Sunday, January 15, 2012

"in context" is not just about paragraphs on a page

I have noticed that when the situation of Ted Haggard comes up Drisccoll and his supporters say he gets taken out of context.  He never talked about the Haggards.  Yes, this absolutely true given what I saw published at the time.  Driscoll critics need to bear this in mind and abandon the canard that Mark Driscoll said Ted Haggard hired a male prostitute and did drugs because Gayle Haggard had let herself go. There are far, far too many lazy people who have run with this canard and I fear that no matter how many times I may attempt to correct that it won't matter. People committed to thrashing Mark Driscoll via blogging will just keep doing that.

But it's no less true that when the situation of the Haggards was made known Mark Driscoll took time to say that some pastor's wives really let themselves go.  And what was the context for mentioning this observation that had nothing whatever to do with the wives of pastors who "let themselves go?" Oh, that's right, the Ted Haggard scandal.  In other words, even if Mark Driscoll wants to have his cake and eat it, too, he can say the remark was taken out of context in terms of paragraphs and bullet points but the context in which the statement was made was still in response to the news about Ted Haggard having spent time with a male prostitute and taking drugs.

So, unfortunately. it is only at the most woodenly literal level that Driscoll can say his statement was taken out of context.  There is, as I hope to illustrate, a significant difference between a literary context and a historical context.  Bible scholars must surely grasp this as necessary to understanding what a biblical text and a biblical author are getting at.  Yes, in a purely literary context Driscoll said nothing about the Haggards and wives letting themselves go as having something to do with gay prostitutes and drug use. 

Yet in historical context his statement could not have been taken out of context if he had never used the downfall of Ted Haggard as a pretext for deciding to "take one for the team" (which team was that?) and make a remark about sexually unavailable pastor's wives.  A man who spends so much time telling guys they need to think about legacy, you would think, would have thought about this a bit more.

If he had exercised some self-restraint in that hour this quote about wives who really let themselves go wouldn't be around to be taken "out of context" at a purely literary level five or six years later when the historical context has remained fresh in the minds of anyone who bothered to read what Driscoll published.

Mark Driscoll may comfort himself with the idea that his critics keep taking things he says out of context and if he wants to keep thinking 1,000 members "left" when their memberships got cancelled in late 2007 and they were asked to "renew" then it makes sense that he could decide that a question about something like "wives who let themselves go" is "out of context" because it was connected to Ted Haggard and that was taken out of context. After all, what Mark Driscoll has told us is true from a certain point of view.  If we were given the opportunity to interview the 1,000 members who didn't renew their membership they might provide a different story than the rather vague one Mark Driscoll shared with the Gospel Coalition about members who "left". 

As for the remark about the wives who let themselves go it's small consolation that Mark Driscoll did not happen to speak to the situation of the Haggards.  It doesn't matter that he didn't speak to that situation.  He still used the Ted Haggard moment as the occasion to "take one for the team" and say a lot of pastor's wives really let themselves go. They put on weight, are not sexually generous (maybe I should rephrase that as "visually generous" but some guys that are married and pastors may be blind).

There seems to be something Mark Driscoll doesn't always get, that context is not just retroactive but cumulative.  The trouble with a guy like Driscoll saying he's taken out of context is that the most problematic stuff he says is usually something that is problematic even when taken in context. Why, exactly, did Ted Haggard's revelation of drug use with a male prostitute become the opportunity to even mention that some straight male pastors felt trapped in their marriage to wives who were not satisfying them in the bedroom?   As the downfall of a Haggard goes remarking on the wives of pastors that aren't Ted Haggard is a non-sequitur.  Even those of us who were at one point very happy Driscoll supporters were scratching our heads wondering, "Why on earth did he just publish that!?"

Well, thanks to the abundant sharing of the Driscolls it seems now we may finally know.  Real Marriage gives us a new context in which to understand the things Mark Driscoll has said and published in the past and the remark in the wake of the Haggard scandal about wives not being sexually generous is no exception. To go by the confessions in chapter 1 of Real Marriage it would appear Mark wasn't just thinking about other pastors who at some point felt trapped in a marriage to a wife who wasn't being sexually generous.  He may have been remembering how wanting in sexual generosity his own wife might have been at the time, possibly even the day he decided to "take one for the team".

Here's a bit of unsolicited advice from one communications major to another. There's this thing called "on the record" and it means that what you say in the public sphere gets remembered. There's this other thing about the concept of "in context". If you're a professional minister "in context" does not merely mean that sentence B is considered in light of sentence A and sentence C. It means statements are considered in the broader context of your life in ministry, particularly if you end up being a public figure. If you said something in public five or six years ago about wives letting themselves go and then this year publish a book admitting you resented your wife for not being sexually generous the problem is that the new book provides a new context for understanding the old quote.

And now "in context" means that what the Driscolls admitted about their marital history sheds a new light on how and why Mark Driscoll would, on the event of Ted Haggard's downfall, seem curiously concerned about straight male husbands who were pastors who had wives that had them "trapped" in the marriage and let themselves go or were not sexually generous lovers.  That concern (even if we agree it is a legitimate one) had pretty much nothing to do with a man hiring a male prostitute and taking drugs. As such, the only way to make sense of why a married man like Mark Driscoll would choose that strange occasion to "take one for the team" about sexually ungenerous wives may, at length, have finally been given some context by Real Marriage.


brad/futuristguy said...

So, Sir WTH, would it be too far from your text to say that you are essentially saying: "With far more on the record these days - given the cumulative virtual and physical mountain of print, audio, and video - it is much more difficult to con one's way from a text in context or even from the context of one's context"?

Pastor Driscoll, welcome to the world of postmodern meta-communications where the object you meant for your subject can suddenly turn and you become subjected to the object of your subject. Which apparently meant, in this case, attempting to schmooze outta context and meta-context, if you get what I meant.

p.s. Just because I know how to play with words doesn't mean I'm a playuh. And I even hold a degree in linguistics/TESL summa cum laude from the same venerable university as Mr Driscoll.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

The above link may be a useful reference. Now I know some people really, really WANT Mark Driscoll to have said something about the Haggards but, as I've been explaining, Mark simply used the Haggard situation as an occasion to speak generally.

Driscoll critics and watchdogs just aren't doing the math. Assume Driscoll was NOT talking about the Haggards as Mark just said this year. Okay, now why on earth would Mark Driscoll "take one for the team" and discuss at any length how many pastors' wives let themselves go because a pastor " ... is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness."

Huh? What, if anything, did that have to do with Haggard? Answer--nothing.

Notice the "many pastors I know ... ." How many pastors was that? Why on earth would Driscoll have had any concerns about pastors who were trapped into fidelity? Don't people marry for love these days? How did he end up talking to so many fellow pastors about the vexation of not getting any action? Why was he "taking one for the team" if, by the grace of God, he never cheated on Grace and he married his high school sweetheart who is a beautiful woman?

In other words, taking one for the team only made sense if he was, at some point, on the same team as sexually frustrated pastors who were "trapped into fidelity". Why would he share stories about women who made themselves sexually available to him that he resisted as an example of his character? Glad he didn't cheat on Grace but why publicly discuss occasions where temptresses were propositioning him during communion?

Let's assume that everything Driscoll said in the "many pastors I know ..." remark is true. Let's further assume that Mark Driscoll is right to say he never discussed the Haggards. This means Mark Driscoll was asking enough personal questions to pastors about the frequency and quality of their sexual intercourse to know they were unhappy about one or both variables.

Then consider the confessions of chapter 1 in Real Marriage. The confessions in Real Marriage in 2012 are probably the only way to make sense of the otherwise inexplicable and irrelevant remarks Mark Driscoll made about pastors' wives in the wake of the Haggard scandal in 2006.

Now perhaps as early as 2006 Mark and Grace had already worked out their sex life issues. Good on them. That still means that there was no reason for Mark to talk about "wives letting themselves go" in his 2006 statement. People who want to believe Driscoll lied don't get it, the 2006 statements are far more bewildering and even creepy if we accept them all at face value and as completely true than if even some of them were mere rhetorical flourishes.