Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Dan Savage age of Mark Driscoll's Seattle: revisiting how both men responded to the 2006 Ted Haggard scandal that led to an internet myth

Reading Jessica Johnson's book Biblical Porn has brought back a lot of memories.  I plan to write about the book in some fashion, possibly in a long-form chapter-by-chapter analysis or possibly in a more general way.  Still trying to figure that out.  But I've gotten through the first chapter or two and underlined a few things I want to get to and along the way I was reading about that notorious moment in Mars Hill history in which Mark Driscoll decided to sound off on the Ted Haggard scandal.  This would turn into an internet myth that I have felt obliged to debunk several times and I'm reflecting once more on how that myth came about and as I consider it I find that the myth is one of those internet memes that "everybody" reproduced by way of distribution but that could not have existed without the insistently snarky screeds of exactly two men, Mark Driscoll but also, just as necessarily, Dan Savage.

As the years go by since Mark Driscoll's resignation on the one hand and of new editorial leadership at The Stranger on the other, it's begun to seem as though Mark Driscoll and Dan Savage had a possibly two-decade run in which their respective personas were in some sense entwined, almost as though the two men were media figures in the 2000-2010 period who could be thought of as conjoined twins. The most signal point at which their respective personas and methods of media use were inseparable was one of the most notorious internet myths that circulated about Mark Driscoll, the claim that Driscoll said that Gayle Haggard "let herself go" and that that was why Ted Haggard was discovered to have met with a male prostitute. 

Having rebutted this myth multiple times I do not take up the topic here again merely to debunk that old myth but to make a point about how it got started and whose snide remarks catalyzed the emergence of the myth.  Summarily, Dan Savage made a joke about what he presumed Mark Driscoll would have said that was credited to Mark Driscoll as if he'd said it but which, in fact, Dan Savage sarcastically said as if on behalf of Mark Driscoll; but I will propose, from another sidelong remark from Dan Savage about someone else who had a connection to Mars Hill written in 2009, that what has been imputed to Mark Driscoll was arguably not Mark Driscoll's own propensity for verbal abuse but Dan Savage's own capacity for casual verbal cruelty. 

Let's consult the primary sources, the men themselves.

The news has been abuzz with controversy surrounding the allegations that Ted Haggard had a three-year homosexual relationship with a male prostitute that included drug use. Haggard is pastor of a 14,000-member church in Colorado, president of the National Association of Evangelicals that has some 30 million members, friend of men like George Bush, and outspoken opponent of homosexuality and gay marriage.

The news broke in a television interview with the homosexual prostitute.


November 21, 2006 - Update
 Here is an updated link with footage regarding the allegations and Haggard original denial of them. This link, mostly leaves his family out of it.
 For more information from the Haggard's please see the links here.


A follow-up article by the Associated Press said that Haggard purchased methamphetamines from the gay prostitute but claims he never used them. He also admitted to getting a massage from the gay prostitute but denies any sexual activity between the two.

December 13, 2006 - Update
 The A.P. story does not appear to be available any longer.


Of course the media is having a field day with the scandal, particularly since Haggard's home state of Colorado is on the brink of a highly charged political vote regarding homosexual rights. It will likely take weeks to untangle the truth in all of this very devastating news. In the meantime, let us pray that his wife and five children will be loved and supported through this incredibly difficult time. The horror they must be experiencing is likely unbearable.

As every pastor knows, we are always at risk from the sin in us and the sinful temptations around us. Pastoring in one of America's least churched cities to a large number of single, young people has been an eye-opening experience for me. I started the church ten years ago when I was twenty-five years of age. Thankfully, I was married to a beautiful woman. I met my lovely wife Grace when we were seventeen, married her at twenty-one, and by God's grace have been faithful to her in every way since the day we met. I have, however, seen some very overt opportunities for sin. On one occasion I actually had a young woman put a note into my shirt pocket while I was serving communion with my wife, asking me to have dinner, a massage, and sex with her. On another occasion a young woman emailed me a photo of herself topless and wanted to know if I liked her body. Thankfully, that email was intercepted by an assistant and never got to me.

My suspicion is that as our culture becomes more sexually rebellious, things will only get worse. Therefore, as a means of encouragement, I would like to share some practical suggestions for fellow Christian leaders, especially young men:

 •The only way to stay away from sin is to stay close to Jesus. Colossians says that we are prone to making a lot of rules but that if we don't deal with the issues in our heart, we are fooling ourselves; holiness cannot be obtained by the sheer force of white-knuckled will power. More than anyone, a Christian leader needs time with Jesus in repentance, for their own soul and not just to make them a better leader or teacher. Death comes to every Christian leader who goes to Jesus and Scripture for purely functional and not relational purposes.

Most pastors I know do not have satisfying, free, sexual conversations and liberties with their wives. At the risk of being even more widely despised than I currently am, I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this. It is not uncommon to meet pastors' wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. 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. [emphasis added]

•Every pastor needs a pastor. Too often the pastor is seen as a sort of little God and his wife as some glorified First Lady. Every pastor needs a pastor with whom he can regularly have accountability and the confession of sin. Every pastor's wife also needs a godly woman chosen for her maturity and trustworthiness.

•No church should tolerate sexual sin among its leaders. Christians cannot be guilty of playing plank-speck with non-Christians on matters of pornography and homosexuality and be guilty of going soft on sin in their own leadership. As Paul says, nothing can be done out of partiality or favoritism.

Pastors should have their office at the church and their study at home. There is no reason a pastor should be sitting alone at the church at odd hours (e.g., early morning and late evening) to study when anyone can drop in for any reason and have access to him. Instead, a pastor should come into the office for scheduled meetings and work from home on tasks such as emails, planning, studying, sermon preparation, etc. I spend the vast majority of my time working from home. Some years ago when I did not, I found that lonely people, some of them hurting single moms wanting a strong man to speak into their life, would show up to hang out and catch time with me. It was shortly thereafter that I brought my books home and purchased a laptop and cell phone so that I was not tied to the church office.

•Pastors have the right to protect their own home. This means that if someone keeps dropping by unannounced and is unwelcome, or a flirtatious woman shows up to a Bible study at the pastor's home, the pastor and his family have the right to request that they never return. The pastor's home simply cannot be viewed as yet another piece of church property that is accessible to anyone who desires it. Rather, the pastor's home must be a safe place for the pastor and his family without the wrong people rudely calling and dropping by.

•Churches should consider returning to heterosexual male assistants who are like Timothy and Titus to serve alongside pastors. Too often the pastor's assistant is a woman who, if not sexually involved, becomes too emotionally involved with the pastor as a sort of emotional and practical second wife. I have been blessed with a trustworthy heterosexual male assistant who can travel with me, meet with me, etc., without the fear of any temptations or even false allegations since we have beautiful wives and eight children between us.

•Pastors need to protect their email and have it screened for accountability. For me, this means that no email but an email from one of our pastors comes directly to me. This also means that I leave my email account open at home and my wife regularly checks it to get schedule information, etc., because I have nothing to hide. I also do not have a secondary email account from which to build a secret identity.

•Pastors need to carefully protect their cell phone number. If that private number gets out, too many of the wrong people have access to the pastor. Not only should the cell phone number of a pastor be given out to only a few people, he should also consider eliminating his voicemail and simply have calls forwarded to his assistant. In this way people will not become too informal with the pastor and if the pastor knows someone is trouble (e.g., a flirtatious woman), he can see that on his caller ID and simply refuse to answer the call or have to deal with a voicemail.

•Pastors must speak freely and frankly with their wives about their temptations. Without this there really can be no walking in the light and sin always grows in darkness.

•Pastors must not travel alone; the anonymity and fatigue of the road is too great a temptation for many men. A pastor should take his wife, an older child, an assistant, or fellow leader with him. If this cannot be afforded then travel should not be undertaken.

•Any pastor who is drifting toward serious sexual sin should have the courage, love for God, devotion to his family, and respect for his church to simply fall on his sword and resign before he goes down in flames. He must get the professional help he needs without fear of losing his position as a pastor. It is much better to be an honest Christian than a wicked pastor.

•Lastly, the big issue is a love and fear of God. Only a man really knows his heart and whether or not he loves and fears God above all else. Without this a man will fail to live for God's glory, and it is only a matter of time.

In conclusion, I say none of this as moralism. Indeed, this is a deeply rooted gospel issue. How can we proclaim that our God is a faithful Trinitarian community if we are not faithful to our marriage covenant and family? How can we say that the same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in us if we have no holiness in our life? How can we proclaim that we are new creations in Christ if we continually return to lap up the vomit of our old way of life? How can we preach that sin is to be repented of if we fail to model that ongoing repentance? How can we say that God is our highest treasure and greatest joy when we trade Him for sin that defiles our hands and defames His name?
I do not know the guilt or innocence of Haggard. But I do know that this is a sobering reminder to take heed of, lest we fall.

Emphasis added for what Driscoll actually wrote so that it can be read in context with what Dan Savage wrote in reaction.

Posted by Dan Savage on November 3 at 18:38 PM

His lazy, fat bitch of a wife, of course. [emphasis added]

Most pastors I know do not have satisfying, free, sexual conversations and liberties with their wives. At the risk of being even more widely despised than I currently am, I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this. It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go [emphasis origina]; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. [emphasis original] 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.

I’m sure Ted Haggard is saying something along these lines to his wife right now: “Oh, honey… I wouldn’t have been having those meth-fueled ass-banging sessions with that gay hooker if you hadn’t have let yourself go like that!” [emphasis added]

These words of wisdom were authored by Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, and posted today on his blog. It’s a lengthy post written in reaction to the Haggard scandal. “The pastor’s wife is a fat-ass slob” is at the top of Driscoll’s reasons why an otherwise upright Christian pastor might indulge in sinful sexual pursuits.

Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church—watch for a franchise opening in your neighborhood soon!—is modeled on mega-church’s like Haggard’s Colorado Springs mega-church. Here’s hoping Driscoll’s fall is modeled on Haggard’s as well.

It is frankly not that difficult to see how the way Savage worded his snarky reply what he wrote was cognitively and emotionally collapsed together in the minds of readers of his work in such a way as to impute to Mark Driscoll what Dan Savage wrote. Sarcasm alerts would seem superfluous with an author like Savage but the pervasiveness of the internet myth that Driscoll said what I've highlighted in red suggests that people wanted to believe Mark Driscoll said some version of what Dan Savage sarcastically quipped Ted Haggard must have said as imagined in terms of a polemic imputed to Driscoll in Savage's own polemic.  It's simultaneously clear-cut but slippery.  Driscoll for his part, in an interview with Justin Brierley insisted "I never talked about the Haggards", which was true--Driscoll did something weirder and more troubling, he simply used the scandal of Ted Haggard and the stress that scandal put on the Haggards as a family to soapbox about all the kinds of stuff he'd been soapboxing about since, well, "Pussified Nation" as William Wallace II.  2006 was an emphatically weird year in Mark Driscoll's blogging at Resurgence, whether it was opining on Jenna Jameson being unable to reconcile her porn star career with her Roman Catholic beliefs, or slamming the model, Adriana Lima as some hypocritical idiot Catholic, or rhetorically asking "if" while implying strong that Oprah was a cult leader. In a way the Ted Haggard sound-off was a culmination of a trend in 2006 Driscoll blogging in which he'd shown himself familiar enough with Catholic porn stars and supermodels to lambast them for their stupidity and hypocrisy and then ... there's the "most pastors wives ... ."

Savage didn't bother to stop and ask what I did stop and ask myself, "Wait, what does Mark mean by `most pastors wives ... '?"  So he's explicitly and directly asking most pastors he's known about their sex lives to the point where he just knows most of them are unsatisfied?  Why does he care?  Real Marriage would eventually explain what, in 2006, seemed completely opaque to me at the time.

Mark Driscoll's blogging in 2006 was weird enough I began to have second thoughts about whether it was going in a direction I would stick along with.  Something seemed off.  But the way Dan Savage seized the spotlight to sarcastically opine at Driscoll's expense made it seem like Dan Savage was at least as bad as Mark Driscoll.  Mark Driscoll did not roll out phrases like "His lazy, fat bitch of a wife, of course." That was all Dan Savage, and in the birth of the internet myth about Mark Driscoll the vitriolic smugness of the two men had a baby that is still alive and toddling about the internet in progressive writers' work.

Savage didn't get what he hoped for. Driscoll's fall was modeled on something else altogether than what brought about the demise of Ted Haggard but there's no need to rehearse the litany of catalysts for that fall. 

But we got to learn something, Seattle, about Dan Savage and Mark Driscoll through the Ted Haggard scandal.  We got to learn that Mark Driscoll would traffic in condescending and misogynistic bromides to the bros about men, women, marriage and sexuality.  What Dan Savage would do is specifically name people in the midst of his Slog posts. 

It's been fascinating how an internet myth took off that Mark Driscoll actually said Gayle Haggard let herself go.  Driscoll never said it and yet it was imputed to him by progressive authors and journalists.  Driscoll never said Gayle Haggard let herself go, but who did?  Dan Savage, as a joke, making the kind of joke that he's tended to make.  Lo and behold ... thanks to echo chamber effects even an author like Lindy West, who surely could have known that it was her boss at The Stranger who actually wrote was imputed to Mark Driscoll, all the same, wrote as if Driscoll said about Gayle Haggard what was, technically, said by Dan Savage in a sarcastic rant against Driscoll.

If that seems like some kind of just deserts for Driscoll there's another Dan Savage moment worth revisiting.  This is a man who demonstrated that he was willing to make casually dismissive remarks about a woman's appearance even when the woman in question had been abandoned by her husband.  This is a very not-random example of what Savage was willing to write in 2009 about another famous moment in the history of Mars Hill.    On the topic of former Mars Hill member Nicholas Francisco, Dan Savage got the idea to write the following at the Slog:

by Dan SavageNov 9, 2009 at 2:12 pm

A SeaTac man whose sudden disappearance last year sparked a law-enforcement search and widespread Internet speculation, is "alive and well" and living in another state under a new name, according to the King County Sheriff's Office. The Sheriff's Office wouldn't reveal which state Nicholas Francisco had moved to, but said he had legally changed his name to avoid being tracked down.

Francisco, whose wife was expecting their third child, was last seen leaving his job at a Queen Anne advertising agency for home on Feb. 13, 2008. His car, a red 1992 Toyota Paseo, was found abandoned a few days later in Federal Way.... His wife, Christine Francisco, initially claimed that her religiously devout husband would never have abandoned the family.

Just got off the phone with Sgt. John Urquhart of the King County Sheriff’s Department.... “Since he did nothing illegal and this case is basically closed, we won’t reveal where he was found,” Urquhart said to The B-Town Blog. “But let me tell you—there was something incredibly unique about this guy that made bloggers go crazy. In all my years, I have never seen such a reaction. I’m glad this case is closed.”

And yes, the King County Sheriff’s Department has indeed closed their investigation, so we may never know where he lives and why he left so suddenly.

They won't reveal where he was found? Not even to his ex-wife so she can go after him for child-support payments?

If I recall correctly Francisco and his not-in-his-league-looks-wise wife were involved with the 'phobes at Mars Hill. [emphasis added] To me this case—this closet case—looked like a guy who couldn't deal with his sexuality married young and had a couple of kid to prove to himself and others that he was straight. A lot of conflicted fags do this. They marry and have kids not just to shoot down any speculation that they might be gay but to close off any possibility of ever coming out. They figure they can solve the problem of their sexuality by essentially trapping themselves in heterosexuality. But at some point someone like Francisco, if this is what went down, decides he can't spend the rest of his life living this lie, living without true intimacy and real pleasure. Building a life with someone you're actually attracted to and capable of loving is difficult enough; faking that shit with someone you're not attracted to and incapable of loving deeply is impossible. [emphasis added]

And the real victims, of course, are always the kids. And this is how the religious right wants all gay men to live: stay closeted and go find some woman you can tolerate and stay hard in long enough to impregnate every once in a while. It never ends well. 

Even readers of The Stranger felt a need to ask Dan Savage why he wrote that Christine Francisco was "not-in-his-leagues-looks-wise" compared to Nicholas Francisco.  Well, since Dan Savage did write that, and since he was the one who rolled out what he rolled out in response to Mark Driscoll's commentary on the Haggard scandal, a person can say that it seems like some of the misogynistic vitriolic about fat and unattractive women that has been imputed Mark Driscoll really came from Dan Savage. 

Over the years my own belief has been that the kinds of rants that Driscoll and Savage have cultivated are two sides of the same coin.  These are the kinds of internet-era demagogues whose branding thrives on how agitated they can get their support base about a topic.  The above rants from Mark Driscoll and Dan Savage are presented in sequence to propose that in the history of Seattle the vitriol of Mark Driscoll and Dan Savage for red and blue state polemics are entwined.  These men, I believe, needed each other's vituperation and recalcitrant ranting to define each other's respective personas both for themselves but even more for their respective fan clubs.  As vitriolic as "Pussified Nation" was what made it terrible for many was the "what" of what was said, which was praiseworthy to those who agreed with that "what".  There were people who objected to the "how", besides having disagreements about the "what.  But, this is the thing I'm trying to outline in historical terms, can we really say that in the grand sweep of Seattle history that Mark Driscoll was any "more" of a self-aggrandizing media demagogue than Dan Savage was at The Stranger?

It's not that Mark Driscoll can't credibly be regarded as a misogynist over against the insistence of Grace Driscoll to Brian Houston that Mark isn't; it's that within the history of Seattle some of Mark Driscoll's perceived misogynistic rants about women who let themselves go or don't look hot enough have arguably come not from Mark Driscoll himself (who, by most reports might say things privately but never publicly) in public media but through his ostensible self-appointed nemesis at The Stranger, Dan Savage.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Dan Savage and Mark Driscoll could be compared even on the matter of how they had media empires in which they, as leaders, received honorarium and fame while talented and industrious writers at the trench level of the "ground war" were paid significantly less.


Clement is the fourth “name” writer to leave the newspaper/bog in recent months.  A fifth departure, on the news side, is believed imminent.

The Stranger has experienced staff unrest of late,  much of it due to perceived senior management interference in coverage of the $15-an-hour minimum wage.  The news-heavy Slog website gives The Stranger clout and drives attention.  But print advertisers pay the bills.

Talented writers move on.  Holden has felt a heavy dose of  “I can make it in that town” vibes toward New York for a long time.

At the same time, however, The Stranger is notorious for paying low wages to highly talented writers . . . even as editorial director Savage rings up the honoraria on the college lecture circuit. [emphasis added]
which sounds ... just like what I'd hear about Mars Hill.  I had friends at Mars Hill who might eke by or get let go or fired or whatever it was called when Mars Hill cut staff, and Driscoll would be on the lecture circuit or debating on television or preparing new books and so on.  All in all, the more years go by and the more time I have to think about it, the more it seems that Dan Savage and Mark Driscoll have some astonishing similarities.  There's a saying that what you most resent in others is often what is most characteristic of yourself.  Maybe Dan Savage couldn't abide Driscoll because Driscoll is what Savage could have been in some alternate existence where he was straight, a theist, and had gone into some kind of Christian ministry thing?  Not that any of that was ever going to happen, but it's a thought experiment to consider. 

When I was at Mars Hill years ago I recall there was a Midrash discussion about why what the pastors taught at Mars Hill was so necessary.  One man posted on Midrash that Seattle needed what Pastor Mark and the elders were sharing because the alternative was this, and in the post on Midrash the man linked to a column from Savage Love.  I read it and began to think, "Well, besides the obvious differences on religion, aren't Mark and Dan Savage similar in a lot of ways?" I began to wonder whether or not in a lot of ways with Mark's teaching about sex an presenting himself as an expert on sex and relationships that Mark was just the Evangelical (TM) Dan Savage.  That was a thought I considered back in 2006 and it began to kind of gnaw at me.  I am grateful Mark Driscoll demonstrated the double standards he lives by in the way that he resigned, but I can also be grateful that the Dan Savage side of things can at some point also be over, too. 

I find that I can't look at the history of the Emerald City and really separate these two vitriolic grand-standing moralizing jerks.  Both men are ex-Catholics. Driscoll was born in North Dakota and was moved by his parents as far from there as possible into the Seattle region.  Dan Savage, if memory serves, has said that Spokane is a good place to be from, very far from.  Neither is Catholic though both show signs of being indebted to that cultural legacy (Driscoll's view of marriage is substantially more sacramental than some low-church Protestants would necessarily agree with, for instance). Both men are media figures of a particular kind for the internet era, guys who made careers getting off on telling people how to get off.  Both have become notorious for the vitriolic things they have been willing to say to and about their respective ideological adversaries. 

Looking back on the last twenty years I can't help but think that it was the Dan Savage age of Mark Driscoll in Seattle and that we have to look at what both men and their respective fan clubs can tell us about the Puget Sound area ... and it seems what they had to say about us was that we're a pretty nasty bundle of people whether we realize it or not. 

No comments: