Thursday, November 06, 2014

at Triablogue Steve Hays writes about "Learning" from the Driscoll debacle

Hays has noted that there seems to be no shortage of people with "lessons" to share with all and sundry readers about the rise and fall of Mark Driscoll.  He observes that framing the history of Driscoll and Mars Hill as a pretext to lay lessons on readers begins with presumption and prejudice. 

What may be worth noting in addition to this observation is that while some journalists have remarked that many of Mark Driscoll's most determined critics have never attended the church Mars Hill this could not be said about Wenatchee The Hatchet, who spent about ten years inside the church and never burned any bridges (all those leaks from The City came from somewhere, after all).  Wenatchee The Hatchet was also actively recruited into a number of ministries by the leadership of Mars Hill. 

Be that as it may, a lot that has happened in the last year was unexpected.  One of the great problems with pundits talking about "lessons" to be learned is that all of these lessons smell as though they were ginned up in mere coincidence to the history of what has unfolded.  If the lessons you think you've got to share in the wake of the Mars Hill debacle are ones that vindicate you then, well, you probably learned absolutely nothing at all and don't have lessons to share.

Wenatchee was not in the custom of actually defending Driscoll as such but what Mars Hill seemed to actually be.  Once what Mars Hill transformed into something else entirely, defending it was not only no longer prudent, but problematic.  And yet for all that Wenatchee has never told people "You have to leave Mars Hill".  Nor has Wenatchee The Hatchet been one to condone "Mark Driscoll is evil" commentary. 

What lessons there may be to learn haven't been learned and possibly won't be learned because to understand Mark Driscoll's fall we have to understand something about his rise and it's in understanding THAT that Christian pundits aren't interested much in "lessons" at all these days.

HOW did Mark Driscoll become the star he became?  It's as though he changed when he began to publish books.  The first book was copyrighted to Mars Hill Church and not Mark Driscoll but how quickly that changed.  If anything Christians need to subject the Christian publishing and media world to more scrutiny because it seems impossible to just assume Driscoll could have plagiarized in half a dozen or more books if the publishing industry had not been content to let books hit the market that could have been better sourced.  If the publishing industry had truly had a problem with that they would have applied pressure on Driscoll to do better work on his footnotes before books hit print.  They clearly didn't. 

And while fans of Presbyterian polity may want to say how this is all a "lesson" about the necessity for a plurality of elders that's nonsense.  Why?  Simple, because a plurality of elders voted through bylaws in 2007 that consolidated power into a small group.  It doesn't matter how grand a plurality of elders you have in place if they're of such poor character and theological and organization acumen they vote away the power they have to govern the local church.  Or, to put it even more nicely, if they're all beholden to a lock-step conformity on such idiotic fads as the courtship fad then when things that actually mattered like governance came up they'd primed and trained themselves to lockstep into conformity to the death of the organizational health of the church.  This is not something Wenatchee suggests against Presbyterian polity in itself, just the idea that the "lesson" learned is that there needed to be a plurality of elders.  As Steve Hays blogged a while back, the scriptures are more concerned about assessing the CHARACTER of the people who are placed in eldership than in outlining some flow church for practical ecclesiology. In fact the lessons Christians may most need to learn may not have much to do with the local church and more to do with what Pentecostals might describe as "principalities" or "powers".

One of the "lessons" that may be learned here is that in some sense the entire Christian publishing and media apparatus of the United States bears some culpability in Mark Driscoll's citation errors.  How many copy editors and proofreaders missed things?  So maybe Mark Driscoll sticks with "maybe I made a mistake".  Assuming that's the case the responsibility doesn't go away (after all, headship means it's your responsibility even when it's not your fault in Driscollian parlance) and Driscoll's publishers let these books get published in spite of their problems in the first editions.

But what Christian magazines and sponsored blogs are going to run with a "lesson" from the Mark Driscoll debacle that reads:  the entire Christian media network let a pastor crib material in half a dozen book from a dozen books without adequate citation and this, in turn, casts doubt on the ethics and credibility of mainstream Christian popular publishing houses.

Yeah ... don't hold your breath waiting for that "lesson" to be learned from the Driscoll debacle and published in a glossy.

Now maybe someone could suggest that if Driscoll and Mars Hill had just given away all the stuff for free this could have been avoided.  Well, alas, that Driscoll and company gave away so much for free was precisely part of how Mark Driscoll became a star.  It was easy to give away mountains of content as Driscoll's star was on the rise.  It was part of the bad boy charm, so to speak. 

Driscoll wasn't exactly taken down by the press.  Here a comparison to the Nixon administration may be unfortunately apt.  While it's salutary that Janet Mefferd and World Magazine did the work they did it would be overstating things to say that their coverage was more than coverage.  The actions of Mars Hill on behalf of Mark Driscoll were what damaged the reputations of both and the coverage simply brought to light what was apparently already known within the organization.  After all, if Jeff Bettger had heard enough to have doubted the ethics and propriety of a book promotion then, as Moses once said, "Surely the thing is known."  If elders at Mars Hill knew about Result Source then they let it happen with few objections.  On the other hand ... it remains a mystery how that Result Source contract got to the press.

If the left has had a field day seeing the homophobic misogynist preacher boy go down they played virtually no part in that process.  The Stranger's coverage was pretty good overall, to be sure, and this was at least partly due to the spectacular home court advantage.  But The Stranger also had the liability (among evangelicals) of, well, being The Stranger.  What Mars Hill has shown us over the last 18 years is that the propensity for in-group think and echo chambers to utterly dominate coverage at the expense of finding out what the actual facts are was embarrassingly common for both the left and the right (used loosely). Anti-charismatics kept hammering that point while progressives hammered the matter about Mark on gays.  The problem was that so long as everybody fixated on things that are protected by the First Amendment that was not only business as usual, that was essential to the sales pitch inherent to the public persona of Mark Driscoll.  Driscoll was able to position himself as the perfect centrist.  Liberals made him seem like the victim of hate from godless heathens on the one hand, while fundamental/Reformed objections made Driscoll seem middle of the road thanks to his breezy pulpit persona. 

What changed things was breaking down the problems in the Driscollian product catalog, book by book.  Progressives were never going to accomplish this because they don't read evangelical books for entertainment or edification and if you don't do that it makes it harder to spot plagiarism when it happens, generally.  Conversely, evangelicals may have reached an age where Christians argue that intellectual property is basically not Christian anyway.  If so then what some have informally said about Driscoll may apply, he's been likened to an Al Capone who wasn't busted for murder (of sound doctrine, of healthy ecclesiology, of a balanced understanding of biblical texts, bully and character assassination) but for tax evasion (or, by extension of the analogy, mistakes dealing with intellectual property).  Just as some people think nobody should have to pay taxes others think that IP shouldn't exist. 

That raises a fascinating "what if" question, what if there hadn't been any intellectual property involved?  Might that have prevented Driscoll from going off the rails in some way?  Might it have been possible for some kind of cult of personality or name-brand following to have been pre-empted?  Well, as yourself something, did Lutheranism come into existence because Luther had copyright registrations with all his work or by force of his personality and the substance of the reforms he sought to bring to the church?  Driscoll's scandal erupted because Mefferd accused him on air of plagiarizing the work of others but if plagiarism had no civil consequences then there sort of wouldn't have been the same kind of scandal, would there? 

Then there was Result Source, then there was Global, then there was the matter of how much the executive elders knew about the pending eviction in Orange County when they apparently and allegedly decided to play chicken with a city, and then there was the International Paper Building.  The scandals that progressively broke Mars Hill seemed to have nothing to do with doctrine or behind-the-scenes politics and everything to do with intellectual property and real estate and how money got spent.  Jesus did say something about how "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also", right?  So what did we learn about the things treasured by the leadership of Mars Hill through the Result Source fiasco? What did we learn about the Christian publishing industry through the full scope of the plagiarism controversy that swirled around Driscoll for about a year?

Wenatchee The Hatchet isn't sure anyone learned anything if everyone's going to take such pains to share the "lessons" everyone else needs to learn.  If the lessons you think you've learned or are ready to share with others vindicate or exonerate you and your ideas then you don't need to share them because you can sell your product in some other way. 

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