Thursday, February 14, 2019

a Valentine's day musing on real divorce in the wake of Real Marriage, "we" weren't better than "them" after all, like I figured was the case back around 2002, and the gimmick of marriage books is still part of the star-making machinery of Christian pop publishing for red and blue state audiences

It was back at the start of 2012 that Mark and Grace Driscoll were promoting their book Real Marriage.  Post Mars Hill Driscoll would sometimes refer to "marriages saved" or the number of baptisms as an indicator of God's work.  His discussions tended to stay at that rather vague level.

Back in the 2002-2007 period, Mars Hill had what I and others would refer to as its "courtship craze".  It was ... an idiotic period in the history of the church.  Driscoll would hold forth from the pulpit about what courtship was and how superior it was to other forms of dating and mating.  It's not that I can't appreciate some of the positive aims of the courtship craze, it's that it seemed there was a gap between theory and practice.

The way I put it back when I was at Mars Hill was to say I didn't really care how many people were meeting and marrying at Mars Hill circa 2002-2007, I really wanted to know how many of them would still be married in 2012 to 2017.

You can lose touch with a lot of people over the years.  Nonetheless, through the grapevine of people who have been to Mars Hill and through your own social life you can find out that, well, marriages have fallen apart.  Whether they fell apart "because" of Mars Hill teaching about marriage and sex or whether they were going to end in divorce anyway is not something I, or probably anyone could prove.  I'm thinking more about the thinking, that because at Mars Hill we do things differently our marriages are going to be better than the average.

It's never been clear to me that was the case, even when I was otherwise a happy and loyal member of Mars Hill circa 2002-2006.   It didn't seem to me there was any reason to boast in advance of the actual marriages.

By now there are marriages that have ended or are ending that passed through what used to be Mars Hill.  I'm not sure that just deciding to be "against" whatever was taught at Mars Hill amounts to being "better", just as I'm not sure that the Mars Hill way was better.  Deciding to be a feminist in response to what was misogynistic at Mars Hill is probably doing nothing right by way of the ideals of feminists.  To put it another, blunter way, cultists who were at Mars Hill are only going to change what cult they pledge their devotion to, not their essentially cultist mentality.  And to put it in another blunt way, fans of people like Mark Driscoll and Dan Savage probably don't change for the better, despite convincing themselves they are better than the fans of that other person.  Not that I even think that people who think they think for themselves are even an improvement.

The first unavoidable case of divorce within Mars Hill was a reminder that we were not, in fact, any "better" than anyone else outside the walls of the church.  I am not sure if we were worse, either, and I doubt that it makes sense to attempt to say we were different from the average without the kinds of statistical data mining that perhaps Mars Hill was at one point very good at but to which we've got no access now.  The data mining culture of Mars Hill was, as far as can be gleaned from statements by the higher level leaders, modest yet formidable.  There might have been some leaders in the upper echelon who could have guessed that they could guess which marriages might be in trouble based on podcast listening habits.  Maybe, although "listening for a friend" isn't impossible to imagine.

This isn't an invitation to folks to say their marriages from the Mars Hill days failed.  Nobody probably wants to volunteer that and with good reason.  But this Valentine's Day, considering that a number of marriages that, back in the days of Mars Hill seemed to be pretty solid, are no more or are falling apart, it makes it seem that my skepticism that Mars Hill had anything at all on anyone else talking about marriage was, well, justified.

There are plenty of people who were married when they came to Mars Hill who are still married to this day, and celebrating the day.  There are also a fairly large number of couples I can think of who met and married at Mars Hill who are still married and have kids and are, plus or minus some hard times and painful losses due to the passage of time, going strong.  I'm glad for them.  I managed to get through Mars Hill rising and falling and didn't marry at all.  On the whole I don't feel certain I missed out for not marrying.  If anything, during the 2012-2015 period I was probably blessed to be unmarried--the more that came to light about nondisclosure agreements and conditions of employment the more it seemed that those who were trying to be good providers for family could find that leveraged against them to keep quiet about their concerns or risk losing some support their families needed.

Now that Nadia Bolz-Weber has a book out I can see that sex sells and the gimmick works across the spectrum in pop Christian publishing.  That back in 2012 Mark and Grace Driscoll had Real Marriage and Ed Young had his shtick and that, now, Bolz-Weber has hers, I think too many people who buy these sorts of books and read these sorts of books miss the gimmick for specific planks in a platform they care about.  Do Bolz-Weber and Driscoll differ on gays?  No doubt they do but the more basic question as to why it is anyone should trust either of these authors to give marriage advice is the question that seems to not get asked.

You can have conservative or progressive convictions and sympathies regarding marriage and, by now, you should probably be able to find something fantastic in your set of convictions that is also some book that is gloriously public domain.  If you think that humans are so much different now than they were ten years ago and that that's why a new book has to be written then, well, you're part of the problem, not the solution as far as I'm concerned.  Of the writing of books there is no end It's not so much that I don't think new books should be written, it's that my time at Mars Hill and observing how pop Christian publishing rakes in money on the ostensibly red state and blue state divides has left me thinking that the scam is that "you" need to buy these new books.  Whether it's a Bolz-Weber or a Driscoll the promise of the pop Christian book about marriage and sex could still probably be boiled down to "do it this way and the marriage will be stronger and the orgasms longer and the children better behaved (maybe) and if not, well, we're still better than those people who don't do it this way and let me trot out statistics to insist upon that point, which is another reason why you should own and read this book.."


But that's how these pop literature level Christian celebrities build their empires, regardless of where they ostensibly land on the political or theological spectrum, selling people on this set of ideals.  It's also a way to ensure that stars are made.  It doesn't matter to me that Bolz-Weber and Driscoll really do have some differences on a variety of doctrinal and practical matters.  That's not what I'm getting at.  What I'm getting at is the stunt nature of the deal, the promise that if you buy this then that can be yours by way of reading the book, that element of the Christian pop publishing can be exactly the same in spite of the differences that people will keep fighting about across doctrinal and political spectrums.  That's what the pop publishing market thrives on.  Somebody like Rachel Held Evans may not be qualified to talk about anything to do with the Bible any moe than anyone else who can write on the internet but she was given a platform.  Why?  By who?  It's not that she doesn't have a right to speech, she absolutely does, it's that I got the impression that the star-making machinery of pop Christian publishing thrives when people like Mark Driscoll and Rachel Held Evans stake out positions that inspire people to fight for one or the other and the same publisher that publishes both authors makes bank running with it.

For that matter, the Result Source deal as signed to ensure that Mark Driscoll would have a bestseller on the New York Times bestseller list in the self-help category on ... sex and marriage.  This shtick is as American as apple pie but more superfluous.

Whether it's a Mark Driscoll then or some other pop-level celebrity Christian this year the promise is ... actually fairly explicit, do it this way and you will totally get the special person in your life and totally get laid.  And that, folks, is how you know you're really human in the way that matters.

Since I've been on an Adorno reading binge the last few years I can't help but note something he wrote in Current of Music, a mess of notes about radio and American music education.   He mentioned that contrary to every conventional Freudian reading of texts, American popular song was bursting with sexual innuendo of the cheapest and most vulgar kinds in almost any random popular song.  Adorno proposed that, as subtexts and some paradigm of inverted Freudianism went, there had to be some kind of explanation.  If in the old way of reading popular song things that didn't seem to be about sex were about sex, it was likely that all the songs that seemed to be implicitly and explicitly about sex were really about something else.  What?  Adorno proposed that the overtly sexual lyrics of American popular songs were formally about sex but ultimately about status and status anxieties, whether or not someone "fit in" and sexuality was the easiest way to establish one's market value.

How does this connect to the way we talk about Valentine's day?  It might seem too obvious to mention.  We live in an era in which some progressives think American culture is at risk from "incels", as though every guy that can't get laid is potentially the Alberich whose curse on the Rhinegold will doom space-time and the cosmos given enough time.

For about ten years I would come across this or that person in the Reformed blog world bewailing the "epidemic of singleness" as if the failure of men and women to pair off in formal matrimony were an actual disease.  Never mind any statistical indicators that people marry later when economic disasters hit or when they have student debt or when they have lower incomes relative to living expenses.  That sort of thing is immaterial to social disease of people not being married already and making babies to the glory of God.

But, and here I come back to Adorno's spiky remarks about American pop culture, all of the sex talk ends up being a rant on status and status anxiety.  So in a way this reminds me of something I wrote back in 2011.

What I haven't seen in pop Christian publishing is a suggestion that, well, if your "market value" isn't very good to just be, you know, celibate in some fashion.  This is not a more miserable day than any other unless you insist upon it on the basis of ... what?  What in older terminology would be called coveting?  The grass is not greener on the other side.

I'm happy for the couples I met at Mars Hill who are still married today.  I'm not saying that because they met and married at a place many consider a cult that those marriages are somehow "invalid".  There is a case to be made that marriages stand or fall in some form tied to community.  Why else would advocates for gay unions consider it important those unions be accepted?  There may be other reasons, I suppose ,but that there is a communal/social element to romantic pair-bonding is not hard to figure out even for the longtime single.  There's also a case to be made, as an author put it, that unhappy families are unhappy in unique ways.  There are marriages that fall apart, and I was once told that marriages tend to fall apart because of unmet unrealistic expectations--if the expectations were realistic they could be met and if the expectations were unmet but realistic they could be attained.  The point that I've been making is that I don't think Mars Hill, the various marriages that have and haven't survived withstanding, was a place where guys like Mark Driscoll seemed to present realistic expectations about what marriage would be like.  Maybe they did for a lot of other people.  Real Marriage mainly suggested to me that if this was the Driscollian ideal of marriage that a life of celibacy might be better. Others, no doubt, feel differently.

But on this Valentine's day I can't help thinking of the marriages that started at Mars Hill and ... are no longer.  It seems like a lot of us sold ourselves on a line, the line that we really were better than those other people.  It was one of the lines I couldn't buy about Mars Hill and marriage.  I ended up being skeptical about this particular spiel when it gets presented by someone like Driscoll or when its presented by a Bolz-Weber because at this point in my life, what I see is the mercenary gimmick to sell books that are ostensibly raw and edgy and out there that embody what seems like a rote, standardized way to make celebrities out of writers who ... just maybe ... have no more business writing about topics such as marriage and friendship than any of the rest of us but who, for whatever reasons, are promoted by publishers as knowing what they're talking about.

and on that note, happy Valentine's day. I hope you're having a good day.

on the "Mancow" broadcast and the MacDonald removal from Harvest Bible Chapel, the lesson to not learn might be as important as some "lessons learned"

In a post- Mars Hill Puget Sound I've shifted blogging back to things that bore people out of their minds like musicology and associated topics, but it still comes up now and then that things connected directly or indirectly to the legacy of Mars Hill comes up at this blog.  Since James MacDonald was at one point on the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability, he is occasionally a topic of interest here.

The most blunt headline account of what happened that I saw was at The Wartburg Watch.

James MacDonald Has Been Deposed and It Took a Recording Played by Mancow to Send the Elders Over the Edge

Something I've been thinking about is that a radio broadcast by a radio personality seems to have been the catalyst for the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel removing MacDonald.  As these things go it would seem we're talking about one mass media figure publishing material that catalyzed the removal of another media figure.  It might be too soon or too dubious to suggest that members of a spiritual community can bring issues to light about problems in a leader or leadership culture without facing retribution across the board.  It's hard to suggest such a thing not just because things are still playing out but also because, and I think this part is crucial, we're talking about elders removing someone at MacDonald's level with someone with a radio program made a point of publishing material.  In mass media and broadcast media terms this is still an intra-media caste situation.  

Justin Dean once tweeted about:
Had that dream again where the bloggers won and our church closed down.
12:35 AM - 28 Jul 2015 

The tweet is gone by now, but it once existed.  The bloggers didn't "win" because Mars Hill Church shut down.  Maybe thousands of people were leaving Mars Hill because of what was published and discussed at blogs, but it would be a stretch to say that "the bloggers" could be said to have "won" and that by Mars Hill Church closing down.  I admit for some time I prayed that either the culture of Mars Hill would truly reform or that, if its leaders wouldn't reform, it would die a miserable death.  If Justin Dean would be willing to grant that believers who prayed such prayers had their prayers answered then, okay, that might be one thing we could agree about, that God answered the prayers of those Christians who prayed that if Mars Hill leaders wouldn't repent and reform their culture that God would providentially destroy that empire.  I'm not holding my breath about that if you hadn't guessed that by now.

But these kinds of moments with Harvest Bible Chapel do invite a question as to what level of public status a person has to have before the things they disclose become game-changers for governance boards inside of churches of any size.  

Does Harvest Bible Chapel have a crisis plan along the lines prescribed by Justin Dean in PR Matters?  We won't find out directly, in all likelihood.  

Are all the HBC suits actually dropped?  Not just the suit involving bloggers, what about the other one with a lending institution?  At this point having active suits may be the prerogative of an entity to keep pursuing but amidst a leadership change other questions haven't gone away.  There are other issues pertinent to HBC that don't just go away even if MacDonald does.

Whether or not HBC makes it remains to be seen.  Mars Hill dissolved but even in his promotional discussions of his book, Dean seems to have indicated a good number of the churches that were once Mars Hill campuses are doing fine.  Not Portland, obviously, which got absorbed into Door of Hope without so much as a single indication I've been able to see that Tim Smith is in any capacity on staff.  That's mysterious ... but in the history of Mars Hill guys suddenly vanishing from online sites without any explanation is basically normal.

Where ever MacDonald lands next he probably won't land at a place that has congregational polity.
This is still the guy who at one point published that Congregational Government is From Satan.
and claimed that critics of his criticism were satanic

Although I personally attend a Presbyterian church I would never say congregational polity is from the devil.  There can be very healthy and unhealthy ways for just about any sort of ecclesiology paradigm to function, whether congregational, presbyterian, episcopal or so on. 

It's been reported the suit against the bloggers said to be associated with The Elephant's Debt and aso against Julie Roys has been dropped and the report has been it was dropped because a court stated that discovery was going to be what discovery normally is, as best I understand it, where lawyers can ask for a variety of documents as part of litigation.  While HBC was at liberty to drop its suit rather than deal with the realities of discovery this raises a question as to how and why anyone at HBC wouldn't have thought about those issues before filing a suit to begin with.  If it seems esoteric and pedantic, it is, but it's relevant because in the history of this blog I got a certified letter from a leader who was at Mars Hill asking to meet with him to talk about my blogging, despite the fact that publicly Mark and Mars Hill were pretty dismissive of bloggers having any relevance at all.  Back in 2012 or so I had some folks who had left MH or were leaving ask what could it hurt to meet with leaders at Mars Hill if they wanted to talk?  I had an admittedly cryptic response, from the end of Judges 8 through Judges 9.

But even in the case of Mars Hill, the bloggers didn't "win".  It wasn't until the mainstream and independent press picked up that something was going on and began to investigate more fully that crises developed from which mars Hill did not manage to recover.  Blogs played a role in keeping material available for public consideration but Mars Hill did not die because of a hostile secular liberal press corps having it out for Pastor Mark.  If that was all that was necessary Mars Hill would have crumbled in 1998 under the coerage of Mother Jones.  Clearly that didn't happen.

It has seemed that by opting for litgation HBC took a path that suggests from here in Puget Sound, that some people thought it was better to double down on a defense-by-offense approach.  That ... seems to have boomeranged on HBC.  The Mancow broadcast, which I haven't taken the tie to hear yet and might postpone until later, is still, when all is said and done a radio broadcast.  This is media figure vs media figure in the most important ways.  It may make the difference between a Mancow broadcast that leads an elder board to remove a pastor on the one hand and a storm of prolonged press coverage and social media controversies that culminate in a board putting a pastor on some kind of leave during which he designs to resign rather than start complying with the restoration plan he said he agreed to submit to.  At the risk of putting this in terms that even I feel are a bit too stark and jaded, the difference between a Mars Hill resignation and an HBC removal seems to have had something to do with the prestige level of the media format in which audio with incriminating statements tied to a by-now-former pastor at a church has been disclosed. 

Mark Driscoll's fortunes as a public figure and preacher took a substantial hit when he was confronted on air by Janet Mefferd who, in her own way, could be thought of as a sort of Reformed radio personality.  The parallels are perhaps cosmetic but it would seem "possible" to say in both cases it took radio figures bringing material to light for things to change in the case of what used to be Mars Hill and for the current Harvest Bible Chapel.

That should not give anyone who could otherwise think of themselves as rank and file tithing members of a church, or even on staff members of a church leadership culture, the impression that it will go in a remotely similar way of they attempt to use social media or mass media to confront what they regard as problems in the life of a local church.  I realize that maybe Justin Dean felt, at one point, and possibly no longer at that, that "the bloggers won" but anyone who carefully combs through the history of Mars Hill's long history of public relations crises and disasters would be hard pressed to say that "bloggers" were the reason the former Mars Hill shuttered its doors. 

We'll get to find out how Harvest Bible Chapel weathers the current circumstances and wehther it makes it without its founding personality.  The former Mars Hill campuses are, for the most part, still active and stable as best as I have been able to keep some track of them.  The future of Harvest Bible Chapel is going to be a topic best left to other people much closer to the situation and people.  But it does seem worth noting that, as Wartburg Watch led in their headline, it took a radio broadcast to change things at HBC with respect to MacDonald. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Harvest Bible Chapel update regarding James MacDonald

Dear Harvest Bible Chapel Family:

It is with great sadness that we as the Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel wish to convey to you a very recent development that has caused us to take immediate action regarding our Senior Pastor, Dr. James MacDonald.

Following a lengthy season of review, reflection, and prayerful discussion, the Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel had determined that Pastor MacDonald should be removed from his role of Senior Pastor. That timeline accelerated, when on Tuesday morning highly inappropriate recorded comments made by Pastor MacDonald were given to media and reported. Given that and other conduct under consideration, in accordance with the procedures in our Bylaws, Pastor MacDonald was removed as Senior Pastor and as an Elder of the church for engaging in conduct that the Elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church. His employment has been terminated from Harvest Bible Chapel, effective today, February 12, 2019. This decision was made with heavy hearts and much time spent in earnest prayer, followed by input from various trusted outside advisors.

Our Elders and Staff are committed to fulfilling our fiduciary duty as the leadership of this congregation, knowing that at times the outcome may be misunderstood or emotionally painful. A more detailed communication regarding next steps for our church will take place in our weekend services.

We sincerely thank you for your prayers, your support, and your patience as we work together to restore a trust in leadership, a humility to surrender to biblical authority, and a firm resolve to move forward as a church family. Please continue to uphold our church, the Elder Board, staff, and the MacDonald family in prayer at this time.
– The Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel

The audio in reference seems to have been here, to go by reports.

It seems necessary to point out that James MacDonald's history with Mars Hill as a member of the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability included joining Mark Driscoll for his publicity move to hand out copies of A Call to Resurgence at The Strange Fire conference.

It would appear that unlike his one time associate Mark Driscoll, MacDonald has actually been removed by the elders of HBC.  In that sense, it began to look like some people were not learning any "lessons" from the demise of Mars Hill and at another level maybe some people did learn some lessons if MacDonald is currently removed.