Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Mark Driscoll and the Gospel of [escaping] white trash: Part 10—gratitude and entitlement

Confessions of a Reformission Rev
Mark Driscoll, Zondervan 2006
ISBN-13: 978-0-310-27016-4
[this season begins in early 1999]
page 120
A friend in the church kindly allowed me to move into a large home he owned on a lease-to-own deal because I was too broke to qualify for anything but an outhouse. The seventy-year-old house had over three thousand square feet, seven bedrooms on three floors, and needed a ton of work because it had been neglected for many years as a rental home for college students. Grace and I and our daughter Ashley, three male renters who helped cover the mortgage, my study, and the church office all moved into the home. [emphasis added] This put me on the job, literally, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, as the boundary between home and church was erased.
We ran the church out of my house for nearly two years, including leadership meetings and Bible studies for various groups on almost every night of the week. It was not uncommon to have over seventy people a week in our home. Grace got sucked right back into the church mess. She was a great host to our guests. But I started growing bitter toward her because I was again feeling neglected.
Part 12 of The Gospel of John
Pastor Mark Driscoll | John 6:1-14 | January 21, 2001

Grace and I, when we first started the church, we were living in a little rented home in Wallingford and we were starting our family. And Grace was working, and she was making good money, and she wanted to – we wanted to pull her out of work so that we could start our family. And our deal was, “Well we have to buy a house now, because if we just try to qualify for a house off of my income, we’re gonna end up with a honey bucket in Puyallup. That’s about all we’re gonna prequalify for. [emphasis added]
It’s worth quoting at length another sermon from 2001. Because it turned out that even though Mark Driscoll knew his finances were so bad that if it was all in him to provide for the house of Driscoll they’d be living in, as he put it, a Honeybucket in Puyallup, that was no obstacle to his preaching the following:

Part 5 of Proverbs
Pastor Mark Driscoll | October 28, 2001 

The world is filled – if there’s anything I see right now with young men at Mars Hill, it is complete avoidance of their masculinity.  They think that because they sing a few songs and they don’t do anything real bad, that they’re men. No. [emphasis added] These are guys who – I’ll just give you some pictures. Should we do that? Should we just take the fig-leaf off and speak for a moment? These are guys who, 30 of them pack into a studio apartment and pay $25.00 each a month for rent, and have no plans of changing that, because then they only have to work five hours a week at their dead-end job, and spend the rest of their time doing whatever it is that they want to do. These are guys who don’t pick careers. They don’t pick jobs. They don’t go out and cultivate anything. They’re not building businesses. They’re not building their spirituality. They’re not building ministries. They’re not building relationships. They’re not building families. They’re really not doing anything. They’re just avoiding it altogether. Okay?

Some guys are like that. They’re looking for a short cut, all the time, but there’s no short cut. There’s only the long, hard road. [emphasis added] And God did that intentionally to build into the man toughness, resilience, patience, fortitude, strength, to keep chipping away until it breaks. And some guys go, “Well, I don’t know. That looks like a lot of work. I might, you know, break my nail. I don’t – I’m going to go home now and I’ll pray about it.” So, there’s where you get guys who are on their eight-year undergraduate plan. What are you studying? “Nothing. But, my parents said they’ll give me money as long as I go to school.” Well, great. I mean, that’s awesome. You’re now in your 40’s. You gonna declare a major? Like, you gotta get somewhere. You gotta step-up.

These guys are just – they’re avoiding all their responsibilities. What they want, they want food without working. They want drink without working. They want sex without marriage. They want a house without a mortgage. These guys look at means and ends, and they want the ends but they don’t want any of the toil that comes with the means. So, they try and find a short-cut. [emphasis added] “Well, I’ll just steal his money. And I’ll drink his beer. And I’ll sleep on his couch. And I’ll sleep with that girl.” [Whistles] Good. Whoa, short-cuts. Praise the Lord. And Solomon’s looking at his son and saying, “This is just foolish folly. This is just dumb. This isn’t going anywhere. You weren’t created for this.” Here’s how they get there; something for us all to think about

This would make the irony inherent in the controversy surrounding Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill using Result Source to secure a #1 spot for Real Marriage on The New York Times bestseller list all the more amazing.  Because, as we know, about a decade later, contracting to have a Driscoll book place on that list was what Mars Hill did.  When the news broke the initial defense from Mars Hill leadership was that it wasn’t unusual or illegal, really, just maybe not wise.  What it was, without finessing the matter, was a shortcut, a way to secure a #1 spot for Mark Driscoll’s name with help from a company, and with help from making the entirety of Mars Hill get the book so that Driscoll could preach through it.  Having spent so much of his ministry telling other guys not to take shortcuts, he was taking them. He couldn’t afford to buy his own home for his family but he could accept the generosity of a lease-to-own deal from a friend.  He could also accepting having single guys renting space from him but there’s more we need to know about who the single guys were.
If we cross reference to God’s Work, Our Witness, the 2011 fundraising film, we can recall that Mark Driscoll explained that the interns lived in the house.

God's Work, Our Witness

December 4, 2011
about 27:33

The Driscolls’ Basement
Once we got kicked out of that building, literally everything moved back into our house. So offices in our house across from our bedroom, interns in the basement. [emphasis added]
Pastor Matt: Poor Grace. Like, it was so ghetto down there because, I mean, you know bachelors. There’s like three guys living down there, and the dishes would just stack up, stack up. I remember they’d start stinking real bad. And every couple of weeks, like, we’d see the dishes done. I’d come home from work, and I’d say, “Hey, man, did you do the dishes? Thanks.” He was like, “Nah, I think Grace did them again.”
Grace: We shared laundry facilities and so, yeah, I just ended up cleaning half the time, because it was—I couldn’t even stay down there to do laundry. It was so disgusting.
It’s too late to suggest that internships in which you pay rent to your internship overseer is probably going to have problems. 
It may just be that in the last twenty years Mark Driscoll never thought of anything that was offered to him as even possibly being a shortcut. Contrary to the quaint theorizing of Doug Wilson, who proposed that the fall of Mark Driscoll presented an opportunity for “revenge of the beta males”, Mark Driscoll’s ministry at Mars Hill depended upon the generosity and patronage of untold numbers of people who gave him opportunities that, had it been a matter of strictly by going off of his own resources and merits, he couldn’t have gotten.   Driscoll himself joked about how inadequate his financial resources were over the years.  People were willing to believe in him and invest in him and give him a hand up.  
By the 2011 fundraising film he was willing to say that Mars Hill historically sucked at giving.  But then he was willing to lecture men at Mars Hill about lazily taking shortcuts while living in a house he couldn’t have afforded on any other basis than a lease-to-own back in 2001.  Throw in that by 2011 he had research assistants and help from the Docent Group and a functionally captive audience in the form of his church to which to pitch his Real Marriage book and it “could” look as though he used every shortcut available to cement his celebrity, all for Jesus’ fame of course.  
That Driscoll named one of his LLC’s Lasting Legacy and buying a house with a Future Hope Revocable Living Trust befits a man who is concerned about his legacy and the legacy of his family. The trouble wasn’t that he wanted to provide for his family, it was that … to borrow from the redneck lexicon, he’d shown himself too big for his britches and was living too high on the hog for what he was genuinely able to do of his own resources.  He’d managed to go through the history of Mars Hill receiving the faith and generosity of countless people and yet to go by the stories people began to share as they left Mars Hill, or even to go by the things Mark Driscoll was willing to say about his own community when fisking them for their stinginess, this was a man who was willing to regard his own donor base with contempt.  Once that base of supporters figured out how Mark Driscoll was really willing to treat people who’d sacrificed so much to contribute to the legacy of Mars Hill that was increasingly the personalized legacy of Mark Driscoll, they began to balk. 
And Mark Driscoll’s epic tale of the Driscoll clan as kings who became peasants than pirates and became worthless white trash until one patriarch named Joe decided “enough” and took the infant Mark Driscoll to Seattle, well, it’s like a biblical patriarch taking a child into the promised land or something.  That Mark Driscoll could ever seriously write “from pastor to pirate is a lot of grace” depended on his being able to symbolically present himself as the culmination of a cosmic redemption across space and time for a clan he himself said was a bunch of worthless drunk criminal white trash.  So what was so valuable in that?  Driscoll escaped from that.  Mark Driscoll’s Gospel is of a redneck Jesus who saved rednecks from being rednecks, a Gospel of escaping from the dead end of being white trash. Where the early Mark Driscoll seemed able to perceive that this was not possible without receiving a graciously bestowed gift, the later Mark Driscoll could be construed as coming to regard it as something he was entitled to by dint of a divine commission.  Increasingly the story of Mars Hill stopped being an “our” story and became a “my” story about Mark Driscoll and his immediate family.
There’s something in the story of Mark Driscoll’s rise and fall that could be instructive for progressives and conservatives.  That Mark Driscoll’s background was urban redneck white trash has been so amply testified to by Driscoll himself it hardly needs to be explained further.  But it has needed explaining because when conservatives and progressives have reacted to Mark Driscoll it hasn’t always been clear they understand what they’re reacting to.  His paradoxical mixture of simultaneously leveraging and lambasting redneck tropes to define himself in public has largely gone undiscussed at a serious level. 
Instead we’ve seen decades of people on the left and right have visceral reactions to the persona-shaping and branding without seeming to know what they were reacting to. We had a Mark Driscoll who was telling tales of life in the ghetto while declaring most of that white trash deserved their poverty because they made stupid decisions and were immoral.  This was the kind of raillery that could line up with the assumptions of both progressives and conservatives about the white working class or underclass. 
For urban progressives belittling the redneck could be about their ignorance, their racism, their misogyny and any number of other things. For conservatives belittling the redneck could be about their lack of virtue, their lack of initiative, their laziness and their unworthiness of serious consideration.  That the Macarthur wing of American Christianity took umbrage with Driscoll’s cavalier redneck take on the Bible said more about the irreverence they believed Driscoll brought to the Bible by describing it in white trash terms than it said about how Mark Driscoll approached explaining the polemic in the Genesis story of the origin of Moab.  
Driscoll spent his public ministry at Mars Hill proposing that if you were ticking off the left and the right then you were probably doing the right thing.  He managed to position himself, through his rhetoric and the calibration of his publicity stunts, as the sensible centrist in the midst of crazy reactionary fundamentalists like John MacArthur and crazy godless liberals a la John Shelby Spong.  He also presented himself as the hard life kid who escaped the ghetto by being a better person.  That completely plays into a conservative ideal of someone escaping poverty by being prudent.  
But that wasn’t exactly what he did.  By his own account he fudged his birthdate to get a job he wasn’t legally old enough to do to get money to buy a car he didn’t have a license for.  But even if we set all that aside, let’s get back to that lease-to-own deal he talked about.  Driscoll needed a hand up from other people. Here is where conservatives have an incomplete paradigm.  Driscoll needed a hand up, so to speak.  He needed patronage from people and institutions willing to believe in him.  That could sound positively progressive, couldn’t it?  He worked hard, by his own account (at least early on before he delegated a lot of that work to research aides and got breath-takingly lazy about citing sources in a couple of books). But he also was given a lot of generous financial and social support.  
In order to understand how Mark Driscoll’s rise and fall were so drastic as they were, it’s important to understand his persona and the gap between this persona and the conduct of the person.  We’ve seen, at length, how the Mark Driscoll who berated young guys for taking shortcuts to success depended on the generosity of patrons and church members who made sacrifices to the cause of Mars Hill. At length Driscoll’s approach to that patronage base became condescending and even insultingly cavalier in the 2011 film God’s Work, Our Witness.  When Driscoll described how God showed up it was referencing people with the ability to write big checks.  When Driscoll regaled the internet with the perils of urban ministry in 2013 he did so as someone who had already moved his family into a million-dollar home in Woodway, Washington. But in a sense all of this can make sense if we see this as the work of a man determined to escape his childhood behind a strip club in the SeaTac area, the determination of a man to create a world for his children in which they’d never have to experience more than jokes about a redneck white trash existence.  
By 2014 the empire had collapsed under the weight of years of controversy and declining membership and attendance. Whereas other authors have weathered plagiarism scandals and reports of using Result Source, Driscoll’s reputation began to nosedive with the plagiarism and Result Source controversies.  What was at stake?  Well, perhaps the simplest way to explain it all is to point out that the discovered conduct of Mark Driscoll as a person was found to be so diametrically at odds with the ethics preached by his public persona the empire formerly known as Mars Hill was not able to survive that calamity. You can’t really preach to thousands of people about how you shouldn’t take shortcuts if seven or eight of your books have been documented by someone like Warren Throckmorton as having failed to cite panoply of books in the first editions of your books.  
When Janet Mefferd made her public statement on air to Driscoll about his work having plagiarism she had backed up her claims with evidence so irrefutable that the Trial study guide was retracted. Driscoll began to talk on The Resurgence about how he was taking over editorial duties.  But by March 2014 the Mars Hill contract with Result Source was in the news and questions about the credibility of Mark Driscoll’s product and the way one of his products was promoted got at the heart of the public persona.  This was beginning to look like a man whose celebrity depended on taking the shortcuts he’d spent years telling other men to not take. 
Having spent years preaching about how the poor people in the trashy neighborhood he used to live in as a kid were poor because they made stupid choices, the revelation that Driscoll had a book that became a best-seller through a Result Source contract, and that the book was one of the books featured in a plagiarism controversy, it all began to make Driscoll’s persona seem like a sham.  How did a man who could preach so adamantly that guys not take shortcuts not recognize that using Result Source was taking a shortcut to the status of being a bestselling author?  As we’ve seen from Driscoll’s stories about his own life, he could be described as a man who keeps his eyes on the prize, sometimes to the point where he was willing to fudge facts and game systems to get to where he wanted to be. Even if Mark Driscoll definitively escaped the urban white trash milieu he grew up in so that his family would never know it, the cumulative evidence of the shortcuts and hand-outs he took to make that flight began to suggest that he’d gone from having a sense of gratitude to a sense of entitlement.  The Mark Driscoll who talked about how some of us hadn’t sold out to the American Dream yet back in 1998 became the Mark Driscoll who said in 2007, “There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus …  You either get on the bus or get run over by the bus. Those are the two options, but the bus ain’t gonna stop.”  
By 2010 Mark Driscoll was sharing how, “From pirate to pastor would be a lot of grace” as he talked about how the O’Driscolls went from being kings to peasants to pirates to redneck nobodies. From pirate to pastor would be a lot of grace if Mark Driscoll had ever been a pirate but he was another urban redneck who wanted to escape the confines of that life.  This fantasy that the entire name of Driscoll found some kind of redemption in Mark Driscoll having become a pastor who co-founded a megachurch that, at its peak, boasted more campuses than the O’Driscolls had castles when they ruled as kings in Ireland reads like the American kind of “redemption” that is not just redemption from a life of sin and vice but also a Norman Vincent Peale worthy path to total self-actualization, even a Joel Osteen style Your Best Life Now.  That in the wake of his resignation from Mars Hill Church Mark Driscoll has found allies among teachers with a more prosperity-laden theology is not a surprise—it’s what we could expect from a man whose public ministry has been peppered with sermons about his urban white trash upbringing, the embarrassments it caused him, and the determination with which he set out to escape that life for his own sake and for the sake of the family he planned to have. 
If we bear in mind Driscoll’s urban redneck background it begins to make sense of most of the controversies associated with his pontifications on subjects like music, masculinity, femininity and culture. The imprint of a likely nominalist Irish Catholic working class upbringing probably did far more to shape the Driscollian ethos than his Calvinism, however much writers have attempted to explicate Driscoll through his Calvinist jargon.  Driscoll embraced with relish any controversies that could center on his public persona and, as 2012 through 2014 demonstrated, scrupulously avoided discussing controversies that dealt with the governance of Mars Hill or finances.  For as often as writers reacted to what Mark Driscoll insisted on saying about social issues they were distracted from looking at the issues of money and power, let alone considering the life Mark Driscoll had been saying he sought to escape over decades of preaching.  The Gospel according to Mark Driscoll is a gospel of breaking free of the sins and vices of white trash.  Early on it could take the form of an intergenerational resentment back in the days when Mark Driscoll did not consider his own father to really be a Christian, but it was able to transform into a more optimistic narrative of family redemption after Joe Driscoll became what Mark Driscoll considered a real Christian. 

By 2010 this Gospel could become a tale of how Mark Driscoll becoming a pastor constituted a kind of redemption of the name of Driscoll itself.  About a year after Mark Driscoll shared his O’Driscoll redemption tale, the fundraising film God’s Work, Our Witness was completed and distributed to members of Mars Hill. It was also the title of a sermon series.  The film could be read as a story of a “we” that was the whole of Mars Hill with Mark Driscoll and his family as a synecdoche for a movement, at least at the start of the film. By film’s end, when Driscoll scolded Mars Hill for its failure to give money to the cause, the fundraising film from 2011 could be taken as revealing that Mars Hill community and history as a whole were a synecdoche for Mark Driscoll’s personal ambitions and vision for his life with his family.  When we look back on the words of Joe Driscoll about his son and remember that Mark Driscoll was a student voted “most likely to succeed” for mention in his high school year book, we’re looking at a man of such ambition that had he not settled on being a pastor he was still determined to be a leader of real men. Joe Driscoll said of his son “He was always into something” and when we look at the things the father said about his son the pattern in “something” was leading people.  Driscoll aspired to be a family man, by his own account, and he aspired to create a world for them that would be as unlike the world he knew growing up as he could make. 
There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting a better life for yourself and your family but the controversies that surrounded Driscoll revealed to former members of Mars Hill that the man who had spent his public career telling men not to take shortcuts and not to game systems had been found out to be a man who was willing to take shortcuts and game systems.  The man who said that abusive men shifted blame began to seem like he was willing to shift blame. Driscoll’s criticism of the redneck was the lazy, stupid stuff they were willing to do because they lacked ambition.  He never seems to have realized that a man can decide to game systems and take shortcuts because of his ambition.  
When the people who were once Mars Hill began to discover these things about Mark Driscoll many of them did what he once asked to do if he ever went off the rails in theology or personal ethics, they left, just like he asked them to.  After discovering that Mark Driscoll seemed to possess the same vices as the rednecks he’d spent his whole public ministry making fun of as though he were no longer one of them, abandoning Mark Driscoll’s legacy project was arguably the most Christian thing to do.