Mark Driscoll resigned from Mars Hill, and it wasn’t even
my birthday yet.
|Driscoll explaining to his audience about the TV-like visions he has of sexual sin.|
Okay. In all seriousness. I actually don’t feel very
gloat-y. Which is weird, since I’ve done nothing but call for his resignation
(privately, indignantly, mostly in my living room with my husband and pets as
the audience) ever since I learned of Driscoll four-ish years ago. But now the
event has arrived, I feel mostly a desire for Driscoll to get help and become a
calmer, happier, more peace-focused person. God actually worked some
intervention in my heart which prevents gleeful hand-wringing. Next we’ll work
on my tendency to self-congratulate.
But you never quite run out of things to say about
Driscoll, do you? His resignation letter, his legacy, and the church’s current
response all warrant commentary, and gosh darnit if I didn’t nominate myself.
I want to make clear why I’m talking about this. I believe
it’s critical to absorb some lessons in the wake of this fiasco, rather than
settle for shock and voyeurism and thus allow the same thing to catch us off
guard again in the future. Will we use the lessons of Driscoll to stop future
abuses? Or will we be gob-smacked and then just move on without reflection?
Driscoll’s Thesis Statement
First, that resignation letter. If Driscoll were a kid in
my English class, and I tried to help him write a thesis to encapsulate the
main point of his letter, it would read thus: “I haven’t been disqualified from
ministry, and I’m self-sacrificially stepping down because negative publicity
hurts my church.”
Prior to and during this process there have been no charges
of criminal activity, immorality or heresy, any of which could clearly be
grounds for disqualification from pastoral ministry. Other issues, such as
aspects of my personality and leadership style, have proven to be divisive
within the Mars Hill context, and I do not want to be the source of anything
that might detract from our church’s mission to lead people to a personal and
growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
You know what? I don’t care if Driscoll is in denial, or
what the state of his heart is. God will work there, as He is wont to do, and
so long as Driscoll doesn’t continue hurting people in the meantime, I won’t do
a whole lot of screaming regarding what he thinks of himself. What I do care
about is whether the church culture as a whole will examine Driscoll’s words
critically. When someone tries to back away from accepting responsibility for
their actions, will we recognize that and hold them to account? Or will we
assume that anyone who offers a written statement in a kind tone must be
truth-telling? If we don’t figure that out now, what happens when another
person like Driscoll hurts people in the future and offers a spin-doctor letter
to explain it?
For example, will anyone join Janet Mefferd in examining
what, exactly, the Bible says about the “high and holy calling” of the
ministry, and what qualifies or disqualifies one from it? Sure, Driscoll’s list
of “criminal activity” and “heresy” are a good start, but the qualifications
for a minister go far beyond that, as Mefferd so aptly points out:
The Bible is crystal clear about the qualifications for
ministers of the gospel, and they’re sobering to consider. Read I Timothy 3.
Read Titus 1. Read I Corinthians 5. Do you believe those verses there? Given
what he’s done, do you believe Mark Driscoll is “above reproach?” That he has a
“good reputation with those outside the church?” That the church should
tolerate an ungodly, unrepentant pastor? Would any of us tolerate this sort of
behavior in a pastor of a 100-member church? If not, why the different standard
for Driscoll? Is he above the Bible? If not, why is he still in the ministry?
Again I say, will we take Driscoll’s claim that he’s fit
for ministry and critically examine it? If not, how will we react the next time a troubled pastor offers his
own diagnosis of whether he’s healthy enough to teach?
Going back to Driscoll’s quote: I wasn’t aware that
bullying, fear-mongering, anger, and power-grabbing (all of which Driscoll is
accused) qualify as a “leadership style” that can become “divisive.” I would
call those things areas of sin that can hurt. And what’s this business about
him not being accused of immorality? Multiple instances of plagiarism don’t
count as immorality? Buying your way onto a best-seller list to gain power and
influence doesn’t count as immorality? Bullying doesn’t involve immorality?
Calling women penis homes doesn’t involve immorality? If stealing, cheating,
and meanness don’t count, I’m not sure his definition of “immorality” is broad
Will we hold Driscoll responsible for his actions? Will we
let his carefully-worded statement lure us away from common sense? Will we let
other mega-church pastors do the same thing someday?
Finally—and I cannot stress this enough—what will the
church culture’s response be when someone apologizes for mistakes but refuses
to change? Driscoll has been an interesting test case for this, due to the
number of times he’s hurt people and had to apologize. By and large, his
supporters always asked us to assume that the apologies were proof of heart
changes, even when Driscoll’s actions proved otherwise. How will the church
handle this issue in the future? Will it always take several years for people
to realize that pastors who flagrantly continue in a pattern of sin may, in fact,
have a pattern of flagrant sin?
The second question we should ask ourselves is whether we
will remember and support the victims of Driscoll’s unhealthy behavior. They
are, after all, the reason this problem should come to light, yet so often they’re
forgotten in the excitement of scandal. Victims often fall by the wayside when
high-profile people hurt them, because it’s more fun to analyze the
high-profile perpetrator than sit in sorrow with the hurting. Being in solidarity
with them means asking not only “What happened here?” but also “What do we do
to prevent this next time?”
Let’s not forget the Mars Hill pastors who changed their
personalities, lost their peace of mind, or lost
their jobs due to the church’s
“culture of fear.” Let’s remember them and actively build ministry attitudes
that value love and care.
Let’s remember the people whose lives were invaded and
harmed by over-zealous “church discipline,” and let’s start conversations about
what Matthew 18 accountability looks like in responsible, non-controlling
Let’s consider the people who lost friendships because of
ill-applied notions of “shunning” within the Mars Hill system. We must
encourage a church culture of open arms instead of closed doors.
Let’s allow ourselves outrage that men who differed from
the lead pastor were belittled as un-masculine. Let’s acknowledge that women
were gaslighted, limited, degraded, controlled, and used as insults—and channel
the energy of our indignation into a public message of acceptance and gender
Let’s be mindful of the people who shouldered the label of
“sinful” because they had questions about these questionable things. Let’s be
clear with pastors and churches that accountability is important and healthy.
Let’s feel compassion for gay individuals who saw
themselves held up as punching bags instead of hearing responsible theological
discussion about homosexuality. Let’s never turn gay individuals into a joke.
Let’s be grown-up citizens for a few seconds and notice
that people’s intellectual property was stolen over the course of several
books. Let’s have standards equal to your average 18-year-old English 101 student
and call that what it is: plagiarism.
Let’s soberly remember that people who spoke up about these
things were called names. Divisive, bitter, grudge-holders, wrong, sinful,
crazy. Let’s commit to recognizing spiritual abuse and taking it seriously.
(Let’s also agree not to call women penis homes anymore.
Add this to the list of things I never thought I’d have to say.)
It is vital for the church to use this high-profile moment
for serious reflection about the nature of abuse, the signs of denial, and the
office of pastor.
To be honest, I’d rather turn the spotlight on those things
than continue to obsess about Driscoll in particular. I wish him no harm, only
that he would come to accept responsibility for what he’s done (that always
looks messy but is always ultimately a good thing for the offender and the
offended). I know that Jesus loves him just as much as me, and sees both our
sins, and I’m okay with that, and none of that means we ignore the hurt that
victims are going through. Love is big enough to love everyone. Love is big
enough to make everyone look at their ugly truths, and then offer a way out.
I pray this opens a chapter of greater awareness about spiritual
abuse in the North American church world. I pray that somehow, all of this
turns out right.
I also pray that it will be a little while before I have to
read anything else written by Mark Driscoll. I may not wish the man any harm,
but I sure could use a break from him.