Monday, January 02, 2017

Frank Turk at Pyromaniacs on calling it a day on blogging, which inspires some more thoughts on what some call watchblogging

It looks like we may begin 2017 with one less active contributor to the Team Pyro blog ... the only one that WtH would even occasionally read.

Frank Turk's debate with Internet Monk on the subject of Mark Driscoll may have been the best distillation of the ways in which American Christians were able to talk to each other and past each other on a set of topics.

Forewarning, some of these links may or may not work as they are:
Now—I agree that my blogging put me on a larger stage, and I agree that once on that stage, others on that stage may rebuke, react or correct.

I agree that I must consider this as the possible work of the Spirit.

But there exists NO WORKABLE AUTHORITY STRUCTURE that involves Frank Turk or any other internet critic that can place these Driscoll issues out of the realm of rebuke and into the realm of specific accountable repentance, i.e. we know when he’s repented, how and if it was sufficient. [emphasis added, all caps original]

The only way we will know that Driscoll has repented is, apparently, when Frank says so, and as much as I trust and affirm Frank, I’m simply not ready to sign on to giving individuals- pastors, bloggers, etc- that kind of jury duty.

Frank has a standard of repentance in his mind that he derives from scripture and experience. I’m sure it’s wonderful. But I have not agreed to it, and unless Frank has contacted the Mars Hill elders, I don’t think anyone else has agreed to it.

Who has the last word on Driscoll? The blogger in the UK who says Driscoll is a Jesus rejecting apostate who teaches Jesus was a pervert? The people on the floor of the SBC who haven’t listened to or read a word of Driscoll? The mob with torches in Missouri who clearly loath Driscoll as a danger to the church? The major pastor who indicted Driscoll in 4 posts on his blog? Some assortment of bloggers and pastors?

To date it seems that Turk's concerns about Driscoll's fitness for ministry were, at some length, basically vindicated.  What Janet Mefferd and Warren Throckmorton and Warren Smith and others unearthed about the promotion of one of Mark Driscoll's books raised plenty of legitimate questions about Mark Driscoll's ethics and competence as an author.  It needs to stressed that at no point did Team Pyro contributors ever meaningfully add anything of notable significance to that investigation.  It's possible for Turks' concerns to have been legitimate as far as they went without having made a compelling case in a context that, to put it colloquially, mattered.  Internet Monk succinctly explained why. 

Yet Spencer's caution that there was not, is not, and would never be any basis for people on the internet being able to meaningfully confront questions of character and conduct on the part of a Mark Driscoll apart from those in direct Christian community with Driscoll (i.e. elders and members of the local church who could actually influence things around a leader) was also vindicated.

It became abundantly clear between 2013-2014 that Mark Driscoll's elders did not and could not ultimately hold Driscoll accountable.  Survey the half dozen variant narratives on how and when and why Mark Driscoll claims God gave him permission to quit and you'll see that the formality of paying heed to his elders was surely made, right up to the day that Driscoll (entirely in retrospect) claimed he was given a divine exemptionSure, back in 2010 Driscoll wrote out the six reasons why he wasn't going anywhere yet five years later, poof, he was gone and over in ArizonaOne of any number of crowning ironies in Driscoll's 2015 roadshow of explaining how God told him he could quit was that in 2014 he'd preached a sermon about how if some guy says "God told me I get to do X" to be skeptical.

Pastor Mark Driscoll
ACTS (5:12-42)
May 04, 2014

So I want to be careful with this because this can be an opportunity for spiritual abuse. Because sometimes people say, “God told me.” Well, we’ll see, OK? You can’t just pull out the “God told me” card. [emphasis added] Ladies, let’s say you meet a guy and the guy says, “God told me to marry you.” “Interesting, he didn’t tell me or my dad, you know, so I don’t have to just assume that because you say the Lord says that the Lord in fact has spoken.”

You need to be very careful. Somebody comes along, “God told me to plant a church.” Let’s check that. All right, you can’t—I mean, 1 Corinthians 14 is clear. If you think you got a word from the Lord, you’ve got to check it by the leaders. So what we’re looking for, if you believe God has told you something, especially to do something that is difficult like this, we’re looking for a godly person—Peter’s a godly person. In godly community—it says he’s with the apostles, they’re all agreed. Under godly authority—they all agree on this. With a godly motive—to talk about Jesus. Doing a godly thing—wanting to minister to people. In a godly way—by being open in public and not hiding anything. So if you believe the Lord has told you something, he may have, but I would ask, “Are you a godly person in godly community under godly authority with a godly motive doing a godly thing in a godly way?” ... [emphasis added]

As we now know, inside the same calendar year Mark Driscoll resigned from his position at Mars Hill and in 2015 explained that he did so in spite of having agreed to submit to a restoration plan and process proposed by his elder board.  This could be regarded as independently attested by Mars Hill leadership within 2014 when they expressed disappointment that in resignation Mark Driscoll pre-empted any restoration process the leaders of Mars Hill could have walked him through.

If Turk has come to feel he has become a leader in bad example retiring from blogging is a respectable decision. 

Something Turk doesn't exactly get to directly but sort of gets to is the problem of influence, you have an influence on people.  Or ... maybe there's another way to put this.  Frank Turk may or may not realize that fans of Team Pyro can be pretty much the same hard-headed pugnacious arguers that at one point attached themselves (and in some cases may still attach themselves) to Mark Driscoll.  The fanbase dynamics for a Team Pyro blog can be much the same as for a Mark Driscoll blog and when you're bathed in the nebulous sphere of this influence you can't see it for what it is.  It's possible to propose that this can be a weakness endemic to any blog or blogger who is primarily known for being willing to steadily sound off on anything that might be regarded as controversial.  So in that sense Team Pyro and Mark Driscoll, as iterations of the dynamics of the blog scene, aren't necessarily at all different.

And at another level, maybe neither is a Frank Schaeffer or a Rachel Held Evans.

Something I appreciated about Michael at Internet Monk was that he made it clear that his writerly persona was not the flesh and blood person.  There might be overlap in a Venn diagram but the writer Internet Monk is not precisely the same as the human.  What people read into Michael's work and inferred from Michael's work were never automatically or necessarily the same thing as who Michael was in the flesh.  Whether we're talking about a Team Pyro contributor or a Mark Driscoll these kinds of public blogging polemicists of yore have had more than a little bit of a stake in conflating, altogether, the real world distinctions that can accrue between persona and person. 

I've written plenty of stuff critical of the leadership culture of what was once Mars Hill.  Anyone who's read ten posts of this blog in the last seven years would know that.  I have lived in the Seattle area since the first Bill Clinton term.  It's never been lost on me that if I wrote stuff about Mars Hill it would have significance where I live because I was living with Mars Hill members as housemates even after I'd stopped being a contracted member.  I had to literally live with the prospect of how what I wrote would or could influence Mars Hill friends for better or worse.  What was the best way to raise concerns in a way that respected their humanity and shared Christian faith in a way that didn't tell them what to do but invited them to reconsider the plausibility of the constructed narrative?

The trouble is that the only ways you can effectively do that involves trust and earning and retaining trust is, by and large, not a primary concern among bloggers who want to prove something.  So in that sense Frank Turk could be right, a great deal of blogging is a kind of exhibitionism. 

Then Turk's got this:
if you are using the internet to talk to people who do not know you and cannot know you, you are doing some of the things I did, and you probably do not understand the consequences.  I didn't.  The first consequence seems really obvious to me now: you are kidding yourself about your level of influence.  

Well, at one level, what's the point of the internet if you don't use it for precisely the purpose of talking to people you haven't met before about a potentially shared interest?  For instance, for people with disabilities who are effectively trapped in their homes the internet is exactly the kind of life-saving resource, literally and figuratively, they can avail themselves to when something unexpected happens.   More than just a handful of my closer friends that I made at Mars Hill I made through what was initially an internet connection. 

The problem is not necessarily that people don't understand the consequences in the sense that they don't understand their own influence.  I lean more toward the proposal of Terry Teachout about social media in general, which is that this so profoundly alters our understanding of public vs private figure that both the law and our sense of social conventions has not caught up to the ways in which we often unwittingly employ social media technology. Ergo some ignorant kids do stuff with social media that gets them in trouble or politicians send pictures of parts of themselves that sink careers.  At the risk of being a pedantic scold who at one point studied journalism here, if more American Christians even knew what theories of the press were and what the implications of mass media platforms are they might think twice about starting a blog or making what they regard as some witty comment on a Facebook wall or a twitter feed.

Then there's this ...

The Bible never asks anyone to be a mostly-faceless, mostly-nameless shill for his own unregulated opinions -- and this a second corollary to my apology and retraction: in all seriousness, nobody is holding you accountable for your actions, and you are harming the spiritual well-being of those you are seeking to influence by proliferating a system in which there is no accountability.  You are making the local church into nothing, and that should bother you

Awesome, so who, exactly, was John the Baptist accountable to?  I'm not talking about John's saying "He must become greater and greater, while I must become less and less."  The question of whose authority gave John the right to do what he did was a big enough deal that John was asked and it was a point for discussion between Jesus and his adversaries.  To what extent do we get an answer that would satisfy blogger-era Frank Turk? 

For that matter, who wrote the letter to the Hebrews?  Do we have manuscript evidence that Matthew, Mark and Luke got notarized signatures on the original manuscripts of the synoptic gospels?  Does John SAY John was the one who wrote the gospel with his name traditionally affixed to it or is that a strong inference and a historical association?  The Bible actually has a couple of documents written by mostly faceless and sometimes even nameless shills for what some people who first read them might have regarded as unregulated opinions.  There were plenty of people who didn't like what Elijah had to say, for instance.  Ah, but we can't even be certain Elijah wrote anything down.  Sometimes we have a name but the name doesn't tell us a whole lot about the person, like Obadiah.  Are we completely clear who wrote Esther?  How sure are we that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes?  Turk's bromide has an appearance of wisdom to the sorts of people already disposed to take him seriously ... but in a way his warnings can boomerang. 

The other trouble here is that Turk conflates "mostly-faceless" with "unregulated opinions".  This is too glib a stereotype to be taken seriously.  It also presumes that any attempts to downplay personal identity have as their purpose a desire to shortcut accountability for things said.  The idea that bloggers just do stuff and say stuff without being connected to a local church has to be assumed.  There was some blogger who used to be a member of Mars Hill and when that blogger stopped being a contracted member the person didn't stop remaining connected to fellow Christians inside Mars Hill and outside Mars Hill.  For that matter, this blogger became a member at another church and continued to participate (albeit in a limited way) with the life of a local church.  When the time came around to write some possibly confrontational posts about where a leadership culture was going in Mars Hill the last thing Mars Hill elders and advocates could say about the blogger was that the blogger wasn't a member of a local church. 

What happens if the blogger is a member of a local church and works studiously to back up claims made with documentable sources that others can reference?  Does that continue to carry on the vices of bloggers Turk is concerned about? When piles of information distributed within Mars Hill via The City ended up here at the blog would Frank Turk's case be made that the problem was the blogger had no accountability?   When this showed up ...

and demonstrated that intra-Mars Hill documents presented that Mark Driscoll's 2012 compensation was in the zone of $500,000 was that harming the people of Mars Hill or was it helping them make an informed decision about whether to offer more continued support to Mars Hill?  There's no reason thousands of people could conclude both things happened when that document went up. 

Perhaps we could put this another way, perhaps more in keeping with the tenor of Team Pyro contributors, does Frank Turk's guilty conscience about his own self-perceived ethical failures as a blogger entitle him to presume other bloggers have shared in his character flaws?  Couldn't that be construed as emblematic of the collective character flaws of a Team Pyro blog altogether or perhaps the commentary brigades of some watchdog blogs the Pyro guys might not feel like naming?

Look, this blog has been known as a watchblog in spite of ample evidence to the contrary.  Publishing tens of thousands of words about 19th century guitar music might telegraph this has never been a "watchdog blog".  For years I'd stonewall the issue of "what's your mission?" from Mars Hill and Driscoll advocates raised in comments at the blog.  This blog was about Mars Hill history for a time when it seemed necessary to compensate for the failures of the press and in the last year it began to be more about discussing the possibilities of syntactic manipulation of stylistic elements in 19th century guitar sonatas and ragtime traditions to arrive at a possible synthesis of both styles.  That could understandably bore the daylights out of a lot of people but it's also a case for someone like Frank Turk that the trouble with a Pyromaniacs blog and a watchdog blog that goes after some favored son they like is that they are potentially doing the same thing, collapsing their blogging identities into personas--the showboating church leader has to be seen and the showboating watchblog blogger has to always, ever and only be blogging about timely issues that ask hard-hitting questions.  These are people who may both be trapped in the pigeon-hole of a self-cultivated persona.

It doesn't have to be that way.  If this were explicable in terms of Hollywood tropes these bloggers typecast themselves as action heroes.  I enjoy Batman movies and Batman cartoons but when I worked on cultivating a tone and voice for this blog, particularly as I was writing about Mars Hill, I went for a fusion of Jane Austen and Joan Didion because I admire their work.  If there "were" going to be a way to formulate a voice that in tone and content were an alternative to Mark Driscoll's macho showboating stand-up routine it would best be a literary voice and it seemed harder to find literary voices more contrasted with Driscoll's platform persona than the literary voices of Austen and Didion. 

Or in cinematic terms ... the downside of making yourself a kind of blogger Whit Stillman is that only so many people can enjoy what you do.  If the persona I cultivated "could" be likened to a Whit Stillman character then bloggers like Driscoll or even Team Pyro guys might be likened to ... Michael Bay characters.  I mean, they call themselves Team Pyro and have outlandish clip art.  We've got technical analysis of 19th century guitar sonatas.  Perhaps the study in contrasts on the basis of blog images here is too easy? :) 

So, yes, I deliberately set out to write in a style that punished the inattentive or TLDR sorts of people who read blog posts.  I also deliberately cultivated a writing style that soaked up the ethos of two women writers who I was moderately sure Mark Driscoll fans who would take to the internet very likely never read.  Austen's one of the great comic genius of English language literature but it's not the sort of genius that would be readily appreciated by a Driscoll fanboy, by and large.  Odds are moderately decent the average Mark Driscoll fan might not even know who Joan Didion is. 

Perhaps the easier way to make this point I'm trying to make is that any literary persona necessarily straitjackets you and typecasts you.  You need to ask yourself whether or not this distillation of what you choose to do is something you're comfortable with, if this distillation of you is something you're willing to live with as the presentation in media terms of who, for all intents and purposes (because you hit the publish button) is who you really are in terms of published work.  Jesus said that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, and the same can be said of blogging.  Somewhere in the last ten years when I was at Mars Hill I began to realize I didn't like who I was becoming within the confines of Mars Hill, but that the sins people told me I was increasingly guilty of in how I related to people were simply not sins I could effectively repent of if I stayed within the confines of Mars Hill.  Now any number of people could say those sins of being cold-bloodedly condescending to people I don't agree with still happens but who's to say I'd be better at not doing that if I'd stayed inside Mars Hill?

As for that accountability thing ... it seems to be one of the pious bromides of certain strata of Christian bloggers.  The trouble is that it has to be presumed.  it isn't always the case in the real world. For instance, at no point in the last seven years could Mars Hill elders make a case that the guy who blogs at Wenatchee The Hatchet 1) wasn't a Christian 2) was a liberal of any kind 3) was not a member of a church or 4) was not careful to avoid making claims that could not be substantiated.  There were apparently some burning questions as to how on earth Wenatchee The Hatchet kept getting stuff from The City nobody outside Mars Hill was even supposed to be able to see ... but if anything that would have counted as a case that there were times when bloggers could keep institutions accountable that were emphatically interested in avoiding certain types of accountability. 

For that matter, Frank Turk's pious bromides seem unable to concede that it's possible to do the watchblog thing as a member of a local church.  It's the Team Pyro weakness for not quite being able to grant that a watchblog thing can ever be done that can, at least in light of some of the controversies that swirled up around some of their favorites, can seem ever so vaguely like a double standard.
Then again whether red or blue or theological left or right we've had a depressingly diverse range of case studies in which criticizing the other team is a whole lot easier than challenging how people on "our" team have failed or how we ourselves failed to live by the ideals we profess.  Turk seems unable to commit to the possibility that a watchblog can be a kind of repentance process.  That's a shame because while it may often be bloggers who vent about corruption in the church have chips on their shoulders, and while it's certainly common enough that many a blogger bloviates about the distinctives of who has or hasn't the bona fides of legitimate club membership, it doesn't always have to be that way.  It's also possible for a Christian blogger to be a church member willing to submit to local church leadership and still do something that gets known as watchblogging.

At the risk of using self as an example, Wenatchee The Hatchet did the watchblogging thing for a while, when it seemed necessary, while being a member of a church and even choosing to remain connected to the fellow believers who were still at Mars Hill.  That might even have been a reason people were willing to leak so much information to Wenatchee The Hatchet.  When you know this isn't some person blogging from the other side of the country who's never set foot in a Mars Hill service but someone who got to know the three co-founding elders and spent a decade inside the culture you can have "some" confidence the person will try to represent the history of Mars Hill accurately. 

It's not that there aren't plenty of bloggers who continuously confuse their own personal convictions and prejudices with some kind of journalistic service to humanity, it's that Turk seems too set on the assumption that this is the only kind of blogging Christian bloggers are able to do.  We can probably all agree that whatever watchblogging is it's not good for it to be a constant vocational activity.  My own study of the prophetic literature and the provisions in Mosaic case law have persuaded me that prophetic activity was at most an intermittent and ad hoc role for when case law didn't cover what has just come up.  That may seem strange to people but recognizing that the prophetic mode was quite possibly ad hoc and intermittent even as described within the Bible itself can be a potent corrective for how Christian bloggers might presume to wield a prophetic voice.  If it can be demonstrated that most of the time this was not the norm it can guide you for when you struggle with the question of whether or not you may need to play any kind of prophetic role speaking to issues where you are in a Christian community.

When Amos was told to stop prophesying or to go prophesy somewhere else he declared he was not doing this as his day job but because the Lord sent him.  Amos 7, perhaps, should be life verses for would be watchbloggers. If you feel compelled by your understanding of the Scriptures and the providence of your location and participation in a Christian community to challenge what you regard as wrong then give the watchblog a shot but regard it as an ad hoc, occasional, emergency state.  Don't make it your life or think of it as the thing that defines your activity in blogging.  If it's not done out of love and concern for a Christian community you are, to the best of your ability, able to still participate in, consider whether or not the Lord in His providence can't raise up someone else.  Elijah imagined he was alone and the Lord told him otherwise.  What motivates you to blog on the sorts of things that pass for watchblogging should be love of neighbor, not resentful self-pitying loathing that the kinds of people you can't stand have a podium.  Someone's going to give them a podium anyway.  Scripture warns any number of times that false teachers don't have any trouble getting audiences. 

The shame of those Christian bloggers who paradoxically inveigh against watchbloggers is that they don't seem to realize that one possible application of Leviticus 5:1 is that if there is a charge to testify regarding what you have seen and heard that ... could ... possibly ... be a case law applicable to what we see in watchblogging.  A great deal of what was done in watchblogging here was not exactly spouting personal opinions.  Longtime readers will remember that a super-majority of the blog in watchblog phase was simply transcribing and preserving for the public record what people in the Mars Hill leadership culture actually said and did for the record.  That this so often led certain leaders in Mars Hill history to look like idiots was merely a secondary effect!    There were times when I'd get messages from people saying "You will have to answer to God one day for every unkind word you've said about Mars Hill."  Yes, and the thought of answering God as to why I didn't testify to what I saw and heard about how the leadership culture treated people or acquired real estate or how leaders were appointed was way, way more convicting than the thought that perhaps one day Jesus would be upset that I wrote blog posts expressing doubts about the competence and good will of the higher echelons of what was once Mars Hill leadership. 

But I didn't Team Pyro it.  I documented things and often let the invitation to reconsider the Mars Hill narrative be implicit.  If you tell people to leave they will bristle.  If you let them come to the conclusion they should leave of their own accord based on what they can read then you've given them the opportunity to make their own informed decision.  The trouble with Christian bloggers can all too often be that people appoint themselves arbiters of conscience who don't want to give people any choice, whether it's a Mars Hill fan or a Team Pyro fan or any number of other teams. 

If Frank Turk has come to feel guilty of embodying the vices of bloggers he has so long seen in others but not always in himself, well, okay.  We can even say "Amen".  But it's one thing to realize that you have character flaws you can disseminate via electronic communication and another thing to express this point in a way that universally implicates your target audience as being at least as guilty of your own vices as you say you are.

After all, Mark Driscoll had a habit of saying he had pride which was why he had a claim to say you need to repent of yours.  It's a strange, sad irony that Frank Turk's parting words could have exemplified a kind of self-exonerating self-implication that we've seen in a guy like Mark Driscoll.    Still, repentance has to start somewhere and retiring from blogging can be a start.  That's more respectable than Driscoll bailing on the church he helped found while retroactively claiming divine permission.  The difference between Turk and Driscoll can still be galactic in that it seems Turk knows when it's time to quit and has both the will and ability to do so.  Driscoll, perhaps, has neither of those.

Ironically, when we look at Michael Spencer's observation about Turk's position, Spencer pointed out that what Turk was functionally advocating for was that bloggers like himself could serve as a court of public appeal or public opinion to determine and discern whether they believed someone should legitimately be in ministry or not.  So many years later the irony inherent in this sort of advocacy may not already be obvious ... but if the Team Pyro people can decide by way of blog declaration that someone they disagree with on things should not be a pastor then who's to say a blog like Wartburg Watch can't do the exact same thing? 

Let's recall that Michael's rejoinder to Frank was that the problem was not the ideal for accountability or character articulated by Frank Turk, the problem was that a bunch of bloggers could not be the self-appointed jury with any real-world authority to implement that process of judgment.  It may have transpired that Turk was "right" about the problems of Mark Driscoll's fitness for ministry while being wrong about what could be considered an effective means of accountability, while Michael may have been right about the incapacity of the internet to serve as a normal means of accountability while perhaps being wrong about Mark Driscoll's fitness for ministry at the time of the debate.  This is not to say Michael didn't begin to have some significant reservations about Driscoll as the years went on.  He did, but as readers of Internet Monk no doubt know, other things were starting to happen.  For Christian bloggers who want to consider the range of views and options for what's known as watchdog blogging that debate between Michael and Frank Turk is probably going to be something like highly-recommended reading if not "required" reading. 

The irony that's hard to shake here is that it would sure seem like if the Frank Turk case for bloggers holding famous pastors accountable in some way were a genuinely compelling argument the Team Pyro people should be, I dunno, maybe fans of the Wartburg Watch. 


One of the things that hasn't changed this year is all comments automatically roll into moderation. 

Just in case, against all probable odds, folks are burning to comment.  Most of the time people don't want to comment but thought we'd just clear up the comments policy moving forward in case anyone was unclear.