Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sovereign Grace Ministries spiritual abuse/blackmail controversies and Mars Hill accountability

Years ago Mark Driscoll said that he was being held accountable by C. J. Mahaney and John Piper. Well, it appears that as scandals brew up people have asked who is keeping Mahaney accountable. I know Josh Harris resigned and heard at least some of his sermon and though I can't speak authoritatively about the "Syrian" remarks that people have said were supremely unfair I got the impression Harris was very sincere in his belief that the Lord was letting some heavy stuff hit the fan.
For me, having observed things here in Seattle in connection to Mars Hill the stuff all of this raises as a subject for consideration (if not discussion) is what this means for the accountability (if any) Mars Hill leadership, but most specifically Driscoll, gets. How do pastors on the other side of the country manage to mentor or lead a pastor who has a penchant for Facebook posts inviting people to share stories about anatomically male yet effeminate worship leaders? He did not, as some bloggers noted with some fervor, refer to homosexual worship leaders. Bloggers who go that direction are using Driscoll to continue frying their own fish rather than consider which fish Driscoll is out to fry. The salient issue I consider is that if one of the key pastors described as mentoring Driscoll has stepped down temporarily and partly conceded allegations of spiritual abuse in the leadership of his church and, to go by recent news via the Christian blogosphere, is no longer even attending the church he founded for a time, how is Driscoll supposed to be held accountable by this fellow?
Let me put it another way, if Mahaney himself has been accused of abusing spiritual authority and his leaders have been accused of blackmail and covering up abuse how can those comparable sins be called to account in a setting like Mars Hill? It's not that they categorically "can't", it's that the odds of such happening are so unlikely as to approach the appearance of zero even if zero is not literally obtainable.
But even if real accountability were happening it would seem moot now. It is easy for a pastor or an author to sound off in the public sphere about young adult fiction for girls or movies. Anyone can pontificate on that. It's far more dangerous to pontificate on things that matter in the life of an actual church. So while a pastor may use the pulpit to speak about gender roles in a public setting (while imagining he has not had a real opportunity to do so), said pastor will scrupulously avoid discussing churches going into financial ruin such as Crystal Cathedral. A pastor will studiously avoid discussing the news that R. C. Sproul's son was defrocked and found to have abused spiritual authority. Allegations of EIN fraud will go unremarked upon altogether.
There will likely be little to no comment about SGM scandals. There wouldn't be simply because if CJ is Driscoll's mentor/advisor/person-holding-him accountable, the man can't afford to publicly sound off on stuff he probably knows little to nothing about regarding a person he has described as being in spiritual authority over him. We may ask whether such a formal informal statement even means anything but we can't say there's no sense in keeping one's mouth shut in every medium and wait for everything to blow over. It remains to be seen whether Mahaney will even continue attending or participating in the church he founded.
What this means simply, and at a practical level, is what I already felt was the case, whatever accountability Driscoll says Mahaney has provided is probably of a pro forma variety. It isn't entirely without merit or meaning but it has probably never been of a particularly deep kind or involved much by way of relationship. There's a difference between the affectation of the bad boy willing to confront tough issues in the church and someone willing to confront tough issues in the church.
Piper, famously, stepped down for a time because he felt he had, among other issues, some species of pride that he did not believe disqualified him for ministry but that were significant issues that needed to be addressed. If Piper himself felt a need to step down over some issues for a time and Mahaney has stepped down amidst allegations of straightforward wrong-doing it does not fill me with the greatest confidence that these men were holding Driscoll accountable in any meaningful way. Truthfully I never expected it was possible even if a genuine will to that end existed.
Since I no longer attend Mars Hill I suppose in a way it's all moot ... BUT I still consider myself fairly Reformed, attend a Presbyterian church, and realize that the young, restless Reformed aren't going away. In fact they are working extremely hard to be the ones who, in their minds, guide and shape white American males who will influence the future. Yeah, I did put it like that for reasons I won't necessarily get into here but the neo-Calvinist movement has always flirted with mainly stuff that white people like. I linked earlier to Drew G. I. Hart's observation that the older school evangelicals have actually done more to reach out to blacks and other people of color than the emerging/emergent sorts, let alone newer evangelicals. While the new Calvinists and the emergents battle over who gets the as -yet-single white boys, there's a battle between the new Calvinists and self-described old Calvinists (i.e. the John MacArthur crowd) over who should be getting the white boys.
So even though I'm not at that church/denomination I notice that they frequently get themselves into the heart of controversies within things Reformed in America and the English-speaking world. They will continue to vie for a heavy amount of importance and relevance. Whether or not they would be able to consciously admit it they want to be THE movement that matters in new Calvinism. If SGM continues to spiral and the old self-appointed Calvinist vanguards like MacArthur, Piper, or others split over Mars as an issue then the nascent denomination may get exactly what it wants.
The price, however, will be that once it get what it wants it will become the focal point of institutional criticism. You can't become the biggest, fastest, most important church of your kind without becoming an institution and getting the kinds of surgical examinations that institutions warrant. It was easy to dismiss trenchant criticism ten or fourteen years ago because it was easy to imagine there was no institutional element involved. The closer the organization gets to the two decade mark the more unavoidable this set of issues shall become. Don't expect to see any concession of the reality of institutionalism.
Expect to see new ways of perceiving the self as having a big vision. Guess what, that's what institutions do, too. The little school by the canal just across the water from the not-institution/not-denomination has been doing that sort of "vision casting" for more than a century now. I still say (as I have said for years) that it's better to brace yourself for the reality of what you're becoming, a fat middle-aged guy, than to pretend you can still fit into the high school uniform. Varsity was a long time ago. Meanwhile, the accountability from "above" seems to be weirdly absent and the accountability from below ... well ... that's not something I have any keen insights into, I'm afraid.

No comments: