Saturday, February 20, 2016

case studies in how internet journalism and snark transform jokes into internet certainties--the claim that Mark Driscoll ever said Gayle Haggard "let herself go", wish fulfillment from lazy folks on the internet

Ever heard of the urban legend that Steve Burns quit Blues Clues because he was going bald?  Neither have I, until this last week.
The genesis of the legend is a fascinating example of the odd way the Internet works. In 2006, to mark the 10th anniversary — and, as it turns out, the end — of “Blue’s Clues,” Nickelodeon aired a primetime special called “Behind the Clues,” a parody of the VH1’s “Behind the Music,” which chronicled the often-tawdry stories behind the rise and fall of popular music acts.

Taking a similar (if joking) approach to the origins of “Blue’s Clues,” the special revealed the “real” reason Burns left the series at the height of his success. “I knew I wasn’t going to be doing children’s television all my life, mostly because I refused to lose my hair on a kid’s TV show,” Burns said on “Behind the Clues. “And it was happening … fast.” In the context of the show, it was clearly intended as a sendup of the shocking revelations that you might find on an episode of “Behind the Music.” Burns made the joke, and that was seemingly that.

However, in May 2014, Bill Bradley on The Huffington Post unearthed a clip of the then eight-year-old special and cited Burns’ comments as the truth. Within a month, his piece was picked up by tons of other online outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, and the story was now solidified as “the truth.” But is it?

Burns’ balding may have played some role in his decision to leave, but it seems pretty clear that wasn’t anywhere near the primary reason for his departure.

Internet writing can have this way of transforming things. 

Take something that started up here in Seattle a decade ago.  Ted Haggard got caught up in a controversy and Mark Driscoll used that as an opportunity to jump on his soap box and share his axioms with people about marriage and fidelity.  Along the way he mentioned something about how husbands aren't excused for cheating but wives who let themselves go weren't helping, either. 

Dan Savage had a sarcastic rejoinder to Driscoll's curiously not-related-to-what-actually-happened bromides at the following link:

People using the internet being what they are, Dan Savage's sarcasm was transformed by the power of wish fulfillment into imputing to Mark Driscoll statements he never made.  Driscoll didn't say Gayle Haggard "let herself go". For that matter not even Dan Savage ever actually suggested that Mark Driscoll did that. 

What's surreal is that Lindy West, who by dint of having written for The Stranger for a few years would have been in a position to have discerned the difference between what Mark Driscoll actually did or didn't say and what Dan Savage wrote, couldn't be bothered to make precisely that distinction when she invoked the mythical Mark Driscoll remark about Gayle Haggard in a piece she did for Jezebel published December 6, 2013:

The Time Mark Driscoll Said that Ted Haggard Had Meth-Sex with a Male Prostitute Because His Ugly Wife Probably Didn't Blow Him Enough
Via The Stranger:
"A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband's sin, but she may not be helping him either."
Except that it was relatively easy to prove Mark Driscoll never actually wrote that thanks to The Wayback Machine and a visit to an old Resurgence link.

Now for some reason robots.txt was reintroduced to the Resurgence this year.  But that's okay, because the entire text of Driscoll's notorious 2006 post that didn't talk about the Haggard controversy so much as use it as a pretext can be found over here:

Ah, but who cares about what can be confirmed if you're mind's already made up.  Lindy West dropped the ball by taking as given what could be easily shown to be Dan Savage's sarcastic commentary on something Driscoll wrote in 2006 that, when read in its original formulation, can't be connected in any way to Ted or Gayle Haggard except by dint of Mark Driscoll seizing an opportunity to pontificate.

The swiftness with which Driscoll took the news of the week to skip past what may have happened to share bromides about pastors in ministry is surreal if you see it for what it was.  Progressives, by and large, wanted to believe that Driscoll said something about Gayle Haggard in a way comparable to some people wanting to believe Steve Burns quit Blues Clues because he was losing his hair.

But at least the myth of Burns used a misunderstood quote of something Steve Burns actually said, rather than taking a sarcastic joke made by Dan Savage about something Driscoll wrote as something actually stated by Mark Driscoll himself.

Not one of Lindy West's finer moments in journalistic care, there. 

Why mention this?  Because the misinformation has continued to thrive.
The first and easiest thing to digest, because the media so readily reported the juiciest bits, is the large groups of people whom Mark Driscoll has offended. Usually the aims of his ire were women or gay men. Sometimes, he hit both at once, like the time he suggested Ted Haggard's wife “letting herself go” might have had something to do with the rival evangelical pastor’s proclivity for male prostitutes and crystal meth.

For as long as members of the press keep circulating this easily debunked claim those who may still support Driscoll will be justified in believing the press keeps getting things wrong about him because of, say, liberal bias.  When Justin Brierley asked Driscoll about the Haggards Driscoll said point blank he never said anything about the Haggards.  Technically true.  It was creepy that Driscoll saw fit to use the Ted Haggard controversy as an occasion to opine on matters that had no certain relevance to the Haggard controversy ... but perhaps the misunderstanding is a price Driscoll has had to pay for deciding to transform Haggard's fall into an occasion to soap box about guys frustrated with their wives for more or less entirely different reasons.

Then there's this:

The largest repository for his most offensive remarks comes from early 2001 in his church’s members-only forum, where he posted under the Braveheart pseudonym “William Wallace II.” In one particular thread, Driscoll rants (in part) that: We live in a “pussified nation” where men are “raised by bitter penis envying burned feministed single mothers,” homeosexuals are “Damn freaks,” and women, (unpoetically described as “homes” for a man’s penis), “will be ignored,” because Driscoll “[does] not answer to women.”

Alas, not quite. Follow the links

Midrash was open access to anybody regardless of attendance at or membership in Mars Hill.  It was also completely unmoderated.  This was something confirmed by Driscoll, like, a decade ago.

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. 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.

Still, there's a lot in the piece that checks out.  We're not talking about an article nearly as inaccurate as the first run of Valerie Tarico's piece for AlterNet/Salon from 2014 was. 

It's just that the recurrence of things like Midrash being members-only in its first iteration (Midrash didn't become members only access until about 2002) and the Gayle Haggard legend need correcting when they keep coming up.

The Jennifer Roach story thoroughly checks out.  As best I can recall that eruption from Driscoll was in the wake of a discussion of the Sophia Coppola film Lost in Translation on the members-only Midrash.

On the claim that Mark Driscoll reached out to and reconciled with leaders from the Mars Hill era ... let those with whom this has actually happened say something, anything for the record.  It would clear things up.  If nobody's willing to confirm something for the record it makes it harder for outsiders (or even former insiders) to have any confidence at all that any reconciliation of any kind happened. 

Ellul on the conempt those who make propaganda have for their sympathizers, revisiting Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill bus observation that the nice people who just shut up but won't lead should be allowed to ride the bus

Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 195 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7

page 217
... Propaganda makes its agent a subject who makes the decisions and uses those systems that must obtain certain results; but the agent looks upon the mass of potential voters or sympathizers as objects. He manipulates them, works on them, tests them, changes them psychologically or politically. They no longer have any personal importance [emphasis added], especially when one realizes that good propaganda must be objective and anonymous, and the masses are considered as merely an instrument for attaining some objective. They are treated as such; this is one of the elements of the profound contempt that those making real propaganda have for all those on the outside, even--and often particularly--for their sympathizers.

Propaganda accentuates this separation between manipulators and sympathizers, even as it tends to personalize power within the party. [emphasis added] ...

It can be easy to forget that there was more in the audio clip "there's a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus" than that one notorious statement. Consider that Driscoll would go on to describe that there's a few kind of people and that opponents had to be run over, people who wanted to take turns driving the bus had to be thrown off.  But the lengthiest description Driscoll gave was of those nice people who don't do anything except ride the bus and MAYBE you could get them to volunteer in some capacity in some limited way but that they weren't going to lead the mission.
October 1, 2007

... Too many guys spend too much time trying to move stiff-necked obstinate people. I am all about blessed subtraction. There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus and by God's grace it'll be a mountain by the time we're done. You either get on the bus or get run over by the bus (those are the options) but the bus ain't gonna stop. I'm just a, I'm just a guy who is like, "Look, we love ya but this is what we're doin'."

There's a few kind of people. There's people who get in the way of the bus.  They gotta get run over. There are people who want to take turns driving the bus. They gotta get thrown off cuz they want to go somewhere else. There are people who will be on the bus (leaders and helpers and servants, they're awesome).  There's also sometimes nice people who just sit on the bus and shut up. They're not helping or hurting. Just let `em ride along. You know what I'm saying? But don't look at the nice people who are just gonna sit on the bus and shut their mouth and think, "I need you to lead the mission." They're never going to. At the most you'll give `em a job to do and they'll serve somewhere and help out in a minimal way. If someone can sit in a place that  hasn't been on mission for a really long time they are by definition not a leader and so they're never going to lead. You need to gather a whole new core. [emphasis added]

I'll tell you what, you don't just do this for church planting or replanting, you know what? I'm doing it right now. I'm doing it right now. We just took certain guys and rearranged the seats on the bus. Yesterday we fired two elders for the first time in the history of Mars Hill last night. They're off the bus, under the bus. They were off mission so now they're unemployed. This will be the defining issue as to whether or not you succeed or fail.

The people on the bus who were servants and leaders were awesome but then there's those "nice people who just sit on the bus and shut up".  Read through Driscoll's description of that kind of person carefully and it will seem possible to say that this "nice person" would constitute the vast majority of contracted members of Mars Hill (oh, I know we're supposed to bear in mind that it was a "membership covenant" but at a practical level it was still a contract).

Notice, too, that "hasn't been on mission for a really long time they are by definition not a leader" description. It "could" be interpreted to mean that the people who are on mission were not being defined by simply contracting to be a member of Mars Hill but also participating in the leadership culture of "mission". This sure seems like it could correspond with Ellul's description of a contempt with which a propagandist regards the subjects of propaganda.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

revisiting Mark Driscoll's 2007 remarks on the termination and trials of Meyer and Petry, cross referencing to Ellul on the "educational" role of show trials in totalitarian states and their value as propaganda
October 1, 2007

... Too many guys spend too much time trying to move stiff-necked obstinate people. I am all about blessed subtraction. There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus and by God's grace it'll be a mountain by the time we're done. You either get on the bus or get run over by the bus (those are the options) but the bus ain't gonna stop. I'm just a, I'm just a guy who is like, "Look, we love ya but this is what we're doin'."

There's a few kind of people. There's people who get in the way of the bus.  They gotta get run over. There are people who want to take turns driving the bus. They gotta get thrown off cuz they want to go somewhere else. There are people who will be on the bus (leaders and helpers and servants, they're awesome).  There's also sometimes nice people who just sit on the bus and shut up. They're not helping or hurting. Just let `em ride along. You know what I'm saying? But don't look at the nice people who are just gonna sit on the bus and shut their mouth and think, "I need you to lead the mission." They're never going to. [emphasis added] At the most you'll give `em a job to do and they'll serve somewhere and help out in a minimal way. If someone can sit in a place that  hasn't been on mission for a really long time they are by definition not a leader and so they're never going to lead. You need to gather a whole new core.

I'll tell you what, you don't just do this for church planting or replanting, you know what? I'm doing it right now. I'm doing it right now. We just took certain guys and rearranged the seats on the bus. Yesterday we fired two elders for the first time in the history of Mars Hill last night. They're off the bus, under the bus. They were off mission so now they're unemployed. This will be the defining issue as to whether or not you succeed or fail.

The highlighted segment of the above presentation shows what a blunt taxonomy Driscoll had for those people who were on the bus.  This would not be altogether surprising for those who read Confessions of a Reformission Rev, which featured Driscoll breaking down people into a taxonomy of utility by likening types of people to types of animals you might find at a barn or a zoo. It seemed slightly weird on first read in 2006; since 2007 this Driscollian capacity to enumerate categories of people as if they were animals or bus passengers can take on a more sinister element.

It seems necessary to quote at length Mark Driscoll's November 8, 2007 letter to members of Mars Hill where he addressed the two elders who were fired and put to trials, Bent Meyer and Paul Petry.
A letter from Pastor Mark Driscoll
November 8, 2007

from pages 4-5 of the 142 document

Sadly, it was during the bylaw rewriting process that two of our elders, who curiously were among the least administratively gifted for that task, chose to fight in a sinful manner in an effort to defend their power and retain legal control of the entire church. [emphasis added] This included legal maneuvering involving contacting our attorney, which was a violation of policy, one elder who is no longer with us disobeying clear orders from senior leaders about not sharing sensitive working data with church members until the elders had arrived at a decision, which has caused much dissension, and that same elder accusing Pastor Jamie Munson, who was the then new Lead Pastor of Mars Hill, of being a deceptive liar in an all-elder meeting with elder candidates present, despite having absolutely no evidence or grounds because it was a lie. This was heartbreaking for me since I have seen Pastor Jamie saved in our church, baptized in our church, married in our church, birth four children in our church, and rise up from an intern to the Lead Pastor in our church with great skill and humility that includes surrounding himself with godly gifted older men to complement his gifts.

To make matters worse, this former elder’s comments came after my more than one-hour lecture in that meeting based on a twenty-three-page document I gave the elders as a summary report about what I had learned from the other pastors I had met with in addition to months of researching Christian movements. I had just explained the cause of the pains we were experiencing as a leadership team as largely tied to our growing number of elders and campuses, as well as ways that my research indicated men commonly respond by sinfully seeking power, money, preference, control, and information as ways to exercise pride and fight for their interests
over the interests of the team, church, and mission of Jesus Christ.

The elder who sinned was followed up with following the meeting by a rebuke from a fellow Executive Elder, but repentance was not forthcoming. To make matters worse, some vocal church members ran to that elder’s defense without knowing the facts, made demands upon the elders, acted in a manner that was not unifying or helpful, and even took their grievances public on the Ask Anything comment portion of our main website for my forthcoming preaching series. Of course, this was done under anonymous names to protect their image in the eyes of fellow church members while maligning the elders publicly. Some church members even began accusing the other elders of grabbing power and not caring for the best interests of our people, which is nothing short of a lie and contradictory in every way to the entire process we were undertaking. [emphasis added] It broke my heart personally when amidst all of this, a member asked me on behalf of other members if the elders really loved our people. Now having given roughly half my life to planning for and leading Mars Hill Church, the questioning of my love and the love of our elders, some of whom even got saved in our church, for our people was devastating.

Today, I remain deeply grieved by and for one man, but am thrilled that what is best for Jesus and all of Mars Hill has been unanimously approved by our entire elder team because I do love Jesus and the people of Mars Hill. Furthermore, my physical, mental, and spiritual health are at the best levels in all of my life. Now having joy and working in my gifting I am beginning to see what a dark and bitter place I once was in and deeply grieve having lived there for so long without clearly seeing my need for life change. My wife and I are closer than ever and she is the greatest woman in the world for me. I delight in her, enjoy her, and praise God for the gift that she is. She recently brought me to tears by sweetly saying, “It’s nice to have you back,” as apparently I had been somewhat gone for many years. Our five children are wonderful blessings. I love being a daddy and am closer to my children with greater joy in them than ever. In short, I was not taking good care of myself and out of love for our church I was willing to kill myself to try and keep up with all that Jesus is doing. But, as always, Jesus has reminded me that He is our Senior Pastor and has godly other pastors whom I need to empower and trust while doing my job well for His glory, my joy, and your good.

The past year has been the most difficult of my entire life. It has been painful to see a few men whom I loved and trained as elders become sinful, proud, divisive, accusatory, mistrusting, power hungry, and unrepentant. It has, however, been absolutely amazing to see all but one of those men humble themselves and give up what is best for them to do what is best for Jesus and our entire church. In that I have seen the power of the gospel, and remain hopeful to eventually see it in the former elder who remains unrepentant but to whom my hand of reconciliation remains extended [emphasis added] along with a team of other elders assigned to pursue reconciliation if/when he is willing. Furthermore, sin in my own life has been exposed through this season and I have also benefited from learning to repent of such things as bitterness, unrighteous anger, control, and pride. As a result, I believe we have a pruned elder team that God intends to bear more fruit than ever. This team of battle-tested, humble, and repentant men is now both easy to enjoy and entrust.

One can only guess as to whether Mark Driscoll is all that serious about being open to reconciliation with Paul Petry since Joyful Exiles has been up since March 2012. It's been nearly four years, after all. Moving to Phoenix does not suggest that Driscoll remained all that hopeful in the end, assuming he was hopeful. The above quoted passage was from a letter sent to all Mars Hill members back in 2007 so a few thousand got to read it.

What Driscoll implied Meyer and Petry were guilty of doing was clinging to power and money and influence to try to retain control of the entire church. How on earth two of some twenty-four elders could have possibly done that seems impossible to find an actually rational explanation for. 

On the other hand ... if we consider for the sake of the record the possibility that Mark Driscoll fits Ellul's practical definition of a propagandist there may be one theoretical explanation to at least consider.

Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 195 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7
page 58

Propaganda by its very nature is an enterprise for perverting the significance of events and of insinuating false intentions. There are two salient aspects of this fact. First of all, the propagandist must insist on the purity of his own intentions and, at the same time, hurl accusations at his enemy. But the accusations is never made haphazardly or groundlessly. The propagandist will not accuse the enemy of just any misdeed; he will accuse him of the very intention that he himself has [emphasis added] and of trying to commit the very crime that he himself is about to commit. He who wants to provoke a war not only proclaims his own peaceful intentions but also accuses the other party of provocation. He who sues concentration camps accuses his neighbor of doing so. He who intends to establish a dictatorship always insists that his adversaries are bent on dictatorship. The accusations aimed at the other's intention clearly reveals the intention of the accuser.  But the public cannot see this because the revelation is interwoven with facts.

The mechanism used here is to slip from the facts, which would demand factual judgment, to moral terrain and to ethical judgment. [emphasis added]

Driscoll's October 2007 lecture in which he talked about a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus also featured a discourse on the kinds of people who ended up on the bus.  Which ones needed to be run over, which ones needed to be thrown of, and which ones would be allowed to sit on the bus because they're nice people who just shut up and do what you might find for the to do could potentially be likened to something Ellul wrote about the propagandist.

page 24
... Thus the propagandist is never asked to be involved in what he is saying, for, if it becomes necessary he may be asked to say the exact opposite with similar conviction. He must, of course, believe in the cause he serves, but not in his particular argument. On the other hand, the propagandee hears the word spoken to him here and now and the argument presented to him in which he is asked to believe. He must take them to be human words, spontaneous and carried by conviction. Obviously, if the propagandist were left to himself, if it were only a matter of psychological action, he would end up by being taken in by his own trick, by believing it. He would then be the prisoner of his own formulas and would lose all effectiveness as a propagandist. What protects him from this is precisely the organization to which he belongs, which rigidly maintains a line. The propagandist thus becomes more and more the technician who treats his patients in various ways but keeps himself cold and aloof, selecting his words and actions for purely technical reasons. The patient is an object to be saved or sacrificed according to the necessities of the cause.

... In the very act of pretending to speak as a man to man, the propagandist is reaching the summit of his mendacity and falsifications, even when he is not conscious of it. [emphasis added]
Ellul described the propagandist as taking a strictly instrumental view of those with whom the propagandist would communicate.  Once a subject has been identified as important to the future of the cause or the organization one could use charming or edifying words.  Should a person turn out to be useless or considered dead weight then the propagandist might discard the person or berate them in private.

Let's remember that, famously, Meyer and Petry were not just fired but also subjected to trials.  Ellul has a fascinating observation about the roles trials can play as propaganda.

pages 13-14
... Of course, a trial can be an admirable springboard of propaganda for the accused, who can spread his ideas in his defense and exert an influence by the way he suffers his punishment. This holds true in the democracies. But the situation is reversed where a totalitarian state makes propaganda. During a trial there, the judge is forced to demonstrate a lesson for the education of the public; verdicts are educational. ... [emphasis added]

It hardly gets more straightforward than that--in a totalitarian regime the function of a trial is educational, to let everyone else know what sorts of things could be said or done to garner a comparably miserable fate.

Ellul had a few words to say about a man who, swayed by propaganda, has done something wrong.

page 29
For action makes propaganda's effect irreversible. He who acts in obedience to propaganda must believe in that propaganda because of his past action. He is obliged to receive from it his justification and authority, without which his action will seem to him absurd or unjust, which would be intolerable. He is obliged to continue to advance in the direction indicated by propaganda, for action demands more action. ...

In the history of Mars Hill it could seem that a simple firing wasn't sufficient, a trial had to happen, even though in the same setting merely letting Meyer and Petry voluntarily resign rather than continue in eldership with the proposed by-laws was always an option. It just wasn't an acceptable option to somebody in executive leadership within Mars Hill for some reason and some guys had to be fired. Formally, that guy was Jamie Munson.

Ellul proposed that once a person complies with propaganda and has acted upon it the person feels obliged to double down on the action or else he might see what he has done as absurd or unjust, and ...

pages 29-30
... often he has committed an act reprehensible by traditional moral standards and has disturbed a certain order; he needs a justification for this to prove that it was just. Thus he is caught up in a movement that develops until it totally occupies the breadth of his conscience. Propaganda now masters him completely--and we must bear in mind that any propaganda that does not lead to this kind of participation is mere child's play.

A man who has been swayed by propaganda to do something terrible will double down on what he has done to live with himself.  If he were to step back and reflect on what he actually did he'd find it appalling and he can't just do that in many cases. He'd have to persuade himself that he wasn't part of a kangaroo court but part of a thoroughly legitimate disciplinary process.

Seven years on ... a majority of the men who were pastors at Mars Hill during the terminations and trials recanted their decision and publicly apologized for their involvement in the trials and their respective verdicts.

On September 30th 2007, you were both terminated from your employment as pastors at Mars Hill Church. Your status as elders of the church was suspended, according to the church’s bylaws at the time, pending an investigation of your qualification for eldership. It’s hard to imagine just how disorienting and painful this experience must have been for you. That night, Bent, you called Mike Wilkerson, your direct supervisor, to let him know that you’d been terminated. Within hours, Paul, you emailed all of the elders to notify us of what had happened to you that night. We had the opportunity and the responsibility to intervene, to care, to listen to you, and to make sure that any harmful treatment against you was corrected. Instead, we allowed the process of your investigation and trial to continue unimpeded and we participated in it. By failing to intervene and by participating in that process without protest, we implied to the members of Mars Hill Church, to each other, and to you and your families that your termination was above reproach. We stood by as it happened, and that was wrong. [emphasis added]
We now believe that you were grievously sinned against in that termination. We believe that the termination meeting’s content and tone was abrupt, one sided, and threatening.  ...

Taken together, these statements from former pastors of Mars Hill suggests a possible interpretive avenue--Mark Driscoll's commentary about the Mars Hill bus suggested that those who wanted to take a turn driving needed to be thrown off and under the bus and that people who got in the way of the bus needed to be run over. This doesn't make sense as the way a church would behave, does it?  But if we propose for sake of discussion that by the year 2007 Mars Hill had become multisite and centralized executive powers into a smaller executive team that it had become a propaganda machine then such an approach seems more explicable, if not more palatable or praiseworthy.

Let's also not forget the words of the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability from March 2014 when addressing governance:
By Board of Advisors & Accountability
March 7, 2014

For many years Mars Hill Church was led by a board of Elders, most of whom were in a vocational relationship with the church and thus not able to provide optimal objectivity. To eliminate conflicts of interest and set the church’s future on the best possible model of governance, a Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) was established [emphasis added] to set compensation, conduct performance reviews, approve the annual budget, and hold the newly formed Executive Elders accountable in all areas of local church leadership.

The BoAA itself said of the previous governance approach (which by then would have been the 2007 bylaws drafted by Jamie Munson and approved by the elders) was sufficiently characterized by conflicts of interest that a restructuring of Mars Hill governance seemed appropriate. For those who may not recall that in 2008 Mark Driscoll said appointing Jamie Munson president was the best thing he ever did because it eliminated conflicts of interest ... apparently by about 2011 some people felt that conflicts of interest had not, in fact, been eliminated.

If Driscoll were a propagandist then it could be suggested, at least in Ellul's approach, that what a propagandist would do would be to accuse others of what the propagandist intended to do.  Would a person seek to consolidate and retain legal and financial control of an organization?  Ellul would say the propagandist seeking to do this would accuse an opponent of trying to do this while asserting purity and innocence. Could a case be made that this was how 2007 played out within the history of Mars Hill?  It seems like at least a potential, plausible possibility.

Sure, Ellul's observation about show trials as educational opportunities on the part of trial adjudicators in totalitarian regimes was initially a description of trials in nation states some of these precepts seem applicable in churches in the 21st century.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Mark Driscoll as propagandist: excerpts from a Mark Driscoll presentation from Jan 23, 2013 on content dynamics cross-referenced with observations from Jacques Ellul on propaganda

Not so long ago Wenatchee The Hatchet was given audio from a January 23, 2013 presentation Mark Driscoll gave about content.  The core ideas were content aggregation, content creation, content multiplication, content distribution, and defending content.

In case you're wondering, you didn't misread any of that.  This was not a sermon of biblical texts or on a traditional Christian doctrine.  The presentation was entirely about marketing content. Actually ... the core of the message could be described as a seminar on propaganda, at least if we assess it's content in Ellulian terms.

Let's take a relatively early part of the presentation, and perhaps those who attended the event can confirm the reliability of the transcript if they have the audio handy. For sake of clarity the blue text indicates a quote from the Driscoll address and red text will indicate quotes from Ellul.

Pastor Mark Driscoll Address
January 23, 2013

... the hard thing is how to have enough fresh content to keep interest. It becomes very difficult.  Like, for me, I've got a weekly podcast/vodcast thing to fill; I've got my own website with a daily blog to fill; I've got Resurgence blogs to fill, I've got Mars Hill blogs to fill; I've got books to fill. I mean I've got Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and I don't even know where other stuff is because I never go on to those places but it's just a constant flow of content. So if you're going to open a communication channel then you have to fill that communication channel and it can get very laborious.
And what did somebody have to say about how once you turn on the faucet you have to leave it on?

Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 195 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7

page 46
.. Once again, we note that propaganda should be continuous, should never relax, and must vary its themes with the tide of events.

Driscoll's observation was that once you engage a platform you have to keep generating content for that platform. 

Perhaps one of the most ironic commentaries from Driscoll in early 2013 was the following:

I don't know if you know this but the majority of Christian publishing is owned by non-Christians. Rupert Murdoch bought Zondervan and now he's bought Thomas Nelson (I just finished up my deal with Thomas Nelson).  And there's good, godly people working at both of those organizations but they were bought by Rupert Murdoch, who doesn't love Jesus and what's happened then is they've been taken over by Harper Collins which means a lot of the Christian staff, marketing and editorial is getting laid off and then it's moving to non-Christians who are in New York.

and so we're going to have a real problem and crisis that's forthcoming very quickly in Christian publishing.  A very serious problem.

Has a crisis in Christian publishing materialized?  Did such a crisis have anything to do with Christian publishers being owned by non-Christians? Or was the closest thing we had to a crisis in Christian publishing the plagiarism and Result Source controversies that swirled up about Mark Driscoll? 

We'll move to some remarks Driscoll made about how in the wake of making a deal with Tyndale the stage was set for a new opportunity for content creators within Mars Hill.

So we've built this (and I've brought myself into that same negotiation. We're all in it together) to provide us a way of getting our content out in as expedient a manner as possible through as many channels as is possible.   And this is what Paul, I think, is alluding to in 1 Corinthians 9 when he says "I became all things to all men so that by ALL means, ALL means, I might save as many as possible." And in "all means" what he's saying is, "if there's a way to get the good news of Jesus out, I'm gonna look for that opportunity and I'm gonna take that opportunity." And so these are various opportunities but I would encourage you, you're now part of a system where if you are a content creator, and you build a tribe, and you provide good content there really is no limit (all the way to the New York Times best seller list) for an opportunity for you. I can't guarantee you anything but we can provide you an opportunity. ...

There wasn't any mention that getting to the New York Times best-seller list was obtained with some help from Result Source.  The invitation was that within Mars Hill there was an opportunity, though no promise, that if a content creator made good content and built a tribe there was theoretically no limit for an opportunity for that content creator. 

In Driscoll's handling a statement from Paul became a defense of using all forms of media to get a message out.  Driscoll would go on to describe how uniformity of messaging across every kind of media was something to shoot for.

Since this blog isn't ideally situated for audio clips we'll have to settle for transcription again. 

The key is have one primary content creator, other supportive content creators, and (to as much as possible) have some sort of unified theming through as many platforms as possible to multiply and embed the message. You need fresh content but you don't need fresh message. That make sense?  You need fresh content but you don't need, it's not like one huge earth-shattering idea every single day. People can't handle that much, right? ...

What's the big idea I'm sending out right now?  Identity. One big idea and it's a hook and then all the other ideas hang off that big hook. So for the whole 16-week sermon series there's one big hook called identity. All the social media, all the blogs, all the community groups everything's hanging on the hook. And then it's even consistent. So you walk in and you see "I am a saint" and, all of a sudden, the theming is consistent in the building. And so it's just, every medium, how do we communicate this message? And so for 16 weeks it will a concentrated content message on identity in Christ. But then once we're done with the series, let's say somebody gets saved in two years and walks in all of that content's available. [emphasis added]

Having recently reviewed Jacques Ellul's practical definition of propaganda let's revisit it again.

page 9
Propaganda must be total. The propagandist must utilize all of the technical means at his disposal--the press, radio, TV, movies, posters, meetings, door-to-door canvassing. Modern propaganda must utilize all of these media. [emphasis added] There is no propaganda so long as one makes use, in a sporadic fashion and at random, of a newspaper article here, a poster or a radio program there, organizes a few meetings and lectures, writes a few slogans on walls; that is not propaganda.

page 20
To begin with, propaganda must be organized in several ways. To give it the above mentioned characteristics (continuity, duration, combination of different media), an organization is required that controls the mass media, is capable of using them correctly, of calculating the effect of one or another slogan or of replacing one campaign with another. There must be an administrative organization [emphasis added], every modern state is expected to have a Ministry of Propaganda, whatever its actual name may be.

page 61
Propaganda is a set of methods employed by an organized group that wants to bring about the active or passive participation in its actions of a mass of individuals, psychologically unified through psychological manipulation and incorporated in an organization. [italics original]

So when Mark Driscoll extolled the integration of theming in sermons, podcasts, vodcasts, church blogs, and even the interior decorating of campuses of Mars Hill what he was describing was a fully integrated use from the top down of every form of mass and social media to communicate a single unified message that would direct church life.  That's a man speaking not as a pastor who studies and interprets the Bible and shepherds a flock, that's a man speaking as a propagandist. 

Ellul shared more than a few ideas about propaganda and specifically about propaganda in relationship to the church and to Christianity:

page 230
... Propaganda is a total system that one must accept or reject in its entirety.

If the church accepts it, two important consequences follow. First of all, Christianity disseminated by such means is not Christianity. [emphasis added] We have already seen the effect of propaganda on ideology. In fact, what happens as soon as the church avails itself of propaganda is a reduction of Christianity to the level of all other ideologies or secular religions.

This can be seen happening throughout history. Every time a church tried to act through the propaganda devices accepted by an epoch, the truth and authenticity of Christianity were debased. This happened in the fourth, ninth, and seventeenth centuries (of course, this does not mean that no more Christians were left as a result).

In such moments (when acting through propaganda), Christianity ceases to be an overwhelming power and spiritual adventure and becomes institutionalized in all its expressions and compromised in all its actions. It serves everybody as an ideology with the greatest of ease, and tends to be a hoax. In such times there appear innumerable sweetenings and adaptations, which denature Christianity by adjusting it to the milieu.

Thus reduced to nothing more than an ideology, Christianity will be treated as such by the propagandist. [emphasis added] And in the modern world we can repeat in connection with this particular ideology what we have already said on the subject of ideologies in general. What happens is that the church will be able to move the masses and convert thousands of people to its ideology. But this ideology will no longer be Christianity. It will be just another doctrine, though it will still contain (sometimes, but not always) some of the original principles and the Christian vocabulary. [emphasis added]

The other consequence affects the church itself. When it uses propaganda, the church succeeds, just as all other organizations. It reaches the masses, influences collective opinions, leads sociological movements, and even makes many people accept what seems to be Christianity. But in doing that the church becomes a false church. it acquires power and influence that are of this world, and through them integrates itself into this world.

As we watch the election cycle play out there are potentially two ways to read this warning from 1965.

Whether the form of American civic religion has a red-state or blue-state hue once Christianity is made subservient to American political ideological concerns it has ceased to be Christianity and has become an Americanized civic religion used to mobilize voters is one way you could put it.

But another take-away from this warning is that a church that consciously accepts propaganda as a "reality of modern life" and decides to appropriate it stops being Christianity and stops being the church.

As a former member of Mars Hill the application of Ellul's warning could be this, that by embracing the techniques of mass media in the way that he did Mark Driscoll stopped being a pastor a long time ago (if he ever was one to begin with) and became a propagandist. That he could give a presentation in early 2013 about content management to church staff as has been quoted in this post suggests that Mars Hill church by early 2013 was in key respects what Ellul would call a propaganda machine, and its devotees were potentially really Christians but in organizational and social terms they became loyalists to a brand, and that brand was Mark Driscoll.

If Mars Hill Church died it doesn't seem like too big a stretch on the warnings of Jacque Ellul about churches that it died because it had stopped being a church and had become a propaganda machine; once it became a propaganda machine it was no longer a true church and could not articulate a truly Christian witness even if all the usual vocabulary and buzzwords were there.  No matter how many times Driscoll's followers would say "It's all about Jesus" it was a Jesus that was a concept mediated and defined by Mark Driscoll.

The Trinity Church in Phoenix is currently a mailbox in a UPS store.  There aren't any attending members and yet there's staff.  There's no building as yet but there's Mark Driscoll Ministries with sermons and vodcasts and blog posts and audio as much as you could want.  This isn't a church, it's a corporation, a propaganda machine whose brand is not necessarily Jesus but fairly certainly Mark Driscoll.  After all, the ministry is named after him.

Monday, February 15, 2016

nearing the 10th anniversary of Confessions of a Reformission Rev--exploring the Midrash/Dead Men era as an integrated propaganda campaign with help from Jacques Ellul


About a decade ago someone at Mars Hill asked me if I'd ever read anything by Jacques Ellul.  I had not.  Well, things have changed in the last ten years.  I've been working my way through Ellul's book Propaganda.

As we cycle through election cycles year after year it's easy to recognize that propaganda is all over politics.  But Ellul's writings about propaganda suggest that even if he was addressing Cold War era politics there are insights in his work that can be applicable to 21st century megachurches.  Ellul proposed, for instance, that while a state-centralized and state-controlled mass media can certainly produce propaganda privately monopolized media can get the same basic result, too.

We're coming up on the tenth anniversary of Mark Driscoll's book Confessions of a Reformission Rev.  While in some settings the book was popularly reported as the place where Mark Driscoll apologized for what he wrote as William Wallace II this would be a fundamental misreading of what was actually written in the book on that topic.

By now, of course, we know what this is:

And it's been claimed in some settings that in his 2006 book Mark Driscoll apologized for the stuff he wrote under the pen name William Wallace II.  But let's look, again, at what he actually wrote about his stint on the Midrash.

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. 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.

Things were starting to get out of hand with the men, so I called a meeting and demanded that all of the men in our church attend. I preached for more than two hours about manhood and basically gave the dad talk to my men [emphasis added] for looking at porno, sleeping with young women, not serving Christ, not working hard at their jobs, and so on. I demanded that the men who were with me on our mission to change the city stay and that the rest leave the church and stop getting in the way because you can't charge hell with your pants around your ankles, a bottle of lotion in one hand, and a Kleenex in the other.

On their way out of that meeting, I handed each man two stones and told them that on this day God was giving them their balls back to get the courage to do kingdom work. Guys put them on their monitors at work or glued them to the dash of their truck and kept them. The stones of remembrances from the Old Testament. The next week the offering doubled and the men caught fire. It was a surreal time, since I was basically fathering guys my own age and treating them more like a military unit than a church.

The life change was unreal. We had guys getting saved. We had gay guys going straight. [emphasis added] We had guys tossing out porn, getting jobs, tithing, taking wives, buying homes, making babies, and repenting of the sins of their fathers. We had guys who had divorced their wives remarrying them. We had men adopting children so they would have a Christian father. It was a lot like Acts because the whole city seemed to be abuzz.

This season was messy and I sinned and cussed a lot., but God somehow drew a straight line with my crooked Philistine stick.  I had a good mission, but some of my tactics were born out of anger and burnout, and I did a lot of harm and damage while attracting a lot of attention.
Sure, there's something about doing a lot of harm and damage while attracting a lot of attention.  But notice the assertions made about the long-term results of the incitement.  The life change was unreal.  The week after the confrontational preach-a-thon the offering doubled and the men caught fire.  Driscoll described how he was "fathering" guys his own age and treating the more like a military unit than a church. We'll get to that after some time, but the main thing to note is that when we look at what Driscoll actually wrote about the stuff he wrote as William Wallace II and why he wrote that he was reacting to emergent/liberal/feminist stuff.  That's not actually borne out in the majority of "Pussified Nation", is it?  Driscoll ripped into Dobson, for instance, and Promise Keepers, hardly stalwarts of feminism, those.

But one of the mistakes that can be repeatedly made about "Pussified Nation" is to see it as some standalone stunt.  That's not what it was.  There was a social and historical context in which the stunt was undertaken.

Rather than just recycle that there's a new angle to consider, the comment Driscoll made about treating guys more like a military unit than a church.  It can be easy for outsiders who were never at Mars Hill to remember "Pussified Nation" and not "Dead Men". It was the preach-a-thon that was more remembered within Mars Hill than the inciting incident on Midrash.  For those who slogged through the entirety of "Pussified Nation" you might recall Wallace II mentioned that there was a formulation of a problem and that there was intended to be a second phase, one that addressed practical solutions.

We've seen that Mark Driscoll's account of the Midrash/Dead Men phase of Mars Hill in his 2006 book tends to accept blame for cussing and sinning a lot but the sum of the narrative focused on the sins and failures of the men in Mars Hill.  Driscoll was over-reacting by his account, but he was reacting to the sins of others and, ultimately, the account in 2006 was that God used a crooked stick to draw a straight line.

By the time the 2011 fundraising film God's Work, Our Witness was distributed there was another form of remembering the Midrash/Dead Men days.

The Men and Two Stones

Pastor AJ: There was an event at the Paradox, and Pastor Mark’s getting all the guys together.
‘Cause guys would repent of sin, and then they want to meet and they’d be talking, “Oh, I’m sleeping with my girlfriend.” “Oh, I’m looking at porn.” “Oh, I can’t get a job.” “Oh, I don’t know what I want to do with my life.”

[Driscoll] And it got to the point where I couldn’t have that many counseling meetings, so I just decided to bring all the guys together and absolutely yell at all of them at one time. And so I called an all-men’s church meeting.

Jason: People actually flew in to attend.

Pastor AJ: The instructions are, “Grab two stones. Read 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. And when you finish, read them again. And when you finish, read them again.”

Jeff: And we all show up and they hand us a pair of rocks.
We literally filled up every single seat. I met every guy at the door and I told them, “I want you to shut up. You’re not allowed to talk. Nobody is allowed to speak. You guys all just sit down and shut up until I’m ready to yell at you.”

Pastor AJ: And you just keep reading 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus; 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, wondering, “Why do I have these two stones?”

Jason: I think half the people probably thought he was going to apologize for some of his harsher rants that he’d posted online and then say, you know, “You without sin, cast the first stone.”

Pastor Phil: And that silence was just so palatable, just like, “What’s going to happen?” Like you’re waiting for an earthquake, like, “When’s it going to hit?”

Pastor Matt: And Driscoll had just had it and he was losing his mind.

Pastor AJ: Pastor Mark then goes off on the guys.

Jeff: Pastor Mark gets up onstage and just starts yelling!

Pastor AJ: It seemed like a couple of hours, just yelling at us about all of our perversion, all of our laziness, all of our lack of drive and ambition, all of our ungodly living.
“You belong to Jesus. I’m giving you your stones back. It’s your church. We’ve got to fix this building. We’ve got to raise the money. We’ve got to do this thing. This is what God told us to do.”
So I got up there and I preached a sermon on what it means to be a man. I literally think the sermon went about three hours, screamed and yelled at all of the guys. [emphasis added]

Pastor AJ: All of us just completely, like, laid open, and he says, “You guys are men, and until you find your own stones, use these.”
And then closed in prayer and told them to shut up and leave.

Pastor Matt: And for a lot of us, this is the first time we heard this kind of stuff.

Jeff: Hearing the truth that we needed to man-up and that God had something better for us, and we weren’t seeing clearly—

Pastor AJ: Guys glued those things to their dashboards. They kept them in their pockets all the time. It was just this reminder of God has made us men, and we will be men. Who does that stuff?

Jeff: We kept hearing that over and over and over again, sermon after sermon after sermon addressed towards men, specifically young men, specifically, taking initiative to lead and love well like Jesus. And that was life changing, life changing.

There were maybe 100 to 120 guys at that time. Probably the average age was maybe early twenties, twenty years old. You’re talking college guys. But a lot of those guys, to this very day, they did it, man. They’re running companies. They’re deacons, elders. They’re starting churches. They’ve gotten married. They’re having kids. Their lives are changed and they are still, you know, hands up, chin down, feet forward, getting it done. And it’s just really cool what God did in this place. [emphasis added]

There was a whole lot less of Driscoll expressing regrets about cussing or sinning a lot in the 2011 account.  It's more like a life change was unreal and it was really cool what God did in the place. Interesting how the further the accounts of the 2000-2001 period get from what was going on the more thoroughly the stories focus not on what incited the Dead Men seminars but on the seminars themselves. Gone completely are references to Mark Driscoll's notorious pen name, replaced instead by plaudits of how Mark's yelling transformed boys who could shave into men.

The story about what happened itself became the story, never mind that once access to the primary content was possible again a lot of details didn't quite fit so snugly into the narrative.  That gives us an opportunity to explore the William Wallace II/Dead Men era and how Mars Hill talked about it as, to use a rather blunt way of putting it, a recurrent propaganda campaign about a propaganda process.


With more than a little help from the work of Ellul perhaps we can revisit "Pussified Nation" and Dead Men.  We can take some time to see the former incitement as not a stand-alone thread but as part of a larger body of work, the complete writings of William Wallace II.  And, further, we can see what relationship might exist between "Pussified Nation" and Dead Men in light of Ellul's descriptions of categories of propaganda.

Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 195 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7
page 61
Propaganda is a set of methods employed by an organized group that wants to bring about the active or passive participation in its actions of a mass of individuals, psychologically unified through psychological manipulation and incorporated in an organization.

To make this very simple, the one-two salvo of the Midrash stunt and the Dead Men initiation rite can be thought of as a propaganda campaign.  Driscoll's 2006 narrative collapsed Dead Men into a single incident when for those of us who attended the events, Dead Men was more like a couple of months of meetings, presentations and debates on a variety of topics.  The initial confrontation, sure, was a couple of hours if memory serves, but it was just the start of something.  In Ellul's taxonomy of propaganda "Pussified Nation" could be easily identified as the propaganda of agitation.  A mass media tool in public was deployed to create a controversy.

page 72
In all cases propaganda of agitation tries to stretch energies to the utmost, obtain substantial sacrifices, and induce the individual to bear heavy ordeals. It takes him out of his everyday life, his normal framework, and plunges him into enthusiasm and adventure; it opens to him hitherto unsuspected possibilities, and suggests extraordinary goals that nevertheless seem to him completely within reach. Propaganda of agitation thus unleashes an explosive movement; it operates inside a crisis or actually provokes the crisis itself. On the other hand, such propaganda can obtain only effects of relatively short duration. If the proposed objective is not achieved fast enough, enthusiasm can give way to discouragement and despair.  Therefore specialists in agitation propaganda break up the desired goals into a series of stages to be reached one by one. There is a period of pressure to obtain some result, then a period of relaxation and rest. ...

The writings of Mark Driscoll as William Wallace II in general but "Pussified Nation" in particular, sure seems to fit the working definition of "propaganda of agitation".  It seems that in press coverage and discussions of the WW2 writings it was easy for people to forget that all of that stuff was ultimately a means to an end.  Driscoll expressed regret about the means coming back to haunt him but he's clearly got a history of boasting about the legitimacy of the ends.

If readers think that what Driscoll was aiming at was necessary to rant about gays and women they may well miss the point.  That hardly means you would be wrong to think the way Driscoll behaved and what he wrote was despicable.  That's not in question here, after all--we're looking at how the means-ends balance has been tipped too far in the direction of "means".  With a little help from Ellul we might be able to explore what on earth someone like Mark Driscoll hoped to accomplish by inciting so much controversy on Midrash so many years ago.

What Driscoll was apparently ultimately aiming at was inciting a controversy through which those who were on team and those who weren't could in some way be identified. The more we survey what Driscoll and Mars Hill men said ABOUT that time and its long-term effects the more this proposal seems borne out, not least because I was at Mars Hill at the time and talked with guys about their understanding of what went on.  Part of Driscoll's regrets about his pen name might be because he never imagined that what we can call an agitation/integration propaganda campaign was ever going to see the light of day.  At the time he was doing all this the notion that something like The Wayback Machine could preserve so much of the content was not on anybody's mind. But we've gotten ahead of ourselves here. 

William Wallace II was a pen name that we could say was formulated to produce propaganda of agitation through that newest of propaganda tools at the dawn of the millenium, the internet.  That much seems obvious.  But just inciting wasn't the endgame, the explosion was intended to lead to what, in Ellul's taxonomy of propaganda, could be described as the propaganda of integration.

page 75
... Propaganda of integration aims at making the individual participate in his society in every way.

The Dead Men sessions could be described, at least by those who were there, as Mark yelling at them to shape up and fly right. By both Driscoll's account and the account of those men willing to talk about Dead Men for the 2011 film God's Work, Our Witness, the integration campaign seems to have worked fantastically.  But it should not be forgotten that the catalyst was "Pussified Nation".  It might be telling that in the 2011 version the emphasis was placed entirely on the "Dead Men" side of things and the Midrash/William Wallace II side of the project was omitted entirely. 

Once the men who made it through Dead Men got their stones, the next phase was to set up small groups.  Ellul has a particularly succinct observation about small groups

page 81
This propaganda can be called horizontal because it is made inside the group (not from the top), where, in principle, all individuals are equal and there is no leader. ... But the most remarkable characteristic of horizontal propaganda is the small group. The individual participates actively in the life of this group, in a genuine and lively dialogue.

Once you have a small group set up with men and women whose loyalty was established, "horizontal propaganda" became possible.  The stories of life change and of the roles everyone could/needed to play to make Mars Hill a force for change could emerge organically from within small group contexts rather than having to be imposed from the top down.  But there first needed to be enough people in the church as a whole for this sort of dynamic to emerge.  But once you had the guys go through the initiation rite of Dead Men, they could create and share their own narratives. 

Ellul proposed that in any technologically advanced culture in the West propaganda is more or less inevitable.  In part this is because individuals who are all of equal value can sense that they are of no essential importance to society as a whole, to keep things perhaps too simple.

But there may well be those who would say it's ridiculous to describe a nascent church as practicing propaganda techniques to begin with.  Or perhaps someone might say that "everybody" uses propaganda these days so this seems like no great insight.  Well, let's not underestimate the obvious if we affirm the latter proposition, and if we affirm the former and have doubts as to whether a church like Mars Hill could become a hotbed for propaganda ...

bear in mind Driscoll's initial training was in speech communications and Grace Driscoll's training was in public relations.  Mars Hill was a church in which young up and coming people in Seattle during the dot com craze were being recruited into a church movement that explicitly set out to achieve what Driscoll semi-jokingly called "world domination".  Between the sermons and the internet presence and Driscoll's activity on radio we're talking about someone who was engaging every form of social and mass media available as possible.  That fits Ellul's description of preliminary requirements for propaganda.  As Mark Driscoll used to say, don't miss the big E on the eye chart.

page 102
But we must point to a dual factor necessary if the mass media are really to become instruments of propaganda. For they are not such instruments automatically or under just any conditions. They must be subject to centralized control on the one hand, and well diversified with regard to their products on the other. Where film production, the press, and radio transmissions are not centrally controlled, no propaganda is possible.
To make the organization of propaganda, the media must be concentrated, the number of news agencies reduced, the press brought under single control, and radio and film monopolies established.

Centralized access and control, in the hands of a few people, of a diverse range of mass media?  That sounds like Mars Hill even in its earliest days.  For those who visited Mars Hill in the later 1990s they might recall that if you asked for a doctrinal statement you might get the mainly hostile coverage from a Mother Jones article. Even from the earliest years of Mars Hill Mark Driscoll discovered that hostile press coverage could be fantastic PR. One can only guess as to where or from whom he could have potentially learned that.

All this is to suggest that even from the first years of Mars Hill there was not just the potential to engage in a multi-media propaganda campaign, it might well have been the thing that set Mars Hill apart from other emerging/emergent church plants.  Plenty of guys came from that scene but not many of them had the media savvy that Mark (and we can't forget Grace) brought through their college training to the game.

Driscoll was eager to point out generational alienation as a theme he wanted to address in those early years.  But within a few years of starting Mars HIll the focus shifted. The new focus became the more famous focus, get the young men.  You get the young men you get the future establishment.  You don't get the young men you get nothing.

Let's consider the nature of "Pussified Nation" that opening salvo.  How "real" was the problem?  What was the problem, really?  Men were pussified but the men were described as being pussified as individuals on account of a culture.  Would the generation of a manly culture or subculture solve the problems that young men were facing in 2000?   Well ... Ellul proposed that a propagandist could essentially use mass media to "create" problem for which he'd already formulated a solution.

page 177
And just as propaganda acts to create new needs, it also creates the demand for their solutions. We have shown how propaganda can relieve and resolve tensions. These tensions are purposely provoked by the propagandist, who holds out their remedy at the same time. He is a master of both excitation and satisfaction. One may even say that if he has provoked a particular tension, it was in order to lead the individual to accept a particular remedy, to demand some suitable action (suitable from the propagandist's viewpoint), and to submit to a system that will alleviate the tension. He thus places the individual in a universe of artificially created political needs, needs that are artificial even if their roots were once completely genuine.

If the real ultimate aim of "Pussified Nation" was to agitate the men attending Mars Hill into either bailing on the community or doubling down on their commitment then the reality of the problems described in William Wallace II's opening salvo would ultimately be moot.  It wouldn't matter if Driscoll's pen name was describing actual problems or just riffing on stereotypes. 

It did seem that Driscoll did not anticipate the kind of blowback he'd get once his pen name was traced back to him.

At the time his identity was discovered Driscoll's reaction was, clearly, "You immature people can't take a joke." But he also made a point of saying that there'd be a meeting on February 3. What for?  "... to get to the real business at hand, as it is obviously needed." 

Cumulatively, based on the things Mark Driscoll wrote about the William Wallace II stunt and, crucially, given what he and other former Mars Hill men said about what the endgame was for which the stunt was a prelude, not the business at hand, it seems there's a historical case to be made that "Pussified Nation" was a signal flare to get attention to see which men would respond to what became Dead Men.  Who would agree with Driscoll's polemic and sign on "for real"? 

Driscoll told Brian Houston he no longer feels the way he did at the time he was writing under that pen name.  As has been argued here repeatedly, the real case is that what Mark Driscoll thinks on the issue of men and manhood has not substantially changed yet.  He's regretted "how" it went but not "what" he was working toward. 

There have been secularists who have suggested in this setting and that that Mars Hill wasn't "that" unusual and Mark Driscoll wasn't "that" unique.  He was another right-wing fundy who hates women and gays.  Well, that might miss what actually made Mars Hill unique.  At the risk of putting it too simply, Mars Hill was very often more about the "how" than just the "what". Driscoll wasn't always a Calvinist so we can't really boil down the uniqueness of Mars Hill to doctrinal distinctives.  His Amyraldian approach to the atonement (let the reader understand) meant he wasn't exactly conventionally Reformed even in 2008-2012.  He could end up becoming an egalitarian in the next ten years.  Why not?  He's shaken hands with T. D. Jakes and made friendly overtures to Joel Osteen.  The only common thread here might be media savvy.  Alastair Roberts wrote a few years back that if the theologian of the sixteenth century was a lawyer the theologian of the twenty-first century is a marketing guru.  THAT seems to fit Driscoll pretty well even if Roberts was considering Rob Bell.

When we consider that Driscoll has sermons and he has speaking engagements and he's using vodcasts and blogs for the not-yet-launched new church, these are all uses of mass and social media from a centralized corporate presence.  This is not necessarily a church, a church can't fit inside a UPS mailbox.  The church is still a people and not a place? Well, where are those flesh and blood people who are the "spiritual members" of Mark Driscoll's new church?  There's staff, perhaps, but not spiritual members.

What does that look like?  It doesn't seem too big a stretch of Jacques Ellul's ideas to suggest that what made Mars Hill unique was its leadership culture acquired and employed an early mastery of integrated mass media and social media, i.e. Mars Hill had distinction as a propaganda machine that was ostensibly recognized as a church.  Rightnow all Driscoll's "church" has is a demonstrable mastery of propaganda. It remains to be seen when and if it begins to look more like a traditional church.