Saturday, October 18, 2014

William Vanderbloemen has a captain obvious op-ed on "3 reasons why Mark Driscoll's resignation changes everything", which won't change things

William Vanderbloemen has an op-ed piece in the New York Observer that has a few Captain Obvious axioms that seem to traffic in some ignorance of the history of Mars Hill Church and some of the public discussion about it.

Let's take the first Captain Obvious bromide.

1. Social media is a powerful, dual-edged sword.

... Daily blogs from across the country criticized the church, the board, and/or Pastor Driscoll. Some of the most popular posts were from people who have never even attended Mars Hill.

Yes, social media is a powerful dual-edged sword.  The problem in the case of Mars Hill is not necessarily that "critics" made a point of using social media to criticize Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll.  It was never that simple.  Mars Hill Church was filled with leaders and members who managed to tweet and blog away any shred of privacy they could have had that allowed Wenatchee The Hatchet, a ten year veteran of the culture of Mars Hill, to assemble the data to identify that Andrew Lamb and the Noriega family were close to or at the center of the 2012 disciplinary controversy based not just on social media activity but on Mark Driscoll's own sermons.

Wenatchee The Hatchet seems to have gotten a reputation as being a Mark Driscoll critic but this would be to misunderstand what Wenatchee The Hatchet does.  Preserving for the public record a history of Mars Hill according to leaders while the history has been adjusted and updated is not always the same as being a "critic".  If quoting Driscoll accurately, in context, and in a way that reveals that Mark Driscoll has changed or betrayed the basic principles he articulated about pastoral ministry from the pulpit ten years ago constitutes being a "critic" then Mark Driscoll has lowered the bar by betraying everything he once stood for.  That's not Wenatchee The Hatchet's problem as such. 

Now it is true that the vast majority who have seen fit to opine on Mars Hill are frequently ill-informed and have not even participated in life at Mars Hill.  That's not in doubt. 

Vanderbloemen correctly points out that Mars Hill dove headfirst into using and embracing social media and internet communication.  Wenatchee The Hatchet has already written about how what Mars Hill culture did was essentially idolize social media and that what an idol promises is given in exchange for some kid of sacrifice.

The sacrifice offered to social media to expand and promote a brand is what ... ?  We get to point 2.

2. Privacy is dead and words live forever.

... In the digital age, there is little or no privacy, and words live on forever and everywhere. The fishbowl is no longer the local community. It is the entire world.

No one says you have to opt in to this.  Those that don't opt in and haven't opted in except in a limited way might be seen as reclusive.  But Wenatchee The Hatchet suggests that Bill Watterson is not  a recluse. Bill Watterson has simply retained a pre-internet conception of the individual having a private life.

The problem here is that Mars Hill culture so saturated itself with social media and broadcast media that they didn't realize in the midst of all this that there aren't exactly take-backs in this kingdom. And yet paradoxically this new kingdom of internet literacy seems full of people who don't know how to read and can't remember things that were said or how they were said.  Take this, for instance.

Much of the criticism Pastor Driscoll has faced centers around comments he made nearly 15 years ago, which he apologized for in a book and before his church. Yet in the digital age, words live forever, and even if they have been retracted by the author, they can be resurrected to create new friction for pastors and leaders.

No, the plagiarism controversy was not about the writings of William Wallace II.  The Result Source Inc. controversy was not about the writings of Mark Driscoll in 2000, either.  The criticism about the lack of transparency and honesty surrounding the nature of Mars Hill Global and how monies donated to it and through it were actually spent is also irrelevant to the rants of William Wallace II.  Anyone who attempts to frame the criticisms of Mark Driscoll in the last two and a half years as "much of the criticism ... centers around comments he made nearly 15 years ago" is a complete idiot at best or a duplicitous tool at worst. 

What is more, as Wenatchee The Hatchet has discussed at some length Mark Driscoll presented his writings as William Wallace II as a rant against emergent and liberals. 

Mark Driscoll,  Zondervan
copyright (c) 2006 by Mark Driscoll
ISBN-13: 978-0-310-27016-4
350-1,000 people

At this time, our church also started an unmoderated discussion board on our website, called Midrash, and it was being inundated with postings by emerging-church type feminists and liberals. I went onto the site and posted as William Wallace II, after the great Scottish man portrayed in the movie Braveheart, and attacked those who were posting. [emphasis added] It got insane, and thousands of posts were being made each day until it was discovered that it was me raging like a madman under the guise of a movie character. One guy got so mad that he actually showed up at my house to fight me one night around 3 a.m.
Driscoll's own words stated that he saw Midrash inundated with postings by emerging-church type feminists and liberals and that Driscoll went on and posted as William Wallace II, attacking those who were posting.  Okay, and one guy got so mad he showed up at the house wanting to fight at  But let's go back and look at what the opening fusillade of "Pussified Nation" started with.
This not only wasn't the case, the rants of WW2 were most vitriolic against fellow evangelicals such as James Dobson or the Promise Keepers set.  Let's revisit the opening salvo of Pussified Nation.

James Dobson instantly springs to everyone's mind as an emergent church feminist type, right?
Ditto for Promise Keepers?

Wenatchee The Hatchet has already written extensively on the historical, social and economic background of Mark Driscoll taking up the pen name William Wallace II and publishing "Pussified Nation".  Here.  And here. And here. And here.  And here.  The most important thing to state for those who actually know what Mark Driscoll did and did not write in his 2006 book is that he expressed regret about some unspecified things he did and said in anger but that he did not actually explicitly repudiate the substance of what he said as William Wallace II.  In fact the substance of what he said as William Wallace II in "Pussified Nation" was pretty much the same message he had for Justin Brierley in 2012.  Driscoll expressing regret about doing something and saying something in a stupid and ill-advised way simply raises anew the question of what he was sorry about.  In the 2006 book he stated he developed the pen name.  If he couldn't even keep straight who he was attacking on Midrash and why six years after the fact what reason is there to trust that Driscoll saying he's apologized for stuff from fourteen years ago means much now?  After all, in the last year it seems Driscoll can't even seem to recall that there were kids in the earliest years of Mars Hill these days and has managed to inadvertently testify against his own accuracy.

Vanderbloemen can assert if he likes that Mark Driscoll said he apologized for William Wallace II rantings in the 2006 book.  The apology came later, more like 2014. 

Privacy isn't dead in the same way all across the board and if you choose to use social media you need to come to grips with the reality of what you're doing, committing things to a broadcast medium for the public record that will stick around.  You would think that this should be the easiest thing in the world for a pastor to consider since pastors have been instructed on how the words they say and preach speak of eternal things and of a life to come and the ever-living Christ.  But there are men in ministry who apparently didn't get the memo about how by your words you will be acquitted and by your words condemned or didn't read that part that carefully. 

Matthew 12:33-37 (NIV)
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

So maybe thanks to the internet some of that age to come stuff has shown up a bit early.  But wouldn't a Christian pastor, before ever embarking on a life of ministry, have some awareness of the gravity of this warning before taking up the pen name William Wallace II to begin with?

As Wenatchee The Hatchet has been pointing out over the last few months the reason republishing the sum of Mark Driscoll's writings as William Wallace II is because informing the public about what Driscoll actually wrote is a journalistic service to the public.  What is more, doing so permits people to read what Mark Driscoll actually wrote and assess for themselves how persuasive his enumerated public apologies might seem.  But there is a more important reason to publish what Mark Driscoll wrote in 2000 and to compare it to things Driscoll has said and done in the 2011 to 2013 period.

It gives us an opportunity to see whether the substance of Mark Driscoll's ideas about men, women, gender, sex and marriage have actually matured, grown or changed.  The substance of Mark Driscoll's ideas remained steady between 2000 and 2012.  Driscoll has expressed regret about his "tone" plenty but has not repudiated the substance of his views and even for conservative evangelicals the substance of a number of things he has taught can be considered problematic.  He's confessed that what he did as William Wallace II was wrong but critics have objected not just to the tone in which he's said his more famous ideas but also the substance.  It won't cut it any longer now that Acts 29 has shown him the door and evangelicals like Heath Lambert have critiqued Real Marriage to claim that Driscoll critics are uniformly secular/left. 

The reason merely quoting Mark Driscoll accurately and in context in 2000 could create a stir in 2014 is because the substance of Mark Driscoll's views on sex, genders and marriage haven't changed.  When a person expresses regret, has a change of heart, and proceeds to live and speak a life in which they walk a new path we get, you know, the apostle Paul writing epistles to churches.  Darth Vader revealed his change of heart by throwing the Emperor over a precipice.  John the Baptist said something about bearing fruits as evidence of repentance.  If Driscoll had actually borne the fruit of repentance on any of these issues about what he said as William Wallace II compared to the Justin Brierley interview then we'd have a more convincing case for "Mark repented" or "Mark apologized".  Mark Driscoll told Brierley that maybe he went too far but everyone else didn't go far enough, which sounds curiously self-rationalizing to Wenatchee The Hatchet.

Let's spell this out again, if you've repented of what you said in the past and it's clear to everyone then reviving what was said in the past shouldn't even necessitate a renewal of an apology.  If Driscoll had made a point of leaving everything of William Wallace II up AND ALSO issued a more specific apology for what he said republishing the writings of Driscoll under the pen name wouldn't have created any stir. 

But republishing the writings of Mark Driscoll as William Wallace II wasn't just about the words themselves but about what they signaled.  They gave people an opportunity to retroactively consider doubts about Mark Driscoll's basic fitness and competence for Christian ministry. 

As for the popular posts including work by people who never attended Mars Hill, well, yes, that's pretty unfortunate.  But talking about social media should not be limited to just those posts or those blogs.  Wenatchee The Hatchet was at Mars Hill for about a decade as an attender and a member.  Wenatchee was recruited to a number of ministries and helped start a couple but without any particular interest in running those ministries.  Wenatchee was recruited to field theological questions on behalf of Mars Hill elders so it couldn't be said that Wenatchee The Hatchet wasn't on the same page as the Mars Hill pastors if the pastors recruited him to field questions on their behalf.  Wenatchee The Hatchet is still a moderately conservative evangelical with a Calvinistic soteriology and an interest in ecumenical discussions.  It would be possible to dismiss a lot of blogs and bloggers as those who have never been part of Mars Hill but that can't be said about Wenatchee The Hatchet. 

And it can't be said about Wendy Alsup.  It can't be said about a number of blogs and websites.  As Jared Wilson's open letter to Driscoll more or less showed

the problem in the last year is that Mark Driscoll's speech and conduct has not just offended secularists or progressives but also his own former base. 

So while there may not be any privacy as we used to define it on the internet let's remember that you can't use broadcast and social media without having an understanding that what you say for the record stays out there.  This is not just a problem facing some recently resigned megachurch pastors.  Take the celebrity nude selfie hack news , though in the case of nude selfie photographs on a networked mobile device that connects to a cloud the problem there is not the same as a Mark Driscoll writing as William Wallace II.  While Christians in the spring of 2014 might have read about Result Source and while some concluded that sales rigging is normal in the secular world and that the plagiarism was no big deal we're in a cultural moment that's a bit larger where there is such a thing as revenge porn.

Mark Driscoll's controversies about what he probably should never have put up on the net to begin with may differ from a celebrity who took nude selfies on a networked device chiefly on the matter of a Christian pastor with a communications degree and a wife with professional training in public relations seem like someone who ought to have known better fourteen years ago.  Only so much could have been done about a blunt force hack on a cloud.   There's no particular reason to feel sorry for Mark Driscoll having ranted as William Wallace II.  Compared to Mark Driscoll standing before God to explain why William Wallace II seemed like a great idea when he was doing it a stew on the internet is nothing.  Or as Mark Driscoll once tweeted, "You deserve Hell. Everything else is a gift."  Okay then ... Mark Driscoll has a chance to take his own bromides to heart.  He really deserves Hell and everything else is a gift, right?

Finally, in light of Driscoll's unanticipated quitter moment of throwing in the towel .... Vanderbloemen writes the third lesson.

3. Every pastor needs to realize that he or she is an interim pastor.

It remains to be seen whether Mark Driscoll's resignation changes anything apart from the corporation known as Mars Hill Church. A lifelong ministry at one church is not a more fragile prospect than ever if you go into it with an understanding of the significance of what a pastoral ministry is.  And for that matter in the internet age the use of the internet is not necessarily some freak-out inspiring thing if you keep in mind a simple axiom, don't publish things on the internet to begin with unless you'd be willing to stand by what you said as what you meant at the time while expecting it to stay up there indefinitely. 

Avoid libel and slander, avoid saying things you think you might regret.  Don't react out of anger.  Be patient.  Be thoughtful.  Resist the temptation to type up the witty retort you think would make you look smart and your conversant/opponent look stupid.  Think like a pastor.  Or, no, wait, just think like a Christian or a reasonable human being if you don't subscribe to Christianity or other religious beliefs.  And if you change your mind and regret what you said say so, say you're sorry and show how and why you've changed.  This is conceptually not very difficult.  These were instructions for how best to love one's neighbor preserved in the Bible and other literary and religious works for millennia before anyone got the idea of inventing something called the internet. 

Perhaps Wenatchee The Hatchet could have a better attitude about Vanderbloemen's op-ed piece but in the end it reads like a trio of Captain Obvious bromides with additional flourishes that suggest a lack of familiarity with the history of Mars Hill and of its culture use of social media.

The reason Mark Driscoll's resignation won't change anything is because the dynamics that let him become a pastor to begin with and stay a pastor for as long as he did haven't changed.  Most of the key controversies surrounding Driscoll in the last year from Result Source Inc to the plagiarism to Mars Hill Global are too unique to Mars Hill on the one hand and too harsh a peek into problems that may plague the Christian broadcast/media empires on the other to get any serious attention.  The only way Mark Driscoll's resignation "might" change anything is if concern about the financial transparency and ethics of Mars Hill reached such a pitch there were some kind of government probe into fiscal ethics. 

Meanwhile, all the publishers and editors and promoters who have profited from making Mark Driscoll into a star and/or being in the industries that made him a star may just get to opine on Mark Driscoll's resignation as though it changes anything while they get to keep their jobs. 

That's not likely to happen but by now atheists could propose that the ministry of Mark Driscoll and the activity of Mars Hill Church could raise some questions as to why churches have tax exempt status in light of everything that seems to be burbling up to the surface in the last two years. 


Anonymous said...

Though only as a visitor, I've attended MHC. And I was on staff at an A29 Church that went bad. I also handed over a college and singles ministry to an A29 guy. Those 40 plus people became the core group of an A29 church.

However, the reason I do not fault bloggers who have never attended MHC is that the Mars Hill brand has been sold and then bought far and wide. That was their intention. Hell, I led a group of High School students in Mississppi through one of his books.

Drisoll's form of leadership and views on ecclesiology have been taken up by many young men and not only are people afraid of what it can and will do to their church, many are also tired of having such ideas forced on them. People all over the world were pointing at MHC just a few years ago.

Just the other day a young man was decrying all the public criticism of Driscoll saying it was a local church issue. Of course, he has criticisms of the Osteens on his Facebook page.

All that to say, what is happening is not a local church issue for Mars Hill members and former ones. I wish it were as simple as that.

Anonymous said...

I encourage all to do a google search of "vanderbloemen group" and "Mars hill" to understand the article.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

and make sure to keep in mind both the Mark Driscoll Mars Hill and the Rob Bell Mars Hill. A few starters:

•The biggest elephant in church boardrooms in the United States is the topic of senior pastor succession. It is a difficult conversation for most aging senior pastors to have with their boards and staff, so usually it is ignored until too late. Many are predicting a tsunami of church turnovers during the next decade as the aging baby boomers turn over the reins of U.S. churches to the next generation. According to William Vanderbloemen, founder and president of the Vanderbloemen Search Group, senior pastor succession “might be the biggest unspoken crisis the church in the US will face over the next twenty years.”

We are thrilled to announce that Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI has selected Kent Dobson as their new Teaching Pastor. We were honored to partner with Mars Hill on this search and look forward to this new chapter for Kent and Mars Hill.

What bloggers who may not have participated in Mars Hill but know the industry can contribute is a larger awareness of businesses and industries that have or may profit from being involved in or speaking to leadership issues at Mars Hill.

Matt, you probably already know this but I don't consider you one of the bloggers who needs to be better informed about the history and culture of A29 or MH. Here's hoping some folks at Spanish River might be of help in clarifying what happened between Driscoll and Nicholas circa 2002-2005. Meanwhile, you're right, people should educate themselves on Vanderbloemen.