Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2012 in Retrospect: Curiosity and Mars

You'll have noticed by now that 2012 was a busy year for Wenatchee The Hatchet.  In 2011 a total of 381 posts went up.  In 2012 the number has been 706 (not counting this one).  So that makes for a year of higher productivity in sheer words and that's not even counting guest posts written for Internet Monk or Mockingbird.  We were nearly writing ourselves into cramps this year.

About what?  That may be the most rhetorical question that could have been posted on this blog this year.  You probably know what, things connected to Mars Hill, which is annoying but understandably inevitable.  I was more proud of the blog posts nobody seemed to read about Ferdinand Rebay's chamber music than about Martian stuff.  I mean, sure, I did what I could with those posts, too, but this blog seemed to get pigeon-holed by a lot of people as a blog for the "other side", to go by a stray comment or two. 

And, yes, this blog has dealt with things related to the history and development of Mars Hill.  As a former member who actually, believe it or not, still gets along well enough with people who are still there it could be remarkably easy to read this blog as some kind of "anti" blog, which is certainly what some have wanted it to be (or have not wanted it to be but convinced themselves surely was).  For folks who labor under that illusion go read that blog post on sonata form in the works of Sor, Giuliani and Diabell, or maybe go read that blog post about conflicting foundations for identity in Brad Bird's film Ratatouille.  Or maybe you could read the blog post about Batman as the ideal 1% and the significance of that in American popular mythology.  In other words, the stuff people come here looking for most is not necessarily indicative of what goes on at the blog.

But what has gone on at the blog has included debunking repeated and spurious claims that Mark Driscoll talked about Ted and Gayle Haggard's marriage.  He didn't, he merely used the occasion of that encounter with the gay hooker and meth on Ted's part to pontificate on a bunch of issues and to "take one for the team".  It was confounding in the extreme what "taking one for the team" about pastors who were exasperated by their sex lives with their wives ... until this year when Real Marriage came out.  Then what was inexplicable to Wenatchee The Hatchet for years became depressingly explicable and retroactively cast a shadow on a decade of preaching and teaching.  Driscoll wrote of Grace's single dalliance that had he known about it he would not have married (apparently never mind that God commanded him to marry her at that point); by analogy, there were surely more folks than WtH who could say "If I'd known this was what the Driscoll marriage was really like during roughly a decade of the church's history I would have had doubts about his qualifications to be a pastor."  Driscoll used to say that if you had a marriage on the rocks it would be better to quit being a pastor to fix your marriage. 

Or you could fix your marriage after years of secretly having problems in it and then write a best-selling book about that.  Far be it from me to be sad if the Driscolls fixed their marriage, I could even express some happiness on behalf of Benny Hinn and his wife fixing their marriage even though I still think Hinn's doctrine is terrible and that he's basically a con artist.  On that note, a  marriage healed may be a good thing but a healed marriage is not in itself an indication that a person is fit to be a pastor or teacher. 

Although given the way Driscoll shook hands (inevitably) with T. D. Jakes early in 2012 it confirmed some skepticism I expressed the previous year.  Driscoll had no problem eviscerating William Young's fictional work The Shack and shook hands with Jakes, piously blogging about the lessons learned about winning people and not arguments weeks after pre-emptively assasinating the character of Justin Brierley over issues such as women in ministry and holding to more than one approach to justification than penal substitutionary atonement.  Jakes was a mentor to Paula White and Driscoll didn't seem to have any problem with that at any point.  For that matter Driscoll's own earlier preaching in Christ on the Cross had him espousing multiple approaches to the atonement.  Eventually in 2012 the Driscolls would convey the idea that Grace was Mark's functional pastor, making Driscoll's quip to Brierley on the subject of "except who's in charge" one of those strange acmes of double standards that seem, unfortunately, to be more characteristic than unusual in Driscoll's public approach.

But double standards seemed to work themselves out at the cultural level within Mars Hill, too, and few cases were more symptomatic of this than how the disciplinary situation with Andrew was approached.  Andrew's disciplinary case was esscalated to a point where something was posted on The City (which Mars Hill's PR person Justin Dean said was due to "unclear communication").  Someone who had access to The City conveyed the escalation letter to Andrew and Andrew, in turn, contacted Matthew Paul Turner.  Mars Hill members would go on to say that the only reason it was widely known was because Andrew went to bloggers and the press. 

Well, no, Andrew only knew of it because it got posted to The City due to "unclear communication" and was given the document after he'd left the church and stopped being a member.  It almost goes without saying he was no longer dating a pastor's daughter (or stepdaughter, a detail that virtually no bloggers or journalists seemed to pay any attention to even though that not-so-mundane detail and the campus location made it all but certain one could identify several of the parties by name based just on that single piece of information).  To be fair, it would be all but impossible for people who have never been in the church culture or observed it for a good span of its history to be able to work out the names of parties involved over a single weekend.

Or in the case of another former member who shared a story anonymously, it might take as few as thirty seconds reading four sentences to make a probable identification. There were simply not that many high-profile divorces within the Mars Hill community in 2005 involving founding members of the Mars Hill group in which a woman married a musician and had two kids.  No, don't attempt to name names here.  I've deleted comments that have attempted to finger specific people. 

One of the disconcerting things about Mars Hill's public response, whether attempting to "clarify" or issue "a call for reconciliation" is their double-standardized approach.  For instance, people might anonymously suggest Andrew was a duplicitous man-whore without so much as expressing any thought about whether his girlfriend might have lied about any thing at any point.  What if she did?  What if she had a history of lying about her sexual history to bolster her reputation?  How would any of us know?  Even the description of the presumably now very-ex-girlfriend as a fiancee is not entirely certain.  If there's something about the Mars Hill culture can't possibly be expected to know it's that all sorts of things were able to be interpreted as being further along the path to marriage or romantic interest than might actually be the case.  This is not to say everyone was leading everyone on but that Mars Hill was the sort of place where you'd read posts on the Midrash about engagements having never heard of so-and-so dating so-and-so before.

It was not impossible for Andrew and his girlfriend at the time to have simply been dating but presumed engaged.  "If" that were the case then perhaps this could explain why some people considered Andrew to be deceptive when the nature of the deception lay not in what a guy said or didn't say but in tacit or explicit expectations imposed on the situation from the outside.  To allude to Baumeister and others on this topic, we are more apt to lead ourselves on through our desires than others are to lead us on about the real nature of their intentions.  But I digress.  All that was to say that Mars Hill advocates were very swift to assume the worst about Andrew in a situation where, fornication being what it was, it seemed highly improbable that Andrew alone would have been the wolf. 

While Andrew's confession and subsequent disciplinary escalationw as taking place in late 2011 James Noriega had stopped being listed as a pastor in any capacity, despite a meteoric rise within Mars Hill since 2006 and co-leading Redemption Groups.  Noriega just vanished from the Mars Hill scene in terms of leadership.  The odds that Noriega is still at Mars Hill now are zero.  Men who rose to the role of pastor within Mars Hill who got fired or deposed or relegated to lower ranks from their previous place rarely stay for long.  Some of them may stick around but that might be more a point of keeping in touch with the legacy anticipated than the social role of the present.  So Noriega vanished from the leadership scene shortly before Andrew's case picked up steam in disciplinary terms.

Had the Mars Hill PR machine not stumblingly "clarified" that they had released two staff for "overstepping spiritual authority" (whatever that means) then Wenatchee The Hatchet would not have remembered that Noriega vanished from the leadership roster at around the point the MH PR statement said staff were let go for overstepping spiritual authority.  So thank MH PR, you did a great job of clarifying things in a way that required a reclarification that let Wenatchee The Hatchet work out who one of the fired staff probably was.  With PR like that who would need access to The City?  Andrew didn't even have access to The City and somehow against all odds got notified of the escalation of discipline.  The entire case that Noriega was no longer employed by Mars Hill was one Wenatchee made inferentially by simply keeping tabs on the Mars Hill media scene.

That included some blogs and blog posts that were linked to in late February this year that vanished by March 2012.  For some reason, possibly just a church-wide reboot of the websites, all personal information and archives about Mars Hill pastors, their spouses and children (or stepchildren) got expunged from Mars Hill's online media.  The likely reason was pretty simple, anything possible to prevent the identification of the parties involved was worth trying.  Given the way church counsel and discipline worked it was probable that Andrew ended up talking to someone like Phil Smidt, who was biblical living pastor around Ballard.  Mike Wilkerson's role was too high up in oversight and Noriega was no longer a pastor at that point, making Smidt at least a possibility for the one who talked to Andrew.  But we can't be sure, we can only propose that a process of elimination regarding who held what roles at what campus at the time provides a narrow field of choices. 

Some people on blogs just named names, or at least named Andrew.  They were not quite so willing to name the others.  That hardly mattered because in a culture like Mars Hill, which seems almost addicted to the use of social media as a way to expand the brand, the identities of many parties had been floating around in the internet for quite some time.  Most people would not know what to look for or bother to look if they did, which is fine.  It's not the goal of Wenatchee The Hatchet to name any of those people, just to remind Mars Hill advocates that "privacy" isn't privacy when it's been blogged and tweeted and Facebooked and news covered away.  Mars Hill has been a culture that reserves the right to say lots of stuff but has not fully grasped the significance of what "on record" mixed with "broadcast media" really entails. 

When the call for reconciliation happened it was basically, ultimately, impossible to believe.  It read more like an attempt to get fewer people to go on record with their stories.  No offense meant to KOMO but their coverage was not going to inspire confidence even if dozens of people agreed to talk and my guess is most people were simply not willing to talk.  For TV coverage who could blame them? 

The KOMO story was too bad, and they may have had to work with what they had, which was not enough sources to build much of a story on.  Some of us prefer working in print form and it has been in print that the most detailed coverage of events has happened.  The Stranger, its animosity toward Mars Hill a given, did a pretty decent job covering the Andrew situation.  They even got on record statements from Pastor Jeff Bettger, which Mars Hill's PR in its anonymous boilerplate somehow overlooked, claiming that only Slate attempted to contac thtem.  So besides inadvertantly tipping off Wenatchee The Hatchet that James Noriega had probably been fired Martian PR also bungled factual accuracy regarding who outside Mars Hill reached out to Mars Hill and who inside Mars Hill had made any response.  Mars Hill PR seemed to be more consistently apt to spread misinformation than Andrew's story which, again, was startling in its level of detail.  Not even some obviouf obfuscation on Matthew Paul Turner's part kept us from identifying a few names. 

But Matthew Paul Turner's blog was arguably the exception that proved the rule with bloggers, many of whom had already made up their minds about Mars Hill based on what they already thought about Mark Driscoll.  It's to Turner's credit that he wrote about Mars Hill as a culture and not merely a cult of personality (which I think most normal people would probably agree it is, too).  As the Andrew case unfolded it began to seem to me, at least, that the Mars Hill faith in the power of social media and its capacity to control and guide its media presence and social media system was gravely misguided.  There are things that Mars Hill folks posted to Twitter that can't be unseen.  You probably know who you are and wish I hadn't seen what you tweeted if you're reading this and you've been in leadership at Mars Hill.  Sorry, `twas your tweets not mine.  Having an actual private life often entails not using broadcast media. 

Anyway, in the wake of Andrew's case and Lance's case making headlines clarifications were issued, a call for reconciliation was issued, and basically nothing happened that got much coverage.  Wenatchee knows of a few people who did go to meetings but the arc of the meetings was often a campus pastor or Dave Bruskas in some cases basically hedging on whether it was even likely that leadership at Mars Hill could have said or done things to raise doubts about essential qualification.  Agree to disagree and avoid conceding much seemed to be the general report.  Whether anything internal to Mars Hill was conveyed beyond a possible "people are hardhearted and over that we feel more sorrow than anger" would be hard to know. 

But in mid-June it turned out a bunch of layoffs happened across Mars Hill.  Driscoll explained that this was not because anybody sinned but because Mars Hill had been pursuing an economic model that was not viable for the long-term future.  Mull that one over, folks.  If this were a family or a single person who was running systemic deficits over revenue what would a Mars Hill response likely be?  Repent of bad financial stewardship?  In late 2011, in fact, the annual report and accompanying DVD God's Work, Our Witness basically ended with the case that Mars Hill could do better with giving.  Go to Are Women Human? for at least one overview of the DVD.  Whether or not AWH had a chance to review any letters or the annual report associated with the DVD isn't clear to me but the blog posts are a good reference point for folks who want some context for the 2011 giving request. 

So in late 2011 Driscoll made the case that the people of Mars Hill needed to give more and/or more sacrificially.  In mid-2012 Driscoll was conceding systemic deficits at every single campus and that the financial model the leaders had committed to was not viable for the long-term future.  Which leaders?  Well, uh the executive elders would seem to have been the ones who'd been doing that.  Which executive elders?  Mark Driscoll, Dave Bruskas and, at least in 2011, Jamie Munson (who stepped down in September and got a remarkably fond send-off from Driscoll talking about how above reproach Munson was).  But when Sutton Turner was introduced he was introduced as someone with kingly gifts Mars Hill had been badly needing for some time.  What about Munson's kingly gifts?  Didn't he scout out the 50th street real estate purchase according to Driscoll himself in Confessions of a Reformation Rev? Wasn't Munson's leadership so paramount that questioning it or being perceived as questioning it was one of the principle charges in having a couple of pastors fired as employees and removed from eldership?  We'll get to that later. 

For now the observation is that for a guy who was touted as always above reproach Munson's articulation of the idea that a church should seek to be growing even when it's not a good idea could be construed as a "too big to fail" approach to church growth that wasn't so far off from banking problems. The opposite of growth in a church is not necessarily the death that Munson asserts rather than defines, because sometimes in a non-profit a period of growth isn't as important as cultivating the donor base you have.  That Mars Hill had a loyal and centralized donor base at one point prior to multisite would "seem" to have been settled but multi-site meant many very loyal and long-time members went out to campuses while Ballard ended up laying people off about every 18 months.  But the looming problem of Mars Hill growing even when it wasn't a good idea was going to hit a crisis point at some point and that crisis point was, apparently, some time in 2012.  Just as the Andrew situation getting to a point where Andrew went to a blogger and the story went to the press was depressing but not surprising, neither was the admission of Mark Driscoll that Mars Hill's top brass had embraced an economic model that was not viable for its long-term future.  That, too, was something Wenatchee The Hatchet privately warned could become a significant problem or should at least have been a concern. 

Now to be sure Mars Hill may have applied the brakes under Turner's leadership and the collateralized debt of Mars Hill may have dropped from it's 19 million number and, in any case, Mars Hill's real estate investments don't seem near the trouble MacDonald got for his church as discussed on The Elephant's Debt.  Whether or not MacDonald's gambling and the debt he seems to have gotten his church into will have any impact on his being Mark Driscoll's latest "good friend" remains to be seen.  After a few years a person might be forgiven for thinking that in the Driscollian lexicon "good friend" means "has a book I can promote at the book table". 

As books go Real Marriage made a best-seller list and brought Wendy and Andy Alsup over at Practical Theology for Women .  That some newlyweds have genuinely benefited from the book I take as beyond dispute.  That the book was depressing reading for any former Mars Hill member is something I've also found to be generally true.  That Andrew's disciplinary case involved a guy who was fornicating with a pastor's daughter while the Driscoll's book discussed how the founder of Mars Hill (now that the co-founderes have been scrubbed away from the story) was fornicating with a pastor's daughter.  Curious and probably of no real significance other than coincidence.

But the book prompted the Alsups to publicly review the book and add some context that had not been made available before. It's a testament to how incendiary that review could have been that Wendy had comments closed at post publication, something she virtually never does.  Trust me, I've been reading and loving her blog for enough years that I know whereof I speak!  She normally encourages participation and discussion but it was prudent for her and Andy to put their thoughts in print in a way that did not include comments. 

Bent Meyer made a public statement that he was one of the two fired pastors from 2007 in late January.  In mid-March Paul and Jonna Petry went on record with Joyful Exiles.  Regular readers of Wenatchee The Hatchet will be aware of the prodigious use to which Petry's documentation has been put to blogging here.  The documentation is instructive both to Mars Hill defenders and Mars Hill critics.  Mars Hill defenders will likely defend the firings to this day and will probably do so on the basis of an argument that goes roughly like this, "I know person X and he's a good guy and he voted that Bent and Paul were guilty therefore I stand by that decision being the right one even if it wasn't perfect."  Critics will take essentially an opposite view. 

What was not discussed in any fashion at all by the blogs that deigned to discuss Joyful Exiles was the actual bureaucratic procedure itself.  The assumption was that Mark Driscoll fired Meyer and Petry and the rest was mere formality.  The formality was arguably far more important than bloggers seemed to realize.  Can someone produce a formal statement, email, or document that establishes that Mark Driscoll did the firing?  Even when Driscoll was recorded in audio saying that two guys had been fired for the first time in the history of Mars Hill.  Now it can sure sound as if when Driscoll says "we fired ... " that it's some kind of royal "we".  A person may conclude that the 2007 audio represents Driscoll from years ago and that Driscoll's totally repentant now.  Now if Driscoll were repentant of anything there would be some indication of it, and by indication that would mean saying anything at all, particularly anything to the effect that how and why the firings were undertaken was improper.  Nothing of the kind has been said that I'm aware of.  In fact it would appear that no pastors in any capacity have acknowledged either that Joyful Exiles exists  or that there is anything broken in the relationships that were fractured in 2007.  When Driscoll gave Munson a loving send-off from being the lead pastor (which meant Driscoll became president under the Munson-drafted by-laws and Sutton Turner's replacing Munson constituted replacing what became the Secretary's role, so to speak) Driscoll made a point of saying that Munson was above reproach and always had been. 

So Munson was above reproach in formulating the charges upon which Meyer and Petry were considered unfit for ministry.  Some of those charges included nepotism in the case of Meyer.  But what were Munson's qualifications to be a pastor, let alone the lead pastor of Mars Hill?  Was his experience in the corporate world prior to Mars Hill actually all that significant?  When did he actually preach such as a pastor would be expected to do?  If he had kingly gifts did those involve scouting the 50th street real estate that was eventually purchased and found to not be useable as a church facility because the zoning was for industrial use?  And was Munson above reproach in being the lead pastor who formulated the charges that became the basis for putting Meyer and Petry on trial and simultaneously appointing Scott Thomas head of the Elder Investigative Taskforce?

About that task force, what evidence was presented at the trial?  What evidence did Scott Thomas collect and why did Scott Thomas tell a member of Mars Hill that a "conciliatory process" had been completed days before he and the EIT would make a case that Meyer and Petry ought to be fired?  Why was a member of the EIT, Dave Kraft, not even at the trial and able to vote in absentia?  In what trial would an absentia guilty vote seem to be a legitimate option? 

Now people might appeal to the fact that the guilty vote was unanimous.  The sticky wicket there is that there's enough research about crowd conformity, cognitive biases, and boardroom manipulation techniques in, say, Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast & Slow, that we can establish that even a fully unbiased group will conform to steering methods such as a vote by show of hands rather than secret ballot.  So it would appear that in addition to claiming that a conciliatory process had been completed for two men who were about to be removed from eldership on the basis of a swift investigation of some fashion (the evidence for which should be able to be produced at any time) it would appear that the very nature of the vote was a methodology well-suited to steering what may have been an already biased jury. 

Might someone fairly wonder if the entire process was nothing more than a kangaroo court at best and that in any other procedural setting that the methods employed could be considered jury-poisoning?  If as a comment at Wartburg recently alleges Dave Kraft voted in absentia what made him so sure of the guilty of Petry and Meyer that he somehow mailed in or phoned in the guilty vote?  From a procedural standpoint should the elders who were on the investigative task force even have been given the ability to vote on the matter?  For that matter did the lead pastor who made the accusations vote "guilty" or did the lead pastor abstain?  Not that Mars Hill would be interested in answering any of these questions, it seems, but they seem to be relevant questions raised by the documents and correspondence at Joyful Exiles.

But if Mars Hill and its advocates are not interested in considering those issues neither were Mars Hill critics in 2012 particularly interested in even looking at the substantial role Scott Thomas played in the trial and virtually no one could have known about the gap between what Thomas said had just been completed and what was about to occur in late 2007.  So far as critics of Mars Hill were concerned it had to be all Driscoll.  Guys like Munson or Thomas didn't matter even if they were essential cogs in the procedural machine that ejected Meyer and Petry from eldership.  If Driscoll were considered to be the unquestioned authority then what the documents and correspondence at Joyful Exiles would illustrate is that however centralized the authority may have been the responsibility for the decisions made at the top were so utterly diffused to the entire leadership culture and Driscoll's committment to the use of a royal "we" so steady that the likelihood of actually getting the firings back to Driscoll himself was remote. 

It may be impossible to overstate the significance of this situation--when authority is heavily centralized into a coterie of top-level leaders while responsibility for controversial or unpopular decisions are diffused to every level of the leadership set (whether in fact or in name only) then decisions can be defended as having been made unanimously across the entire culture even when the decision may have originated in two or three or even a single person in the uppermost echelons of leadership.   At that point we would be discussing a process in which a person might fairly wonder whether the whole point of the process could have included plausible deniability at multiple levels across a leadership culture for a decision that originated with just one or two guys. 

Now some might say at this point that the roughly 24-26 elders who voted to fire Meyer and Petry may still be at Mars Hill but are effectively neutered.  Fair enough but I would propose that the moment of being neutered had to have significantly if briefly predated the 2007 firing for every man in that room to have raised his hand for a guilty vote.  This is not in contradiction to any of them sincerely believing there were grounds to remove Meyer or Petry from eldership.  To be plugged in at any capacity into the leadership culture at Mars Hill is to have been plugged in by endorsing that mission whatever form it took.  The nature of how the mission was implemented clearly changed and it may well be many men who voted in 2007 aren't paid staff now but the majority of men stayed and that they raised their hands may indicate that they weren't neutered in any capacity.  They were, however, convinced for some reason to remove Meyer and Petry from eldership based on the charges formulated by lead pastor Jamie Munson who appointed Scott Thomas as head of the EIT.

And within a week of this being documented at Joyful Exiles Scott Thomas was relating to Matt Chandler that he felt "released from leading Acts 29".  In mid-June around the time Driscoll was announcing that Mars Hill had been running systemic deficits across every campus Darrin Patrick apparently announced that Scott Thomas would be joining the team at The Journey.  Scott Thomas had not particularly bothered to resign his membership at Mars Hill during this period but apparently even being a former executive pastor conferred, perhaps, some privileges? For those inclined to see the 2007 firing process as little more than a kangaroo court Scott Thomas would have had the most dirt on his hands and it was going to be imperative that he either fall on his sword like a good soldier or get cut loose or maybe just given an offer he couldn't refuse from some other church within the Acts 29 network or some other possibility. 

What seemed unlikely to work out as a status quo was an Acts 29 board in which a 2/3 majority of the board members were Mars Hill executive elders pastor or present.  Having Driscoll, Turner, Bruskas and Thomas on the Acts 29 Board; having 80% funding of A29 from Mars Hill; and having a great deal of the staff consisting of Mars Hill members meant that any distinction between Mars Hill and Acts 29 was starting to become a distinction without a difference.  In April 2012 collosal changes happened in Acts 29 in leadership and location.  By this time Mark Driscoll had met with James MacDonald and T. D. Jakes and shook hands with Jakes as a proper trinitarian weeks after pillorying Brierley in "A Blog Post for the Brits".  Whatever work Driscoll did as a "professional journalist" he's yet to produce a by-line for a single non-editorial article he's written for a publication and if he's got a problem with bloggers the pot should be slightly more careful about calling so many kettles black.  After all, there was that kerfuffle.  

But when Driscoll announced "What's Next For Me" the casual reference to even renting the city of Ephesus for a day was a strange thing.  Where was this money coming from to rent Ephesus for a day?  When Driscoll would, months later, say that Mars Hill had embraced an economic model that was not viable for the long-term future did something like renting Ephesus have anything to do with that?  A good deal of central expenses got cut, it seems, but a lot of campus jobs got cut or people dropped out.  Executive pastors at campuses like Kyle Firstenberg, James Harleman, and Chad Toulouse disappeared.  Toulouse was listed as one of the members of a committee to keep executive elders responsible.  More and more of the committees, such as they were, began to include newer names or the reliable Munson.  You can go hunt up the names if you like. 

Amidst all these changes Driscoll never uttered a word about Scott Thomas.  It was as though Scott Thomas didn't exist.  There wasn't even any cryptic reference to how two men who were least administratively gifted for a task rose up and opposed some stuff.  Of course one of the two men who got canned amidst opposing the 2007 by-laws helped draft the earlier by-laws.  Whatever it was that made Munson more qualified than Petry to draft by-laws for a church was simply never explained at any point or to any degree.  Because simple majoritys and not 100% agreement were prescribed in the old by-laws the very idea that two pastors in a group of 24-26 had to get fired has never once been explained. 

There are some decisions that may seem needless that make sense.  For instance, if you liked the earlier Raimi Spiderman movies you might ask why there'd be a remake?  Because Sony didn't want to lose the rights to make Spiderman films and have those rights revert to Disney, that's why.  You may not agree with that and that's fine but there's an actual explanation for that.  It makes sense.  The reasoning behind why two pastors had to get fired given what the pre-November 2007 by-laws said doesn't add up.  If a guy like Driscoll has repented of anything he would have publicly repented of specific things instead of generalities.  After all, he used to teach that your confession should be more specific than general at some point, didn't he?  When pressed to explain himself or apologize he still seems more likely to blog about what the issue under a lot of issues must be rather than admit he said or did something mistaken.  He regrets, he's said, that his bitterness at Grace led him to preach some chauvinistic things against women he regrets now.  So what was that stuff?  When did he repent of this because 2011's anatomically male effeminate woship leaders didn't look like a change from Driscoll circa 2006. 

Meanwhile, Scott Thomas managed to get a job at The Journey without resigning his membership.  how does Wenatchee The Hatchet know this?  A little bird told me.  This will get to a point that critics have not had much use for.  You see in the real world Mars Hill members and even some folks within leadership have not had much trouble hanging out with Wenatchee The Hatchet.  They know who the blogger is but it's no obstacle to friendship and it's no obstacle to Wenatchee The Hatchet to regard them with affection despite some disagreement.  By now it would hardly need to be explained that Wenatchee's got some significant differences with a few things that have gone on at Mars Hill; what's more Wenatchee warned of a few things as potential bombs that could blow up in the faces of Mars Hill that pretty much all seemed to blow up this year.  There is as yet no evidence that Mars Hill has reformed its approach to member discipline or set real limits on pastoral authority in member discipline.  It has not established, as yet, an explication of the foundational competencies for its biblical living pastors (formerly known as counseling pastors). 

While some moves have been made to ameliorate what is retroactively acknowledged as a fiscally dangerous approach to managing the church the retroactive significance of this has not, as such, been acknowledged.  In other words there was confession and what fans will call repentance but the confession was half-hearted.  This may be observed from the sad reality that if the bad steward of money was a family or a single person sin would get bandied about far more quickly than the never-mentioned possibility of sin in financial stewardship on the part of the leadership class.  In other words Mars Hill may not have needed to do "epic" filming in Ephesus for The Seven or for any ramp-up for Who Do You Think You Are? but all that's just petty stuff compared to members not giving sacrificially enough so that new campuses can be set up, or so it seems. 

There's a temptation for former members and critics that's easy to fall prey to this year, to assume the worst about the whole venture from jump.  It was somehow always that bad.  Really?  Some of the people who are inclined to say this now were people who enjoined me to become a member of Mars Hill because if I didn't become a member, for real, then I was just being a "consumer".  The thing is that it won't suffice to say that, oh, so-and-so just drank the kool-aid because anyone who's looked over social scientific research on conformity will recognize how very swiftly we can all conform given the right set of circumstances. 

Rather than suggest the water in the well was always toxic we who were in there should recognize we, so to speak, put some of our poison in the well.  We played a role great or small in assuming the worst about criticism and critics while choosing to overlook significant problems.  How many hundreds of people heard some guy say that if he didn't have sex for a period of longer than three days he'd get wiggy?  How many people read William Wallace II's screed known as "Pussified Nation" on the old unmoderated Midrash and cheered Wallace on when he was acting like an irresponsible reprehensible punk?  If Driscoll had ever really repented of that whole mentality he would have confessed as much in Confessions of a Reformission Rev.

He didn't. He presented that phase of his life as his deciding to make guys man up rather than presenting it as a pseudonymous tirade about the nation being a nation of pussies who won't man up. I mean it's not like sorenchurchyard or Crusty or Eschato-Man or Feedback Seed or Laika or maybe even aold or Satin Cog/Saint Cog couldn't just opt to show up from the Midrash or Babblerash ether and mention a thing or two.  Or maybe sean or Viper with Venom.  Whether or not tetsuo would want to wade in is some other matter and I wouldn't blame tetsuo for not feeling like going back to that.  ReformUrAss, I know you're out there and I hope you and the wife and kids are doing great.  :) See, you'd have to be the oldest of old-school to know any of those usernames from the unmoderated Midrash.  Having said that, there was plenty of fair warning way back in Pussified Nation that something was off and though I considered the whole WWII a sign of stupid hot-headedness and immaturity I convinced myself he'd get over that, grow up, and move on.  Well, sometimes people don't change as much as we may hope they do and that includes me. 

How many people from that old core, that foundational group, are still at Mars Hill?  Mark and Grace are still there but what about the Gunns?  What about the Mois?  What about other people like the Schlemleins or Chris Comis?  Skye? Heard he's Eastern Orthodox.  The Rorabacks, no real need to rehearse what happened to them for folks who know that.  As a commenter put it here at the blog of the original core that founded Mars Hill only three of that original core are still around.  Let's remember that at that stage there were no Driscoll kids and that means that two of the three who are said to be the only remaining core of the original Mars Hill would have to be Mark and Grace Driscoll.  Have a guess who the third one is and whoever that third one is must be resolved to stay in the proverbial marriage no matter what happens or how bad it gets even if a bunch of terrible mistakes were made.

The thing that people like to say about cults is how bad they are but the truth is that if it were only ever bad nobody could possibly get suckered into being in them.  If Mars Hill is a cult it's a cult because the sense of community feels electric at first, the glory fades and the routine sets in but in your heart you still think it's gotta be whatever that was you felt years ago.  Maybe ten years go by and you realize it's not that community anymore.  You don't get to see your friends any longer because they're married and have kids or live too far away.  You don't hang out until the late hours talking about anything and everything and sharing your lives together.  You stop being in your 20s that feel full of unlimited possibilities and get into the 30s where the world and its opportunities seem to shrink around you. 

Maybe you begin to discover that that marriage that seemed so exciting in your young dumb horny 20s has turned into the misery of your 30s.  Maybe you discover you're stuck in one dead-end job after another. Maybe you discover your child has a learning disability that some Christians consider a sign of rebellion.  Maybe you find out that your friends or that you yourself are willing to compromise for the sake of a legacy.  Maybe you know that the legacy being forged is being forged by a person who's a jerk ... but you get to be part of that legacy and the person is, at any rate, not being a jerk to you.  Ergo, whoever thinks he's a jerk and won't qualify it ... must have some kind of problem with spiritual authority.  That's what you tell yourself right up to the point where you get both barrels in the face or someone close to you does. 

Then the temptation is to view it as all bad.  Suppose a guy gets the bad side from the culture.  What does it matter than that the person has three of his or her children find wonderful spouses in that culture?  Forget that, the whole thing is damnably evil and it was all about numbers?  Was it?  It wasn't just about numbers all the time.  There was also that courtship fad?  ;-)  Most males willing to go along with the courtship fad were probably trying to get with a couple of attractive ladies and very, very little more.  It was fascinating to watch a bunch of single guys go along in the hopes of getting sanctified matrimonial tail.  Yours truly, almost notoriously, kept repeating that he found the whole charade idiotic and based neither on a plausible reading of biblical literature or on even a particularly honest appraisal of social conventions from the Mediterranean and other regions.  It was just a stupid self-congratulatory fad drummed up by dads who had control issues and either lost track of who their daughters were already in love with or who wanted some magic bullet pre-emptive veto on boys their prepubescent daughters wouldn't even be thinking of dating yet.  I didn't put it that strongly because I realized that would be a really jerky way of putting it.  But that's what I thought. 

In one of life's strange paradox I got along great with the women who were most sought out in that fad.  While a lot of guys lamented "the friend zone" and "the other f-word" I got along well with a variety of lovely women.  For a lot of beligerent horny unmarried males the friend zone may not be such a bad place for you, especially if all you can do is assess women as wife or not-wife possibilities.  But in a setting like Mars Hill not being in a rush to be married could often play out as you being assigned a group guilt in the form of the "selfish single".  You can only shake that off in so many ways.  If you pay your bills on time, try to do right by family and friends, and manage to have money to spare to help friends with disabilities or in financial straits then that's what you can do but in a culture where Markulinity flourished the just not-being-married part could mean that the guy was not living up to his full potential.

It's easy for people who left Mars Hill on bad terms to completely poison the well even when they benefited from it in a variety of ways.  Some of the bitterest people were more than happy to wield their social clout to bludgeon others' reputations and the thing is some of those people have gotten to a point where they can admit that they were fans of the Man.  Maybe I was, too, even though I convinced myself that it was the three co-founding elders together that made the community what it once was.  Those who would say now that it was "always" the Driscoll show weren't actually there early enough, or have re-remembered things in a way that doesn't fit what the people who were around at the start may still recall.  Or maybe we were all suckered by something we didn't understand. 

Informally I've noticed that there are people who turned away from formal churches and there are a lot of people who turned to more traditional churches.  Maybe Mars Hill was a kind of spiritual junior-high or high school and some of us graduated?  Or maybe, as I'm more inclined to put it, we found it exciting in our 20s to discover things that in our 30s and 40s we began to realize was nothing more than reinventing the wheel.  Even as far back as 2002 when people asked me to describe Mars Hill I would say, "Basically TULIP Baptist."  That was before Driscoll got chummy with John Piper but in retrospect it would seem to make some sense.  It took me a few years to observe that my theological views simply didn't run TULIP Baptist as such and so I found a new place to be. 

But the exigencies of life were such that I had no spouse to "pour myself into" (a possibly archaiv Martian phrase).  I ended up in a position where I was stuck in almost every sense and as I was stuck the lives of my friends and family moved along sort of with me and sort of without me.  I began to observe over the years that there were people who would say they'd "moved on".  Well, I'm not convinced everyone does move on or that "move on" always means what people hope it means.  Hey, I'm into Batman so this one won't shock you, there are things traumatic enough in your life that you can't just move on, the trauma or the experience (maybe even a good one) becomes an organic part of who you are and how you think.  Watching a family fall apart before your eyes as a child may not be a formative experience for others but it was for me.  It doesn't matter how good you tell yourself you are you, too, can somehow end up being immersed in the brokenness, become a part of the fracture, maybe without realizing it.  Maybe some things break in a way where what is broken is broken as a gesture of self-defense that is perceived as malice and is forever after interpreted in that way.  Perhaps you get sucked into the vortext of competing loyalties in which your decision is tacitly, if perhaps often internally, drags you into a bog in which you feel an irreducible, unresolvable double-bind and yet not making a decision is a disaster of its own. 

I've been described as a friendly pessimist and by friendly pessimist that can mean I notice that everything and everyone must die.  There were some great things I discovered at Mars Hill, people with whom I can recognize that while everything and everyone eventually dies it's okay to enjoy the beauty of life and friendship that we have together now.  For reasons I don't quite understand I'm not sure I picked up on that as a realization until the time when I began to be at Mars Hill.  As ugly as the shunning and related fiascoes seemed to be I was put in a position where I had a chance to decide whether I would choose to be a team player or choose to remain friends with people despite disagreement and despite some of those friends being kicked out of the house.

You see this is the thing that bugs me about blogs for and against, it's that they brook no ambivalence.  Life is more compromised and ambivalent than we like to imagine in our selves that we fashion in social media ... isn't it?  It's surprisingly easy for the self-described exiles to speak as though they weren't complicit in the things they now condemn and it's surprisingly easy for the insiders to essentially imagine that however dicey this or that may be that, ultimately, the legacy is worth sacrificing a few less-than-worthy participants in the legacy.  This blog has been a sometime exercising in questioning both kinds of thought.  What former insiders may not easily concede is that we invested in a legacy we're no longer sure was worth it.  What outsiders may be unwilling or unable to grasp is that we can all fall prey to this kind of temptation that a legacy that seems bright and shining enough will inspire us to go along with something. 

After all, despite pious bromides about movements and legacy, and this and that, what was the inspiration for building a tower in the plain of Shinar?  Legacy.  Legacy may be presented as one of the most pious of Christian impulses but on more careful examination it can be the impetus to create not a new Jerusalem but another Babylon.  We're fools if we convince ourselves we can't fall prey to this temptation even as we would condemn those who we think are trying to build that tower of legacy.  Some of us cooked more bricks and made more mortar for that tower, whatever it is, then we might be comfortable acknowledging.  In my 20s I thought talk of legacy was great and in my late 30s I have come to believe that legacy may be the most single dangerous temptation any group of Christians can have.  It is for the sake of legacy that piles of dead bodies are strewn outside the place of sacrifice. 

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