Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Mark Driscoll and the Gospel of [escaping] white trash: Part 9--a night of ballet for a special little girl, a story of Mark Driscoll wanting to play little league, and a church plant tailored to generational resentments


Part 3 of Generous
Pastor Mark Driscoll | 2 Corinthians 9 | December 21, 2008

... Start by telling you a story. It’s that time of year at our house. We’ve got all our little Christmas traditions. Yesterday, it was Daddy Date Day with Alexi and I. She’s 5, blonde hair, blue eyes. And the rule is with the girls every year, we get a new dress for them, they get all dressed up. And I get dressed up. And they sort of lay out with me the order of the day, and we do a nice big Daddy Date.

So yesterday, we went downtown to the Space Needle, and she loves that rotating restaurant. Just absolutely is smitten by that. And she looked as cute as she could look. And we had lunch. And then we walked through the Seattle Center, and we rode the carousel, and went to the Center House.

And then we went to the Nutcracker, something I’ve never done. But I love Alexi, so we got good seats to the ballet and sat right up near the front. And the whole time, she was just on the edge of her seat, in her little dress, just absolutely awestruck by this ballet. She loved it. Got her some nice gifts from the gift store. During one of the breaks, she wanted a cookie, so we went to get a cookie. And they were totally out of cookies, very long line. Everything sold out. And I looked at her, and I said, “Honey, they’re out of cookies.” She said, “That’s okay, I prayed to the Lord Jesus.” I said, “Well, then, we need to stay in line and just pray that Jesus brings a cookie out of nowhere,” ‘cause the last thing I’m gonna tell my little girl is, “He doesn’t do cookies. That’s a big job.”

So, we’re waiting in line, and all the cookies were gone. Everything was gone. Everybody left the line, ‘cause there was nothing left to sell, except for one couple in front of us, and they got the last bag of nuts. That was it. Literally, the concessions were cleaned out. And she looks at me, and I said, “Well, what do you think?” She said, “There’ll be a cookie.”

And true story, this woman walks up from the catering group with about six more cookies at that moment, and Alexi got her cookie. And she looked at me. She said, “See, I told you, I asked Jesus for a cookie.” I said, “All right, cool.” So, my daughter, if you need anything, she’ll pray for it. She’s got the red line.

And we got done with our time, and we came outside, and it was snowing. We held hands and walked through the Seattle Center and went to our car. We had just this amazing little Daddy Day. I think my favorite was during the Nutcracker, her sitting on my lap in her beautiful dress, holding her little ballerina doll that we bought for her in the gift shop at the Nutcracker, and just being absolutely awestruck by what was going on, on the stage. We had this amazing, amazing daddy time, and I thoroughly enjoyed it with her.

And on the way home, we were visiting and talking. We were singing Christmas songs on the radio while the snow was coming down. And she said, “Daddy, thank you so much for my Christmas present.” And I said, “Well, you’re welcome, sweetie-pie.” And she said, “But I don’t know what to get you for Christmas. What do you want for your present?” And I told her, I said, “I always wanted a little girl. Thank you for being my daughter.” What a gift my little girl is. That actually made me cry, driving home in the Jeep, just thinking about the tremendous gift it is to have a little girl and to be her daddy.

And so she was my great Christmas gift. And Ashley and I’ve got our date this week. And me and the boys got our dude time set up. And it’s that great time of year, when we get an opportunity to enjoy family and friends, to give gifts, to receive gifts, and it all makes sense biblically.

There is probably no single story that better illustrates Mark Driscoll’s desire that he and his immediate family, meaning his wife and children but also his siblings and parents, should never have to be tethered to the cultural constraints of a white trash milieu than this story of his taking Alexi on a Daddy daughter date to the ballet. Sure, he’d joked in the past about how high-brow meant you pretended that while at the symphony that you liked being yelled at by large Italian women. Once he had a daughter old enough to express interest in ballet things changed.  Why?  Well, Driscoll put it pretty simply himself in a sermon years ago, “Children grow up in the world that their father creates.” Driscoll was going to see to it that his children didn’t grow up ever knowing the kind of life he and his siblings and his parents knew living by a strip club.

There are other things that are as far from white trash as possible in the United States.  One of those things would be being the founding pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in the country. Another would be being a New York Times bestselling author.  Still another would be the kind of pastor whose sermons get translated into Korean and Spanish where you wonder how the redneck jokes get translated.

A detailed analysis of how Mark Driscoll got to that moment will demonstrate that what he euphemistically described in terms of “all grace” was, at a very practical level benefiting from the financial and social patronage of wealthier people who believed in him as well as thousands of people who were encouraged and admonished to give sacrificially to the cause of promoting the Gospel at Mars Hill.  This isn’t a guy who has paid his own way so much as a guy who has convinced other people to buy his ticket to legitimacy.  What made the decision by Mars Hill leadership to game the system of the New York Times bestseller list is that it betrayed everything you would think was inherent in the ethos Mark Driscoll claimed to have been taught by his father. 

To more fully appreciate why Driscoll would decide to take his young daughter to the ballet it may help to review a story Mark Driscoll shared from the pulpit about a set of conversations he had with his father at the age of eleven.


Part 5 of Proverbs
Pastor Mark Driscoll | October 28, 2001

Proverbs 29:21, “If a man pampers his servant from youth, he will bring grief in the end.” These guys are pampered; totally pampered. Okay? And again, this is not a boasting on me. This is a – this is actually a tribute to my dad. I was eleven years old. I was going out for the little league all-star team, and I needed a new glove. My dad said, “Good. Go make some money.” I said, “Hey, dad, I’m eleven.” He said, “Well, you’re taller than the lawn-mower. I’m sure you’ll figure something out.” True. So, I get the lawn-mower, and I go and I mow lawns to get my glove. And I come back and my dad says, “You owe me gas money. You used my gas.” It’s the nicest thing my dad ever did. Up until that point, I didn’t know gas cost money. Now, I do. Now, I appreciate gas.

It comes to the point where I’m 15 and I wanna get a car. I said, “Dad, I need a car.” He says, “Good. Go get some money.” I said, “Okay, fine.” So, I falsified my birth certificate, I lie about my age, and I get a job at a 7-11 selling lotto tickets and liquor and cigarettes to people that are twice my age. I was not a Christian, so – I shouldn’t have done it anyways, but I wasn’t a Christian. And so, I’m 15, working at a 7-11 selling stuff. And I make a decent living, and I buy my first car, a 1956 Chevy that I should’ve never sold. That’s a whole other sermon. And – and so I’m 15, driving myself to work without a license, because I gotta go make money to pay for my car. Okay? And again, I was not a Christian. Okay? So, I’m not saying, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

And I realize that, since I was young and I was strong, I could make more money. And so I started dinking around trying to figure out where to make more money. And I find out that guys in unions make a lot of money. And – at least compared to me working at the 7-11. And I got tired of getting robbed and held-up, too. ‘Cause if you run a 7-11 behind a Déjà vu, somebody’s gonna put a gun at your head. And after a couple of those, you realize, “For minimum wage, I’m not taking a cap. You know? I’m not gonna get shot for, like, a pack of cigarettes. I’m not gonna do that.” So, I lied about my age. I falsified my birth certificate again, and told them I was 18. Got a job working long-shoring down on the docks in Seattle. And I would go throw 100-pound sacks of peas, and unload trucks, and work hard. And they paid me tremendous money. At the time, it was like $10.00-something an hour. This was, like, in 1986 or ’87 or something. And I’d work 40 hours a week, and over-time was double-time. And none of the guys would wanna work over-time. Usually it was on Friday, ‘cause they had to get containers out, and those guys all wanted to go to the topless club.

And so, I would work all the over-time at $20.00 an hour as a 16 year old kid. This is in the mid-‘80s. Right? So, I’m loaded. I have money, money, money, money. So, I buy a car, and I start saving for college, doing my stuff. And with my dad – I thank God for my dad. My dad’s like, “You’re a guy. You work. You pay your way. Good. It’s good for you.” And you know what? He’s right. He was totally right. Thank God for my dad. My brother and my other brother and myself, we’re all doing great, making good money, doing fine. My brothers are all in management leadership running companies or businesses. It’s great. You pamper a guy from his youth, and he just – he gets this course of action. All of the sudden he feels like if his hands are dirty, or his muscles are sore, or if he put-in a long day, or thought something was tough, that’s unusual; that’s abnormal. And so, he avoids it.

But even this 2001 sermon is a contrast to the kinds of things Mark Driscoll was recorded as saying even a few years earlier, and not just Driscoll, for that matter.  Writers who observed the earliest years of Mars Hill noticed something about the leadership of Mars Hill and that wasn’t an emphasis on men being men. 


Lori Leibovich July/August 1998 Issue
"I was raised in a family that went to church, but I had no understanding of what Easter actually meant," Driscoll begins. "It was like Lincoln's birthday or the day Neil Armstrong landed on the moon." The audience laughs. Driscoll comes from a working-class Irish Catholic family. As a kid growing up in Seattle, he says, he was always getting into fights. [emphasis added] When it was time to go to college, he chose Washington State University. "The university I attended was pretty isolated so I had two choices: either become a binge drinker or a Christian."

While a student, Driscoll had a vision that he should start a church for his generation. Without a plan—financial or otherwise—he and his wife, Grace, moved back to Seattle, a city he claims is the "most unchurched in America." Driscoll, who has a bachelor's degree in communications, started his congregation with a dozen people who came to his house to study the Bible. Today, Mars Hill counts 800 members. 

"For financial reasons or whatever, the parents of Gen Xers put their lives ahead of their children's," says Lief Moi, 35, a leader at Mars Hill and the co-host, with Driscoll, of "Street Talk," a nationally syndicated Christian radio show. By playing the "dysfunctional family" card, Moi, Driscoll, and others implicitly coax young people to turn to church as a place where they can experience the family and fellowship they missed out on as a kid. The church then becomes appealing to college students for the same reasons that fraternities and sororities are: instant community.

By setting themselves up against their elders, postmoderns are ingeniously adding an anti-establishment spirit to their movement. [emphasis added] "I really preach; it's not just three points to a better self-esteem," Driscoll says. "Megachurches have perfect services with perfect lighting. We're a friggin' mess." Driscoll delivers his sermons largely off-the- cuff, and refuses to follow a point-by-point outline like most pastors at megachurches do. "I'm very confrontational," he says, "not some pansy-ass therapist."
Tonight's topic is "The American Dream and Postmodernity: Is There Hope for the Future?" and for the first 15 minutes Moi and Driscoll toss out questions and debate them: Can one be a Christian and be an upwardly mobile capitalist? How can young people reconcile Christian tenets such as service, charity, and community with American ideals such as individualism?

"Some of us haven't given ourselves over to the American Dream yet," Driscoll says into the microphone. "How do we make sure we don't become victims of what harmed us— parents who weren't around because they were too busy making money so we could go on vacations and look like a family?" The phones are dead. [emphasis added]

During a commercial break, Driscoll throws up his hands in mock surrender. Moi says, "When we do a show that is philosophical, either they sit back and listen, or it goes over their head. But when we do a controversial or reactionary topic—like paganism or Satanism—we hear from everyone."

Now that the era of Mars Hill has drawn to a close it seems uncontroversial to propose that rather than continue to press philosophical questions Mark Driscoll opted to go for controversial and reactionary topics.  Leibovich was not the only writer who noted that Mark Driscoll’s ethos and ideals were informed not just by a blue collar idiom but by also by inter-generational resentment.  Back in 2009 a blogger who blogged as C. Stirling Bartholomew wrote a few things about meeting the younger Mark Driscoll.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009


When I first met Driscoll he was clerking in a bookstore in Greenwood (North Seattle). I had heard about him. He makes a lot of noise. I knew his father-in-law very well when I was in my teens and 20s but I was long gone when Mark became a regular visitor in that household. When Driscoll came back from college and started doing "street talk" on the radio I would tune in now and then and listen. I noted right away that Driscoll was a generation bigot. He hated 'hippies' with a passion. I suppose this has something to do with growing up blue collar in Seattle which is a northern clone of San Francisco. The war between the hard hats and the flower generation was still in progress when Driscoll was born into the world of hard hats. In the end the hard hats lost the war. The flower children and the neo-pagans took over the culture and nowhere is that more evident than in Seattle. So Driscoll hates what he calls 'hippies' because his people lost the war and now he would like to put the culture back where it was in 1955 and it just isn't going to happen.

Driscoll seems to have adopted the notion that the hard hat world view is somehow connected with Jesus. This is so silly it hardly deserves refutation. Jesus didn't join a union, watch football, drink bud, have a dragon tattooed on his biceps, wasn't a carpenter, didn't have a job, took his disciples away from their jobs ... and generally caused a social disruption where ever he went. Jesus was the antithesis of Mark Driscoll's model of "true manhood". [emphasis added]

It’s nearly axiomatic among a wide range of authors that Mark Driscoll’s Social Gospel is one in which a mid-20th century nuclear family is restored as though this were something that could be restored.  The shortcoming of this axiomatic observation is that it has been proposed as a reactionary move when, taking all of the details and stories of Mark Driscoll’s life into consideration, Mark Driscoll’s fantasy is not a reactionary desire to get back to something but an aspirational fantasy.  As Driscoll put it, he believes children grow up in the world their fathers create for them.  If the earlier Mark Driscoll leveraged generational resentment and talked about how people could not repeat the mistakes of fathers who just made money without being around for their children, what happened that led Driscoll to begin to praise his father?  One possibility is that after decades of being some kind of nominal Catholic, Mark Driscoll’s father converted to what Mark Driscoll regarded as a real Christian faith.  That this happened is something about which Mark Driscoll has left us in no doubt.

There’s also no doubt Mark Driscoll wanted to create the best possible world for his children to grow up in. If that could include having a contract signed with Result Source to secure a number 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list then, well, if it’s not really illegal or even that uncommon then maybe it’s not really even cheating or gaming a system, is it?

As we saw in Mark Driscoll’s stories about his talking with his dad about getting a new glove for baseball tryouts, Driscoll’s aspirational drive was such that he felt it was justified to fudge facts and game things in his favor.  He’d say of his teen scheming that he wasn’t really a Christian back then, which highlights all the more what changed (or didn’t change) in the years during which Mark Driscoll was embroiled in controversies about the question of whether or not he plagiarized the works of others and why he believed it was okay to use Result Source to promote Real Marriage. 

Driscoll’s credibility within the community formerly known as Mars Hill was the long-term fall out of the discovery that the contrast between the mythology of Driscollian rags to riches (working hard, being honest, and paying your own way) and what was actually done to get Mark Driscoll where he was became impossible to reconcile. It became impossible to reconcile the Mark Driscoll as defender of women cultivated in his sermons and by his fan base in Seattle with the Mark Driscoll of Real Marriage who held forth at surprising length at how much he resented his wife’s frigidity about sex. It became impossible to reconcile Mark Driscoll’s public rhetorical flourishes about the perils of urban ministry with the reality that he’d moved his family into a house in Woodway that wasn’t even in King County. Blogging about the perils of urban ministry while ensconced in a million-dollar home in another county when the expectation from the public is that you’re still in Seattle depends on misunderstanding.

At another level, the Mark Driscoll who’d spent years joking about rednecks as someone who lived as one could only go on so long before tales of taking his baby girl to the ballet could begin to signal the gap between the gritty authenticity of the persona and the discretionary income of the person.  By the time James Cameron’s Avatar hit theaters Driscoll could in one breath talk about how bad consumerism was while sharing casually that he wasn’t against the arts because he had three Tivos and two home theaters. Mark Driscoll had, in the parlance of the redneck, grown way too big for his britches. 

But in the sense that Driscoll spent decades explaining how he grew up in the ghetto there’s something about this that still makes sense.  Driscoll was willing to do whatever it took to escape the white trash roots of his upbringing. It’s possible that anything that could offer the promise of escaping that milieu and into prestige and success for himself and his family seemed worth doing.  When the Result Source controversy erupted what some of Driscoll’s advocates were quick to point out was that what had been done was not illegal or even uncommon.  Perhaps to this day there are those who will propose that Mark Driscoll shouldn’t have gotten so much trouble over Mars Hill’s decision to use Result Source. 

Driscoll has spent decades telling other people what the best way to live life is.  Yet the question of whether or not the kind of reputation you can buy is really worth buying never seemed to cross his mind until the Result Source contract with Mars Hill had become a national headline.  What went unasked in press coverage was why on earth such reputation buying would even make any sense to the leader of Mars Hill.  By 2013 and 2014 Mark Driscoll had taken up the attire of a “father figure”, a kind of Doug Wilson light look that was supposed to convey fatherly credibility.  But the decade’s worth of previous sermons had already told another story. No matter how many suits he got, no matter how fancy they became, no matter how upscale his presentation, Mark Driscoll’s background that he worked so hard to shake free of for the sake of his legacy and for the sake of the family can be summed up as white trash.

In the wake of Mark Driscoll’s resignation after years of controversy at Mars Hill, Doug Wilson proclaimed that what had happened was the revenge of the beta males. Unfortunately for Wilson’s sentiment, there’s nothing about Janet Mefferd or her interview with Mark Driscoll in 2013 that suggests that she was a beta male. The people who stopped attending and stopped giving to Mars Hill Church were people who had a chance to hear Mark Driscoll’s story of how guys need to pay their own way. Over time these people had an opportunity to learn that they were the ones whose sacrifice was giving a man his platform to speak as though … he kinda earned all this stuff himself, really.

If anyone got “revenge” it wasn’t the beta males Doug Wilson imagined were settling some score with Driscoll, it was more likely the donor base of Mars Hill, the patronage groups that Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill depended upon for operational expenses. When the gap between the public persona and its mythology of going from white trash to world-changing pastor Mark Driscoll and the private reality of a man living as secretly as possible in a million-dollar home in another county (who was okay with rigging the New York Times while telling guys to not take shortcuts became too great) the patronage base of Mars Hill apparently threw in the towel. The Mark Driscoll who told Mars Hill in the 2011 film God’s Work, Our Witness could be tolerated telling them they stunk at giving for as long as it could be believed he was in the same county.

But within the Driscoll tribe Mark Driscoll could potentially very literally be seen as the guy who brought salvation to his entire family at every conceivable level, financially, socially and spiritually. Mark Driscoll’s own self-mythologizing about the O’Driscoll name shows us as much. From pirate to pastor is a lot of grace.  Whoever those ancient O’Driscoll kings were, they couldn’t possibly have wielded more influence worldwide than Mark Driscoll did at the peak of his fame. The allure of that narrative may be so potent that if any number of details and nods of credit where it would be due had to get fudged somewhere along the way, well, sorry.  

The case that Mark Driscoll’s journey can be understood as a conscious flight from the idiom of white trash isn’t wildly speculative. All it requires is a careful and steady reading of decades’ worth of his preaching and writing. Mark Driscoll presented his own father as analogous to a biblical patriarch who makes a decision for his household that leads to salvation, and then took an extra step in presenting himself as having taken a further step for himself and his family and even the Driscoll name itself.  
While those who have criticized Mark Driscoll for his views on women and gays have tended to see part of the picture, they have seen what could be described as prejudices that could be held within the culture of Irish Catholic white trash without seeing that the Gospel of Mark Driscoll is an epic narrative of redemption from white trash, perhaps paradoxically from within the milieu.  Mark Driscoll’s incarnational theology, by his own preaching, is of a redneck variety. You can take the boy out of the country, the saying goes, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.  Then again, Mark Driscoll has said that children grow up in the world their fathers create, and it looks as though Mark Driscoll has been determined to be a father who creates a world for his children in which they never have to know the life of being white trash. No one should begrudge a man for wanting his children to grow up better off than he was at their age.

The trouble is, as the years of controversy that swirled around him before his resignation began to show us, you can’t keep telling people to not take shortcuts to prestige and respectability that give you the outcome without the work if it turns out you’ve taken some of those shortcuts yourself.  Driscoll said from the pulpit that his dad taught him that you work hard, be honest, and don’t lie. The controversies that surrounded Driscoll had everything to do with how hard he was working writing his books, preaching his sermons, and whose work he relied on in the process and to what extent he gave those people their due. Perhaps there’s a tragic story in all of that, that a man was so determined to build a life for his children in which they never had to deal with the life of being white trash that he forgot, in the midst of working to build that world for them, that he was betraying all of the express ideals of the family that raised him. In eagerly working to escape the sins and failures of white trash, a man lost what he once extolled as their virtues.