The latest in the continuing saga of Pastor Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church: on Sunday morning, people took to the streets in Bellevue, Washington to protest the continually misogynistic, homophobic, and unethical ministry practices of Driscoll and call for his resignation.
The events leading up to this require a bit of a recap.
Last Tuesday, blogger Matthew Paul Turner posted “Mark Driscoll’s Pussified Nation” in which he unleashed screenshots of rants that Driscoll had posted on his church’s forum back in 2000 under the pseudonym “William Wallace II.” Turner had read a passing comment about the rants from Driscoll in his book Confessions of a Reformission Rev. and went digging.
Here’s a sample:
We live in a completely pussified nation.
We could get every man, real man as opposed to pussified James Dobson knock-off crying Promise Keeping homoerotic worship loving mama’s boy sensitive emasculated neutered exact male replica evangellyfish, and have a conference in a phone booth. It all began with Adam, the first of the pussified nation, who kept his mouth shut and watched everything fall headlong down the slippery slide of hell/feminism when he shut his mouth and listened to his wife who thought Satan was a good theologian when he should have lead her and exercised his delegated authority as king of the planet. As a result, he was cursed for listening to his wife and every man since has been his pussified sit quietly by and watch a nation of men be raised by bitter penis envying burned feministed single mothers who make sure that Johnny grows up to be a very nice woman who sits down to pee.
So, that’s a bit of a PR problem for Driscoll, who has toned down his public persona in terms of language, but hasn’t changed much in terms of vitriol or obsessions since 2000. Bloggers and former church members calling for his resignation, naturally, got louder immediately.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that same day that the dissenters were planning a peaceful protest at the Bellevue Mars Hill location to respond to both the “pussified” comments and to a comment made in a recent sermon by Driscoll in which he dismissed his critics as “anonymous.”
In a video sermon, Driscoll acknowledged that there are disillusioned former members of his flock but said they have chosen to “remain anonymous.”
“And so we don’t know how to reconcile, or how to work things out with, with people because we’re not entirely sure who they are …”
The anonymity assertion “really touched a nerve,” said [organizer Rob] Smith, who once directed a church ministry called Agathos, which cares for orphans.
“We are Christian, loving people who don’t normally demonstrate,” Smith added. “We want to have a quiet, strong message for Mark Driscoll, that people he has harmed over the years are not unknown to him as he has claimed.”
The harming, according to disillusioned former members, ranged from verbal abuse to shunning to threats of retaliation.
Jim Henderson, a Seattle evangelical Christian and former pastor, is helping organize the Sunday protest, set for 10 a.m. outside the Mars Hill Church in Bellevue.
“I would call it a protest against his (Driscoll’s) bullying tactics,” said Henderson. “My concern is for young people in that church. I find it a manipulative and intimidating place.”
[Hemant’s note: Yep, that’s the same Jim Henderson who once “bought my soul” on eBay!]
Just a couple of days later, on Saturday, Warren Throckmorton, psychology professor at my alma mater and recent Driscoll watchdog at Patheos, posted an interesting little update, stating that James MacDonald and Paul Tripp had just resigned from the board of Mars Hill.
Taking together this message and another one which was sent today to the full council of elders, the timing of the resignations is confusing. According to the above communication, a joint decision was made “earlier this month” (although the email is dated August 1, I assume “this month” means July) “to open the opportunity for him [Tripp] to work with greater focus on issues directly related to his expertise, namely the continued development of our community and redemption ministries.” Then the email discloses that Tripp “graciously submitted his resignation from the BOAA in early June” so he could work as a consultant for the church. This email makes it sound like he resigned a month before a decision was made to retain him as a consultant.
Paul Tripp is a biggish name among the New Calvinist crowd (particularly for his conflict resolution ministry work), and he and MacDonald were both supposed to be speakers at Driscoll’s autumn leadership conference, The Resurgence. They’re still on the list, for now. I suspect Tripp is being cut loose from the board in anticipation of a “third party” “reconciliation” or “mediation” process between the leaders of Mars Hill and disgruntled (current and former) congregations. (I’ve seen this before in Sovereign Grace Ministries with my former church, KingsWay, and it just goes so, so badly.)
Additionally, the day after the forum rants went public, a former colleague of Driscoll’s came forward with further evidence of his plagiarism (a bugbear issue for his career). And unfortunately, this got buried in the “pussified nation” noise.
Wheeler told me that he began teaching this material in 2003 and that Mark Driscoll did not cite another source since he heard it from Wheeler. I have both books and I can find no reference to Wheeler. Wheeler added that Driscoll called him the night before the Radical Reformission book released to inform him the material was going to be in the book. Wheeler said:
As far as the phone conversation, Mark called and basically said “my book Radical Reformission is being released tomorrow and I don’t remember if I asked you or not, but I used your parachurch, fundamentalism and liberalism categories on the gospel/church/culture model. Thanks bro.“
That same Friday, Driscoll responded to Matthew Paul Turner’s revelation by giving Christianity Today a copy of an apology he was issuing to the Mars Hill community:
“While the discussion board itself was a bad idea, my decision to attack critics who were posting there (I did so by posting under the character ‘William Wallace II’) was an even worse idea,” Driscoll said in his letter Friday, provided to CT. “I was wrong to respond to people the way I did, using the language I used, and I am sorry for it and remain embarrassed by it.”
In his 2006 book, Confessions of a Reformission Rev, Driscoll acknowledged and apologized that he posted to the forum under the pseudonym in response to postings from “emerging-church-type feminists and liberals.”
“I went on the site and posted as William Wallace II, after the great Scottish man portrayed in the movie Braveheart, and attacked those who were posting. It got insane,” he said in the book. “This season was messy and I sinned and cussed a lot, but God somehow drew a straight line with my crooked Philistine stick. I had a good mission, but some of my tactics were born out of anger and burnout, and I did a lot of harm and damage while attracting a lot of attention.”
In his Friday apology, Driscoll noted that, in his 2006 book, he used the forum posts as an example of “something I regretted and an example of a wrong I had learned from.”
As is typical of the Christian blogging community, responses to Driscoll’s apology were immediate, varied, preachy, and full of strong emotion.
Religion News Service writer Jonathan Merritt (and many others) urged acting on the theology of grace and accepting Driscoll’s apology:
When Christians have grown so bitter toward someone that we can’t even accept their apologies, something has gone seriously wrong. If Driscoll had ignored these comments, his critics would have excoriated him for his silence. But when he says he is sorry, they criticize him still. We must refuse to create lose-lose situations for each other where one is damned if they apologize and damned if they don’t.
Let me be clear: Accepting Driscoll’s apology does not mean we excuse his reprehensible actions in the past, fail to call him to better behavior in the present, or ignore future abuses if (or when) they occur.
I hope that Mark is genuinely trying to carve a different path for himself. One that is isn’t so angry and arrogant, sex-obsessed and sexist, dishonest and defensive. I hope that his recent actions signal a change in course. A change, that is, because I don’t expect a total and immediate about-face — sanctification is a slow, chipping away after all.
Some have said that he needs to be publicly shamed. Mark Driscoll has heaped shame on many, and now his critics apparently want to return the favor. Apparently, that whole “do not repay evil with evil” thing doesn’t apply to us and that “love your enemies” bit was just Jesus being cheeky.
Rachel Held Evans disagrees, explaining the difference between an apology and true repentance in her post from just this morning (emphases hers):
When Christians are told that Christlike forgiveness means accepting every apology as sincere, we can inadvertently perpetuate abuse. There is a difference, after all, between an apology and repentance. An apology is an acknowledgment of wrong. Repentance is marked by a dramatic change in direction, a noticeable change in behavior. While neither an apology nor repentance is required for forgiveness, an apology alone is not enough to rebuild trust. The abused girlfriend can forgive her abuser without accepting another empty apology as a sufficient reason for returning to him.
Forgiveness isn’t earned, but trust is. You can forgive a person without trusting him.
[Husband] Dan and I were talking about this yesterday, and Dan put it like this: “An apology is for the benefit of the bully/ abuser. Forgiveness is for the benefit of the victim. It releases the victim from lingering damage caused by past abuse. But it’s a mistake to tell anyone in an abusive situation exactly when they should accept an apology. Until the victim is completely removed from abusive situation and has had time to process what’s happened on their own, what looks like beneficial forgiveness can actually enable the abuse cycle to continue. When the exchange of verbal apology and forgiveness allows abuse to continue it defeats the purpose and benefit of the forgiveness, which is to lessen the harm done to the victim… Forgiveness is renewable and not the same thing as trust which can be lost forever… If someone’s been a victim of bullying at the hands of Mark Driscoll, for example, they are under no obligation to ever trust him again.”
Former cult member and writer Elizabeth Esther cautioned against cries for Driscoll’s resignation, reminding people that a pastor resigning won’t necessarily dismantle the abusive mindset or culture he’s helped create (emphases hers):
… Those of us outside Mars Hill Church have become increasingly alarmed by the stories emerging from exiting members. We are trying to find a way to be helpful and supportive!
But I just want to issue a mild word of caution to those of us seeking to “help”: I remember what it was like to be inside an abusive church and outsiders telling us what to do only made that worse.
If outsiders had called for my grandfather’s resignation, I would have felt happy that the abuses were being brought to light. However, I also would have known that outsiders calling for his resignation wouldn’t make a difference in what my grandfather did or didn’t do. My grandfather wasn’t gonna resign just because outsiders said he should. Ultimately, when my grandfather refused to repent, I was the one who had to make the choice to leave.
I get lots of emails from parents, siblings, friends and lovers all asking me the same question: “My child/brother/sister/girlfriend/boyfriend is stuck inside a dangerous church. What can I do to help them?”
he answer is always the same: you can live your own life and be happy in it. You can be a welcoming, loving presence. But you cannot control, change or force a person to leave an abusive church or relationship. That’s not how life works. That’s not how freedom works.
And Fred Clark at Slacktivist rightly brings the focus back to (one of) the biggest issues with Driscoll’s attempts to apologize for his comments as William Wallace II:
Everything Driscoll identifies as bad, weak, dirty or evil he characterizes as feminine.
Everything Driscoll identifies as feminine he characterizes as bad, weak, dirty or evil.
This is what he believes. This is the gospel that Mark Driscoll preaches: All that is feminine is bad, weak, dirty and evil. All who are female are bad, weak, dirty and evil.
In a sense, Driscoll’s so-called “apology” only reinforces and restates his gospel of misogyny. He apologizes for his tone and his language because, in his eyes, repeatedly comparing his targets to women is the worst possible thing anyone could say.
Driscoll’s apology acknowledges that this gospel of misogyny is hurtful and offensive, but he still does not seem to understand that it is also a lie. He doesn’t understand that he is simply wrong — that his head and his heart are overflowing with a lot of seriously warped, messed-up delusions about men and women, masculinity and femininity.
And then, on Sunday morning, the protest occurred. Most accounts suggest it was fairly uneventful, as Mars Hill didn’t directly respond.
Spiritual Abuse watchdog blogger JulieAnne provides a thorough Storify recap:
I’m glad they got out there and protested. I’m hoping that current members are quietly reading and absorbing the Internet noise on the situation and making their own decisions, and not just listening to whatever’s coming down from a Mars Hill pulpit or middle level leadership memo. I think the coverage is important, but I have to agree with Elizabeth Esther: the best way to keep the heat on Driscoll and shining hope for his church members is to show spiritual abuse recovery happening in other, similar realms. Moving on from SGM abuse happened best for me when I plopped myself down in an Episcopal church where no one had ever heard of SGM and nothing there was anything like what I’d grown up with in SGM, and I was able to just soak up the alternative culture without any signifying bridge to the places I’d come from. There is spirituality and life that isn’t defined by or in any way connected to my past, and that was the best antidote to the megalomania myopia of cult-brain thinking.
Calling for Driscoll’s resignation is not useless, however, and I think it’s appropriate. I also think it’s appropriate to be suspicious of his apology. But the best solution here is to remind his church members that they have the power of voting with their feet. Dismantling Driscoll’s power trip will only truly happen when he’s finding himself talking to half-empty auditoriums and looking at taking out a loan to make up for lost donations. I don’t know if there’s hope for a narcissist on a power high who is dismissive of therapy, but I do know that the most effective way of ending a narcissist’s ability to abuse is to refuse to enable him. Without a source for his narcissism, he can have no power.
So here’s my suggestion: let’s focus the efforts fueled by our Mark-Driscoll-is-an-asshole rage on inciting his congregants to question him (the protest did this nicely with their “Question Mark” signs) and on getting former Mars Hill pastors to speak up and tell their stories (as they are doing on the We Love Mars Hill blog). The revolution will happen when he finds he has no one’s back to stand on any longer.