When Wenatchee The Hatchet stopped being a formal member of Mars Hill possibly nobody really noticed at first. Rather than resign membership, I just let the membership expire in the great cancellation of 2007-2008. Those renewed membership or actively resigned membership were making some kind of statement. But to make such a statement they might have had to renew membership just enough to resign.
Wenatchee The Hatchet never once experience anything like a shunning. Yet story after story emerged of shunning or ostracism. So what was going on?
Well, permit a theory here. Shunnings tended to happen when people with formal clout transgressed some code of conduct. Petry got fired from being a pastor and a shunning edict came along. Others resigned and found themselves shunned. While it might be said here and there the shunnings were in reaction to decisions or statements, it may be the shunning was based on something else, on status. If someone with a high level of formal and informal prestige in a culture is counted a transgressor or traitor, then he or she may be like some electromagnet where a switch gets flipped and the polarity is reversed. Shunning would have to be commensurate to the level of prestige the person enjoyed before being subject to shunning. The higher your profile and the greater your formal clout in an organization, the greater your abjection would have to be.
This could account for why people who experienced some particularly stressful isolation when they left Mars Hill have, at least at times, been people with a lot of prestige within the Mars Hill culture. They had a high height from which to fall. If someone had a good deal of clout but it was all informal clout, no formal employment contract or formally recognized leadership role, then the worst that could happen would be the person might not be recruited to volunteer this or that. Their informal reputation would not particularly suffer or, even if it did, their loss would not be as large as the loss of someone who had a lot of formal prestige.
So with that in mind ...
Little matter that I had just been approved to be an elder. Little matter that James Harleman had offered me a paid position as an elder at Wedgwood starting in 2008 if I would accept the position. Little matter that hundreds of members were supporting our orphans in Africa, and many could witness the ministry first hand.
It would seem like at least a possibility here that the transgression could be described as someone whose actions overstepped the socially recognized level of prestige. I.e. in the wake of a political scandal Rob might have been construed as pulling a rank he didn't formally have. He may have had a very high informal level of prestige but he was not at that point formally an elder, so if he said what he thought about an elder termination process as a deacon then at a formal and an informal level he could have been seen as having overstepped his legitimately bounds.
Conversely, without any formal diaconate or elder associated tasks, a person could object to a termination process and be ignored. This would not be the same for people who had formal recognition. It would not go over well if a community group leader expressed reservations about the firings of Petry and Meyer. A person who said that kind of thing might be asked to step aside from leading a community group. A deacon who said those kinds of things might have gotten dismissed, which is not to say for sure that happened. The proposal here is that the higher the level of informal and formal prestige, the greater the offense would be for having views not accepted by the leadership culture.
In such a cultural idiom there would be a good deal more advantage to only ever having had informal clout rather than formal clout. If you ran afoul of a leader there would be nothing much they could do to make life difficult for you. Perhaps membership could be revoked but then what was lost? Access to The City? Was ... that really all that big a loss?
Discouraging financial investment in a project, though, was possible, but this might reinforce the proposal here, that the damage was possible because of the prestige Rob Smith had at a formal and informal level. Had he substantially diversified the donor base for Agathos prior to 2007 the political brushfires of Mars Hill would not necessarily have caused the kind of damage to Agathos' donor base that has since been described.
That Smith had a lot of clout at a formal and informal level could be attested by none other than Driscoll himself, it seems, since Smith has been able to reproduce a sermon from the 2007 Ruth series in which Driscoll spoke positively of Smith and the work he did through Agathos. That Petry was considered wrong to have consulted Smith may well be yet another indication that the perceived transgression was that Petry shared confidential materials with someone not worthy of the material. It could be construed as another case of a guy being thought of as having asked form or been given access to, that for which his formal and informal prestige was not considered good enough.
Now there's no doubt people will wish to discuss spiritual abuse for a while to come. But Wenatchee The Hatchet suggests that discussing spiritual abuse in strictly spiritual terms may well prove to be a waste of time. It's not that this shouldn't be done, it's that we may benefit from shifting the discourse away from theological discussions to sociological discussions and psychological discussions. It's possible to frame spiritual abuse for a secular reader as a type of emotional manipulation and abuse. What happens is a spiritual narrative that is ostensibly shared by two or more parties is invoked or even manipulated by one party as a way to exert control over or exact obligation from another party. The invocation is a demand of loyalty predicated on the threat that an infraction will be interpreted and also (perhaps this part most crucially) broadcast as an indication of betrayal.
This doesn't even have to be a religious matter, it could simply be a relational double bind where you put someone in a no win scenario. If they disagree with you or do not perform as expected you exact a punishment that shames them or accuses them, but if they conform with what you may require and it still doesn't go well for them then, well, it was their fault anyway. What may make this thing abusive is that the person who maintains control of the narrative ensures that he or she has no possibility of moral culpability for the implementation of a decision or the decision itself.
In such a setting the paradox is that the less prestige you have invested in or gained from the social system, the less emotional trouble you'll have when or if you part ways with the culture and the narrative and expectations of the culture. .If you had a lot of clout in the culture but it was all informal your reputation would not really suffer much if you ended up disagreeing with the leadership culture. If, however, you dissented from the leadership on some crucial point and you had a lot of formal clout then the yellow sun would become a corresponding amount of Kryptonite. You could find that the level of formal and informal prestige you used to have would become the commensurate, corresponding level to which you were rejected.
On the other hand, if your informal reputation was already bad you could never attain much formal clout and your reputation might never particularly improve, even if you were someone about whom leaders said "don't ostracize this person". Not everyone in the history of Mars Hill who felt shunned was necessarily shunned by elder edict; not everyone who felt shunned in the history of Mars Hill may have even been shunned at all, some personalities were combative enough that they may have alienated a lot of people on their way out without anyone needing to suggest a shunning. Mileage must surely have varied. But when the politics got heavy, it seems that there was a benefit to having a relatively high but purely informal level of prestige within the culture of Mars Hill. Formal prestige could end up being a severe disadvantage as the political battles within the leadership culture began to emerge. It could have been even worse if there was any attempt to leverage either formal or formal prestige to offer any counter to the prevailing winds of an era.
It seems one of the hallmarks of the culture that developed in Mars Hill was that when a disagreement arose leaders (whether formal or informal) would invoke status or rank (whether formal or informal) as a trump card to exact compliance. This would be the simplest and most pervasive pattern that could be construed as spiritually abusive within the history of Mars Hill. One of the most flamboyant deployments of this use of status indication was the polarity reversal inherent in a shunning. The higher the formal or informal prestige the more abjectly that person had to be cast out.
In a cultural setting like that the people who may have been the best off were the "consumers". The more "plugged in" you were to the leadership culture, the far worse off you were if by some chance, one day, you ran afoul of the leadership culture you built your reputation within.