is a necessary part of the Christian life and if I knew Mark Driscoll personally I would by all means confront him on this and other issues. I just feel like it's a little different when it becomes a mass response to a public person. In my experience the mass response approach can easily distract us from the simplicity of knowing Jesus.

Chad Estes said...


Loved your thoughts on this issue and how to deal with confrontation, even though I felt strongly about publicly standing against Driscoll's statement and behavior in this case.

I'm trying to process Paul's rebuke to Peter. I'm thinking that it goes beyond just correcting Peter. Paul makes a point of telling the Galatian church "I said to Cephas in front of them all..." Perhaps it was because Peter's sin was such that it affected the larger congregation and had the potential to be even more destructive. Or maybe this is just part of Paul's type A personality...

Good stuff to think about. Again, thanks for adding such value to the conversation.

greenturtle said...

Usually if a religious bully is confronted by others, their self righteousness is so thick that they'll offer a public "statement" because they think they're supposed to, but there's no real repentance, and the core attitudes don't change.

Some of the worst treatment I've ever received, has been from Christians. And to this day, the closest to an apology I was ever offered, was an insincere "I'm sorry you were hurt, BUT." Or "I know that wasn't the right thing to say, BUT."

I blamed God for not intervening and telling them to stop. I knew God would never condone their treatment of me, but why did he just turn a blind eye? Why wouldn't he "man up" and make them apologize?

He couldn't because He had no part of it.

There's only one thing God is incapable of, and that is to override the human will. (Or, the centuries long debate whether he actually can't or chooses not to, but the bottom line is, he doesn't).

I know now that God had nothing to do with it, but it took years to reconcile that.

Penny Murray said...

I've felt really torn on this issue. Without a doubt, I was shocked at his fb status. My understanding of Driscoll is that he believes the Church as becoming overly "feminized" and wants to bring balance. I've talked with men who would agree with this and do not feel comfortable or connected with the Church for this reason. I think a better way to bring change would be find a way to make all men welcome and valued within the Church. Mean-spirited hummor towards a blanket stereo-type clearly is not loving.

On writing letters, I don't see how it is going to change his heart, nor do I think I could go about it without sinning in my own. It is just too easy for me to judge someone else and feel all superior and righteous. Perhaps others can do it in the spirit Rachel was promoting, but I don't trust myself with it at this point.

What I have to remember, is that is wasn't all that long ago, that I thought very much inside of the same framework as Driscoll. What this does more than anything, is cause sorrow and repentance in myself and hopefully compassion towards Driscoll, even though we probably disagree on a host of secondary issues. It also makes me remember to be open to the Spirit as he continues to work in me since I am absolutely certain I don't have it all figured out.

Crispin Schroeder said...

I agree that there are times when Christians need to confront each other and sometimes, as in the case of Paul with Peter, in a very public way. My concern is that an internet campaign against someone can deteriorate into the same kind of "tribal" mentality of which so many of us have seen the dark side. I really loved Rachel Evans call to restore unity a couple of months ago as it was such a breath of fresh air in the recent fighting between Piper and Bell crowds but I wonder if this recent call to action is actually a step in the wrong direction no matter how ugly Driscoll's comments may be. I do feel Driscoll needs to be held accountable for the things he has said I just wonder if an internet campaign actually the best way to do that. Thanks for your comments.

Crispin Schroeder said...

Maybe we can start another support group for judgaholics as well. I could use it.

I think you bring up a good point that Driscoll is truly trying to make the church more men-friendly. Though his methods and message may be misguided I think the church as a whole can take more consideration with how to connect with men.

Giuseppe said...

Crispin, I really like that you take a more thoughtful approach to this kind of thing, instead of just joining in the fray.

Honestly I havent seen much of a change in his attitude about such things since I discovered him in Cutting Edge back around 2001. He's always been sort of a loose cannon, and now that he has a much larger audience it's much more visible. So in that regard I think that the world is just getting to know who he really is, and they are finding that he's not a nice well behaved guy.

And I think that an issue like this would best be handled by someone he knows to confront him on the issue. I remember reading about John Piper confronting him a while back and Driscoll listened.

I think that calling him a bullie just because he states is mind, and bullying him into repentance is be to become a bullie yourself.

I often wonder if Jesus was still in the flesh and ministering personally now if there would not be similar outcries against himself. He certainly didnt do what was expected, and didnt bow down to his religious sub-culture's accepted way of doing things.

He also repeatedly criticized the religious leaders and even made fun of them a few times (Matt 12:27), and this infuriated them of course. (And didnt the other apostles warn about dude's acting like girls? which is what Driscoll's statement was about)

I'm not saying that we need to infuriate and insult other Christians at all. I'm just saying that Jesus ministry was raw and uncensored, and I wonder if the Christianity we have today is way too tame and civilized.

greenturtle said...

Giuseppe, if I may play devil's advocate for a minute.

It just seems that to most members of the church, Christ's principles do not apply when it comes to homosexuals, or those merely assumed to be.

They will speak of Christ's love and forgiveness, of flowing in the holy spirit, of sharing His message... UNTIL they encounter someone, who may or may not be gay, but that doesn't matter; If they are assumed to be, it all goes out the window.

They go on to project their personal hate toward that person, onto Jesus himself, as if Jesus hates that person, and so they act accordingly, feeling completely justified.

It's called "spiritual abuse". Jesus doesn't condone it, and we as Christians should not either. Those who turn a blind eye to it and say nothing, are just as guilty.

I know Jesus stepped on toes of many pharisees and self righteous folks. But he was no bully, and neither should we be.

Louis said...

Greenturtle, I've been in the church most of my life and I've never heard anyone preach hatred towards homosexuals. We should have been more sensitive towards peoples needs in that area it seems looking back now, but hatred? No way!

And even so, you don't battle one extreme by going to the opposite extreme. Say the truth in love, and that without fear, and trust the Holy Spirit to move people's hearts and he will.

greenturtle said...

Louis, you are fortunate to have never experienced hatred from Christians.

It's so easy to step back and say "Well, just don't be gay-- problem solved!"

Except they're missing one small but oh so important detail: I am not. But because of my mannerisms, my interests, and my choice of clothing (I'm female), I've been assumed to be for most of my life.

I did struggle with the issue as a young adult; most young adults do, whether they admit it or not. I made the terrible mistake of actually being truthful about what I was going through, and faced dire consequences as a result.

They claimed that "my sin" brought the abuse on myself. They claimed that it was endorsed by Christ himself, and felt completely justified in their treatment of me.

In 2009, my husband had a life threatening medical condition. I know they say God doesn't make deals, but I told God that if my husband survived the surgery and fully recovered, I'd give up all hope for an apology from any of them. I never got one, and probably never will, but God came through, so I had to let that go.

But I never said I'd forgive them, only that I would give up hope for an apology.

But then last year, I developed a life threatening medical condition of my own.

And then I said OK God, if you heal me from this, I'll forgive them too.

I'm still here, so I guess it's up to me now.

greenturtle said...

I realize this is an "old topic" now, but this is something I often think about:

What will certain people do, once they realize that they will be spending eternity in the same place as me?

Because right now, that's the furthest thing from their mind. Savior or no savior, blood or no blood, cross or no cross-- I'm not going to make it, and that's final.

So they're in for a big shock on the last day-- and what will they do with themselves, once they realize that they can no longer demand that I be removed?

Will they be so repulsed by the idea, that they actually leave? It's not impossible; No one is required to stay in Heaven if they don't want to.

If so, that's not really my problem, but I do wonder a lot.

Louis, I also seldom hear church members "preach" hatred... but boy have I experienced it.

And though I haven't been to church in years, still today when I encounter the same people I went to church with more than 10 years ago, their attitudes toward me remain unchanged-- reminding me again, why I don't go back.

So once again... what will they do with themselves, on the last day?