I confess a bit of reluctance in writing a post about Mark Driscoll. Considering the speed at which big news travels, is dissected and responded to and gets forgotten, I may have missed the boat. Mark Driscoll is so two weeks ago; I won’t get many impulse clicks on this article. Mark Driscoll isn’t “trending” anymore.
However, this is exactly why I feel compelled to write this. I hope this blog never becomes “click-bait”, however much I do hope to have an audience. I chose to write this because I think we have moved on too quickly from what happened with Driscoll and Mars Hill, and are in danger of missing the warning bell that should be ringing loudly in our ears.
Over the last several years, Driscoll has been slowly laid bare before us. Starting with former clergy members sharing their stories about being pushed out and shamed before their communities, to the revelation of his expensive, morally suspicious book promotions, the availability of his sermons, talks, book and comments and their aggressive, abusive, sexist and narcissistic nature, and finally done in by comments he made under a pseudonym years ago that broke the camel’s back – his last few years have taken, proverbially speaking, the sheep’s clothing off of this wolf. The church responded accordingly, collectively sighing in relief at his “sabbatical” and then his dismissal. The resulting disbanding of his church networks and organizations show the true consequences of pastoral abuse, and how much damage one leader can do if left unchecked. Some very beautiful things have come out of this, with church elders issuing apologies to those who were abused and reparations have been sought.
My concern, though, is that we aren’t taking this seriously enough. I’m afraid that the Church would crucify Mark Driscoll and pretend that he is one individual who has gone astray, rather than acknowledge the terrifying but glaring truth: the issues for which Mark Driscoll went down in flames and took countless others with him are rampant in all our churches.
Narcissism. Sexism. Domination. Aggression. Abuse. Bullying. These are not just attributes of Mark Driscoll. They are attributes of mainline American Christianity. Mark Driscoll is, of course, an extreme manifestation of this and should rightly be disciplined for his actions and his behaviors. And the Church is certainly a better place without Driscoll in a position of power.
However, if we can’t look at ourselves and see even the subtle, subliminal, and subconscious ways that we are like him, we have no chance of learning the lesson that this situation can teach us.
For those who follow the Christian blogosphere closely, something fascinating and amazing happened in September. Popular blog nakedpastor.com author David Hayward published a cartoon/article called “Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What Came First, the thug or the theology?” The article was a response to Tony Jones, another well-known Christian figure, who wrote an article about Driscoll’s toxic theology. Hayward questioned whether it was merely Driscoll’s theology or whether it was his narcissistic personality that led to the abuse. His cartoon (a take on “the chicken and the egg”) and article both suggest that it is a both/and, one feeding the other. Jones commented arguing that his article was being portrayed unfairly.
But the amazing thing that happened was actually in the comments. (You know, the part that no-one ever reads.) All of a sudden, people started to come forward who had suffered abuse not at the hands of Mark Driscoll, but Tony Jones. Over the course of the month, the comment section of this article became a confessional, equalizing safe space where people who had suffered abuse at the hands of the formerly popular Emergent Church movement, especially Jones’ ex-wife who was divorced under, to put it lightly, suspicious and abusive circumstances.
It came to light that many members of the Emergent Church were involved in abuse, some knowingly and others who were just doing as they were told. This coming from the church movement that influenced me and many others greatly to be more charitable, gender-inclusive, community-oriented and decentralize the power of the Church back to the people. All along, many of the people propagating that message were the ones most in need of it. While these things began to surface, countless Christians around the world found the comments sections to be a safe space to talk about the ways they had been abused by various churches in their lives, and something of a community began to form around truth-telling and shared pain.
In every denomination, and I would argue in every church, these issues are in play. There is no perfect church, and no perfect pastor, and when we see these huge figures in our faith go down in a blaze of un-glory, we should be terrified. Any pastor, anywhere, could be Mark Driscoll, because leadership itself invites and develops the types of personalities that lead to abuse. As a student at a seminary along with hundreds of other people who want to be pastors one day, news like this should scare people away from being pastors. It should make seminary enrollment drop, because we are all Mark Driscolls in the making. (It almost made me give up and pursue a career in coffee – there are many narcissists in the coffee world, but they don’t tend to abuse people by the thousands.)
But I actually believe that there is a healthy response when these things happen. (What good would our faith be if human failure, no matter how great, was the end of the story?) And I think that our best way out is confession.
Our response to Mark Driscoll needs a second part. I am proud to be part of the Church that first acknowledges: “Mark Driscoll is wrong, and justice is due.” But if we stop there, we are doomed to repeat. A second movement needs to happen for all of our ministers, all of our leaders, and everyone who follows Christ that acknowledges: “I am Mark Driscoll, and I need to change.”
I will start.
I am a narcissist. I have not been diagnosed or anything like that, but I am more often than not guilty of thinking that I am better, smarter, and more astute than everyone else in the room. I am prone to sit in the back of churches and critique the pastor and the worship leader and everyone else in the room while patting myself on the back. I have the unfortunate delusion that “were I in charge” or, worse, “when I am in charge”, things would/will be far superior. This blog itself has veered towards narcissism at times. When I am in an argument, I use words and sarcasm to not only make my case, but to try to make others look foolish. I am wrong, and I need to change.
I am a sexist. While in college, I experienced a change in how I viewed women. I became a feminist and have tried in a lot of ways to raise my voice for equality in the church and in general society. However, I have also observed in many situations my engrained sexism resurface. Sometimes it happens when I am being instructed by a woman I disagree with and realize that my response is far more visceral than in the same situation with a male instructor. I’ve noticed that I am faster to “agree to disagree” with males but be completely dismissive with females out of disrespect. I also see it resurface in how I relate to my wife. My wife and I have the same level of education, professional experience, and value. Yet I often treat her like I am smarter or know better than her in a lot of instances. (This could be narcissism again, but it’s likely an unfortunate cocktail of the two.) I am wrong and I need to change.
This is merely the tip of the iceberg of my confessable flaws. And I’m not necessarily encouraging everybody to broadcast their shortcomings on the internet (though it’s not the worst idea.) But I think we should all look at the dangers of these behaviors and confess the ways we are similar, and do it out loud. Confess them to your spouse, to your pastoral staff, to your small group, to your congregation. The act of confessing them to someone who loves you and can hold you accountable could be the very act that keeps those traits from defining you, and hurting yourself and others. It might very well save the Church.