The Mark Driscoll saga has taken some pretty big turns in the past few weeks. The Acts 29 Network threw him out along with his church, and LifeWay Christian Stores has rescinded all of his books pending further investigation. Now, finally, Driscoll is stepping down from being the lead pastor at Mars Hill while hiring a major PR firm to handle damage control. Part of me is glad, because it is high time people in power stood up to Driscoll and others who abuse their power. Part of me, though, is upset. Something doesn’t feel right. In all that is going on, I don’t feel like I matter. I don’t feel like the people who suffered matter.
In particular, I cannot shake the feeling that Driscoll has grown into a public relations nightmare for people associated with him, and thus, like a cliche mafia boss tying up a “loose end” in a crime drama, they throw Driscoll under the bus as too much of a liability. The complaints piled up too high; the stench was too great. Kick Driscoll out and continue business as usual.
Stories about abuse in Driscoll’s church have circulated for years. The worst of what he has done is in the past and well-documented. The primary thing that has changed is that people have mounted a successful campaign against him. Church members are holding protests outside the Mars Hill church, and no, it is not Westboro holding “God hates…” signs; these are groups of normal people who are sick of what Driscoll is doing and hoping for reconciliation and repentance.
If you read the various press releases, however, the victims of abuse are rarely a concern. In Warren Throckmorton’s detailed coverage of the events, all the major released statements have little if anything to say about the victims. It’s all about “love for Mark” or “the cause of Christ” or “the gospel.” What about solidarity with the victims of his abusive behavior?
Look at the statements from when Driscoll was first kicked out of Acts 29. The statement by Acts 29 cites “love for [Mark], Mars Hill, Acts 29, and most significantly, the cause of Christ” as its major reasons for removing Driscoll. Former Mars Hill pastor Kyle Firstenberg states, “I believe this would be the most God honoring thing to do as it would show their love for Jesus and the Gospel is greater then their position, authority and influence.” Ron Wheeler, pastor of the first Acts 29 church, also says of the Network’s decision, “Not only did you recognize the credibility damage to the network due to the continuing association with Mark Driscoll, but more importantly, you recognized that the cause of Christ was truly more important than Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill, Acts29 or anything else.”
Unless “the Gospel” and “the cause of Christ” is really Christianese for “the victims you have abused,” then I have a hard time feeling glad about all of these statements. I sincerely doubt that, though; here is how I suspect these phrases translate: “we are glad that you value converting people to our particular worldview more than your own personal power and influence.” There is no regard for the victims and no regard for the damaging ideas which harmed them. To address these things would require wrestling with their own demons. Instead, this is simply an exercise in missing the point.
And as for LifeWay? As someone pointed out to me, there are countless other books besides Driscoll’s which they shouldn’t be selling if they had any actual interest in integrity. Aside from Peter Enns’ fabulous book, The Evolution of Adam, which I highly recommend, there isn’t a single book in LifeWay’s evolution category which they should sell. All of them are garbage, spreading lies and misinformation. The problem is that, while Driscoll’s books are bad, too, the difference between Driscoll’s books and all the other garbage they sell is that Driscoll is bad for business.
So if you will excuse my cynicism, I’m not exactly giddy at what is happening to Driscoll. I don’t think anyone taking major action against him really gets it. Bad as he is, they are treating him as a scapegoat for their own sins. Matt Chandler’s church (Matt is the head of Acts 29) states very explicitly within its bylaws that it is “imperative” all church staff agree on the sinfulness of all things LGBT. Furthermore, only men can be elders — the only requirement explicitly stated by the bylaws besides agreement with the church’s beliefs and active participation in the church. It is as if the church is going well out of its way to be homophobic and misogynist.
For Matt Chandler to give a pass to his own beliefs and practices yet criticize Driscoll is like a leper breaking a mirror to cure his sickness. I do not want the Acts 29 Network as an advocate against Driscoll, and I hope I can gather others to share my concerns and cast this back upon them so that they realize they are part of the problem. Sure, Driscoll is hotheaded, but at least he is entertaining. The other churches which preach the same things — but with nicer, smoother words and softer edges — are even worse, because it is harder to spot the problems before they have taken root and done their damage.
This is nothing but a better disguise for evil. Unfortunately, Driscoll wasn’t wearing a very good disguise and became a problem. At Chandler’s church, it’s okay to believe people should never have a sex change or fail to observe “associated gender norms” (quoting from Matt Chandler’s bylaws again), yet the church forbids “hateful and harassing behavior or attitudes.” Sorry, but too late there! This statement only tries to hide the knife as it plunges into the gut of the LGBT community.
All this to say that I’m glad the pressure is on Driscoll, but this isn’t what I wanted. I would prefer that Driscoll and others took seriously the complaints against them and addressed the systematic abuse perpetrated by their teachings. Instead, we have opportunists trying to save face as our biggest advocates.
Excuse me while I’m not excited.