Saturday, September 13, 2014

more thoughts on what some call watchblogging, the problem of punditry from the nosebleed section about Mark Driscoll, if you're too far away from the history you may not know what it is

So it would appear after being very late to the news cycle in saying anything at all folks like Peter Rollins and Tony Jones have gotten the idea to say anything.

What on earth for is a puzzle to Wenatchee The Hatchet since neither of them brought anything remotely useful or interesting to the table.  It is the opinion of Wenatchee The Hatchet that Tony Jones' bromide about how the problem with Driscoll isn't his personality or the way he relates to people but his theology being the wrong sort is one of the most patently idiotic things anyone might say about Driscoll.  Lots of people have tried to pin the tail on the donkey of this or that doctrine that at some point has been endorsed by Mark Driscoll.  Some people have said it's because Driscoll's Reformed.  He's arguably Amyraldian and that means the hard-core Reformed don't view him as even really all that Calvinist.  Some have argued it's because Driscoll isn't pro-gay and yet lots of people seem to tolerate Pope Francis who hasn't exactly rocked the boat on traditional Catholic teaching on that subject.  Some have tried to pin everything on Driscoll endorsing charismatic pneumatology, which fails to account for how early on Driscoll was a functional cessationist, if only in the sense that he'd doubt that someone besides him could hear directly from God.

No, Jones is trumpeting the dumbest bromide about Driscoll Wenatchee has seen in a long time, perhaps because Jones takes the idea seriously.  The problem is that the way Driscoll has treated people over the last fifteen to eighteen years has been a function of his character and character can remain steady in spite of changes in doctrinal views. 

If Tony Jones has said something that is lazy and a bit empty-headed with respect to Driscoll and theology Jones can at least be said to have ever met Driscoll at all and yet even this simply further highlights the disconnect between what Jones has said (that the problem is Driscoll's theology and not his character) and what former co-founding pastor of Mars Hill Fellowship Lief Moi considered the problem to be.

Listening to Mark last Sunday and seeing his body language I can confidently say that he is not capable at this time of seeing or understanding what he has done. It is all mixed up with manipulation, rationalization, justification, self pity, bitterness, hatred, anger, confusion, and so much more. His statement is not breathed or moved by the Holy Spirit. There was not sorrow for the broken hearts, broken families, broken marriages, broken lives that have come as a result of the last many years at Mars Hill.

Now it's possible someone might conclude Lief Moi made the wrong call but there is no alternate universe in which someone could say that Tony Jones has more insight into the character of Mark Driscoll than Lief Moi in ministry history.  If Moi makes the call that the issue is character rather than making it about doctrine and he co-founded the church eighteen years ago even an atheist might grant that's probably a sturdier platform for voicing a public assessment.  Still, Jones has had some personal interaction with Driscoll of ... some sort.

Now over at Naked Pastor ...

David Hayward proposes that the problem hasn't been Driscoll's theology but his character and this not only makes more sense of the history of Driscoll and Mars Hill it's been getting to the point where even the leadership of Mars Hill Church has felt obliged to frame the controversies of the last two years in precisely these terms, that it's been their collective failure of character that has brought them to this point.  To suggest that the problem would be Driscoll's theology would be to forget how many times his theology on a variety of subjects has changed while his way of relating to people and courting controversy in the public sphere has been rather stable.

Precisely what or why Peter Rollins opted to say anything at all is even more puzzling to Wenatchee The Hatchet.  Let's take this particularly strange statement:

Mars Hill, like any ideological system, was able to maintain its equilibrium through a subterranean network of disavowed activities (plagiarism, manipulation of book sales, unfair sacking, totalitarian leadership structures, anonymous outbursts of rage etc.). These activities were, to a greater or lesser extent, known by many members of Mars Hill. But they remained part of the secret pact of the organization.

While Driscoll recently said that he had wished these transgressions were dealt with internally (rather than in the “court of public opinion”) the problem is precisely that these transgressions are generally already known internally (for example, many employees of Mars Hill will have known about how book sales figures were being manipulated and people were being unfairly dismissed). An internal process would then be an impotent gesture that would lead to little more than token changes. For real transformation to happen resistance needs to occur in a way that isn’t endorsed by the system it critiques.
It was only because many who left Mars Hill became increasingly vocal about the abuse, combined with the persistence of individuals like Stephanie Drury, Matthew Paul Turner, and Rachael Held Evans, that the implicit constellation of acceptable transgressions within the Mars Hill edifice (transgressions that enabled it to function), were directly exposed. An exposure that led to the exposure of a fundamentally unjust and oppressive culture.

Actually, in terms of public discussion and public controversy things didn't really blow up until Janet Mefferd who, like Driscoll, is pretty conservative, made a point of confronting Driscoll on air about the subject of plagiarism and then producing evidence to establish that plagiarism had, in fact, taken place.  There had been members and staff of Mars Hill sharing stories up until later 2013 and for the entire previous decade progressives of the Christian and secular variety had lamented Mark Driscoll's views on women and gays but that was not what brought things to where we are in observing Mars Hill today.  The First Amendment being what it is, the right of people to say and believe all kinds of crazy and offensive things is still protected speech so long as defamation isn't involved.  What changed in the last few years was that it turned out Driscoll and Mars Hill had taken an apparently cavalier approach to the intellectual property of others while simultaneously being willing to let the legal hammer drop on people they believed had infringed on their intellectual property. 

In other words, the progressive was sitting around waiting for Driscoll to somehow fail because of the longterm effects of his thought-crimes while conservatives and evangelicals began to nail him on the mounting evidence that copyright infringement had been going on.  When confronted with this rather brutal situation on air Driscoll suddenly started blurting out things like "Maybe I made a mistake" and all of a sudden learning this distinction between a "mistake" and a "sin", even though copyright lawyers and publishing companies probably don't see plagiarism as one of those "if you didn't mean to then you didn't really do it" kinds of things.  Intervarsity Press took the time to point out that the Trial study guide wasn't really in the zone of Fair Use permissions.

If anything it wasn't until conservative/evangelical Christians were willing to subject one of their own to both public scrutiny and a systematic analysis/rebuke that things started to change.  So in that sense Rollins' analysis not only seems wrong but incoherent to anyone who has actually been keeping close track of what's been going on.  Now Drury is in the Puget Sound area and has kept track of things.  Turner was in touch with a former Mars Hill member and got in touch with actual participants.  Evans has read some Driscoll books but it's more difficult to assess if she's ever set foot in a Mars Hill church or interacted with anyone who called that denomination-in-the-closet home. 

If progressives had just waited around for Driscoll to somehow mess up there wouldn't be any discussion of Driscoll as a lightning rod today.  Supporters of Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll have tried to make some assertions that public criticism has come chiefly from the secular and religious left, from egalitarians and from those who aren't really all that Christian.  The problem with that line of assertion is that it's difficult to dismiss Janet Mefferd, Warren Cole Smith, Warren Throckmorton and others as somehow not on the same team or as not being in some sense evangelical or even conservative.  Wenatchee The Hatchet isn't really progressive about anything and was recruited to the Theology Response Team by a pastor at Mars Hill Church and this blog is probably only known to anyone at all because of writing about Mars Hill.  Rollins may have overlooked the importance of intra-group critique as a necessary corrective activity within a movement. 

Wenatchee The Hatchet's take, not that anyone has a reason to care about it as such, is that Driscoll's controversies suggest that so long as the progressives and conservatives consigned themselves to their usual echo chambers of in-group reinforcement everything was in the usual deadlock.  When something emerged for which conservatives were willing to examine and publicly criticize one of their own the media dynamic changed and that the controversial figure at the center of things was Mark Driscoll and that the controversy involved the use of social and mass media is something else that will warrant more discussion.

But for now, it's kind of too bad that Tony Jones and Peter Rollins weighed in with what they've said.  It's too little, too late, and too bereft of an informed perspective on what's been happening in Mars Hill over the last eight years.  Things aren't the way they are today because Driscoll has a theology progressives don't like but because he took shortcuts in building a media presence he shouldn't have taken.  He alienated his former support base through his leadership style and through burning bridges with the kinds of organizations and on-team ministries that would have otherwise been available to guide, correct and support him. 

The problem with Driscoll isn't just that his theology is damaging or just that he's got some character issues that have possibly not improved with time, there's another problem, that American Christianity as an industry is perfectly happy with superstars on the left or the right as long as they get the results industries want.  The problem is that for every Mark Driscoll on the right there's a Frank Schaeffer on the left (and formerly right), celebrity Christians whose actual scholarship and propensity to say incendiary things to get attention discredit any and every stripe of Christian profession. 

If Driscoll hadn't so eagerly seized social and mass media throughout his career he wouldn't be famous enough that Jones or Rollins would feel any particularly need to note his existence this year.  Driscoll vaulted himself into the realm of the public figure through social and mass media.  He's made his own bed and now he's going to have to lie in it ... but there's more to be said about the way American Christians embrace the media and the stars it makes because it's not like any one side has a corner on this market ... .

No comments: