Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Now is not the time for self-congratulation, now is the time to discover what repentance actually is

In the wake of Mark Driscoll's resignation Carl Trueman wrote a blog post and from that blog post this particular paragraph stood out.


It is interesting that the crisis finally came only when the aesthetics flipped the other way, when Driscoll and his antics became more distasteful than the words of his critics.  It is important to notice that it was not the embrace of a Unitarian prosperity teacher and that decision's obvious doctrinal significance which brought things to a head.  Rather, it was the numerous allegations of bullying and loutish behaviour which finished him off -- things that are aesthetically displeasing in the current climate.  The whistleblowers, however, are still not regarded as vindicated, despite having spoken the truth.  I suspect they can -- pardon the pun -- whistle for an apology from the Top Men or for rehabilitation by the mainstream of YRR evangelicalism.  For they can even now still be dismissed as smug (an aesthetic word if ever there was one)  or simply forgotten because, whatever the truth they spoke, they were nonetheless engaged in the activity at a point in time when the aesthetics of the marketplace made their criticisms easy to characterize as unloving and thus distasteful. 

Maybe, if only in the sense of public rhetoric, but critics to the "left" of Driscoll and critics to the "right" of Driscoll had been steadfast, largely, in their condemnation of his views about gays and women on the one hand and his cavalier talk about charismata and continuationism as indisputably true for him but not necessarily others on the other. 

The crisis finally came when intellectual property, donor designations, and real estate acquisitions came under examination.  It wasn't until Driscoll was accused on air of being a plagiarist that the box was opened.  It wasn't until it turned out that, in addition to Mark Driscoll's books featuring citation problems (a euphemism for plagiarism for our time if there has to be one), Real Marriage was gamed a #1 spot on the New York Times' bestseller list with the aid of Result Source Inc. and the Mars Hill Board of Advisors & Accountability defended the decision as "unwise" but still technically legal. 

But to the extent that Trueman's point holds (and it does, though in a limited sense) it wasn't until people got some insight into how Mark Driscoll was capable of addressing those he considered his relational or ideological adversaries or even those he considered merely obstacles that the aesthetic inversion happened.

But in a way this gets us to something else, the thing about the news coverage.

As important and needful as the contributions of Janet Mefferd and World Magazine were in highlighting the plagiarism issue and the sales rigging issue, these were pretty late developments in the history of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill as part of the public sphere.  There had been plenty of people informally discussing various issues about Driscoll and Mars Hill for years.  The blogs are not hard to find but blogs are dismissed for many reasons, foremost being that very few bloggers practice anything like journalistic ethics (setting aside for the moment questions about how many journalists may follow journalistic ethics). 

Yet it would be hard to credit the Christian press for being late to an investigative party that had been taken up by bloggers for years and the publishing industry that either overlooked or failed to observe the citation errors rampant in Driscoll books since, it turns out, the dawn of his publishing career bear blame as well as credit.  It does no good for Christian media and journalism to have highlighted the citation problems in Mark Driscoll's books if the media empire was a vital part of what made him a star to begin with.  If Driscoll sinned the Christian publishing industry must take ownership of letting those sins happen and if some Christian journalists have proven exceptions to the rule the rule does not seem changed for it. 

But the formal press could at least be said to have striven to have verified things, to have sought official documentation.  A major reason blogs could be dismissed that Trueman seems to have picked up on is that there was always the "sour grapes" ad hominem.  It was always possible to dismiss the blogs as nothing but the work of cranks and creeps. It was possible to dismiss blogs as unofficial and generally written by those envious of a ministry success, or those antagonistic toward a particular team, or for pettiness.  It could certainly be guessed that some blogs and blog readers and commenters would seize any occasion to remark on the evils of Mark Driscoll.  If he so much as farted on stage there'd be an outcry ... and outrage is probably the cheapest emotion on the internet.

Turning to a bit more troubling potential reference points, we may very well live in a culture in which the nature of victimhood has to be parsed before we accept allegations.  Many of those who were "thrown under the bus" were participants in the culture at Mars Hill that intimidated and bullied or browbeat people into conformity.  It's tempting for people to suppose, since we'd never be that way ourselves, to look askance on some critiques from some people because, well, you know, they were kind of asking for it.  They should have known what was likely to happen.

And soldiers who voluntarily enlisted circa 2001-2004 should have somehow known what was going to happen?  Something over at Slate might tangentially illuminate one of the difficulties of requiring a spotless victim.  It gets at the difference between the allegations of sexual assault leveled against Woody Allen on the one hand and Bill Cosby on the other.

When I asked Newsweek’s Baker why she felt that the victims she spoke with had been ignored, she told me: “I think it's because they were imperfect victims, as victims so often are,” Baker told me. The two women Baker interviewed were young at the time of the assaults, but over the age of 18. More importantly, “they were ambitious aspiring actresses and models who were hanging out with an older man who said he'd make them famous.” Maybe we take their age and ambition—their self-determination, really—as an excuse to withhold our support.

That ethos of supposing that someone was "asking for it" may be a bit of a problem across the board.  There may be a way to distinguish between some foolish decisions and the colloquial working definition of "asking for it", whether we're talking about those who have been raped; those who have been traumatized by participating in a military effort they volunteered for but did not fully understand; or for those who have "drunk the kool-aid".  Wenatchee The Hatchet has come to the possibly grim theory that humans are inherently drinkers of kool-aid.  It's what we do, particularly when we most protest otherwise.  Spending a decade at Mars Hill and possibly having not imbibed enough of the "beverage" to have fatally toxic effects (yet?) doesn't really entitle a person to look down on others.  A disposition of grace should not exactly be counting what this or that person "deserves" or "had coming to them", does it? 

If we're going to discuss abuse and victims with respect to Mars Hill or other settings we will have to set aside any mythology of "perfect victims", not because there aren't perfect victims of some kind, but because we should refrain from looking down on those who, though they may have been run over by the bus, took a hand in driving the bus in some way. 

Or, to be both more tangential and more direct, now is not the time to congratulate ourselves if Mark Driscoll has proven to be a quitter and has left Mars Hill Church.  "We" didn't do anything for more than a decade.  "We" tolerated Driscoll within evangelicalism because while he may have been a "jerk" he was "our" jerk.  Progressives can't really congratulate themselves either because a mountain of controversy about intellectual property and donor designation issues weren't even on their radar.  They were busy wanting to find Mark Driscoll guilty of thought crimes that are, technically, still defended by the First Amendment than by copyright infringement.  The temptation for us, irrespective of camp, to congratulate ourselves is far too high.  If there's a time to express remorse and regret that we let things get this far to begin with that's what we should do.

There are a whole lot of men in the history of Mars Hill who not only let all of these things happened they actively voted for it, and not just in 2007.  There was 2005 when that boondoggle at 50th street was bought without having done due diligence on the zoning issues.  To some degree the whole idiotic courtship fad circa 2002-2007 was a trial run.  If a church leadership culture could cultivate a culture of self-enforcing conformity on something as silly as the courtship fad then it would be a simple matter to expect that conformity for things like bylaws.  Dissenters could be shamed, attacked, dismissed, blackballed, or otherwise argued with and then it was just a matter of the social economy of scale.  As the saying goes, the frog doesn't know the water's reached the boiling point until its too late, or something like that.  We were all the frog.

Maybe not every last one of us.  It is to the credit of at least some progressives they saw in Mark Driscoll someone who was aiming to wage the same old culture war battles through slightly modified tactics.  Whereas the old Religious Right aimed for overt and directly politicized action Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill arguably developed a more guerrilla approach, cultivating individual cels of culture warriors.  If the old Religious Right could be described as like the AIM Sidewinder or Phoenix missile system, where the missile and the tracking apparatus had to be in tandem, then perhaps the post-Driscollian approach to the culture war could be likened more to the AMRAAM system. We witnessed the development, if you will, of a kind of fire-and-forget weaponry in the culture war and that may be one of the innovations of Mars Hill within the context of Puget Sound.  Jessica Johnson has described this Mars Hillian ethos as that of the "citizen soldier".  Go read the piece because it is one of the more accurate and prescient articles written on the ethos of masculinity that was cultivated in Mars Hill Wenatchee the Hatchet has read.

While Driscoll went to Gateway as a guest it is worth bearing in mind that in the end he seems to have declined to accept the restoration/disciplinary arrangement he was offered by the church he founded.  In this respect it would seem that the most striking thing about Mark Driscoll is that so long as he gets to dish out he's fine but as soon as he has to take even a thimble-full he ... leaves.  It has been this pervasive double standard in the leadership culture of Mars Hill that has been one of the most toxic parts of the culture.  Should Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner receive any compensation on their way out at all then they will have added a special level of hypocrisy in having spoken against "consumerism" from the rank and file while taking severance packages of the sort Sutton Turner told underlings to neither ask for nor expect to receive if THEY quit.

Jesus warned that though you should do everything the Pharisees told you to do because they have Moses' seat that you should not follow their example.  After years of preaching against Pharisees and "religious people" the sobering observation for this moment is that Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner may have revealed themselves to be Pharisees of Pharisees.

And yet for all of us who have ever called Mars Hill home ... we're the ones who put those people there.  We're responsible, all of us.  We let it happen. We didn't just let it happen, we came to an often spirited defense of those men who by now have abandoned the church called Mars Hill, whether Driscoll or others.  Sure, we can talk now about "drinking the kool-aid" or the snake oil but for those of us who bought it what were we buying? 

It's not hard to review the ways in which Mark Driscoll got sloppy as an author, lazy as a theologian, and aggressive as a self-appointed social pundit who clearly and actively sought to become a public figure.  Now he's gone outside of Washington to regale a sea of people about the jeopardy his family has been without once considering the role his willfully inflammatory persona played in inspiring less than stable people to confront him.  Driscoll used to teach that headship means it's your responsibility even if it's not your fault and clearly Driscoll no longer seems to believe that to the extant that he's willing to shift all the blame for the disturbance of his family not on his own inflammatory persona but on people who he used to say were the sorts of people who didn't get what "playing a character" was.

But "we" need to ask ourselves why it took so long for any of the controversies of the last year to emerge.  Why did the plagiarism scandal only erupt when Janet Mefferd made an on-air accusation?  Perhaps because until established Christian media ran stories it wasn't official and it wasn't "real".  Wenatchee The Hatchet presented a back to back comparison of Real Marriage to The Wounded Heart in September 2013 and broached the possibility of copyright infringement in Driscollian work as far back as July 4, 2013.  The reactions at the time ranged from yawning indifference to "so what?" a fairly narrow spectrum.  It seems many a Christian these days refuses to even grant that intellectual property exists except as a legal fiction and an immoral one at that. 

If Driscoll was selling something (and most assuredly he's selling something) what is it?  What did we buy?  The simplest answer would be he's selling "legacy". The invitation was to be part of a legacy that positively influenced the world for Jesus.  Over time this legacy began to look less and less like the work of a community united by a common Christian confession and more and more like a community whose narrative was increasingly defined by the personal narrative of Mark Driscoll, a narrative that has collapsed into incoherence when Driscoll's public account has changed basic details he'd previously been clear about.  Additionally, Driscoll has increasingly changed both the tone and substance of the narrative in the wake of a variety of controversies

That Driscoll was selling a legacy isn't hard to prove.  Malachi made it explicit.  The end of God's Work, Our Witness (the fundraising film) also made it explicit.

People are getting saved more than ever. Churches are getting planted more than ever. Leaders are rising up more than ever. Opportunities are surfacing more than ever. And this is the best possible time to get onboard, to pray, give, serve, because I promise you, what comes next is the kind of thing that you’re going to tell your grandkids about.

Mars Hill has had a long history of saying "It's all about Jesus" but as N. T. Wright used to put it, it matters a great deal which Jesus we're actually talking about and that, in turn, invites everyone who currently or previously called Mars Hill home "Which Jesus are we talking about?" Were we following Christ as revealed in the scriptures? (Wenatchee The Hatchet is anything but a mythicist, so there) Or were we following a Jesus who was essentially mediated by Driscoll and markulinity?  It increasingly seems the latter was the case. 

Romans: The Righteousness of God
Adolf Schlatter, Hendrickson Publisers (c) 1995
page 40

The individual is godless if he fabricates religion in his own interest, for the sake of his own happiness. God must be worshipped for the sake of God. ... Paul emphasizes the absurdity of idolatry. It is absurd to put the individual, under the law of death, in the place of God, because in doing so it is not even the human and the animal that are worshipped, but only their likeness. This likeness is no reproduction of living beings at all, it is merely able to copy the outline of the form, the lines shaping their figure.

page 43

... it is a lie arising from selfish covetousness, if the individual makes his image to be God's image and his lust to be God's will. 
The ideal of masculinity and legacy that Mark Driscoll has made the sales pitch for his public persona and ministry has turned out to be more image than reality and that this was the case was revealed at length in the 2012 book Real Marriage. It doesn't matter whether or not the Driscoll marriage is now closer to the ideal than it was in the first decade of Mars Hill, what matters was that for the season in which the Driscolls presented themselves as happily married it now seems as though that happiness was an idol and a sham.  But then for those of us who called Mars Hill the same must also be said about the many things we considered good. 

There were real, positive goods to be had, of course, but as Christians are wont to say, idols are generally good things that are valued about the one true God. It's easy to say that about other people but for those of us who can only confess by dint of the investment of our lives that we bought what Mark Driscoll was selling we need to ask ourselves what we were buying in for.  We also need to refrain from congratulating ourselves for anything at all.  Now is not the time for self-congratulation.  While it is a shame that Mark Driscoll seems too unscrupulous and cowardly to participate and has chosen to abandon the church he took so much credit in founding, the process of repenting of being part of and contributing to what Mars Hill has become has only just begun. 

And that goes for each and every one of us who has called that community home. Wenatchee's role is relatively small and insignificant, attempting to document the history here and there.  But there needs to be more "our" to "our witness".  Wenatchee is not and doesn't desire to be any kind of leader but if there's a way to lead it's by example.  As has been said before, Wenatchee The Hatchet isn't telling anyone they "have" to leave Mars Hill, just to re:consider the narrative.  That narrative may be our collective idol. If in the end the legacy of Mars Hill were to be founded on Mark's personality and was a legacy we were building to be able to tell our grandkids about then that would make the entire legacy of Mars Hill a narrative that in itself would be an idol.  Now that Driscoll has behaved like a hired hand we need to ask ourselves why, in so many ways, we paid him for so many years.  That's not an easy or pleasant question to answer but it's one we must deal with.