Saturday, October 18, 2014

the problem of markulinity as air war without ground war and an obscure World War 1 chaplain

Now that Driscoll has stepped down and it remains to be seen where he goes and what he chooses to do it is worth revisiting Driscoll's observations about the need for a truly manly evangelical Christianity.  This is nothing particularly new or special but Driscoll became famous for finding various ways to articulate the idea that young men were not growing up either because they were stewed in a culture that did not encourage real manliness or because the young men just liked being boys who could shave.  When the lengthy rants about the evils of culture producing boy-children seemed overdone Driscoll shifted emphasis to blaming the young men.  But whether the emphasis was on the "pussified nation" by way of William Wallace II in 2000 or a concern about "laddism" in 2012 Mark Driscoll's core concerns about men, masculinity and the evangelical Christian did not substantially change.  He has not really changed the substance of his message over time.

But what has changed in the intervening 12 to 14 years is from where he presents that message and the trouble with the type of masculinity that Mark Driscoll presents is that even if we assume for the sake of discussion that kind of masculinity is good and healthy Mark Driscoll has become completely what he used to call "air war".  For a thumbnail sketch of air war and ground war.

or ...
page 3 of 207
The air war is the Sunday pulpit and the preaching series that is tied to the pulpit. At Mars Hill, we generally lead our ministry with the air war of the pulpit. The ground war works in conjunction with the air war so that such things as community groups, redemption groups, training classes, biblical counseling etc. coordinates with the preached Word so as to be effective and unified as possible. Since most of the Community Groups are sermon-based it is imperative that the CG brand and the P&T branch collaborate on every series. This collaboration includes joint branded content online and Pastor Mark pushing CG discussion points and family devotional points each week in the sermon.

While it's basically true that coordinating aerial and terrestrial campaigns will ensure success the Driscollian approach has it all back-asswards.  Air support is for the soldiers fighting the war on the ground.  The footsoldiers don't have the job of making the air war look effective.  The soldiers in the trenches are going for the objectives and the air war ...

You know, since we're at the centennial of the start of World War I anyway now might be a good time to revisit that war.  Aerial combat wasn't even how the "air war" started.  Airplanes assisted in photographing and mapping the terrain so that the ground war could be fought.  It took a while before any pilots in scout planes got the idea of shooting at each other.  It also took a while for guns to be integrated into airplanes by way of interrupter gears and the like for aerial combat to emerge.  And it took a lot of dead people and an observant German for Oswald Boelcke's axioms about aerial combat to emerge. 

We've had just barely under a century to learn that by themselves strategic bombing and tactical bombing don't accomplish anything.  Bombing the daylights out of the enemy doesn't get much done.  Soldiers have to go on the land and do some fighting.  And if we're pressing the military action metaphor where's the naval side?  But I digress.  What have we learned after a century of airborne warfare?  You still only win wars at the ground level in the long run.  Feet have to hit the dirt.  In ecclesial terms Driscoll would be the bishop and the campus pastors would be seargants (maybe) and the regular members would be the foot soldiers.  So there we go.

Now the ethos and metaphor of the soldier becomes even more critical when we have a figure like Driscoll espousing a particular kind of manliness.  It really matters when you say men pay their own way if you are really paying your own way or have convinced others to pay at least some of that expense for youHere's another example. It matters if when you tell men not to take shortcuts if it turns out you've taken shortcuts or allowed shortcuts to be made for you.  The kind of manliness Mark Driscoll seems to want is the kind of manliness that doesn't come across in the air war nearly as clearly as it would in the ground war.  For that matter, assuming all positive possible definitions for Mark Driscoll's ideals about a manly evangelical Christian life and example, we've passed the century point for a chaplain in World War I who was all for a "clean manly" Christian witness and ministry a century ago.

The Cross and the Trenches: Religious Faith and Doubt among British and American Great War Soldiers
Richard Schweitzer
Copyright (c) 2003 by Richard Schweitzer
Praeger Publishers
ISBN: 0-313-31838-7
ISSN: 0883-6884
pages 106-111
Summarized as follows:

Chaplain M. S. Evers advocated a "clean manly"and evangelical Christian faith as a chaplain (first received into chaplaincy in September 1914).  Evers subscribed to the idea that evangelistic activity should not come from any sense of moral superiority but of sharing hope, and that a genuine friendship and position of service was necessary in serving as a chaplain. 

Evers also bucked tradition for chaplains in Britain during World War I by sleeping in the barracks with the medical officer.  Evers considered it bad form to not be in the place where the fighting soldiers were and considered the custom of unit chaplains living away from the soldiers to be nonsense. To be a chaplain to men in the trenches you had to actually go be there.  For repeatedly aiding and comforting wounded soldiers in the trenches Evers was given the Military Cross with Bar.

Which is to say that the kind of masculinity Mark Driscoll has aspired to was a concern a century ago.  But whereas Driscoll has by turns and years transformed into a functional archbishop who lives in Snohomish rather than King County and preaches via week-delay video rebroadcast sermons Evers rejected the custom of his time that held that a chaplain live away from the soldiers he served.  Evers stayed where the soldiers were and went out to help them where they were.  Not too surprisingly the soldiers respected him and actually attended his chapel services. 

Now it's understandable no one but maybe military historians would care about Chaplain M. S. Evers but Wenatchee is friends with and related to fans of military history and has some family who have served.  And we're on the centennial, after all.  So it seemed useful to consider that a century ago there was a Christian man who advocated a clean and manly form of evangelical Christian faith and he was willing to go meet the soldiers where they were.  It might be useful to remind readers who aren't into this kind of history that that the vintage of "air war" and "ground war" is remarkably new.  There are military jokes and axioms such as the problem of teams always making the mistake of fighting the last war rather than the one we're facing now.  To apply this set of metaphors to Mark Driscoll the tragedy of Mark Driscoll's ministry with respect to martial metaphors is that he is all air war and no ground war.  He became part of a God box in some place at a remove from the regular tithing members of Mars Hill and that God Box (the BoAA, for short) is probably now deliberating on issues that may be as serious as whether to formally dissolve the corporation.  Who doesn't want men to behave in responsible and socially acceptable and constructive ways?  But the distinction between a health masculinity and what I've come to call markulinity has become too acute for these two definitions of manhood to easily overlap.  If you're only air war all the time you paradoxically become the kinds of middle aged pundits about generational decline that Mark Driscoll ripped on in Confessions of a Reformission Rev.

It might be another reason that Mark Driscoll needs to give up the "air war" for a few years and live in the "trenches" of church life.  No one knows what's going to come along, though, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens.  Meanwhile, we had ourselves a little history review on some elements of military history.

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