Friday, October 13, 2017

at Mere O. Jake Meador fields ecclesiology and the zombie pastors with a cover photo of Mark Driscoll, while Mere O blogger Samuel D James has had a history of imploring Christians to never start watchdog blogs and to not "follow Mark Driscoll around"

A brief note on the furor surrounding Patheos’s decision to add Mark Driscoll to their Evangelical channel: One of the common responses when something like this hits the press is for evangelicals, self-lacerating sorts that we are, to say that we need more institutional accountability, more safety measures in place to protect against “this sort of thing.”

One problem: When it comes to folks like Driscoll, that usually isn’t the problem. To be sure, in parish churches with a bad pastor, some institutional structure and accountability can go a long way. I grew up in an independent church. I know how bad it can get when there isn’t accountability. So none of this should be taken as a dismissal of ecclesial structure and accountability in general. That said, in the case of people like Driscoll I tend to think the problem is decidedly not one of polity.

Remember, after all, that Driscoll has been disciplined by ecclesial structures. Acts 29 removed him from leadership. After facing mounting pressure from the church, Driscoll resigned at Mars Hill. Did the process take longer than it should have? Probably, though it’s hard for me to say much in any direction on that since I’m such an outsider to the process. The point is that eventually something was done, Driscoll was ousted, and the recovery process began.

This point is worth making because oftentimes evangelicals, particularly evangelical Anglicans, are prone to thinking that our institutional safety measures failed when actually they worked just fine. The problem wasn’t the safety measures. Those did their job. The problem isn’t the lack of structure in evangelicalism. It’s the evangelicals themselves.

How and why Mark Driscoll claimed to received a divine exemption from having to follow the kind of pastoral advice he used to give from the pulpit has been documented here at some length.

Here's a diachronic survey of the roughly half-dozen accounts that were available in the post-resignation period (starting from the day of the resignation of Mark Driscoll proper) through to more recent accounts.

Here's a long-form analysis of the transcript interview Sheila Walsh and Randy Robison had with Mark Driscoll earlier this 2017.  The series is in eight parts and is, admittedly, long and that by necessity. 

And to commemorate the 10th anniversary of some controversial firings at what was once Mars Hill, there's a post that sets those firings in the context of intra-Mars Hill politics regarding governance, power, influence and the eventually public disclosure of those conflicts from about 2012 through to the end of Mars Hill in the 2014-2015 period.

Further, there's even a blog post that did a survey of some things that emerged in the lives of those who endorsed the 2012 Driscoll book Real Marriage, with an emphasis on controversies and questions that swirled around those endorsers. The Parrotts endorsed the book, for instance, and turned out to have made use of Result Source in promoting one of their books.  That's relatively innocuous compared to what came to be discovered about Boy Coy or Darrin Patrick. 

So there's all that and "that", if you haven't inferred it by now, is an awful lot of material to cover in terms of American evangelical history.  That formal institutions were in place that proved to have no capacity to constrain or limit Mark Driscoll seems pretty readily granted by everyone.  Not even Mark Driscoll himself could really contest the point by now, not least because he resigned and left the disciplinary procedure he said he agreed (at first) to submit to.

Meador has a point in saying that the problem doesn't seem to have been that there were no disciplinary protocols in place in a formal sense.  But for those more intimately acquainted with the power structures that were set up in Mars Hill history (i.e. the constitution and bylaws) it's possible to contest that the governance and disciplinary procedures did their job in one basic respect--those familiar with Meyer and Petry's objections to the 2007 bylaws could say the concerns they raised were that the formalities in place were more likely designed to preclude the accountability in practice that was promised at the level of formality.  What former leaders of Mars Hill realized too late was that not ultimately keeping Mark Driscoll accountable in terms of formal governance began to seem to many members and leaders to be a feature rather than a bug in the formal systems and informal culture. 

That at some practical levels the failures were a feature and not a bug may seem like a controversial proposal but in the wake of a torrent of stories about Harvey Weinstein it may be possible that Meador's take is a soft-pedal rather than a blunt truth.  Given what we've seen written about some of the men whom Mark Driscoll claimed were around to keep him accountable, it's not at all clear why anyone should have had confidence that the formal systems were going to accomplish anything like real accountability.  Certainly Paul Tripp indicated he did not think it was possible to have external accountability when he resigned from the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability. 

Take, for instance, Darrin Patrick, a man whom Mark Driscoll once described as "he's my pastor, you know" here at this blog.  Patrick himself ended up being removed from eldership last year, wasn't it?
By Acts 29
April 14, 2016

It is with deep sadness that we have accepted the resignation of Darrin Patrick from the Board of Acts 29, and removed him as Vice-President and a member. We have taken these steps to respect, honour and affirm the decision and process of the elders at The Journey. ...
Darrin Patrick, vice president of the Acts 29 church planting network and founding pastor of The Journey megachurch in St. Louis, has been fired for violating his duties as a pastor.
The Journey cited a range of ongoing sinful behaviors over the past few years including manipulation, domineering, lack of biblical community, and “a history of building his identity through ministry and media platforms.”
In a letter announcing its lead pastor’s removal after 14 years of leadership, the church clarified that adultery was not a factor, though elders looked into inappropriate interactions with two women.

A years-long pattern of sin led to the dismissal this week of Darrin Patrick, lead pastor of The Journey, a St. Louis, Mo., megachurch. While the reconciliation process is underway, an expert in pastoral crisis management who was called in to work with the church said Patrick’s restoration could take as long as his undoing. He does not expect Patrick to return to ministry anytime soon.
After confirming “substantive allegations of pastoral misconduct … combined with deep historical patterns of sin,” the elders of The Journey this week called for Patrick’s removal. He also resigned as vice president of the board of Acts 29, a church-planting network of congregations, which includes The Journey. 
 (starts at 00:31:52)

Q. How do you lead staff who are your best friends?Do you want the honest answer or should I punt? 
... You can't. ... you can't.

I hate to tell you that. ... Deep down in your gut you know if you're best friends and someone works for you that changes the relationship. Right? Because you can fire them. Of course you want to be friends with your elders and the people you work with. I mean, we're a church. I mean you wanna, you NEED to love the people you work with. But one of the hardest things, and only the lead guy gets this. Nobody else on staff even understands what I'm talking about. When you're the lead guy you wear multiple hats. Say it's someone who works with you and they're a good friend. You wear the "Hey, we're buddies" hat. We're friends. We go on vacation. We hang out. We do 
dinner. We're friends.

Does that make any sense? The best thing is if you have a best friend maybe the best thing to do is not have them work with you.  Or if they do have them work under someone else. And to also pursue good friendships with people outside of your church. Some of my dearest friends today are not at Mars Hill, they're also pastors of other churches. Darrin Patrick is here, Vice-President of Acts 29. I love him. He's a brother. He's the guy I call. ... He's a pastor to me, you know?  Matt Chandler is here. I count as a friend. By God's Grace, C. J. Mahaney, I count as a friend. [emphasis added]...

Good luck finding the original audio for that, unfortunately.   One of the challenges of writing a blog like this is that so many people purged so much content from so many platforms online directing people to primary source audio, video and transcript can be challenging precisely because the powers that be occasionally get inspired to purge any trace of this or that thing, person or event from the internet; sometimes people even introduce robots.txt to preclude the use of search engines, too.

What all these guys ranging from Mark Driscoll to Mahaney to Piper to Patrick to Chandler don't seem to have answered is how, if they believe they have been given spiritual discernment of some kind or another, they didn't discern all this stuff.  Cessationists could, I suppose, be able to plea that secret sins are eventually found out but don't always rise to the surface but these seem to have all been guys open to the idea of spiritual gifts and spiritual discernment.  So ... where was that discernment?  What was being discerned?  If Mark Driscoll was submitted to Darrin Patrick and it turned out that Darrin Patrick had his own issues for being unfit for ministry even while making a public declaration by way of Acts 29 as to why Mark Driscoll had been shown unfit for ministry then, well, sometimes the question can seem to be who's qualified or if qualifications matter at all.  We know they're supposed to matter and that they do matter but I'm thinking lately that the issue is not necessarily the standards themselves but selectivity in application. 

Regular readers won't be surprised to see this proposal but I have begun to think in the last few years that a common denominator we might find in all these men is that they are ultimately not shepherds but propagandists, masters of wielding multi-media platforms to convey a message of some kind in our society.  They aren't shepherds, though, and to the extent that they aren't shepherds they have no business being pastors and had no business being pastors.  Yet because American evangelicalism has been so steeped in propagandistic technique as the baseline for understanding what a uniquely American approach to "pastoral" life is supposed to be (with books and speaking engagements and film and so on) we have people in the evangelical and liberal wings of American Christianity who are presented as pastors and ministers who are motivational speakers and marketers but not shepherds who can assist Christians in their spiritual lives. You can have all the best institutional checks and balances in place but if your conception of what a minister of the Gospel even is to begin with is defined by a mastery of propagandistic technique rather than being a shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep then the checks and balances will only work on a propagandist who decides to "let them" work--otherwise what we'll see is what we've seen, that propagandist who is marketed as a pastor just finds a new market to work in.

So ... let's get back to Meador's blog post:
The problem of evangelical corruption and undead celebrity pastors will not be resolved by more stringent institutional standards. Indeed, there is not even the means within evangelical ecclesiology to provide structures with the kind of authority that many pursuing this line of thought desire: You need a magisterium for that. And if you’re ready to accept a magisterium, it’s time to buy some swimwear and make your way to the Tiber.

The reality when it comes to dealing with men like Driscoll and Tchividjian is far more basic: There is no replacement for virtue, good judgment, and a certain indifference to the allure of fame, money, and earthly success. If there is a lesson to the Driscoll, Tchividjian, and Patrick sagas, that lesson is probably not unlike the lesson we should have learned from Donald Trump: Until evangelicals care more about truth than they do fame, our moral witness will be hopelessly compromised.
Of course if crossing the Tiber meant anything in and of itself for the prevention of abusive leaders then movies like Spotlight would have never been made.  One of the illusions harbored by those who have embrace a high liturgical path (which I'm not necessarily against, just to be clear) is that the formal and institutional history is some kind of check against moral evil.  This is clearly not the case, any more than it's the case that a low church and informal or anti-high-liturgical approach ensures anything like rectitude and transparency in an institutional or cultural system. 

So, no, not all of us even think that having a magisterium improves the odds of reducing abuse even if there could be cases made for why a magisterium of some kind could or should exist.  Israel went into exile despite having the Mosaic law and a divinely appointed king or two over its pre-exilic history.  But more than just a handful of prophets whose literary warnings have been preserved in Scripture for us had stern warnings about how nobody should presume upon the givenness of scriptural revelation and laws would, in and of itself, ensure that God's people were never going to have to worry about judgment or exile.  Having these things meant they had a higher rather than a lower standard to consider.

Still, Meador's got a very good point, until evangelicals care more about truth than they do fame (or "influence" or the prestige of having publicly recognized intellectuals, etc) our moral witness will be hopelessly compromised.  In that respect evangelicalism is not unlike Hollywood in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein news.  Or, to cast about for controversy in intra-Christian circles, those who believe John Howard Yoder's ideas regarding violence and power are worth consideration can't altogether skip past how he treated women.  If anything how Yoder treated women makes his failure to apply some of his ideas about authority and aggression more pressing. 

But there's a caveat even in making this kind of observation.  Everyone is capable of being a hypocrite.  Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees and legal experts was not "just" about them being hypocrites.  Sinners fail to live by the perfection of the law.  What Jesus condemned included that many of these self-appointed men we could describe in the contemporary jargon of being "thought leaders" and influencers insisted that men and women of the common rabble lived by a set of rules that these leaders did not bother to adhere to themselves.  The contemporary colloquialism that seems to describe this is that people in the big leagues have double standards about what they can get away with that ordinary people cannot and should not be allowed to get away with.

But the thing is, while I can agree with several basic ideas Jake Meador presented at Mere Orthodoxy there's another contributor who's joined Mere Orthodoxy over the last few years who seems to have had a different set of convictions with respect to megachurch pastor types.  We've looked at the blogging of Samuel D James a couple of times in the past but his blogging is worth looking at again.

It seemed pretty naïve to me back in November 2014 and it seems naïve now but it's worth revisiting because back in 2014 there were obviously some guys in evangelicalism who didn't think that Driscoll was going to rebound so quickly back into public ministry.

Christian bloggers, please don’t report on the movements of Mark Driscoll. I’ll give you four reasons:

1) It really serves no good purpose. Driscoll has been publicly rebuked and has lost his ministry. As bad as Driscoll may have been in leadership, as potentially disqualified as he was from the pastorate, and as much damage as his actions have done to Christian witness, there is no godly or compelling reason to keep tabs on where he goes. I say “no godly reason” because I suspect much of the post-Mars Hill blogging will be driven by personal animus and a desire to see Driscoll fail wherever he goes. I say “no compelling reason” because even if one objects that we must protect other people from Driscoll, writing copious amounts of innuendo on him is hardly going to prevent those who want to be near him from doing so. The right measures have been taken in response to Driscoll’s actions. Continuing to report on him isn’t a right measure.

2) It obscures Christian forgiveness. Hear me carefully: I am not saying that Christian forgiveness means Driscoll should get a shiny new pastorate any day now. Nor am I saying that opposition to continued influence and ministry is tantamount to a withholding of forgiveness from anyone. What I am saying is that fixating on Driscoll even beyond his pastoral exit stokes the flames of bitterness and resentment that many people, understandably in many cases, feel towards Driscoll and towards his ministry. What those people should be doing is praying for Driscoll’s restoration, not merely his continued exile. Again, I am not saying that Driscoll is entitled to new ministry or authority (he’s not). I am merely speaking of helping those who struggle to extend forgiveness. I doubt that the “Driscoll beat” helps them.

3) It empowers skepticism towards the local church. One of the most lamentable features of the millennial generation is an attitude of deep distrust towards local church institutions. This is a disastrous development for young Christians. It prevents them from living life in close community the way Christ intended, and enables wrong, broad-brush beliefs about what pastors and churches are like. I’m not saying that ignorance is bliss, nor that churches are infallible or should always be given the benefit of the doubt. What I am saying is that somewhere there are young adults whose feelings of antipathy towards God’s people are being built up with the aid of the Christian Tabloid. When Christian culture gets in the way of Christian mission, it’s time to change the culture.

4) Finally, it punishes Driscoll’s family. I say this because I am a pastor’s kid, whose father was never disqualified from ministry and yet who was slandered, lied about, and dishonored publicly for self-serving reasons. Children of ministers bear the burdens of their fathers in ways that non-PKs cannot fully understand. Driscoll has opened up publicly about the toll that the recent controveries have taken on his family, saying that they have been forced to move multiple times and endure physical attacks on their house. Constant reporting about what Driscoll is up to puts his entire family in a vulnerable position where they can be preyed on by those with no legitimate motivations.

Please, Christian blogosphere, do not fixate on one man, nor make his comings and goings what the unbelieving world sees most clearly in the church. Frankly, wasn’t that the mistake we all made in the first place?

We've addressed a few of those points in the past.  Driscoll chose to resign rather than continue submitting to the disciplinary process he said he invited.  So reporting those facts as conveyed by none other than Mark Driscoll himself was worth doing. Samuel James, by now, has to be aware that Mark Driscoll gave himself a shiny new ministry and church and that it has the support of a few men who believe Driscoll deserves another shot.  So the plea that bloggers not follow Driscoll around might have made sense in a time and place where one could somehow assume that Mark Driscoll wasn't and would not end up in a new church leadership role within a calendar year of resignation; but we know by now that Driscoll lost pretty little time getting back on the conference circuit and setting up a new base of ministry.

By now almost anyone who has even heard of this blog knows what this blog has been known for.  That this blog has devoted hundreds of thousands of words to documenting the life and times of what was Mars Hill probably goes without saying much of the time.  If Samuel D. James had meant to say that bloggers who were not acquainted with all three co-founding elders of Mars Hill Church should refrain from blogging I'd actually agree with that sentiment.  But for those of us who saw what Mars Hill once was and what it became in its dying years I'd say that there's a moral and journalistic obligation to keep things available for the public record.  I'm not sure that Samuel D. James, who has identified himself as a pastor's kid, can entirely separate his distrust of a watchdog blog from his experiences as a PK. 

Had Mark Driscoll not insisted upon making himself a public figure he wouldn't be one.  But James' tendency when blogging about bloggers who might blog about churches has been moderately consistent.  Take this old post from an earlier Patheos era of blogging.
7) Don’t start a “watchdog blog.” Seriously, don’t ever.
8) Don’t read the comments.
9) Don’t leave a comment.

That led to enough commentary that James ended up writing the following:

Then it was taken down later in the wake of some journalistic commentary, it seems.

Now the reason it's significant Marlena Graves wrote the CT piece is because she was one of the people who co-interviewed Driscoll regarding the 2012 Real Marriage book.  It's worth revisiting that to see that Mark Driscoll was willing to tell Graves and her co-interviewer that he and Grace were both virgins when they met despite the fact that in the pages of Real Marriage itself the Driscolls said NEITHER of them were virgins when they met each other.
 Interview by Katelyn Beaty and Marlena Graves/ January 5, 2012
M[ark Driscoll]: No, and for us, we sinned, quite frankly. We were virgins when we met and were sleeping together as high-school boyfriend and girlfriend.  Then Grace came back to Christ, and I came to Christ in college, so we had to stop sinning sexually. I'd say if we both could go back and rewrite history and change one thing, that would probably be the thing we would change. But we did repent and met with our pastor. And then we did get married, between our junior and senior years of college.

Of course now you have to be a registered participant in things CT to even read any of this so if that's not your deal, Wenatchee The Hatchet quoted the pertinent sections back when they were publicly accessible. 

So in the case of Mark Driscoll, people had an opportunity to establish that Mark Driscoll told flatly irreconcilable narratives about his sex life during just the promotion of his 2012 book.  Either he was a virgin when he met Grace or he wasn't and when Mark Driscoll testified that he wasn't in more than one of his books the question as to why he'd tell a journalist writing for Christianity Today that he was, in fact, a virgin, when he met Grace Martin is just one of those inescapable questions.  It's germane to Samuel D. James' previously stated concern that Christian bloggers not follow Mark Driscoll around. 

Certainly people can feel they're standing up for a principle but one of the difficulties of our age is that for those who are ensconced in media for a living it can seem as though what is depressingly clearer and clear about the cultures of mass media is that there are double standards.  Whether we're talking about a man with a history of gambling or a history of getting a church in debt through real estate acquisitions; or perhaps a man with a history of vitriolic language and a hair-trigger temper; or a man who turns out to have been pursuing multiple women for sexual relationships; or a man who was discovered to have cribbed a bunch of material without citation, what American Christians across the conventional blue and red divides are showing is that, within the realm of media empires, the celebrities get pleas for clemency after they've been caught doing any number of things that would get normal people some kind of church discipline or at the very least fired from their jobs in a more conventional world. 

This is not so much a conservative thing or a liberal thing.  For those who might still defend a Mark Driscoll there have been those who have defended the histories of people like Tony Jones, too.  The base line is not red or blue or conservative or liberal.  No, the base line seems to be that Americans want to defend their celebrities and in the case of Americans who identify as Christians they want to defend their celebrities much the same way fans of film-makers want to defend their favorite celebrities and power brokers. 

Way back in 2011 I blogged something called "we have the same ethics because we worship the same idols". It was about American evangelicals and their veneration of sex specifically, but I was thinking about Americans more generally, too.  Back in 2013 I wrote another blog post that was called "Mars Hill and the idol of social media"  Lately I think that the veneration of celebrity and partisanship at the expense of character and conduct may be another realm in which liberal and conservative Christians in America are ultimately more American than Christian, whether we're talking about a liberal or conservative in the conventional newspaper article sense. 

The preferred hue does nothing to change the foundational praxis, which favors the celebrity as having the rights and privileges to get away with things the rank and file would generally get punished for.  Now that we have so many men who showed themselves unfit for pastoral ministry in one capacity or another diving right back into the public eye it seems that there might have to be a sequel essay called "we have the same ethics because we worship the same idols" about celebrity propagandists in popular American Christianity.  The conventional red/blue divides are all the more convenient to mask the reality that there are likely moral equivalents of Harvey Weinsteins throughout American media-driven Christianity and that so long as sufficient fealty is paid by celebrities to the talismanic divisions of red or blue the egregious acts and words of the celebrities will not only be forgiven but defended. In the wake of the demise of Mars Hill people who went there may be tempted to double down on going as blue as they can in reaction to what they felt was Mark Driscoll's toxic red-state gospel.  That will be a fatal mistake, too.  There's no Gospel in Americanism, regardless of the formal color, the poison is ultimately the same. 

The quest for a kind of Christian celebrity seems endemic to the whole gamut of American media Christianity.  There's no real reason to be outraged at the recent reports of the conduct of a Harvey Weinstein if what Americans in the proverbially "red" and "blue" leaning Christian industries want is to have more A-list celebrities to get the message out.  If McLuhan's bromide about the medium being the message is to have any possibility of warning for American Christians regardless of political and economic convictions the warning should be that just as you cannot love both God and Mammon you can't love both Christ and celebrity. 

But it seems that across the American spectrum celebrity is what we really love.

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