Tuesday, April 07, 2015

the fatal problem with the 2015 narrative that Driscoll was "brought down" by bloggers, it can't be proven--Driscoll was no more brought down by bloggers than Nixon resigned because of press coverage


In the past Wenatchee The Hatchet has addressed how this year, for some reason, the likes of William Vanderbloemen seem to have summarized Mark Driscoll's decline as in any way associated with popular bloggers.

This link "should" work but the piece is by Ruth Moon in the March/April 2015 Issue 74, "The Faults in Our Stars"

Driscoll’s resignation is unusual, Vanderbloemen says, as it was not prompted by serious misappropriation of funds or an inappropriate sexual relationship, but rather by a steady stream of criticism from popular bloggers, some of whom lived nowhere near Seattle.
A variation on that sentiment also appeared earlier, in later 2014.


Driscoll‘s recent resignation from the church he founded was followed by another shocking announcement: Mars Hill is dissolving by year’s end, with its 11 congregations becoming independent houses of worship.

 And Vanderbloemen said that the stunning situation carries with it a plethora of lessons to be learned. “Mark stepped down at his own choice, but it wasn’t without a lot of pressure,” he said. “Mark’s departure didn’t contain any of the normal elements of a scandal.”

There wasn’t an extramarital affair nor any other explosive singular event that contributed to his downfall, he argued, calling Driscoll a “brilliant communicator.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” Vanderbloemen said, noting that Driscoll ended up leaving over a wide variety of smaller infractions and debates that were perpetuated on the Internet. “We have seen a lot of guys have to leave, but never from the death of a thousand cuts that happened online.”

He continued, “There was a weird sort of perfect storm of critics and disorganization.”
In the end, Vanderbloemen said that Mars Hill grew very fast and simply wasn’t prepared for the level of expansion it experienced. As an anecdotal result, he said that churches need to do what businesses have done, drafting plans in preparation for uncertainty.

It's curious how between December 2014 and March 2015 the explanation had shifted from observing that MH faced a crisis of controversy, critics and disorganization to Mark Driscoll stepping down in reaction to a steady stream of criticism from "popular bloggers".

The problem with this line is that it is basically a cheat, a shift.  At no point does the substance of what bloggers were actually discussing get acknowledged.  Nothing about the plagiarism controversy, nothing much about the Result Source Inc controversy, and even if these things were acknowledged that gets to another way of putting this.

Saying that bloggers had anything to do with the decline of Mark Driscoll is as illusory a proposal as claiming that the press took down the Nixon administration during the Watergate scandal.  Sure, the press played a role in documenting things but even as far back as, oh, 1974 not everybody agreed that the press had done more than just observe what had happened.


Wenatchee The Hatchet has, of course, spent years documenting the history and bits of the culture of Mars Hill for years.  The last thing Wenatchee The Hatchet would concede is that either this blog or any others somehow played some crucial role in Mark Driscoll's decision to resign.  There's no evidence for that even if William Vanderbloemen's willing to say for the record that bloggers had something to do with the resignation.  If Mark Driscoll resigned voluntarily (even if at the urging of unidentified godly counsel) then Driscoll resigning in the wake of public scrutiny and criticism "might" make him the Richard Nixon of early 21st century megachurch pastors, but if that analogy were to hold, it highlights all the more that what should not be taken as given is that bloggers somehow did anything more than document what was going on. 

 Had Mars Hill leadership not undertaken the publication and promotion of Real Marriage in the way that they did, there could not have been any controversy associated with it.  Had Mars Hill as a culture not sounded off in public in 2011 about copyright infringement of their brand and content then there would not have been a public record against which Janet Mefferd could point out that there were reasons to wonder whether Mark Driscoll had properly credited authors whose ideas and materials showed up in published material with his name on them.

Unless Mark Driscoll says for the record himself in front of cameras that he resigned because of bloggers it doesn't matter what other people who have agreed to speak to the press may be saying. 

One of the most pernicious elements of a narrative that asserts Driscoll was brought down by bloggers, particularly the idea that any of these bloggers were outsiders, is that it's to miss altogether that that's not ultimately a very accurate depiction of what happened.  Anyone can go through six years of content at Wenatchee The Hatchet and observe a slow shift.  From 2012 on it's possible to chart a progression in which more content from The City got leaked to Wenatchee The Hatchet, stuff across campus boundaries and stuff dealing with elder resignations and financial crises.  The crisis was never that outsider bloggers had things to say, the crisis was "probably" more than distrust and concern within the culture itself reached a point that leaks were shared with outsiders but also within the social system that was Mars Hill.

Rather than bore you with a litany of years' worth of leaks from The City sent along to Wenatchee The Hatchet, the summary would be this--Mars Hill as a leadership culture had caused enough unrest and even distrust in the higher echelons that eventually sources at potentially every level began to leak information to not only a select number of bloggers (it seems) but directly to members of the press (as evidenced by World Magazine breaking a news story about RSI a bit more than a year ago).

 Rather than entertain fanciful fantasies that bloggers who allegedly had never even attended Mars Hill or been to Seattle had a steady stream of criticism, it makes far more sense to propose, based on the documentable evidence at hand, that as morale declined within the rank and file and even the leadership culture within the history of Mars Hill, an undetermined number of people at various levels of the culture felt they were not able to or likely to be given a hearing about their concerns.  So they turned to alternative avenues for expression.  Just as it could be (and has been) said that the press didn't "take down" the Nixon administration, it can be said that bloggers were ultimately not the reason Mark Driscoll opted to resign.  The most that could be said might be that bloggers played a role in documenting an infrastructural and cultural decline that was already in place and that former insiders had been warning was a risk on financial and social grounds in the years prior to there being any public controversy. 

The relevant question about the "death by bloggers" narrative is to ask why on earth anyone would take it seriously to begin with?  It flies in the face of everything Mark Driscoll had said for the record in the previous ten years about how seriously he took bloggers (in spite of, ironically, being a blogger himself).  It also flies in the face of any explanation as to what the substance of "critical" blogging activity directly addressed.  If a person wants to formulate a narrative in which bloggers are presented as outsiders who magically possess the social media clout to inspire a pastor to resign, why go for that?  That could merely reinforce the kind of insular and punitive culture that many a former Mars Hill elders has since said was one of the key problems to begin with.  Not only is such a theory foolish, it's directly contradicted by now by an account of a former MH pastor who wrote about what seems to have been having some doubts about Driscoll's fitness for ministry as far back as 2006.  While informal reports that David Nicholas came to have doubts about Driscoll's fitness for ministry describe these doubts being expressed somewhere around 2005, nobody has been able to document whether this was so.

The crisis wasn't "out there" with bloggers or perceived-as-hostile press, it looks like the crisis was internal.

Whether it's a William Vanderbloemen theorizing Driscoll resigned in reaction to popular bloggers or a Rachel Held Evans pontificating on "six lessons" to be learned from Mars Hill we should be cautious about the lessons that are to be drawn here.  As long as an Evans can stand by a Tony Jones after having excoriated a Driscoll there may be no "lesson" to be learned other than that the star-making machinery that vaulted Driscoll and Evans to stardom has remained unchanged. There may have been a temporary crisis in which figuring out how to replace one star with another may have surfaced, but the question of whether or not stars needed to define the cultural moment won't change.


If it seems a bit outlandish to compare the resignations of Mark Driscoll and Richard Nixon, do keep in mind that Forbes published an article "Mars Hill: Cautionary Tales From The Enron Of American Churches".

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