Tag Archives: christianity

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…

Lent and the Holy Name Friday Fishfry

IMG_0773Friday night we went to the Holy Name Church friday fishfry– one of the premier lenton fishfrys of Omaha.  It was a cultural experience.  We had to park a couple blocks out, and the parking lot was full of people who were consuming beer, hanging around and congregating.  We entered the school (associated with the school) and made our way past literally hundreds of people just standing around in the halls, past the T-shirts for sale to the cafeteria, filled with hundreds of people, where we paid/donated $10 and waited in line before a magnificent giant fish-breader (Which, we were told, had formerly been used by a donut shop which went out of business) and eventually we got our delicious fish and sat with the masses to enjoy it.  It was a feast for lent, and we were surrounded by a huge congregation of Catholics and others like ourselves who were visiting.

In some sense lent always seems underwhelming.  Jesus spent 40 days in the desert being tempted by Satan, and I give up meat and sweets to try to refocus and somehow identify with the suffering of Jesus.

But it is good to spend time actually participating in the Christian calendar universal.  Growing up as a low-protestant kid, I had never heard of Lent.  Now I know what it is, and have some sense of why to do it and it definitely makes me more aware of how far away easter is! (I grew up on a hog and cattle farm, so meat is normal– necessary even.)

During the lenton season, churches of many sorts have encouraged their people to reflect on what Jesus has done for you, to remember his sacrifices for you, to contemplate how you can more faithfully devote yourself to being a Christian and serving God and also to help you develop self control and discipline.

Reflection is key, and if you don’t normally, this is a particularly good time to give God time to reflect and be quiet to see what God might have for you to do in the world around you.

A few years back, my wife had struggled in her walk and had been part of a particularly difficult church plant which collapsed, and decided to devote herself during lent to church and reflection– and it really helped her a great deal.  It was a turning point in her spiritual life at that time.

We often do not pay attention to seasons and tradition as low church (non-Lutheran/liturgical) protestants, but time is human, and being human, to pay attention to times and seasons is part of how we operate, live, and learn.

I hope that this time of year is especially meaningful to you, and that you take special time to let God speak to you, move in your life, and I hope you renew your commitment to serve in this world however God has uniquely positioned you to serve.

May God have mercy on us all.

Andy

“Loving the Orphan, the Widow, the Stranger… but not my brother”: On (naturally) taking those near us for granted

hypocritesI find that I’m often quite gracious with strangers, but find myself quickly annoyed at times when someone close to me expects grace from me– particularly Christians.  It is heroic to make sacrifices for strangers who don’t deserve it.  When you do outwardly impressive acts of selflessness towards those outside your circle of family and close friends, there is a degree of public acclaim to be had.  And its a lot easier to do a random one-off act of kindness, with no strings or future expectations attached.  But sometimes when we are wronged by someone close, when grace is asked of us by someone we depend on closely, we can feel especially annoyed and frustrated with them. 

Being human, and having a tendency to see our point of view and interests above those of others, we put those close to us in a double-bind which makes it our tendency to act with love towards them even less than those we are distant from sometimes.  On the one hand, we expect them to put up with more of our shortcomings.  On the other hand, we expect them to give more to us than an acquaintance or stranger.  So: we expect to get more, and give less in these relationships sometimes.  Of course this is unfair.  Of course this unjust.  But of course the grace which overlooks this injustice is exactly the sort of love we sometimes expect of those we are closest to. 

It is interesting to me that tennants who I am more generous towards sometimes tend to be the ones who then end up being most likely to take that for granted, and to ask for even more exceptions and concessions.  This is why it can be risky (some would say unwise) to make exceptions or provide special grace to tennants.  And of course, some people will use however much rope you give them to just get more tangled up in their tangled noose and still come out hanging themselves.  But it is just as dangerous, if not more so, to give special grace to those close to us.  As the saying goes, ‘never lend money to friends or family’.

We see this in our churches as well, when it comes to helping the needy.  Churches get quite excited about sending help and aid to Haiti, Africa, or wherever else far away they can find a need.  But it gets more dicey when you have an actual needy person come to your church, and potentially need ongoing help, and a ride, and your time, and  a real commitment of yourself beyond a monthly or semi-annual financial contribution.  That kind of grace is more costly to us, because it is so close, and commits us to a real ongoing responsibility and commitment to someone who may (probably) take you for granted.

But I have been thinking lately that Jesus certainly has called us to a dangerous life of living especially for the sake of those who are most likely to take you for granted.  We humans are a needy bunch, and a stingy bunch.  We need grace and mercy on a regular basis.  I need mercy and grace constantly.  And then I usually turn around and note with severity how I have been shorted and wronged by the very people I expect to bear my own shortcomings.  I wish I would expect the best of those closest to me, and do my best for them.  But instead I expect a lot from them, while doing less for them than I would someone I am not close to, precisely because I think they should be more able to absorb my deficiencies than the stranger or acquaintance. 

Good fences make good neighbors– because we need boundaries.  There is no doubt we do.  And growing up in rural Nebraska, I know full well that there is a tendency to not get too close to your neighbors, in part because you have to live down the road from them for most of your life, more likely than not.  The same can happen with family and friends– where we avoid potentially vulnerable or difficult issues, and so avoid deep relationship– in part because of our fear of somehow screwing up the relationship– because these are people we are ‘stuck with’ for life! 🙂

So the challenge then, of being a faithful Christian– someone who is full of faith, expects the best, hopes all things, believes all things (despite being let down)– is not just to do this heroically for those we are not especially close to.  That has its own reward.  The challenge instead, is to do this on a day-in-day-out basis with those who we are closest to– to allow ourselves to be taken for granted at times, overlooked at times, to love unconditionally those with whom we know yet more and more will be expected and accepted from them.   Of course sometimes this will come quite naturally, because these are, after all, our dear friends and family that we do love.  But in the moments when those charms of family and friends are lost on us, we need to remember that this is our calling– this is what God has us here for– to be the ones who make up the difference, fill in the gap, and provide the mercy and grace that we needy humans need from each other.  If we don’t provide this to our family and friends, we may have outward heroic appearances, but in the reality of our hearts which few can see, we will know that we are stingy bean counters, keeping account of wrongs and deficiencies with those who most need love and hope from us. 

But we also need to stay alert to our own tendency to take others for granted.  During this season of Thanksgiving and Advent, as we approach the celebration of the birth of Christ, its a good time to reflect on the ways we are blessed, and to make sure that those who bless us know that they are a blessing!

I need mercy.  And I need grace to provide that mercy to those in my tight circle even more than to do one-time acts of random grace to strangers and walk-bys. 

May God have mercy on us all.