“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:
- 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.
- 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…