The tenth anniversary of the first post at Wenatchee The Hatchet was a week or so back, a riff on Roger Scruton's writing about music.
Ten years ago when I started the blog I was fairly content here in the Puget Sound area in terms of location. Not maybe happiest about everything across the board but I felt very confident I would be at Mars Hill the rest of my life.
Obviously things changed in a decade. This still isn't really a watchblog as far as I'm concerned. That said, when the blog "has" been a watchblog here's hoping it has been of a high quality. As far as possible I've tried to source and cite primary sources and statements and document things as accurately as possible. When things have been incorrect I try to issue a correction as soon as practical.
You may have noticed over the years how rarely comments are allowed. That''s been on purpose. Yep, I have actively stifled commentary at this blog because the number of people who have wanted to contribute information and historical context have been fewer than those who have already made up their minds one way or another. As long-time readers over this last decade probably already know the crankier comments often came from people against Driscoll or Mars Hill who were not happy about a failure here to take the desired tone.
One of the temptations of a watchblog is to attempt to infer motives on the part of people who say and do things. As an effort toward journalistic standards of some kind, try to avoid that. Should you say that the"media" doesn't do this so why care about that? Well, if you don't care about aspiring to a higher standard than mainstream reporters who butcher the topic of religion you're welcome to stay at that level ... somewhere else.
This isn't intended to be a watchblog but it's unavoidable that the "reality" seems to be the blog has come to be known as a watchblog dealing with the history of Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll and other figures in the history of the recently split up church.
There's still a lot that can and should be said about the rise and fall of Mars Hill and about Driscoll's course as a public figure.
I have seen, from time to time, atheists and agnostics suggest that in the long-run Driscoll's just another right-wing fundy type and that there wasn't anything "that" unusual about what happened at Mars Hill.
Well ... since we're in an election cycle let's propose an idea that will be explored further--Mark got his degree in speech communications and Grace got training in public relations; Mars Hill was a church plant started in the Puget Sound area during a tech phase in the 1990s and had a leadership core that actively sought out young people interested in innovations in the arts, media and tech. Since somebody has to invoke Jacque Ellul at some point, what made Mars Hill unusual was the intensity with which the leadership culture, even possibly from its inception in the mid-1990s featured people trained explicitly in the techniques that Ellul wrote half a century ago were characteristic of propaganda. Now sure, some of you may say, what else does a preacher do but use speech and propaganda? Isnt that a fact of life?
Yeah, but the level of mastery of integrated media and tech to transform the culture of the megachurch into an instrument of propaganda may be the "one" thing that was unique about Mars Hill. Not it being ostensibly Reformed. Not it being hipster. Not it being evangelical. Not it being innovative as such. No, perhaps the thing about the founding couple that is most noteworthy compared to other couples who have stories of being called into ministry is that in the case of Mark and Grace Driscoll the formal credentialing into the career techniques of propaganda is explicit. Ellul, after all, in his book Propaganda, wrote that human relations and public relations were instruments of propaganda.
When Driscoll resigned in 2014 William Vanderbloemen proposed that Driscoll's resignation "changed everything". Nothing, in fact, has particularly changed in terms of how the business gets done, has it? But what "could" change is for Christians and non-Christians alike to take an opportunity to see how branding and propaganda techniques work in a multi-media tech-savvy church culture.
What the promotion of Real Marriage revealed, at length, was that it was possible for the executive leadership of a church such as the late Mars Hill to explicitly and systematically transform the media tools that could be used to spread the teachings of Christ were simply transformed into a fully integrated apparatus to promote a Driscoll book. After all those years of Mark Driscoll giving, say "Six Reasons I'm Not Going Anywhere"
content removed? Oh, well ... that's why we have the full text and a screen cap over here ...
After years of promising over and over that he'd never leave Mars Hill that's exactly what Mark Driscoll did.
One of the things Jacques Ellul wrote in Propaganda was that nations who prepare for themselves for war venerate peace. It may well be that in the case of Mark Driscoll his years of declaring what he wouldn't do turned out to be protesting too much on the eve of his turning around and doing precisely what he said he didn't or wouldn't do.
Let's not anchor too much on the assumption that Driscoll will stay Reformed or even complementarian. The opportunities that open up by rejecting both are too great. If he spurns complementarianism Grace can have more of a ministry role--the thing that Driscoll wrote ten years ago in Confessions he resented about her, spending time on ministry and neglecting him
Confessions of a Reformission Rev
Mark Driscoll, Zondervan 2006
CHAPTER FOUR 150-350 PEOPLE
Shortly thereafter, Grace gave birth to our first child, my sweetie-pie Ashley. Up to this point Grace had continuously poured endless hours into the church. She taught a women's Bible study, mentored many young women, oversaw hospitality on Sundays, coordinated meals for new moms recovering from birth, and organized all of the bridal and baby showers. Grace's dad had planted a church before she was born and has remained there for more than forty years. Her heart for ministry and willingness to serve was amazing. But as our church grew, I felt I was losing my wife because we were both putting so many hours into the church that we were not connecting as a couple like we should have. I found myself getting bitter against her because she would spend her time caring for our child and caring for our church but was somewhat negligent of me.
I explained to Grace that her primary ministry was to me, our child, and the management of our home and that I needed her to pull back from the church work to focus on what mattered most. She resisted a bit at first, but no one took care of me but her. And the best thing she could do for the church was to make sure that we had a good marriage and godly children as an example for other people in the church to follow. It was the first time that I remember actually admitting my need for help to anyone. It was tough. But I feared that if we did not put our marriage and children above the demands of the church, we would end up with the lukewarm, distant marriage that so many pastors have because they treat their churches as mistresses that they are more passionate about than their brides.
You'd never be able to guess from that what was going to get revealed in 2012's Real Marriage, that up through about 2006 the Driscoll's were kind of miserable in their marriage. Then again, this is a quote from the first print edition of Confessions that was published a decade ago. Things can change in ten years, including print editions.
So, occasionally, maybe this blog will still track stuff like that.
What's been remarkable about the press coverage and the video statements Team Driscoll's been making about the prospective church in a UPS mailbox that's launching later this year is that they don't seem all that eager to talk about Mars Hill. Greater love hath no one than a guy who quit being a pastor at the only church he said he'd ever been a member of so that he could go "heal up" and start another one somewhere else after having spent the previous decade saying over and over he wasn't planning on going anywhere.
Something Ellul mentioned repeatedly in Propaganda seems worth repeating here and not "just" because it's been time for the two party system to make use of the propaganda that's inevitable in a technological society. Ellul stated that while many people have worked with the assumption that propaganda consists of spin and lies this is not the case. Frequently propagandists care a great deal about facts, details and accuracy in informational claims. Ellul proposed that the real deceit was in the narrative used to interpret the information that was presented. The lie was not in the facts themselves but in what the propagandist would say the facts meant.
Anyone remember FY2012 at Mars Hill? The one Mark Driscoll said was their best year ever?
Our fiscal year, our budget year, runs from July through June, so we just finished our fiscal year, and those who are administratively gifted and allow us to steward the resources that God has given us, have put together a final year-end report, and I’m really excited to share it with you.
Before I get into the details, let me just say, we have just completed the greatest year in the history of Mars Hill Church, any single way you measure it: number of people, number of baptisms, number of Community Groups, number of people in Community Groups, number of Redemption Groups, number of people in Redemption Groups, number of weddings, number of children, number of services, number of locations. Whatever variable you would take a look at, it’s the highest it’s ever been.
In the fifteen years of Mars Hill Church, we’ve just completed the greatest year we’ve ever had, and I can say with full confidence, it’s firstfruits and there’s much, much more to come. So, I want to start by saying thank you, Lord Jesus, for loving Mars Hill Church. And I want to thank you who love Mars Hill Church, and some of Jesus’ love is coming through you as you give, as you serve, as you pray, as you care.
Yet raw statistics need context.
Turned out that based on a memo Sutton Turner sent in earlier 2012, it seemed that even if Mark Driscoll would later say FY2012 was the greatest year ever, prior to that announcement it appeared someone in the top brass thought Mars Hill was on the brink of financial disaster.
Then there's correspondence from Dave Bruskas from May 2012, documented by Warren Throckmorton.
From Pastor Mark:
These are tough seasons. Personally we love our staff. Pastorally we are concerned for our staff. Practically we grieve for our staff. Professionally we don’t have a choice but to reduce our staff. We simply have to live within our means. If we reduce staff now we can provide lead time for people to find an option while receiving severance. Had we not done this we would have had to reduce staff without severance this summer. We know this is hard but it is better than the alternative. The various leaders making these decisions across four states have prayed and labored over these tough calls. Your Exec Elders have cut first and deepest. Central is reduced 40% and working double time. We are vacating our offices reducing our staff and in contact nearly every hour every day pulling together and seeking Jesus’ wisdom. Your Executive Pastor Sutton is up at 4am everyday praying for our church. Now is a time for everyone to pray and love a lot. Lastly, without being improper we’ve frankly been through tougher times and deeper cuts before. After 15 years i can say this is not the worst storm we’ve weathered. We will get through it together by Gods grace. Trust me on this fact.
That was just a few days after Mark and Grace Driscoll, using the financial instrument Future Hope Revocable Living Trust, purchased a roughly one million dollar home in Woodway.
You might remember it, that house that Russ Bowen visited for a news report, from inside which someone who kinda sounded like Mark Driscoll said "wrong address"? The address about which, apparently, Driscoll was willing to admit that it was, in fact, his home to share a story about one of his kids being afraid of a chopper flying overhead? That one.
Driscoll simply declared FY2012 was the greatest year ever in the history of Mars Hill. There were stats from earlier in the calendar year showing that giving was less than hoped-for. There were even references to a series of layoffs. But when it came time to sum things up, those statistics were glossed over for "greatest year ever". If there was a lie in there in all that it wasn't likely in the statistics but in a remarkably bold declaration of how great the year was regardless of what the actual facts on the ground were. Ellul would propose that that's precisely the way propaganda works. In 2013 Driscoll would regale Mars Hill with the claim "We're not a wealthy church" as if about 24.6 million dollars in net income for 2012 was small potatoes in the non-profit scene.
Now, sure, perhaps could say that spin-masters and politicians and preachers excel in this sort of thing. Maybe it's their bread and butter. But if it is, if what we're looking at is nothing short of propaganda then it behooves us all to study the details. Yeah, yeah, we can consider the dubious master narrative but we also consider the details.
When I started blogging a decade ago I certainly never imagined this blog would end up being thought of as a watchblog. I also didn't imagine that I wouldn't be at Mars Hill.
It would be nice to shift the blog entirely back to things like music and animation and stuff like that. It would appear some guy is determined to keep on keeping on. So, if intermittently, we'll keep tabs on some stuff but this year maybe we'll get to discussing Ellul's ideas about propaganda and see how they may be able to explain everything from media/tech use in the culture of Mars Hill to the relevance of small groups in Ellul's explanation of propagandistic dynamics.
So for those who have slogged through the last ten years, thanks for reading Wenatchee The Hatchet. Here's hoping for a few more years of being able to write about music, theology, the arts, and maybe sometimes the history of the Puget Sound church scene.
Thanks for reading. This certainly has turned out to be what I envisioned for the blog when I started it back in 2006.