Friday, November 17, 2006

What should we do about Mark Driscoll--a cussing, hot-tempered, chauvinistic pastor?

Next to Ted Haggard, Mars Hill in Seattle might be the most discussed pastor in the blogosphere, with critics writing open letters and planning protests at his church. (For those not familiar with him.) He is accused of being foul-mouthed, ill-tempered, and, due to his belief in traditional gender roles, anti-women. (For a review of the discussion). What should we Christians do about him?

As background, I’ve listened to and read some of Mark Driscoll’s materials, but I’ve never met him nor attended his church. I am a sociologist and not a theologian, so I won’t engage the moral rightness (or wrongness) of his attitudes and behaviors. Myself, I value egalitarianism for women, both within and without the church, and am uninterested in gender-based hierarchy.

With this in mind, I would like to offer three observations about the Church’s expectations of its leaders and their wrongdoings.

First, we expect pastors to acknowledge their own sinfulness, but we’re somewhat picky in how they do so. We prefer that they refer to sin only at a general, theological level. E.g., “All have sinned, and so have I.” Openness about specific sins should never happen, or, if it does, only in the context of recounting long ago deliverance.

Second, under no circumstances should we directly observe or learn of sins. Pastors can mention having a problem with anger, but we must never see them lose their temper. They can refer to foul language, but we must never hear them curse. They can lament struggling with their flesh, but we must not know that they looked at . They can want to love more, but we must never witness them disrespecting someone.

Third, the more accomplished the pastor, the more rigorously these first two principles are applied. A pastor of a small, stagnant church can say and think all sorts of things, and most Christians, aside from the few who sit in the church’s pews, would not care. If, however, the pastor has done a lot of good—saving the lost, raising disciples, feeding the hungry, clothing the poor—we insist on them displaying little if any wrong. (As a side note, this reverses the concept of social capital—which holds that the more “good” one has done the more “bad” one is allowed to get away with.)

These observations fit with Mark Driscoll. By all accounts he’s done remarkable things with Mars Hill in Seattle, touching tens of thousands of people and planting over a hundred churches. Wow! What Christian wouldn’t want this? He also appears to be rather foul mouthed, often angry, and sometimes mean. His attitudes toward women can be accurately described as chauvinistic. (Some critics favor “misogynistic”—a term far too strong, like campus liberals routinely referring to conservative pundits as “Hitler”.) For his sins, Mark Driscoll has been soundly criticized by fellow Christians.

Here’s my take on the above. Social psychologists have found that people are very fond of what is termed “cognitive consistency.” The idea here is that we want attitudes toward an object to fit together, and so if we like one aspect of somebody or something, we want to like all aspects. Same with disliking. We experience tension-- “cognitive dissonance”--when we have contradictory attitudes toward the same object, and we’re motivated to reduce this tension by aligning our attitudes to all positive or all negative. As applied here, the more aware we are of good done by high profile pastors, the less accepting we become of any wrong.

All of this results in our needing to have overly consistent thoughts of high-profile Christians, and this need, with its resulting intolerance of wrongdoing, might give insight into those who have fallen from grace. Imagine if, before his recent misconduct, Ted Haggard confessed to his church that, though successful in avoiding it, he sometimes wanted to with men. How long would it take for him to be kicked out of the pulpit? About a minute, just long enough for people to make sure that they had heard him correctly. This intolerance produces an environment with little room for pastors to discuss wrongdoing, let alone admit to it. The resulting double-life has predictable, tragic consequences.

Back to the question of what to do about Mark Driscoll. Based on the above, I would recommend the following:

Celebrate the amazing work that God has done through him.

Take a few seconds to wish that he weren’t such a damn angry chauvinist (perhaps foul language is contagious?).

Spend the rest of the day… and all day tomorrow and the next day and the next asking what we should do about ourselves. How can we be more loving, faithful, kind, pure, holy, and just?
For more essays about church life:


Anonymous said...

Great points.

Based on a mammoth sampling of, say, six megachurches, it seems to me that they all (six) were grown from basement-size to mega with one man at the helm.

I'd be really curious to see how many megachurches there are in the US. Of course, what constitutes "mega" would have to be defined.

Then, for the ones that have developed in 25 years or less, I'd be interested to see how many had more than one head pastor before reaching mega status (and how many had two or three and so on).

I would put a donut on about 80% of them, at least, being led the whole way up by one guy.

It's a trend that I think amplifies the effects of their sins... when the storms finally come ashore.


SelahV said...

Great thinking-through a diverse set of opinions and viewpoints. What should we do with Driscoll? Let the tares grow up amongst the wheat. There will be a Thresher Who can rightly divide eventually.
What people fail to remember is that anyone--Haggard or Haggart--who starts a ministry in ones basement or outhouse...they are only God's seed. He planted them to plant. Tares produce tares. Wheat produces wheat. Man sows(occasionally), tills (sometimes), fertilizes (too frequently and infrequently), waters (with fresh water and stagnant polluted liquid). BUT...God gives the increase. So praise the Lord for any wheat that may survive the choking weeds that grow amongst the fields so white and ready for harvest. SelahV

brewright said...

I think that you're right John (JW), that most really big libraries are built from the ground up by one person. I'll bet that the type of person who can do that also has some rough edges (hard charging, aggressive, etc...) that make them prone to criticism when they get big.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughtful and humble post. I have read so many people's blogs which have stoked my anger about Driscoll's chauvinism. But you're absolutely right that we must celebrate his good works and pray for his offensiveness.

Paula Harrington said...

I'm surprised we haven't elected him to office yet :)

Steve AKA->BibleDude said...

Celebrate the amazing work that God has done through him.

Take a few seconds to wish that he weren’t such a damn angry chauvinist (perhaps foul language is contagious?).

Spend the rest of the day… and all day tomorrow and the next day and the next asking what we should do about ourselves. How can we be more loving, faithful, kind, pure, holy, and just?

I have high praise for anyone that starts to give advice about someone else and end up talking about himself\ourselves.

This is what we need to hear more about..

How do we get through the day when satan has been given permission to sift us as wheat?

When I get angry at the person who cuts in-line in front of me, how do I give up pride, ego.

When people do, seemly, wrong things, why do I not see the hurt in their faces. Perhaps they a have a family crisis, a loved one may fallen...Why can't I see that?

Strange as it may seem, I found this blog by reading a pastor that, seemly, has nothing good to say about anybody...

I read him, to learn how to pray for him.. and by doing that I found this post.

I will read more on this blog. Thanks for you comments.

S. Dahlheim said...

One year later, an UPDATE:

Mark said...

It's an interesting concept that we want to like everything about someone we like and we want to hate everything about someone we hate. I just read about a christian woman named Ingrid on another blog. She is all upset because someone named Frank Schaeffer wrote a tell all book, Crazy For God, about his father, Francis. Ingrid was clearly upset that any bad stories would be published about someone she admired and thus she poured out her verbal wrath out on poor Frank.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that there are no references to back up your statements.