Monthly Archives: October 2014

Lasting Driscoll Effects in the Church Today: Bullying, Machismo, and Manly-Man-liness

2012124517masculinity by Andy Gustafson

Mark Driscoll has been the center of controversy for quite some time.  But now that he has left Mars Hill and is no longer associated with Acts 29, it is likely that his more damaging impact on the church at large will continue to resonate and have their effect through the young men he has inspired.  Most people know that Acts 29 network disassociated Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill church from its network earlier this year.  And most people know that Mark Driscoll has been asked to step down from leadership at his Mars Hill Church, for a variety of reasons.  And now Mars Hill attendance has dropped 30-40% and its likely they will have to lay off up to 40% of staff, and finally, Mark Driscoll has resigned as pastor.   Driscoll has possibly seen his heyday, but the problem is that the effects of Driscoll’s attitude, style, and behavior has infected a whole generation of young pastors and laypeople, and those damaging effects will likely live on long after the Mars Hill drama is over– not just in Acts 29 churches, but in the thinking, leadership and even pastoring of a whole generation of young 20-to-40-something pastors.

There are plenty of articles out there about characteristics of Driscoll, and even some about Driscoll followers.  I attended an Acts 29 church for a stint and got to know about Driscoll and some of his followers, and fortunately for our church, our leadership did not reflect many of these characteristics– and they were not all fans of Driscoll.   So these characteristics are not directly related to being associated with Acts 29.  Neither are these characteristics of complimentarians (as opposed to egalitarians)– I know of many complimentarians who don’t share any of these characteristics.  And as my reformed friends point out to me, the blame here isn’t Calvin or Reformed thought either (and I agree!)– mOST reformed Calvinists I know do not have these characteristics– so it seems that the common denominator of these characteristics may have more to do with being a fan of Driscoll than being reformed, complimentarian, or acts 29, or a young calvinist (although these can all get blurred–particularly for an outsider– these days).

Sometimes the apparent self-perception of Driscoll fans is that Driscoll and his fans are courageously proclaiming the unpopular truth in a world of political correctness.  They feel they are taking Christianity back as a manly-man religion from the pansy buddy-Jesus culture they despise as effeminate.  They are giving structure and order to a world without it, and helping take the asylum back from the patients who were running it.

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Obviously there was a reason why Driscoll and his style resonated with people in the church– and many outside the church.  There is a need to call men to be accountable to take responsibility for themselves, and to not simply be passive, and some other key insights.  But these insights are distinct from some of the more troublesome habitual attributes that have at times been displayed by Driscoll and pastors who emulate him.  From experiences I have had and heard about, these are a few of the more disturbing key characteristics which seem to be common to many Mark Driscoll devotees:

1. Cursing as a sign of relevance: Its amazing to me that grown men who are pastors of church use coarse language like they are a 13 year old trying to impress their friends.  This is certainly immature and childish, as well as stupid.  It is not manly– real men know how to speak intelligently without using profanity. Even non-Christians like Aristotle knew long ago that what a man likes and how he speaks tells us about his heart and character, and that is true for these cursing pastors as well.

2. Being Flippant and Brash: There seems to be an underlying arrogance which leads to a flippant attitude of some Driscoll fans– and this leads to them being brash (which again, is connected to the cursing).  A rhetoric of repentance and being a sinner overlays a basic arrogance underlying this facade.  Love is patient and kind and earnest– but the spirit one often sees is the opposite.  Such behavior brings discredit to ministry.

3. Fight-Club Mentality.  Call it Ultimate-Fighting-Fan Christianity, Machismo, or simply a love of crudeness and brutality under the guise of manliness, but a lot of Driscoll fans seem to be on the prowl for a fight– like when he said he wanted to ‘go all Old-Testament’ on dissenters.  I’ve heard stories of veins bulging in hot tempered yelling matches by pastors who supposedly are shepherds of their church.  Everyone has moments of failure, but unrepentant habitual aggressive-machismo-as-godly-manliness is a sign of immaturity and inappropriate for ministry service.

4. Bullying in the name of righteousness: Strange as it may seem, some pastors are bullies, and do their bullying in the name of love.  Of course Driscoll is known for tweeting about effeminate worship leaders in a bullying and unchristian manner.  But bullying goes way beyond that– talking over people, bullies push their agenda over others, and they simply don’t listen to others points of view (because they know they are right, and others are stupid).  Not listening is the flip side of being a bully, and many Driscoll devotees seem to have a blind spot there.

5. Anti-Egalitarian: This isn’t mere complimentarianism though– Driscoll has said women’s thinking skills are inferior to men, women need to stay attractive or its partially their fault their husbands cheat, and that women just aren’t capable of leadership in the church.  There is an extreme higherarchical system in the minds of many Driscoll followers– and women are to submit to men as the followers in the pew are to submit to the elders.

6. Dismissive attitude towards most laypeople: In the words of Mark Driscoll, congregational governance of a church is like letting the patients run the asylum.  Driscoll fans tend to have an exceedingly high view of power structure in the church, and the capacities of the leaders to do all and know all. The distrust of laypeople is parallel to the distrust of women in this worldview.

7.  No Questioning/No Accountability: Driscoll fans tend to see questioning of authority as inherently sinful– a failure to submit to divine authority (which the leadership represents) which leaves pastors who are Driscoll fans for the most part unaccountable to anyone.

Alan Molineux points out in a recent article that it is shallow and short sighted to put all the blame on one individual like Driscoll– the blame must go around to all the enablers in the church.  A problem leader needs followers– call them yesmen, uh-huh thugs, starstruck disciples, or whatever you want– and the followers have responsibility for the promotion of these bad practices and styles of leadership as well.   Molineux points out, “It only takes a few good men to do nothing for a problematic leader to create an unhealthy culture.”

He says you need enabling leaders who co-lead with the bully, who look the other way when the lead bully acts wrongly.  Also enabling staff, whose livelihoods, friendships and spiritual life are all so intertwined with the continued success of the leader that it is difficult to speak out about problems you see.  Third, the enabling enthusiast, who want to believe the vision, and trust the leader, and are often willing to look past even obvious failings of their leader.  Fourth, the enabling constituency– other leaders will often remain silent if there is popular support for the problem leader (‘how can one speak out against such a widely popular gifted preacher?’, they might ask) Fifth, the enabling peace proclaimers, who always call for unity, not division.  These people sound high minded, as they simply defend the status quo to not rock the boat.

In business, we say whistleblowing is difficult because it requires dissent, the appearance of disloyalty, and accusation.  This is no less true in a church culture.  Speaking out against a leader will require you to disrupt the status quo, it may make you appear disloyal, and it usually will require some sort of accusation, no matter how kindly you put it.  And it is scary to do that when it is your own church family.

Almost a year ago now (October 24, 2013) Tim Suttle wrote these (hopefully) prescient words forcasting the future of Driscoll’s influence:

Driscoll can only work within the very early immature stages of Christian discipleship, where rules, dualistic black and white thinking rule the day. Defiant about his immature behavior, Driscoll will continue to shun accountability and control people through fear and intimidation. Without the capacity for self-criticism, his glaring issues become will only become more pronounced over time. Those who follow him will see that his only mode of building community is to force community by erecting rigid boundary markers enforced through intimidation and fear. It’s simply not enough for us as we grow older and begin to crave wisdom and sacrifice. Any Driscoll devotees who grow beyond that narrative of dominance, dualism, and control will see that conformity is not the same thing as transformation. When that happens Driscoll’s influence will immediately melt.

Driscoll could at times be a powerful effective preacher, and for that we can be grateful.  And many people positively impacted by some of Driscoll’s ministry shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  But as for the Driscoll-macho-style which sometimes accompanied it, we can hope and pray that Driscoll-influenced pastors and laymen will eventually see the limits of this style of Christian behavior and the stunted worldview which goes along with it.  In the meantime, damage will continue to be done to churches, communities, families, and individuals who live under the teaching and authority of  their cursing, flippant and brash, machismo bullying women-suppressing unaccountable pastors and the yes-men (and women) who support them.

To stand by and let these things continue is wrong.  In not speaking out against sin, you are complicit in it.  If you see this in yourself or your leaders, something must be said.  These attitudes and practices are like a cancer which spreads throughout the body.  And its not as though its just a matter of opinion or a matter of theological difference.  Cursing, arrogance, bullying, belittling, and brashness are not a matter of theological difference or style– they are a matter of sin.​

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Driscoll, and Immorality

daddydriscoll by Andy Gustafson

“if once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to procrastination and incivility…this downward path”  -Thomas De Quincey

It is always interesting to reflect on what people consider immoral, and what acts are sin, and which are not, or at least which are serious, and which are not.  The recent resignation of Mark Driscoll and the letter from his elder board is a case in point.

First, the situation at Mars Hill Church is sad, and when a pastor has to leave a church it is difficult for the congregation and pastor and staff, and we should all pray that the process goes as well as possible, and that peace will come for the congregation, as well as Mark Driscoll.  But the letter about the resignation gives us insight into conceptions of morality in this conservative Protestant mindset.

For context, the accusations against Driscoll were that he had had a consistent record of bullying, arrogance, a hot temper, an unhealthy ego, speaking from the pulpit and in his books in a derogatory way about women, homosexuals and laypeople,   plagarism, use of church funds to manipulate his books sales ratings, and admited he attacked critics, feminists, and others using a pseudonym “William Wallace II”  in online social media sites.among other things.

That seems like quite a list of unhealthy characteristics for a leader of a church to have.  And yet, the elders say in their letter announcing the resignation of Driscoll that:

  1. We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner. While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry.
  2. Pastor Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.

Driscoll may have said hurtful things repeatedly against half of the human population (women) and acted in an arrogant and bullying mean spirited way towards those under him including his own staff, people in his congregation, his critics, and other too numerous to mention.  But– and this is the really imporant part– what he did was not illegal, heretical, or immoral— and– none of it disqualified him from pastoral ministry.

I realize that for some people, when they use the word immoral, all they think about is sex.  And as far as we know, Driscoll has not been accused of any sexual impropriety per se (although many many people would consider his views about sex and sexuality as being improper).  But immorality is so much more than sex.

For Aristotle and most of the western world, morality has to do with virtuous living.  The virtues involve all the temperate habits, and the avoidance of vices.  A virtue normally has a vice of excess and a vice of deficiency.  For example, courage is the virtue– its in between the vices of cowardliness and foolhardiness.  Being witty is the virtue found between the vices of being a dullard and being a buffoon.  Being generous is the virtue found between the vices of giving too much foolishly and being  a miser.  So being unvirtuous is falling to a vice, and missing a virtue.  It applies to all areas of life.  Virtue is proper functioning, and vice is improper functioning.

It is pretty clear that Driscoll was acting unvirtuously– improperly– habitually over the course of his ministry. Most of these behavior traits weren’t one-off events, they were consistent behavior traits exemplified regularly and repeatedly.  They reflected traits an attitudes which are not Christ like, not proper leadership traits (in the church or in the corporate world either, for that matter) and which lead to strife, dischord, and divisiveness.  And yet the Mars Hill Church elders want us all to know that Mark is not a heretic and he didn’t do anything illegal, and he also did not have an affair.

As though we cared.

I have not been a fan of Mark Driscoll for quite a long time because of his views on women, and his arrogant machismo attitude which has unfortunately penetrated the Christian world and influenced a whole generation of bullying divisive manly-man pastors (more on that later).  I have never been concerned about Mark being a heretic, or participating in illegal activity, or his having an affair.  So being assured that he hasn’t just seems like a red herring (irrelevant).

What is disturbing to me, and what I think is indicative of the Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll’s effect on the Acts 29 movement and this whole generation of church planters and revivalists is that they don’t see Driscoll’s attitudes and behaviors to in any way disqualify him from church ministry.  In fact, they were quite surprised that he resigned.  To me this indicates a real blind spot to a whole host of immoral behaviors– vices which in their opinion are somehow seen as consistent with pastoral ministry simply because they are not illegal, sexual in nature, or heretical.   That is a low bar to set.

I hope that Mars Hill Church recovers and strengthens and grows in their post-Driscoll days.  I hope Mark Driscoll also heals and finds a place to serve God somehow with his talents, perhaps outside of ministry.  But I will continue to believe that the bullying and belittling behaviors I’ve seen in Driscoll for so many years through his preached and written statements have been a great detriment to the church, and have infected the church today with a lot of arrogant bullying manly-man machismo which is immoral, not virtuous, and not what Christ would want from us.

May God have mercy on us all…