Friday, September 04, 2015

Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind as a potential template for what some call watchblogging, don't appeal to your moral intuitions, appeal to theirs

While Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow and Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind might not be thought of as particularly rigorous books by practicing social scientists or philosophers both have been useful books for lay level readers. Having some sense of what heuristics are, how cognitive biases can trip up the thought process, and how people appeal to moral intuitions has been useful stuff to consider here at Wenatchee The Hatchet.

One of the simplest ideas Haidt proposed in his book is that liberals tend to appeal to three core moral intuitions while conservatives tend to appeal to six.  There are certainly all sorts of things that could be discussed about that but for this blog what's interesting about the three vs six proposal is Haidt proposed that even with the three core values progressives and conservatives have in common there are differences in working definitions.

Haidt breaks down the range of moral intuitions as follows:







While progressives, Haidt wrote, tend to focus on equality of outcome conservatives stress equality of opportunity or access, which is hardly a surprise. Liberty, too, tends to get defined a bit differently as progressives and libertarians are more likely to stress freedom to do things while conservatives are more apt to stress non-interference from others.  Mileage varies depending on pet issues.

Haidt's bigger idea is that you cannot win an argument by making a direct appeal to reason and reasoned arguments.  You must first address the level of the moral intuition salient to the case you're trying to make.

Now THAT idea is germane to this activity called watchblogging and it may get to the heart of why progressives failed to make so much as a dent on the reputation of Mark Driscoll for the better part of fifteen years. Progressives who tried to make an appeal to moral intuitions to the end of saying Mark Driscoll's a bad guy were making appeals to moral intuitions that conservatives either did not share or did not share in the same working definitional way that progressives did.  Even now the tendency to bring up Driscoll's views on gays and women has remained popular for those who want to reminisce about "penis homes", but Grace Driscoll explicitly declared she has never ever thought of anything Mark has said as being particularly misogynist. Once Grace Driscoll has said it on behalf of her husband who's supposed to care that in 2008 Mark Driscoll compared having womens' ministry to "juggling knives"? As a PR move goes that was shrewd because if any progressives questioned the accuracy or legitimacy of Grace Driscoll's claim they've fallen into the trap of identity politics us vs. them through which Mark Driscoll's positioned himself as sensible centrist to all the crazies to the left and right of him on politics or doctrine.

If there was a case to be made that Mark Driscoll was not quite fit to be in ministry that case would have to be made not by a standard progressive ethical matrix but by way of a set of moral intuitions shared by conservatives.  The case would not necessarily be about what Driscoll was presumed by progressives to have said about gays and women (even if what he said and how he said it in "Pussified Nation" was pretty bad). Instead, the case would be that if we strolled through the last eight years of history connected to Driscoll and Mars Hill and considered Haidt's six moral intuition foundations he ascribes to conservatives, we could still build a case that Driscoll and the leadership culture as a whole had significant failures in abiding with the six categories.


Let's start with CARE/HARM. Something everyone can now agree on, even Mark Driscoll it seems, is that "Pussified Nation" was a trainwreck of bad attitudes and even worse verbiage. Though this year Mark Driscoll has indicated to Brian Houston he feels very differently now than he did fifteen years ago that's irrelevant.  Why?  Because if you look at what Mark Driscoll has said he THINKS across the last fifteen years there's an essential continuity of thought. He may eventually settle on being an egalitarian who's for gay marriage in the next twenty years in theory but in practice he hasn't changed his thoughts, even if for the sake of the Houston interview he talked about how differently he feels now vs then.

For years people at Mars Hill and advocates for Mark Driscoll could say he talked rough but that he was a softie as a person. He was just saying things in outrageous ways to get people's attention so they could start thinking through issues.

But over time, particularly since 2007, there began to be doubts about whether the talk was "just" talk.

One of the more striking statements Mark Driscoll made in 2007 that was not available to be heard until 2012 was about a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus. To date Mark Driscoll has never commented on this statement he made or even acknowledged that he made the statement. Driscoll has conceded in the last year that there was a conflict that came to light on the internet but has not said much beyond that. Contra Driscoll's comments in 2015 and 2014, the parties have not been anonymous and their names are easily found.  Paul Petry and Bent Meyer got fired in 2007 and Jamie Munson instructed members of Mars Hill to shun Paul Petry.  Whether some consider the firings of Meyer and Petry to be justified (and some still do to this day); whether some consider the proceedings in 2007 to have been a kangaroo court, there's no question at this stage in 2015 whether the parties in the conflict in 2007 are unidentified.

What began to come to light in the last five years is that when people get laid off or fired from a non-profit they aren't eligible for unemployment benefits.  Now everybody SHOULD know that but too many people (as in "any") didn't. So year after year as staff were cut loose from employment at Mars Hill they had to find work as fast as possible. 

If that were all it would still be awkward but stories began to circulate about people laid off during the holidays, even after babies were born.  Eventually Mars Hill confirmed more than 100 people got fired or laid off inside a two-year period and letters were sent (possibly this). But to date it's not been entirely clear whether the letters sent out in 2013 were really to assess how badly things got handled in the carnage in employment or whether the letters were really sent to assess the credibility of formal charges made against Mark Driscoll by a pastor who had resigned.

What eventually became remarkably clear, however, was that when people got cut loose they were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Those who have defended Driscoll and the leadership of Mars Hill have had a history of saying they defend women.  For conservative evangelicals that's certainly a popular talking point but the stories that continued to come to light about how the church leadership culture dealt with its own raised questions about just how punitive the culture was.  Eventually a statement made by Paul Tripp about Mars Hill was leaked onto the net and he described it as the most abusive ministry culture he'd ever seen.

A great deal of these stories are well documented and there's little need to go over them all again. What we'll do instead is get to Haidt's next dyad, the liberty/oppression dyad.  It's here that we can explore that even if significant breaches of the care/harm dynamic in the leadership culture might not "trickle down" for the rank and file another problem could come up.


Wenatchee The Hatchet has written extensively on Mark Driscoll's ideas about gender roles and forms.  The tag "markulinity" will suffice for a review. To understand part of the appeal of Mars Hill we have to remember Driscoll himself was not necessarily the early draw or the primary one.  There was a community and perhaps over time people will be able to discuss that more thoroughly.  With respect to the appeal of neo-Calvinist stuff on the whole, it looked like "liberty" to people who grew up in a more Holiness background or any evangelical background where people felt things were legalistic.  Somewhere on the internet someone wrote that more college students stopped being Christians because they wanted to drink, smoke and get laid than really struggled with the theory of evolution.  If Driscoll's markulinity had a particular appeal to guys who had doubts about whether it was "manly" to be a Christian, his sales pitch was that you could drink, smoke, and get laid (in matrimony) and it would all be for the glory of God and your pleasure.  A bunch of guys heard this message in its explicit and implicit forms and said "Sign me up!"

And then they had to live up to those standards.  A couple afraid to have children could end up being pressured to have children they couldn't afford to keep because they were told to "trust God". Then when children were born and the couple was struggling financially it could be construed as the couple wasn't good in financial stewardship. The brutality of that double bind could not be overstated.

For young people new to an urban area, with potentially fraught family ties, and no clear sense of direction the sense of identity fostered within Mars Hill could be liberating.  But for those who put all their eggs in that one basket things could become oppressive.  It was not difficult to hear and see that Mark Driscoll spent his public ministry years presenting himself and his marriage as a prototype.


Driscoll warned from the pulpit more than a decade ago about how denominations had these "God box" deals where some corporate higher-ups own the real estate and got to make decisions that screwed over faithful local churches.

By 2012 Mars Hill itself had become that "God Box" dynamic.  Eventually Bill Clem resigned from Ballard and in an interview in the last year explained how central could decide to lay off someone from staff and refused to let the local church raise money to keep someone on staff.

By 2012 the odds of dissent being something you could safely express within the leadership culture were low.  Why?  ...


If there were just the gender role expectations within the culture of Mars Hill that would be liberty/oppression dyad enough, but in the wake of the 2007 re-organization Mark Driscoll introduced a new dynamic on the dyad.  In the 2008 spiritual warfare session he literally and figuratively demonized dissent. That gets discussed in a series on spiritual warfare that presents a lengthy transcript of the 2008 teaching session Driscoll gave and cross-references quotes from that talk to other incidents in Mars Hill from 2007-2008.

While Mark Driscoll's associates have scrubbed the internet of the audio files, it seems, Wenatchee The Hatchet still has the full audio and has the transcript available in a tagged series you can read if you want something to do over the Labor Day weekend. There's 65 posts.

In terms of the care/harm and liberty/oppression dyads the common threads could be stories of firings and layoffs; non-disclosure agreements; demonization of dissent; and the fact that people cut loose from staff at Mars Hill couldn't get unemployment benefits. There were only so many years that dynamic could go on before the culture reached a breaking point. But that abusive ministry culture was actually not what catalyzed changed.  Not even the news of Andrew Lamb's disciplinary situation in 2012 seemed to curb any momentum for growth.  What did introduce a monkey wrench gets us to the third dyad in Jonathan Haidt's set of six moral intuitions


By the time Janet Mefferd confronted Mark Driscoll on air about how much credit he gave to Peter Jones in 2013 the Mars Hill trademark and logo controversy was already a couple of years old.

Mars Hill had a cease-and-desist letter sent out to a church plant that used Mars Hill in its name back in 2011.  Ironically, during this same season of late 2011 Mars Hill contracted with Result Source to get Real Marriage a #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list.  As Wenatchee The Hatchet, Warren Throckmorton and Janet Mefferd documented later, it turned out there was a lot of material in the 2012 Driscoll book where credit wasn't given, most remarkably (to WtH) in the case where ideas published by Dan Allender were in Real Marriage without so much as a single footnote or name mention in the first edition.

Even for those who consider intellectual property to be immoral the salient issue for the leadership culture at Mars Hill would remain, there turned out to be a very big double standard at work in which Mars Hill had demonstrated its leaders were concerned about any infringement on their stuff while its president turned out to have half a dozen books with ideas from other authors who weren't given credit the first time around. It's key to formulate the nature of the problem in this way because it can be legitimately construed as a failure of the fairness/cheating dyad regardless of whether or not you even agree there should be such a thing as copyright.  It could be considered more immoral if you do believe in intellectual property being a legitimate legal category, but it would be difficult to assert that what Mars Hill leadership did was morally praiseworthy in any case.

For those who remember Driscoll's sermons from the 2001 era, it turned out that rigging things in his favor was something Driscoll did back before he had a conversion.

Mark Driscoll in a 2001 sermon on masculinity and shortcuts--shortcuts taken by guys who want the reward without the work, some potential warnings to heed in the present

If Christians are given the idea that a conversion to Christianity leads to a truly changed life the Result Source revelation raises a doubt about that bromide.  If anything the revelations World Magazine and Warren Throckmorton published about the use of Result Source by Mars Hill to promote Real Marriage invite the proposal that rigging things for Mark Driscoll's favor had not changed.  Between the plagiarism controversy and the Result Source controversy Mark Driscoll's credibility on the fairness/cheating dyad looks like it was severely damaged.  There was another dyad in Haidt's continuum which applies to the revelations about Mark and Grace Driscoll's 2012 book.


There's plenty of posts here about Real Marriage but the most succinct way of describing the crisis that the book generated for longtime Mars Hill attenders or members was that it subverted a decade's worth of narrative in which Mark said from the pulpit that, basically, the marriage was great.  The 2012 book claimed that behind the scenes he was seething with resentment at his frigid wife and depressed and angry and subject to mood swings.  The cure?  More sex, plain and simple. Even though the Driscolls propounded a range of legitimate resort to masturbation for other married couples in the "Can We _____?" chapter, it's abundantly clear the Driscolls did not consider a "physician heal thyself" option acceptable for Mark Driscoll in the sexual release department.  If the Driscolls insisted on bringing all that up it was something that could have been asked about on the promotional tour ... .

Anyway, there's another level at which Real Marriage could be taken as a betrayal.  Mark Driscoll had spent years talking about how they preached through books of the Bible at Mars Hill.  Real Marriage was an abrupt change to that by being a sermon series devoted entirely not to a book of the Bible or even a generic set of topical sermons but a book Mark Driscoll published.

Not only that ... the book was owned by a "side company" of the sort Mark Driscoll said in 2011 he didn't create.  In 2009 Driscoll described how some pastors had side companies to manage royalties for books and described all of that sort of thing as a sign of selfish greed for gain.   Then in 2011 ...

At many different levels the 2012 book constituted a betrayal.  Driscoll set up a side company to manage royalties of the sort he'd condemned from the pulpit just a few years earlier.  The first edition overflowed with failures to cite that would go on to be documented by Warren Throckmorton, Wenatchee The Hatchet and Janet Mefferd.  The book itself was a framed narrative that in itself cast doubt on how honest or reliable the public account of the Driscoll marriage had actually been.  On top of all that, the community of Mars Hill was basically transformed by way of promotional activity into an organization promoting Mark Driscoll's reputation and profit.  For old-school members or attenders of Mars Hill it began to look like Mark Driscoll had betrayed his first principles but that was not the whole thing.  Nope.  2012 highlighted something else that in previous years was not quite so easy to document.  That gets us to the fifth dyad in Haidt's range of moral intuitions

January 12, 2012

There is reportedly an article coming out in a British Christian publication that features an interview with me. As is often the case, to stoke the fires of controversy, thereby increasing readership, which generates advertising revenue, a few quotes of mine have been taken completely out of context and sent into the Twittersphere. So, I thought I would put a bit of water on the fire by providing context.


 I have a degree in communications from one of the top programs in the United States. So does my wife, Grace. We are used to reporters with agendas and selective editing of long interviews. Running into reporters with agendas and being selectively edited so that you are presented as someone that is perhaps not entirely accurate is the risk one takes when trying to get their message out through the media.
As occasional controversy burst forth in 2012 there was a pattern with how Mark Driscoll dealt with controversy.  If the controversy surrounded him specifically he was active. If the controversy involved Mars Hill in general he was generally silent. He never broached the subject of the discipline of Andrew Lamb, for instance. Nor was there any discussion of terminated staff. Driscoll was all over that Justin Brierley interview situation, and the T. D. Jakes meet-up at Elephant Room 2, and the kerfuffle at Liberty University.

Even in the midst of the plagiarism scandal .... :

I don’t pretend to be the world’s greatest writer. But I did start writing professionally as a journalist in high school, paid my way through high school and college writing articles and editing my college newspaper, got a bachelor’s degree in Communications from the top-notch Edward R. Murrow School of Communication, and have written blogs and articles for everyone from CNN to the Washington Post to Fox News.
One can only ask (again) what non-high school newspaper Mark Driscoll was professionally writing for. For that matter, if he was paying his way through high school writing articles what about the other story about faking his birthdate to get work in other settings? At any rate, the salient point here is that Driscoll has not hesitated to invoke his authority by dint of either street cred or school cred in a controversy when it suited him.

But when it's someone else's authority that Mark Driscoll is asked to take seriously and respect we get stuff more like Mark Driscoll crashing Strange Fire after having spent a year or two ignoring John MacArthur.

As we've been moving through the moral intuitions that can be appealed to in Jonathan Haidt's lexicon it kind of looks like there's a substantial problem possessed by Mark Driscoll and/or the leadership culture of Mars Hill across all of them. Bear in mind this is all the abridged version culled from half a decade of blogging about the life and times of what was once called Mars Hill.

Well, surely for the purity/degradation dyad things look a little better, right? 


There's almost too much material to cover here in a post that's already so long.  The short version is that Driscoll volunteered tales of his wife being frigid, of her cheating on him one time, of how she was ready to be done with childbirth after four children and a miscarriage but Mark Driscoll did not want to do anything permanent to preclude the possibility of another child.  Between Death By Love and Real Marriage all of this was volunteered. As the story of a marriage the 2012 book was basically a story of how two people having fun premarital sex decided to be Christians and tabled sex.  Then when they got married Mark expected things to go back to "normal" but found his wife was fearful and frigid (his words).  Now someone with a more secularist/hedonist background like Dan Savage might speculate the problem was with all their Christian hang-ups the Driscolls just did this to themselves and that it was that and not any history of abuse ... but that's a pretty big guess as to what Dan Savage might speculate from Real Marriage.  Not suggesting he read the book, by the way.

We've explored how Mark Driscoll's name-dropping of Puritans is hard to square with stuff actual Puritans wrote in the past. There were excerpts from Richard Baxter, Richard Sibbes and Matthew Henry consulted over here.

A small but reasonable consensus of Puritan writings on marriage and Song of Songs would declare that a guy like Mark Driscoll degraded his own reputation by degrading his wife's reputation in public the way he did in Death By Love and Real Marriage.

So even if there were no Christians who had doubts about Mark Driscoll as the "cussing pastor", there is evidence to suggest that Mark Driscoll has not followed a Puritan guideline for respecting the sanctity of his own marriage, never mind the Bible.
It would start about 33:40
About 2:01 into the YouTube clip, assuming it'll still be available:

... and this is an ENORMOUS part of my relationship with Grace.  I mean I still remember when I first started seeing her she, uh, she went off to college, I was still in high school and they ran out of housing so they put her in a guys' dorm. And I was like, "What!?" so I got in the car and I drove to the university and I knocked on all the doors of all the guys on her floor. "Hi. My name is Mark. I love this woman. Anyone talks to her, touches her,  thinks about talking about touching her I will beat them. Literally I threatened twenty guys. Just knocked on every door. No way she's gonna get messed with. No way.

[to go by the audience laughter Mark Driscoll threatening twenty guys with assault was both chivalrous and funny, disappointing, to put it nicely]

Later on when she transferred to another university, WSU, she's five hours away. And she moved out there and her phone wasn't hooked up yet and we didn't have cell phones. And I told her, "When you get there, go to a pay phone. Call me. Let me know you got there safe."  Well she ... didn't call so I got in the car and I drove there. Five hours.  The day I had to work. And I knocked on the door. She answered it and I said, "Whu, you didn't call." She said, "I forgot." I said, "Are you okay?" She said, "I'm okay." So, okay, good, I got in the car and I drove home. Just checking. Six hundred miles.  Who cares? It's Grace.

[this has been commented on by others and so it's merely worth noting that a cumulative ten hour road trip because Grace didn't call him sounds weird]

... even emotionally, people send her nasty emails, text messages, talk trash about me, leave the church and want to take parting shots at her. She has nothing to do with any of it. So I even put a white/black list on her email and some people so some people can email her and the rest come to me. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. So that she doesn't have to feel bad because people are taking shots at her. That's my girl. No shots. That's the rule.
On the whole, it seems as if Mark Driscoll has talked more about the efforts he's gone through to keep his wife from reading bad stuff said about him than preserving and protecting her reputation in broadcast and social media.

There have been a number of high-profile cases where pastors stop being pastors.  Driscoll's advocates would have us believe that because Mark Driscoll didn't cheat on his wife that settles the matter of whether or not he's doen or said anything that might be considered disqualification from ministry. it's not exactly that simple. Plenty of Christians over the last two millennia have agreed that just not being guilty of sexual sin isn't even remotely enough.  If you're selfish and greedy and love to fight those are moral failures, too.  If you're boastful and proud ... hey ,didn't Driscoll himself say boasting and pride were demonic?


If Mark Driscoll were to take his own hours of instruction on spiritual warfare from 2008 seriously he still has to address the question of whether he himself got demonized somewhere along the way.  The lack of marital sex, the arrogance, the bitterness, in the 2008 session Wenatchee The Hatchet has and transcribed most of, that cocktail of "ordinary demonic" seems to describe Mark Driscoll in intimate detail. By the cumulative weight of the contradiction between Mark Driscoll's teaching as propositional statements and what's come to light about his own life Mark Driscoll should not consider himself fit for ministry based on his failure to live out the standards he's preached as binding on others.

Everybody sins. That's the terrible thing about sin is that you can sin and not even recognize it as such but Mars Hill had a theology of sin that could be summed up as this--sin is what you knowingly do that you know is bad. For everything else there's not just grace but you better shut up and drink your juicebox. 

For those who have been reading Wenatchee The Hatchet over the last few years the proposal here is that you don't build a case by appealing to your own moral intuitions when you build a case. You take time to learn what the moral intuitions of the people you're trying to persuade are and make an appeal to those.  Wenatchee The Hatchet used to be part of Mars Hill and never told anyone "You have to live because if you don't you're supporting evil."  No, what WtH did instead was document the history and statements as carefully as possible and basically ask a question, "Are we seeing people living up to and living out the moral ideals they are explicitly telling us we should live by?" The sum of years of "watchblog" activity suggests the answer across the board has been "No".

Earlier this year the blogger Samuel D James mentioned something about starting into Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind.
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt
I got a copy of this one after seeing many friends and writers praise it. I’m excited to dive in, and I expect the content will never be more appropriate to read than right now. Bonus: There’s a chapter called “The Conservative Advantage.”

Here's hoping James finished the book.  After all, Haidt's work has helped to explain (if in hindsight) the methodology of watchblogging as it's been done at Wenatchee The Hatchet.  You don't operate out of a sense of outrage that your moral intuitions are being offended if you want to persuade someone else something may be wrong, you appeal to their moral intuitions and you give them a chance to decide for themselves based on accumulated evidence if something is wrong.  Put that way what a watchblog should ideally do is follow one of the hoariest clichés in the proverbs of writing, show don't tell.

The case that Mark Driscoll, whatever he and his advocates may think, has failed profoundly, is not actually that difficult to make.  The problem that his advocates have facing them is that they would invite us to declare that because Mark Driscoll hasn't detonated an atomic bomb of one disqualifying sin that the decade of thousands of grenades detonated year after year isn't supposed to be a problem.  That's the problem, a kiloton of grenades that go off over the course of years should be just as urgent a warning as the one kiloton bomb that goes off that people take to be a signal disqualification.


Anonymous said...

A related theory about MD's downfall: Could it be considered that, firstly, MD survived so long because he was a charismatic leader that gave their followers what they implicitly wanted, seducing the followers into overlooking failings that would normally make many of them run a mile (a cliche explanation but I think true in this case)? Could this have been combined with (some would say) cleverly controlling of the 'media' and essentially being good at propaganda and excellent at suppressing opposition, creating his specific cocktail of power? Might it have been the case that, secondly, he was then defeated because the sheer weight of his misdemeanors as he 'upped his game' institutionally tipped the balance such that there was sufficient dissonance for his followers to reject him, combined with him losing control of the media? Perhaps one might consider that the spell has now been broken such that it is highly unlikely that he will attract a significant following again and his only way forward is to find a ministry that relates to his nemesis (such as helping fallen pastors adjust to their predicament); could this be possible if he is humble enough to repent?

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

to riff a bit playfully, I think there was a survivorship bias at work in the history of Mars Hill. A common thread among people who were around in the earlier years was they were drawn to the community element and Driscoll may have mistakenly conflated attraction to this to a simultaneous endorsement of what he envisioned. In the earlier stages of the history it would be easier for the circles in the Venn diagram to overlap. By the time Driscoll's publishing career began it would have been easy for Driscoll to imagine that the story of Mars Hill could have been the story about what he and others did right. Sure, lip service would be paid to the grace of God but it was interesting how much of Confessions of a Reformission Rev was not really a history of Mars Hill so much as a "how I did it" narrative. So even back nearly a decade ago Driscoll planted seeds that got me thinking "if someone were to try to actually document Mars Hill history and not write promotional materials what should get discussed?"

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I do think neo-Calvinist as a larger trend could be taken to say people could drink, smoke and get laid for the glory of God. Slip that into MD was implying or stating that things some young people wanted to do would be theirs for doing if they signed up to do it the way MD said it would go.

The "upped his game" fits an impression I've had over the years, that by Call to Resurgence Driscoll may have overestimated both his clout as well as the likelihood of success in finally mobilizing the troops for whatever he wanted them mobilized for. Whatever he thought that book was going to catalyze it may well have foundered once he was on the air and Janet Mefferd challenged him about the accuracy of citation of his books.

Behind the scenes 2012 seemed to be a tipping point both in terms of the promotion of Real Marriage on the one hand and alienating lay-offs combined with expensive real estate purchase on the other. The leaked 2012 Turner memo suggested to me that a consumeristic/entitlement mentality within the leadership culture was pretty prominent of Turner could have mentioned it after about a year being part of the corporate culture.