The problem of evangelical corruption and undead celebrity pastors will not be resolved by more stringent institutional standards. Indeed, there is not even the means within evangelical ecclesiology to provide structures with the kind of authority that many pursuing this line of thought desire: You need a magisterium for that. And if you’re ready to accept a magisterium, it’s time to buy some swimwear and make your way to the Tiber.
The reality when it comes to dealing with men like Driscoll and Tchividjian is far more basic: There is no replacement for virtue, good judgment, and a certain indifference to the allure of fame, money, and earthly success. If there is a lesson to the Driscoll, Tchividjian, and Patrick sagas, that lesson is probably not unlike the lesson we should have learned from Donald Trump: Until evangelicals care more about truth than they do fame, our moral witness will be hopelessly compromised.
Indeed, it will be non-existent.
We'll get to the topic of the writing in more detail maybe by the weekend but there's such a thing as having a social life and a creative life. Been composing music again and the prospect of composing a fugue for slide guitar in the vein of country legends was irresistible. Also finished a guitar sonata a few weeks back.
But in the case of Mere O contributors in particular there's stuff that seems necessary to flesh out at some length that deserves more detailed attention some time this weekend. Samuel D James in particular has a track record of having insisted that nobody "follow Mark Driscoll" around that we've addressed here at this blog a while back. If Mere O wants to talk about the problems of Christian celebrity speakers never managing to have careers die despite the evidence that can be mounted against continued ministerial activity there might need to be some more cumulatively "on message" agreement between contributors like Meador and James. Just because a few volatile blog posts from the Patheos iteration of Inklingations got pulled doesn't mean they can't be pulled up, for instance.
For that matter, as a commenter put it ...
The dry joke that defrocked ministers seeking asylum to continue being pastors fleeing to the CREC is funny as long as your humor gravitates toward the mordent. Can't recall if the Mere O crew directly addressed the plagiarism controversy that led Douglas Wilson and Randy Booth to retract A Justice Primer in the wake of a plagiarism controversy that was brought to light by a blogger. I've got plenty of reason to doubt that men like Driscoll or Darrin Patrick or Tchividjian should be in formal ministry but the collective track record of Mere O contributors is spotty about the Driscoll case in the sense that, well, we'll just wait to get to that for some time this weekend.
But the large point that formal institutions are no safeguard in themselves against abusive practices would seem like a gimme, not least because of headlines about Harvey Weinstein. The take-away here should probably be that it really doesn't matter where what spectrum a group may land, American institutions and cultures of "inner rings" are all likely so rotten to the core they shouldn't last much longer even if it's likely they probably will.
lengthy POSTSCRIPT 10-11-2017 11:00 pm
Rod Dreher cross references a David Brooks review of Alan Jacobs' How to Think.
Dreher goes on to describe via quotation a warning from C. S. Lewis about the Inner Ring, an informal prestige racket existing inside a culture. There are those who seek to join the Inner Ring and others who seek to attack the Inner Ring but the Inner Ring ends up defining things. Dreher describes himself as having been for Gulf War 2 and convincing himself that anyone who was against Gulf War 2 or just considered it a bad idea as being a bad person.
We’re all at risk of falling victim to this process, are we not? In France last week, I recounted the story for some friends about how my rage over 9/11 was so overwhelming that it slammed my mind shut on the question of the Iraq War’s advisability. I truly thought that anybody who opposed the war was a coward or a fool. I was perfectly serene in my conviction. I told myself that I was listening to their arguments, and found those arguments unconvincing, but only in retrospect did I grasp that I had made my mind up from the beginning, and only considered as “reasonable” those facts and syllogisms that served the conclusion I had already reached. And I concealed this process from myself unknowingly.
The recollection of how I did this really does shake me up, even to this day. If it happened to me once, might it happen again? The only protection I have against that possibility is awareness that it happened, and a resolution to be as vigilant as I can against it in the future. But we humans are fallible. For me, one of the great lessons of my life is the fallibility of human reason. It ought to be the lesson everyone learns as they get older. It’s called gaining wisdom.
Dreher went on to write:
When I moved to New York and started writing a column for the New York Post, I started getting invited on cable TV a fair amount. I was not a good guest. I tried to listen to what my opponents were saying, and respond in kind. What the producers actually wanted was for me (and all the guests) to be combative, and to double down on our initially stated opinion. The point was not to argue as a means to understand, but rather to inflame one’s own side, and, with luck, humiliate the other. It’s interesting to observe how this idea has been widely absorbed in our society. It’s what drives the Social Justice Warriors on campus who are attempting to silence any dissent, but this approach is more general than we care to consider.
Now whether or not a person thinks Dreher isn't still doing this flames-fanning could be set aside as a topic for another day or another venue but it's interesting that Dreher, at least here, can consider that the expectation from the producers was that the role he was supposed to play was an incendiary one. To use Ellul's taxonomy of propagandas, Dreher described an expectation that he was to be a producer of propaganda of agitation.
Dreher wrapped up the blog post with an anecdote and a moral judgment:
I am thinking at this moment of a well-known conservative Christian intellectual. During the Bush years, he was once asked — not by me — how he could support publicly the position of other public intellectuals on the Right (national security hawks, if memory serves) who believed things he opposed. How do you justify that? asked his interlocutor. The Christian intellectual’s response: people like me need to do that to get the things we want, politically, like pro-life legislation.
There is a certain logic to that. The mutual friend of mine and this intellectual’s who repeated the story told it as an account of how political strategizing had corrupted our friend’s thought. And he was right, to a point. But I knew the Christian intellectual well enough to understand that the deepest truth about him was that he was a vain main who considered himself to be part of the Inner Ring — and loved it. [emphasis added]
Let's suppose for the sake of mulling over implications that there's an Inner Ring of movers and shakers in the entertainment industry that is known as Christian media and publication and that the rainmakers, even B or C lister sorts who have controversies swirling around them, are considered too valuable as assets to be dispensed with. They may have been A grade at one point but controversy erupted and popular men fall. But they aren't allowed to fall altogether out of ministry, they may fall from A lister to B lister or C lister and for those sorts of men there is "redemption", which is handed out in the way of giving them some quiet, out of the way spot from which they can see if they can make a bit to be A lister people again. Meador seems to, at one level, get that repudiating this kind of cultural dynamic is important.
But at another level, the dynamics of an Inner Ring aren't alien to academia and yet Mere Orthodoxy guys have wondered where the Christian intellectuals are, and who might be among the ranks of Christian intellectuals. How exactly do you repudiate the prestige racket of an Inner Circle if you're upset that Christians of your set of convictions don't have Inner Circle level respectability or prestige? People by and large never equate "evangelical Christian" with intellectual activity of any kind at all, let alone scholarly work. This may be unfair in all sorts of ways but as the adage goes, stereotypes are usually based on something. Not all fame is necessarily about money. I'm not against scholarship by any means but I do think that in the quest for some kind of evangelical presence that can be described as "Christian intellectual" Mere Orthodoxy contributors need to consider whether joining the prestige racket that permeates contemporary American academia is worth bothering with. It's also not always clear to me whether it's the scholarship or the prestige that evangelicals want. The scholarship can be done just fine without any of the prestige, after all.