Friday, December 19, 2014

Mars Hill in 2014 and Slate's "The year of outrage", it took moving beyond outrage and into investigation for things to change (kind of)

First ...
No matter which poison you pick, the Rolling Stone piece has irrecoverably degenerated into a story about a particular event on a particular date, and it’s unlikely we can reverse that now. Erdely’s heavy-handed reliance on the narrative of one specific crime for the entirety of her argument invited this misdirection, which is the problem underlying all her other mistakes.

and now we get to ...

It's quite a sprawl, even for Slate.  The proposal that liberal outrage and conservative outrage look remarkably alike these days wins points for a Captain Obvious observation but a teacher once advise "Never underestimate the obvious."  It may be a useful if not entirely accurate bromide to propose that the age of the internet has passed through puberty and become the age of outrage.

Having blogged about Mars Hill for a few years, off and on since 2008ish, one of the things that keeps coming to mind is that for the better part of the last decade coverage and discussion of things Mars Hill has tended to take the form of either affirmation or outrage.  You were either for or against Mars Hill, Mark Driscoll, and the various ideas and actions you tended to associate with all the above.  A bit more than a year ago the dynamic of public discussion about things Martian changed.  A very specific and general claim was made about the integrity of Mark Driscoll's intellectual property and from there more things emerged.  As Warren Throckmorton described things in an interview this week, he wasn't so sure the allegation of plagiarism checked out at first but over time began to observe that the citation errors were far beyond the handful of things highlighted by Janet Mefferd.

While not a progressive or very left about anything what Elizabeth Stoker Breunig says is worth noting, kind of because Wenatchee The Hatchet has been in the habit of reading through left, right and center out of curiosity:

None of this is to say that personal narratives have no place in journalism. It is only to point out that the habit of presenting individual tales of trauma — absent any interrogation or probing — now comprises a troubling share of argumentative content in left journalism.

In the case of Mars Hill in general and Mark Driscoll in particular the emotional power of a single over-riding narrative has had a lot to do with how Mark Driscoll rose and fell.  What's more, so long as people to the political or theological left or right of Mark Driscoll focused on the persona and his stunts that just fed into the power of the persona and became, as it were, fuel for the fire of the individual narrative.

Outrage begat outrage, wagons got circled, and so on.  Ruth Graham, if memory serves, wrote that the striking thing about Driscoll's rise and fall was that there was no one thing that accounted for the decline.  Depends on what you mean by one thing.  Systematically and categorically flip-flopping on nearly all the key planks in your public platform defining what a qualified pastor ought to be isn't exactly a small thing.  In 2009 he said he didn't have a side company to manage book royalties because that was a sign of selfish gain.  In early 2011 he set up such a company.  He spent years saying that guys who crib the works of others without giving proper credit should rethink their fitness for ministry.  In the last year Mefferd, Thorckmorton and others have managed to comb through Driscoll's published works to show that there's reason to believe Driscoll cribbed more than he credited in possibly half of his published books.  That one of the books with a startling number of less-than credited ideas was also secured a place on the New York Times bestseller list courtesy of Result Source was just one more thing.

It's not any one thing, it was the cumulative impact of dozens or hundreds of things gaining momentum over the course of years.  To get back to the Jacobin piece, here's a useful summation from someone on the left that could not just explain the reason Jackie coverage problem with Rolling Stone but could also sum up the abject failure of progressives to, by and large, have said anything remotely useful or even basically accurate about Mark Driscoll:

These are our goals. They are the right goals. But if leftists’ eagerness to promote personal narratives winds up irreversibly coupled with a resistance to probing those narratives, then it will continue to cause harm.

It didn't matter that Mark Driscoll never once said Gayle Haggard let herself go as a reason Ted Haggard got into a scandal, enough people on the left wanted to believe Driscoll said such a thing and found an emotional appeal in the tale and its retelling that it got retold without anyone bothering to see if it was, in fact, true.  It wasn't true and in spite of the fact that Wenatchee The Hatchet scrupulously reproduced the text of what Mark Driscoll did write a few times there may yet be people who still insist that Mark Driscoll made comments about Gayle Haggard.  That has to stop ... and it will probably only stop now for so long as Driscoll avoids the spotlight, which he may or may not be able to ultimately do.

Wenatchee The Hatchet has spent years documenting the history of Mars Hill and statements made by its leaders.  It has felt important, even a matter of principle, to largely refrain from framing this presentation in terms of outrage.  There were plenty of people willing to only discuss Mark Driscoll in terms of outrage and that played into his persona and public activity.  It gave Driscoll the opportunity to constantly reposition himself as the sensible center amidst all the crazy of all the critics who just didn't get that it was all about Jesus, you know?  Paradoxically Wenatchee The Hatchet got labeled a Driscoll apologist for a couple of years.  Why?  WtH was proposing in 2012 that the discipline of Andrew looked like it might have been tainted by double standards, nepotism, conflicts of interest, in plain old punitive activity in comparison to the pastor's daughter and yet, still, there were people insisting that Wenatchee was some defender of the powers that be at Mars Hill.  Why?  Well ... the echo chamber effect of outrage on the internet might be a potential explanation.  When we feel outraged then we're apt to feel outraged that other people don't share our outrage and that becomes fuel for more, you know, outrage.

And a whole lot of people have been eager to boil Driscoll down to this or that essential motive.

It's not without cause Warren Throckmorton mentioned the fundamental attribution error as a reason to avoid attempting to speculate as to what Mark Driscoll might have thought or what his motives were. 

For too long discussions of Driscoll and Mars Hill were more advocacy than journalism.  That needed to change and Wenatchee The Hatchet spent a few years wondering if that even would change.  It kind of did.  It seemed to take a collective moment where institutional media stopped focusing on the brand and the persona and took a long, hard look at the products of that brand.  This wasn't possible when the only operating mode was outrage.

It was also probably not possible for either the left or the right to have accomplished all of what was written and published.  It took evangelicals and conservatives critiquing Driscoll for momentum to pick up.  There have been progressive writers who have done some solid reporting, too, and Wenatchee The Hatchet is going to stump for this idea, that it took the left and the right being willing to listen and compare notes rather than just reinforce prior assumptions; it took examining the narrative in its details before the coverage moved from heat to light.

There come moments when you have to trust that if what is brought to light is truly outrageous in some way you won't need to say it's outrageous.  If at times Wenatchee The Hatchet has been described as a persistent Driscoll critic this seems a bit inaccurate because if what it took to be a "critic" of Mark Driscoll was simply quoting him accurately and in context and revealing that he made himself look bad by flip-flopping on publicly stated convictions; ostentatiously changing the public narrative of his life or (more commonly) the history of Mars Hill; or by parading assertions about biblical literature that can be shown to be specious then, well, the bar for being a "critic" has been moved very, very low. 

One or two commenters have said in the wake of Driscoll's resignation, "you got what you wanted, move on already."  Well, what Wenatchee wanted was actual reform of the use of power and money within Mars Hill and for Driscoll to return to the precepts and principles he once espoused but that Wenatchee The Hatchet believed Driscoll has basically betrayed.  None of that happened, basically.  In fact over time it has seemed more and more that if one takes the teaching of Driscoll's 2008 spiritual warfare session at face value and cross-references it to Driscoll's public career it suggests Driscoll should get some counseling and reconsider his fitness for ministry.  Of course ever since he decided that a passage in 1 Tim 5 meant that if a husband is out-earned by his wife he's denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever Driscoll has, by his own measure of pastoral qualification, not only never been fit for ministry but was worse than an unbeliever.  Convincing people to give him a salary is moot.  "If" Driscoll's interpretation of 1 Tim 5 was valid (not that it is by any stretch of exegetical study) Driscoll declared himself unqualified years ago and yet he soldiered on anyway, obviously.

So Wenatchee The Hatchet didn't see the hoped-for things come about.  Moving on ...

The thing about "move on" is that it tends to come across, after so many years, as a shorthand for "shut up and drop the subject" rather than an actual wish for activity in other spheres.  It's not that Wenatchee The Hatchet has done more than devote some time here and there to the history of Mars Hill, it's that people may only pay attention when the blog discusses Mars Hill.  If there were, say, a long post on sonata form in the work of Diabelli, Sor and Giuliani it would get ignored by people who might come here and say "all you ever do is bash on Driscoll." 

But there's a variation of this in-progress dissent for those who did "move on".  The reason so many more dollars may have been misspent and so many more people may have been harmed by "biblical living" counseling at Mars Hill would be, if only in a small part, because so many people decided to "move on".  They not only washed their hands of whatever their personal contributions to the empire may have been they washed their hands of reaching out to see how far all of this went. 

The danger of trying to zero in on "lessons learned" is that we've had a chance to see, if we survey the whole scene of coverage about Mars Hill, that most of the lessons learned are self-exonerating "lessons" and those are the lessons we may most need to unlearn.  If the lessons you think you learned just prove you were right all along you're probably part of the problem, too, alas. 

And roundaboutly that may be what makes outrage so dangerous, because so long as we nourish an outrage that's directed outward rather than also add to that a capacity to be outraged at ourselves for what we may have contributed to Mars Hill while we were there then lessons learned will be paths of self-justification.  Jesus said "you will know the truth and the truth will make you free" ... but the truth doesn't necessarily exonerate us, does it?  It may, in fact, eventually implicate most of us.


C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

For some of us one question that still needs an answer?

How did the shepherds become wolves? Driscoll, Moi and Gunn didn’t appear to be wolves in 1996. While the first Driscoll book was yet to be published, I warned them they were on a road to becoming yet another “shrink-wrapped Evangelical product.” Mike Gunn’s response was: No way! He emphasised their commitment to keep MHC from becoming just another production unit in the Evangelical Industrial Complex.

At some point the vision as Mike Gunn expressed it was lost and the shepherds were either replaced by or transformed into wolves. Understanding the spiritual dynamics of that process is crucial for people who want to avoid repeating the story of MHC.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Agreed. It's so vast and complex it may take years to start unpacking.

My impression of Mars Hill in 1998 was that Mark seemed kind of like a self-aggrandizing asshole frat boy who was good at public speaking and was working to be as well-read as possible. It was Gunn and Moi being on the team that persuaded me it had a delicate but compelling balance of people in terms of character and gifts.

I think that might be some of it there, that gifts have been over-valued at the expense of character. Gunn left some time around 2002 and that was the period in which Driscoll described being bored with no dragon to slay and how he blew everything up and introduced strategic chaos. If what he had truly wanted was just to be a local church pastor 2002 was when he betrayed that goal by deciding to tear down everything that had finally been stabilized. The truth seems to be that Driscoll always wanted to start a movement that founded a school and a music label and published books and hosted conferences. It seems more and more the fundamental mistake was anyone ever considering Mark Driscoll fit for ministry to begin with.