October 1, 2007
... Too many guys spend too much time trying to move stiff-necked obstinate people. I am all about blessed subtraction. There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus and by God's grace it'll be a mountain by the time we're done. You either get on the bus or get run over by the bus (those are the options) but the bus ain't gonna stop. I'm just a, I'm just a guy who is like, "Look, we love ya but this is what we're doin'."
There's a few kind of people. There's people who get in the way of the bus. They gotta get run over. There are people who want to take turns driving the bus. They gotta get thrown off cuz they want to go somewhere else. There are people who will be on the bus (leaders and helpers and servants, they're awesome). There's also sometimes nice people who just sit on the bus and shut up. They're not helping or hurting. Just let `em ride along. You know what I'm saying? But don't look at the nice people who are just gonna sit on the bus and shut their mouth and think, "I need you to lead the mission." They're never going to. [emphasis added] At the most you'll give `em a job to do and they'll serve somewhere and help out in a minimal way. If someone can sit in a place that hasn't been on mission for a really long time they are by definition not a leader and so they're never going to lead. You need to gather a whole new core.
I'll tell you what, you don't just do this for church planting or replanting, you know what? I'm doing it right now. I'm doing it right now. We just took certain guys and rearranged the seats on the bus. Yesterday we fired two elders for the first time in the history of Mars Hill last night. They're off the bus, under the bus. They were off mission so now they're unemployed. This will be the defining issue as to whether or not you succeed or fail.
The highlighted segment of the above presentation shows what a blunt taxonomy Driscoll had for those people who were on the bus. This would not be altogether surprising for those who read Confessions of a Reformission Rev, which featured Driscoll breaking down people into a taxonomy of utility by likening types of people to types of animals you might find at a barn or a zoo. It seemed slightly weird on first read in 2006; since 2007 this Driscollian capacity to enumerate categories of people as if they were animals or bus passengers can take on a more sinister element.
It seems necessary to quote at length Mark Driscoll's November 8, 2007 letter to members of Mars Hill where he addressed the two elders who were fired and put to trials, Bent Meyer and Paul Petry.
A letter from Pastor Mark Driscoll
November 8, 2007
from pages 4-5 of the 142 document
Sadly, it was during the bylaw rewriting process that two of our elders, who curiously were among the least administratively gifted for that task, chose to fight in a sinful manner in an effort to defend their power and retain legal control of the entire church. [emphasis added] This included legal maneuvering involving contacting our attorney, which was a violation of policy, one elder who is no longer with us disobeying clear orders from senior leaders about not sharing sensitive working data with church members until the elders had arrived at a decision, which has caused much dissension, and that same elder accusing Pastor Jamie Munson, who was the then new Lead Pastor of Mars Hill, of being a deceptive liar in an all-elder meeting with elder candidates present, despite having absolutely no evidence or grounds because it was a lie. This was heartbreaking for me since I have seen Pastor Jamie saved in our church, baptized in our church, married in our church, birth four children in our church, and rise up from an intern to the Lead Pastor in our church with great skill and humility that includes surrounding himself with godly gifted older men to complement his gifts.
To make matters worse, this former elder’s comments came after my more than one-hour lecture in that meeting based on a twenty-three-page document I gave the elders as a summary report about what I had learned from the other pastors I had met with in addition to months of researching Christian movements. I had just explained the cause of the pains we were experiencing as a leadership team as largely tied to our growing number of elders and campuses, as well as ways that my research indicated men commonly respond by sinfully seeking power, money, preference, control, and information as ways to exercise pride and fight for their interests
over the interests of the team, church, and mission of Jesus Christ.
The elder who sinned was followed up with following the meeting by a rebuke from a fellow Executive Elder, but repentance was not forthcoming. To make matters worse, some vocal church members ran to that elder’s defense without knowing the facts, made demands upon the elders, acted in a manner that was not unifying or helpful, and even took their grievances public on the Ask Anything comment portion of our main website for my forthcoming preaching series. Of course, this was done under anonymous names to protect their image in the eyes of fellow church members while maligning the elders publicly. Some church members even began accusing the other elders of grabbing power and not caring for the best interests of our people, which is nothing short of a lie and contradictory in every way to the entire process we were undertaking. [emphasis added] It broke my heart personally when amidst all of this, a member asked me on behalf of other members if the elders really loved our people. Now having given roughly half my life to planning for and leading Mars Hill Church, the questioning of my love and the love of our elders, some of whom even got saved in our church, for our people was devastating.
Today, I remain deeply grieved by and for one man, but am thrilled that what is best for Jesus and all of Mars Hill has been unanimously approved by our entire elder team because I do love Jesus and the people of Mars Hill. Furthermore, my physical, mental, and spiritual health are at the best levels in all of my life. Now having joy and working in my gifting I am beginning to see what a dark and bitter place I once was in and deeply grieve having lived there for so long without clearly seeing my need for life change. My wife and I are closer than ever and she is the greatest woman in the world for me. I delight in her, enjoy her, and praise God for the gift that she is. She recently brought me to tears by sweetly saying, “It’s nice to have you back,” as apparently I had been somewhat gone for many years. Our five children are wonderful blessings. I love being a daddy and am closer to my children with greater joy in them than ever. In short, I was not taking good care of myself and out of love for our church I was willing to kill myself to try and keep up with all that Jesus is doing. But, as always, Jesus has reminded me that He is our Senior Pastor and has godly other pastors whom I need to empower and trust while doing my job well for His glory, my joy, and your good.
The past year has been the most difficult of my entire life. It has been painful to see a few men whom I loved and trained as elders become sinful, proud, divisive, accusatory, mistrusting, power hungry, and unrepentant. It has, however, been absolutely amazing to see all but one of those men humble themselves and give up what is best for them to do what is best for Jesus and our entire church. In that I have seen the power of the gospel, and remain hopeful to eventually see it in the former elder who remains unrepentant but to whom my hand of reconciliation remains extended [emphasis added] along with a team of other elders assigned to pursue reconciliation if/when he is willing. Furthermore, sin in my own life has been exposed through this season and I have also benefited from learning to repent of such things as bitterness, unrighteous anger, control, and pride. As a result, I believe we have a pruned elder team that God intends to bear more fruit than ever. This team of battle-tested, humble, and repentant men is now both easy to enjoy and entrust.
One can only guess as to whether Mark Driscoll is all that serious about being open to reconciliation with Paul Petry since Joyful Exiles has been up since March 2012. It's been nearly four years, after all. Moving to Phoenix does not suggest that Driscoll remained all that hopeful in the end, assuming he was hopeful. The above quoted passage was from a letter sent to all Mars Hill members back in 2007 so a few thousand got to read it.
What Driscoll implied Meyer and Petry were guilty of doing was clinging to power and money and influence to try to retain control of the entire church. How on earth two of some twenty-four elders could have possibly done that seems impossible to find an actually rational explanation for.
On the other hand ... if we consider for the sake of the record the possibility that Mark Driscoll fits Ellul's practical definition of a propagandist there may be one theoretical explanation to at least consider.
PROPAGANDA: THE FORMATION OF MEN'S ATTITUDES
Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 195 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
Propaganda by its very nature is an enterprise for perverting the significance of events and of insinuating false intentions. There are two salient aspects of this fact. First of all, the propagandist must insist on the purity of his own intentions and, at the same time, hurl accusations at his enemy. But the accusations is never made haphazardly or groundlessly. The propagandist will not accuse the enemy of just any misdeed; he will accuse him of the very intention that he himself has [emphasis added] and of trying to commit the very crime that he himself is about to commit. He who wants to provoke a war not only proclaims his own peaceful intentions but also accuses the other party of provocation. He who sues concentration camps accuses his neighbor of doing so. He who intends to establish a dictatorship always insists that his adversaries are bent on dictatorship. The accusations aimed at the other's intention clearly reveals the intention of the accuser. But the public cannot see this because the revelation is interwoven with facts.
The mechanism used here is to slip from the facts, which would demand factual judgment, to moral terrain and to ethical judgment. [emphasis added]
Driscoll's October 2007 lecture in which he talked about a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus also featured a discourse on the kinds of people who ended up on the bus. Which ones needed to be run over, which ones needed to be thrown of, and which ones would be allowed to sit on the bus because they're nice people who just shut up and do what you might find for the to do could potentially be likened to something Ellul wrote about the propagandist.
... Thus the propagandist is never asked to be involved in what he is saying, for, if it becomes necessary he may be asked to say the exact opposite with similar conviction. He must, of course, believe in the cause he serves, but not in his particular argument. On the other hand, the propagandee hears the word spoken to him here and now and the argument presented to him in which he is asked to believe. He must take them to be human words, spontaneous and carried by conviction. Obviously, if the propagandist were left to himself, if it were only a matter of psychological action, he would end up by being taken in by his own trick, by believing it. He would then be the prisoner of his own formulas and would lose all effectiveness as a propagandist. What protects him from this is precisely the organization to which he belongs, which rigidly maintains a line. The propagandist thus becomes more and more the technician who treats his patients in various ways but keeps himself cold and aloof, selecting his words and actions for purely technical reasons. The patient is an object to be saved or sacrificed according to the necessities of the cause.
... In the very act of pretending to speak as a man to man, the propagandist is reaching the summit of his mendacity and falsifications, even when he is not conscious of it. [emphasis added]
Ellul described the propagandist as taking a strictly instrumental view of those with whom the propagandist would communicate. Once a subject has been identified as important to the future of the cause or the organization one could use charming or edifying words. Should a person turn out to be useless or considered dead weight then the propagandist might discard the person or berate them in private.
Let's remember that, famously, Meyer and Petry were not just fired but also subjected to trials. Ellul has a fascinating observation about the roles trials can play as propaganda.
... Of course, a trial can be an admirable springboard of propaganda for the accused, who can spread his ideas in his defense and exert an influence by the way he suffers his punishment. This holds true in the democracies. But the situation is reversed where a totalitarian state makes propaganda. During a trial there, the judge is forced to demonstrate a lesson for the education of the public; verdicts are educational. ... [emphasis added]
It hardly gets more straightforward than that--in a totalitarian regime the function of a trial is educational, to let everyone else know what sorts of things could be said or done to garner a comparably miserable fate.
Ellul had a few words to say about a man who, swayed by propaganda, has done something wrong.
For action makes propaganda's effect irreversible. He who acts in obedience to propaganda must believe in that propaganda because of his past action. He is obliged to receive from it his justification and authority, without which his action will seem to him absurd or unjust, which would be intolerable. He is obliged to continue to advance in the direction indicated by propaganda, for action demands more action. ...
In the history of Mars Hill it could seem that a simple firing wasn't sufficient, a trial had to happen, even though in the same setting merely letting Meyer and Petry voluntarily resign rather than continue in eldership with the proposed by-laws was always an option. It just wasn't an acceptable option to somebody in executive leadership within Mars Hill for some reason and some guys had to be fired. Formally, that guy was Jamie Munson.
Ellul proposed that once a person complies with propaganda and has acted upon it the person feels obliged to double down on the action or else he might see what he has done as absurd or unjust, and ...
... often he has committed an act reprehensible by traditional moral standards and has disturbed a certain order; he needs a justification for this to prove that it was just. Thus he is caught up in a movement that develops until it totally occupies the breadth of his conscience. Propaganda now masters him completely--and we must bear in mind that any propaganda that does not lead to this kind of participation is mere child's play.
A man who has been swayed by propaganda to do something terrible will double down on what he has done to live with himself. If he were to step back and reflect on what he actually did he'd find it appalling and he can't just do that in many cases. He'd have to persuade himself that he wasn't part of a kangaroo court but part of a thoroughly legitimate disciplinary process.
Seven years on ... a majority of the men who were pastors at Mars Hill during the terminations and trials recanted their decision and publicly apologized for their involvement in the trials and their respective verdicts.
On September 30th 2007, you were both terminated from your employment as pastors at Mars Hill Church. Your status as elders of the church was suspended, according to the church’s bylaws at the time, pending an investigation of your qualification for eldership. It’s hard to imagine just how disorienting and painful this experience must have been for you. That night, Bent, you called Mike Wilkerson, your direct supervisor, to let him know that you’d been terminated. Within hours, Paul, you emailed all of the elders to notify us of what had happened to you that night. We had the opportunity and the responsibility to intervene, to care, to listen to you, and to make sure that any harmful treatment against you was corrected. Instead, we allowed the process of your investigation and trial to continue unimpeded and we participated in it. By failing to intervene and by participating in that process without protest, we implied to the members of Mars Hill Church, to each other, and to you and your families that your termination was above reproach. We stood by as it happened, and that was wrong. [emphasis added]
We now believe that you were grievously sinned against in that termination. We believe that the termination meeting’s content and tone was abrupt, one sided, and threatening. ...
Taken together, these statements from former pastors of Mars Hill suggests a possible interpretive avenue--Mark Driscoll's commentary about the Mars Hill bus suggested that those who wanted to take a turn driving needed to be thrown off and under the bus and that people who got in the way of the bus needed to be run over. This doesn't make sense as the way a church would behave, does it? But if we propose for sake of discussion that by the year 2007 Mars Hill had become multisite and centralized executive powers into a smaller executive team that it had become a propaganda machine then such an approach seems more explicable, if not more palatable or praiseworthy.
Let's also not forget the words of the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability from March 2014 when addressing governance:
By Board of Advisors & Accountability
March 7, 2014
For many years Mars Hill Church was led by a board of Elders, most of whom were in a vocational relationship with the church and thus not able to provide optimal objectivity. To eliminate conflicts of interest and set the church’s future on the best possible model of governance, a Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) was established [emphasis added] to set compensation, conduct performance reviews, approve the annual budget, and hold the newly formed Executive Elders accountable in all areas of local church leadership.
The BoAA itself said of the previous governance approach (which by then would have been the 2007 bylaws drafted by Jamie Munson and approved by the elders) was sufficiently characterized by conflicts of interest that a restructuring of Mars Hill governance seemed appropriate. For those who may not recall that in 2008 Mark Driscoll said appointing Jamie Munson president was the best thing he ever did because it eliminated conflicts of interest ... apparently by about 2011 some people felt that conflicts of interest had not, in fact, been eliminated.
If Driscoll were a propagandist then it could be suggested, at least in Ellul's approach, that what a propagandist would do would be to accuse others of what the propagandist intended to do. Would a person seek to consolidate and retain legal and financial control of an organization? Ellul would say the propagandist seeking to do this would accuse an opponent of trying to do this while asserting purity and innocence. Could a case be made that this was how 2007 played out within the history of Mars Hill? It seems like at least a potential, plausible possibility.
Sure, Ellul's observation about show trials as educational opportunities on the part of trial adjudicators in totalitarian regimes was initially a description of trials in nation states some of these precepts seem applicable in churches in the 21st century.