Mark Driscoll, pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, is currently undergoing a groundswell of negative public opinion that includes old conflicts dredged up, bookstores pulling his books, and critics calling him to step down as unfit to lead. Most legitimizing to these critiques is that, on August 10th, the leadership team of the church planting network he started, Acts 29, wrote a letter calling on Mark to step down and seek help, though they did not appear to have interacted personally with either pastor Mark or the Mars Hill Church leadership team prior to drafting the letter.
Let me start by saying that I believe that those who were hurt in the past by Mark’s leadership/conflict style or decisions at Mars Hill Church in Seattle matter. Their feelings matter. Their stories matter. And there is no expiration date on whether their pain and claims have validity. I am not here to criticize them. I am grieved at what is currently happening.
Here’s my basic beef. I don’t think this is the way to go about seeking reconciliation and healing for conflicts between believers. The court of public sentiment? The unappeasable long memory of unforgiven hurts nursed over and over again in internet groups designed to identify ourselves as victims and our opponents as villains? It seems to me that such a recipe is like inserting a perpetual I.V. drip of poison which will cause many to hold onto old grievances and even inflate them, rather than come to some measure of acceptance and forgiveness for wrongs done.
I recognize that the desire to be vindicated by others is powerfully innate to us when we are hurt in a conflict. I myself have battled that dark thing, that longing to find others who will say, “You were right and righteous. Those who opposed you were acting unjustly.” It’s a powerful drive that can push us far from the command to love those who mistreat us. It gets our eyes off of who God is calling us to be regardless of outside forces. It causes us to feel like powerless victims whose internal states and character are at the mercy of how others treat us. It is a prison. God gave us the key to let ourselves out: extend forgiveness.
What I find surprising in the many articles that I’ve read is that the issues in question do not appear to be currently or even recently a part of Mark Driscoll’s life. At least, not if those who actually live in ongoing close relationship with Mark are considered reliable authorities on him (who else would be?). Even just judging from podcasts, I have seen evidence that he has mellowed, changed, and grown significantly in humility and gentleness during the past ten years. He realized a while ago that his “angry prophet days are over.” The tone of his messages shifted significantly. I remember thinking years ago, “This guy isn’t as punchy and smug as he used to be.”
Of course, that punchy smug thing offends people, but it also strikes others as hilarious, full of candor and free of the pretense and the false, cloying “niceness” that plagues a certain Ned Flanders Christian subculture. But I get it, I do. LOTS of folk dislike him for the pungent combination of his manner and his views. Of course, that punchy attitude is probably why his church has grown by leaps and bounds, and why people download his sermons around 15 million times per year. And no, being popular doesn’t make him right. I’m not saying that. I am saying that he’s never boring, and he’s genuinely insightful. I find him both brilliant and funny. If Mark were who we wanted him to be, he probably wouldn’t have been able to do what none of the rest of us did do: effectively plant and grow a mother church, a church planting network, and a network of satellite churches based in what used to be called, “the least-churched city in America,” Seattle Washington.
I think it bears repeating that his “rise to stardom” and massive growth in influence has actually happened mostly AFTER the 2006 events now being paraded around as the live issues which disqualify him from fitness to lead a church. Of course he needs accountability! So does everyone! But there seems to me to be a kind of pleasure in seeing his downfall – schadenfreude – that seems to mark the public’s attitude. It feels like people WANT to see this guy fall on his sword. Not because he hurt them personally, but because his teachings and tone irritate and offend them.
It pains me to see his fellow big-name evangelical leaders dropping him like a hot rock now that the court of public suspicion has us all lining up to ride the “guilty until proven innocent” bandwagon. I get it. We want to see the bully get his payback. But what if he isn’t a bully any more, and hasn’t been for a long time? What if he has repeatedly acknowledged his failures and apologized for them over the years, but it will simply never be enough for his critics until he is utterly shamed? (If you happen to be one of his personally wounded critics and are reading this, I am not saying your pain or claims are illegitimate.)
I am reminded of how Bill Johnson came alongside Todd Bentley years ago when he was engaged in genuine and obvious sins. Bill faced heavy criticism concerning his efforts to stand with, correct, and restore Todd rather than punish, reject, and condemn him with the crowds. At the time it bothered me that Bill didn’t withdraw from Todd. I never did trust Todd’s moral or theological integrity. Still probably don’t. But when I heard why Bill did what he did, I had to rethink my position, and my attitude. Bill probably better represented God’s heart than I did (Bill’s explanation video is at the bottom of the post).
It saddens me to see so many siding with the powers and principalities whose only and obvious goal in this circumstance is to eliminate yet another War General from the front lines of the Kingdom fight.
Reconciliation is noble as a goal. Repentance as well. But Removal is a different heart. When would he be “allowed back?” When would those who feel wronged be satisfied that his repentance is genuine? How much is enough? Doesn’t the team of men at Mars Hill who actually knows him, works with him every week, and holds him accountable – doesn’t their opinion on where he is at matter?
Let’s pray for the Gospel to win. Let’s pray for those hurt and still reeling to find genuine healing, forgiveness, joy, and vibrant freedom in Christ. Let’s pray for Mark to humbly seek restitution for wrongs he has done and for reconciliation with past leaders whose friendships (and jobs) have not survived conflict. Let’s pray for pastor Mark to be shaped and to grow even more Christlike precisely because of the intense suffering of this very public trial, and that ALL parties involved could leave their vindication in the hands of God. Let’s pray that he would not be removed from doing what he was born to do. Again, and most of all, let’s pray for the Gospel to win.
Daniel Dennett on how to critically engage with another person’s ideas:
- You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
- You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
- You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
- Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.