Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rachel Held Evans suggests six ways forward for changing the culture that enabled Mark Driscoll, WtH suggests six other ways forward

Rachel Held Evans recently sounded off on changing the culture that enabled Mark Driscoll. 

The post is, summarily
"changing the culture that enabled Mark Driscoll: 6 ways forward"
and the six other ways forward are listed as:

1.   We must educate Christians about abuse, bullying, and misuse of power in church settings.
2.   We must value and preserve accountability
3.   We must take misogyny and homophobia seriously.
4.   We must measure “success” by fruit of the Spirit, not numbers.
5.   We must protect people over reputations.
6.   We must treat our pastors and church leaders as human beings—flawed, complex, and beloved by God.

If we want to change the culture that enabled Mark Driscoll the way forward is not necessarily in the outline of points in Rachel Held Evans' post.

In order to change the culture that enabled Mark Driscoll we need to be clear whether we're talking about one culture or two or a network of cultures with overlapping interests and aims.  Presenting the social-historical moment that spawned a Mark Driscoll as though it were monolithic is too reductionist an approach to have any long-term merit.  Exploring Mark Driscoll as merely symbolic of a series of points that it looks as though Rachel Held Evans were going to make anyway gives Wenatchee The Hatchet pause.  After all, it didn't seem to particularly matter that it was Ted Haggard in 2006 that gave Mark Driscoll an opportunity to opine on his pet topics anymore than it seems necessary for the megachurch pastor to be Mark Driscoll for Rachel Held Evans to revel in her own bromides for the internet.

Wenatchee The Hatchet would suggest six other ways forward from the culture that enabled Mark Driscoll

1. We must educate ourselves on how publishing and media industries work because the last year's worth of Driscoll scandals shine a light on how those industries may have made him a star to begin with.

If there's a lesson to be learned in the Mark Driscoll scandal it's that one should perhaps be reflexively suspicious of high profile Christian authors (left or right) who end up being New York Times best-selling authors and deign to tell us what we should do at this cultural moment of great importance.  We've had a chance to learn how the game is rigged and who has played roles in the rigging.  At this point we should not take seriously either a Mark Driscoll or a Rachel Held Evans until we're certain that we're looking at authors who have done their own scholarship; written their own books; and gotten onto the New York Times bestseller list entirely on their own steam and the last year's worth of controversy surrounding Mark Driscoll was over a book published by the same publisher that published Rachel Held Evans in 2012.

We need to educate ourselves on how the publishing industry works, what it considers ethical and permissible, and how it goes through doing all that to promote books.  The scandals associated with Mark Driscoll suggest that in popular/mainstream Christian publishing the bar for ethics and scholarship may be significantly lower than for that in mainstream publishing.  If some say this is the case about mainstream publishing, "Editors no longer edit." and others agree we should at least consider that the standards in Christian publishing may not only be no better but may even be worse.

Clearly in light of all that has come to light in the last year's controversy about Mark Driscoll and citation errors a lot of mistakes were made and whether they were Mark Driscoll's mistakes or the mistakes of his editors and publishers should not be something we get hung up on too much.  We're talking about a set of scandals that should cause us to rethink the ethics and aims of an entire web of industries.  If Rachel Held Evans didn't first lead with that as a way forward then Wenatchee The Hatchet submits that her ways forward are not going to be ways forward because Wenatchee The Hatchet's #1 leads to ...

2.  An unstinting internal critique of the actions and ethics of people on "our" team is vital and must be sustained and maintained even if it is awkward and painful. 

Long ago Wenatchee The Hatchet had a journalism teacher explain something, that everyone has biases.  There is no such thing as a truly unbiased reporter.  The point here is that a journalist will have biases but must be disciplined enough and scrupulous enough to make sure those biases do not get in the way of seeing what the facts are.  If you don't mind ignoring what the facts are in seeking to promote or explore a particular cause the industry you want to be in is public relations and not journalism.

But the last year's worth of scandal around Mark Driscoll has suggested that many evangelicals and conservatives don't want a sustained or critical examination of Mark Driscoll's ideas and career.  While the secular and religious progressives kept repeating their talking points about gays and women it was conservatives and evangelicals that blew the lid off of the plagiarism and Result Source Inc. stories that nobody on the progressive side seemed to even be paying attention to.

In fact at this point we can't help but wonder whether some of the Christian left writers have availed themselves of the same star-generating tools Mark Driscoll may have availed himself of.  Since it has become abundantly clear that virtually no one to the left of Mark Driscoll was well-situated or even ever disposed to discover the citation errors to begin with this should underscore that as the apostle Paul wrote in an entirely different context, it's not out business to pass judgment on the outsider but by all means we must be willing to pass judgment on failures within our own community.

The problem is that it is not entirely clear that either the Christian right or the Christian left in the United States has any long-term interest in self-policing when they can point fingers at the evils of the other side.

A real way forward from here would not be for the religious progressives and conservatives to keep disagreeing on things about which we will likely always disagree, it would be that we work to promote a public discourse in which we police our own ethics and the intellectual integrity of our own arguments. 

At this point both Mark Driscoll and Rachel Held Evans are respectively two sides of the same coin, the coin that Thomas Nelson made in 2012 promoting both their books.  This rather naturally leads to.

3. Identity politics as usual is not only not a way forward, it was one of the key reasons none of the last year's controversies did not come to light earlier.  This needs to change.

Rachel Held Evans can talk about misogyny and homophobia all she wants.  Mark Driscoll can keep asking rhetorically where all the real men are.  Rachel Held Evans' "stand up"spiel was worthless 2012 as a real challenge to Mark Driscoll in the public sphere and it's just as worthless in 2014.  Should a person ask why it's a bigger deal when Mark Driscoll seems to have plagiarized but not when he says terrible things about women there's a rather blunt reason for this, because there's this thing called the First Amendment and if progressives and anti-charismatics forget that the First Amendment protects offensive speech that is not technically defamation then stop wasting time acting as though a thought crime for the Left or the Right is the same as actual copyright infringement.  If you pretend that the identity politics issues are supposed to be a bigger deal than copyright infringement you are just part of the problem. 

To the extent that Rachel Held Evans wants to keep beating the drum about misogyny and homophobia when the real scandals that have laid Driscoll low (for now) were plagiarism and sales-rigging is the extent to which Rachel Held Evans is nothing more than an instantiation of the same old problem that Mark Driscoll is.  The problem with the likes of Evans and Driscoll is that the questions they ask are largely rhetorical and they rely on dog whistle political stunts that can seem to be more carefully timed to their own book promotion efforts than to any form of intellectual discourse.  If you want to witness some egregiously shameless examples of that sort of thing Piatt comes to mind.  Let the reader understand.

The old left/right dichotomy was why many people who were situated to have observed problems in and commented on Mark Driscoll a decade ago not only didn't say anything about their actual concerns at the time but even dug in their heels?  Why?  Nobody likes to have people who they think are basically okay ripped apart in private or public settings.  Wenatchee The Hatchet used to make defenses of Mars Hill as a community even while having an occasionally dim view of Mark Driscoll as a public figure and persona because there's nothing quite so annoying as a bunch of people who don't know or care who you are talking about Kool-aid.

Wenatchee The Hatchet was not the sort to consider himself a drinker of Kool-aid.  But the more we learn about heuristics and cognitive biases the more it seems that humans are by their very natures kool-aid drinkers.  Everyone will "drink the kool-aid" for the right cause or right person.  It doesn't matter that JFK was kind of a hawk and a womanizer and a drug addict.  Camelot!  What does it matter how many times Reagan was married and that he tried to avoid nuclear conflict.  Family values and fighting the Evil Empire!  If I convince myself I'd never drink the kool-aid I have taken the first and most dangerous step toward actually doing that.  There's nobody so dumb as the person who thinks he or she is too smart to do something stupid.

4. The last year's worth of controversy are simultaneously a commendation and condemnation of the state of "Christian" journalism and associated punditry, but the alternative is not necessarily blogging or "just" blogging, but a reappraisal of our ethics and interests in the public sphere

If the lessons you learned in the last year are only lessons that exonerate or vindicate you then you probably didn't learn anything. 

On the one hand some journalists really blew the lid off of a couple of significant news stories in the last year.  That's commendable.  On the other hand, virtually everyone has made a point of talking about the people in the news story and not about what this may signal to us about the industries.  That Christian authors plagiarize is not necessarily news, but that Christian authors could plagiarize so often for so long a stretch of time without anyone calling it out over a decade is mind-boggling.  The recent success of journalistic coverage in the last year may simply highlight the failure of the whole preceding decade.

And this would also tend to be true for the blogs.  So thoroughly has blogging been pitched toward outrage and anger for or against Mark Driscoll there was a great deal of heat and not much light.  While The Stranger, WORLD magazine, and other outlets did some fine coverage that highlighted how much of what was published about Driscoll and Mars Hill wasn't really news, wasn't new, and added little to the public discourse.  This became more problematic as more secular/progressive publications tried to wade years late into the waters.  Valerie Tarico's article got fixed but what was initially published in April 2014 had so many factual mistakes Wenatchee The Hatchet felt obliged to do a fact-check.

When Libby Anne made some waves publishing some material from "Using Your Penis" that was published back in late July 2014 it didn't look as though AlterNet or Salon realized that Libby Anne used a jpg that happened to be published more than a month earlier; Time didn't seem to know either.  In the rush to not get scooped there was a problem of people running with things without vetting.  The game of telephone has kicked in in the past about Driscoll over the years and the popular but spurious claim that Mark Driscoll said Gayle Haggard let herself go may have been because a bunch of lazy readers who didn't get The Stranger's smart-ass humor filtered that into a claim that Driscoll actually discussed Gayle Haggard's figure.  He didn't but not even REPEATEDLY PUBLISHING what Driscoll ACTUALLY SAID seems to have made any different to people who have their minds made up.

On the other hand, while some of the most trenchant work discussing the history of Driscoll and Mars Hill has been done by some bloggers a lot of blogging has been all heat and no light because of the previously described echo chamber of identity politics.  Wenatchee The Hatchet got flamed for a year or so by Driscoll critics at a couple of blogs for, as best Wenatchee understands, refusing to express disagreement with Mark Driscoll's ideas and actions in terms of moral outrage.  Wenatchee The Hatchet has also tended to avoid imputing motives to Mark Driscoll.  Though the reason SHOULD be obvious it's been surprising how over the years people would type out things like, "I don't see how you can't not see this."  which can be tacitly fleshed out as "Mark Driscoll is evil". 

Well, even if he were what's the point of Captain Obvious bromides that don't accomplish anything.  What might catalyze more change in the culture of Mars Hill, declaring in all caps "MARK DRISCOLL IS EVIL" or finding Driscoll's house and pointing out that it's hard for a guy to blog about how much he loves the city that implies Seattle if he doesn't even live in King County any more.  That the house was bought in the year when a book was rigged a spot on the New York Times bestseller list is also worth noting.  Wouldn't evidence of plagiarism and sales-rigging and by-laws revamping constitute evidence of an ethical problem?  And it's not as though there have never  been progressives in the history of progressive politics and religion who weren't capable of moral wrongs.  It's not like we can just ignore Yoder altogether in light of what has come to light about him, which may be a tolerable transition to the next point.

5.  Christians should not operate under the illusion that "our" heroes are not also capable of being monsters.

This is in some sense nothing more than an extension of 3 but the part that makes it unique is that a failure to recognize this reality about the human condition would be to miss that many of our heroes are heroes, paradoxically, BECAUSE THEY ARE MONSTERS.  A hero is not so much someone who only has good qualities but, to put a ridiculous point to it, the monster who is fighting for the ideals we believe in.  It's not so much that Frank(y) Schaeffer and Mark Driscoll are all that different in how they talk about and to people in the public sphere via mass media, it's that what they stand for becomes a cynosure for other commitments held by others.  Maybe this or that person is rough around the edges or gets overheated or over the top but that person is MY PERSON.  We can exercise a type of self-admiration through the public figures whose antics and stunts embody the ideals we want to see championed.  Few forms of so-called wit are more annoying to Wenatchee The Hatchet in general than the types of wit attempted to make fun of people on opposing teams because a good deal of it amounts to making fun of people rather than their ideas.  It's easy to make fun of someone you disagree with as some senseless stupid kool-aid drinker for as long as you don't think about for whom or what you'd drink kool-aid and if you say you wouldn't do that for anyone then think harder. 

Wenatchee has written this before but when people are defending Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill they are not necessarily defending him but their investment of themselves in the story he tells. You're not going to get anywhere demanding stuff from people, particularly on the internet, but you can invite them to reconsider the narrative they have been given.  And as Wenatchee The Hatchet has, at times, shown, there are a few reasons here and there to doubt the overall coherency of the narrative of Mars Hill as presented by Mark Driscoll over the course of the last ten years.

But the thing is that it's easy to be dismissive when the person subject to scrutiny is not your hero.  It wouldn't hurt if the fans of Rachel Held Evans asked why she never managed to notice Mark Driscoll's plagiarism or why she published her book in 2012 with the exact same publisher as Mark Driscoll.  Sure, publishing under the same publisher sometimes happens but it's worth reconsidering the ease with which and the eagerness for which we lay into the people admired by others while being so brittle and thin-skinned when the people we admire are subjected to the same kinds of mockery.  Then again, we could also reconsider why we're mocking people and not ideas.  But that's something for others to consider.

6.  We should attempt to understand the scandals associated with Mark Driscoll as indicative of the crimes and passions we excuse or berate in our various heroes as a mirror to critique our own loyalties and ethics.

Think of this as the photo negative of the sixth and final "way" Rachel Held Evans wrote. Everyone recognizes their respective heroes are fallible and imperfect human beings.  Even dogs can understand why cats hunt for food but that doesn't mean dogs and cats aren't both predators.  It can be easy to mistake differences in predatory style for supposing that one is a scavenger while the other is an active killer when both creatures are capable of scavenging and both are capable of killing for sport. If we want to address the culture(s) that have enabled Mark Driscoll we need to be capable of critically assessing our own ideologies and loyalties.  We can get some insights into which stunts and attacks we will defend in ourselves by looking at the stunts and attacks we're willing to defend in others. 

Whether we're looking at film or the pulpit or athletics or industry we have no shortage of scandals in which the rich and famous are pilloried or defended as icons of values.  There are plenty of people who want to make this moment in the life and times of Mark Driscoll about self-vindication for or against him.  People who read the Stranger might be inclined to side with Dan Savage as though there's nothing in Dan Savage that resembles Mark Driscoll as a willfully incendiary public persona.  There are those who would endorse Rachel Held Evans over against Mark Driscoll and vice versa.  Wenatchee The Hatchet admits to not being much of a fan of either of these sorts of Christian celebrities ... and the star-making apparatus that has brought them both about seems like the bigger, more serious problem that has yet to be addressed.  Someone convinced these people that anything they might have to say on a variety of issues actually matters and these people believed that someone.  It's not just "the people" but also publishers that put them where they have gotten to.  Evans may well be right to recognize that as a beneficiary of the same publishing system Driscoll has benefited from she might not have the most compelling platform from which to speak to the expectations people have about famous Christian authors.  But she did it anyway.  In that respect Evans and Driscoll may both fall prey to the temptation to sound off on things that might be best left without their respective commentaries.

As Wenatchee The Hatchet has said dozens of times, the aim here is less to persuade through direct advocacy than to inform.  Wenatchee The Hatchet has not made much of a point of declaring that people have to leave Mars Hill (though that might be highly advisable for a variety of reasons).  If you're considering leaving there are reasons for that and if you're considering staying Wenatchee The Hatchet can attempt to provide as thorough a history of Mars Hill as possible so that your decision is as informed as possible.

Years ago someone joined Mars Hill in the years after the 2007 firings and considered it this way, that perhaps Mars Hill elders made some mistakes but the point was they did something, they didn't just let things stagnate in a particular way.  Okay, but Wenatchee's case to that person was to bear something in mind, that in the history of Mars Hill those whose star is on the rise, those whose social trajectory keeps going upward tend to see Mars Hill in one way, while those whose social status plateaus or even declines tend to notice things they tended to dismiss in the earlier stage.  It's not that the culture changed so much as what they noticed about the culture changed.  The risk inherent in someone like Rachel Held Evans sounding off on what needs to change about the culture that enables Mark Driscoll is there's no evidence she's ever set foot in Mars Hill and there's reason to doubt whether someone who was published by Thomas Nelson the same year Mark and Grace Driscoll were is ideally situated to provide a meaningful critique of the culture that really made herself and the Driscolls stars.  You don't want to bite the hand that feeds you, perhaps?

Wenatchee The Hatchet saw how swiftly materials published by Janet Mefferd got pulled.  If there's something to bear in mind amid all this it is that we may really need a mixture of the mainstream press, the independent press, the Christian press, and yeah ... even maybe some bloggers all on the case to maintain and further a public discussion.  It won't all be equally valuable but we have an opportunity to use the last year's worth of scandals associated with one man as an opportunity to ask what happened and, if possible, to ask in a way where it's not just a rhetorical question leading to a point we wanted to make already anyway.


Bill Kinnon said...

Great post, WtH.

Kate Willette said...

"People who read the Stranger might be inclined to side with Dan Savage as though there's nothing in Dan Savage that resembles Mark Driscoll as a willfully incendiary public persona."

As I've said elsewhere, I see them as indispensable to one another. I'm not sure there could be a Driscoll without a Savage, and the parallels between them are obvious.

They're roughly the same age and came on the Seattle scene at roughly the same time. They have a sort of equal-and-opposite take on sexuality. For one, it's great to be "dirty" but only with the one opposite gender person you are legally married to. For the other, it's great to be "dirty" but only if you're doing that in a responsible, straightforward, honest way with a willing partner of legal age.

They both have wildly popular podcasts. They've both gotten the attention of presidents. They're both very concerned with morality, in the sense that they think they know what constitutes "good" in human behavior and feel driven to share that with as many others as possible.

Sorry . . . I know I'm off topic here but I've been thinking about this for some time, and I was happy to see you name it.

Carry on.