Sunday, November 19, 2006
The Mark Driscoll Controversy
If you frequent Christian blogs very often you may already be aware of all the controversy that has been surrounding Mark Driscoll in the blogophere this past week or so. For those who are completely out of the loop, Mark is a pastor of mega-church in Seattle called Mars Hill (not associated with the Mars Hill in Michigan that Rob Bell teaches at). He is often known as "the cussing pastor" and has often been cited as a cutting edge, "emerging" church leader, despite the fact that Mark is basically a fundamentalist in his theology and has completely disowned the "emergent" label and burned bridges with his former emerging friends. I think he gets labeled this because they do "cool" worship services (i.e. rock music and multi-media) and have a lot of punks and goths and the like that go to their church.. and because he cusses a lot.

Anyway, it all started when Mark posted a response to the Ted Haggard scandal that basically blamed pastoral infidelities on pastor's wives who let themselves get fat and don't give their husbands enough sex. He also suggested that to solve the problem pastors should stop ministering to flirtatious women, and should only surround themselves with male assistants. (Apparently he missed the part where Haggard was caught with a male prostitute. One also wonders how Jesus' encounter with the sinful woman would have played out differently if he had taken Mark's advice.)

While Mark had a few good points in his post, overall, his tone of insensitivity towards women understandably went over like a lead balloon among a lot of readers. The best response and subsequent discussion of the issue can be found at the Conversation at the Edge blog hosted by Off the Map (whose Revolution Conference I was just at in Seattle this past week). People were not just upset at Mark's comments, but especially at his overall tone of condescension towards women. (For some examples of how some women and others have reacted to Mark's words, check out the comments here, here, and here.)

This is a habitual problem with Mark. He is obviously a "complementarian" when it comes to gender roles (not just in the church but also in marriage and society), as are many other conservative Christians. However, the attitude with which he expresses his view falls far short of what one might call well-reasoned arguments. He is rude, mocking, and dismissive of anyone who disagrees with him, regularly referring to them as "chickified dudes with limp wrists and minors in 'womyn’s studies'", comparing the new Episcopal USA bishop to a "fluffy baby bunny", and generally using the term "feminine" as if it were an insult. Stories of Driscoll's spiritual abuse of women in his congregation have been told all over the blogsphere (read one such story here); and my friends in Seattle tell me this is very common over at Mars Hill. Driscoll seems to have an obsession with sexual issues and gender roles, weaving at least one of those two topics into nearly every sermon he preaches (again according to first hand accounts from my Seattle friends).

This Haggard-related post by Driscoll appears to have just been the last straw for some people. In fact, some people in Seattle have decided that enough is enough, and have organized a protest of Mark set for December 3. Their goal is to undermine Mark's growing influence both in Seattle (he has a regular column as a Christian pastor in the Seattle Times) and in the Christian world (as an author, conference speaker, and church planting trainer).

Some others, while concerned about Mark's destructive rhetoric, are not entirely convinced that a protest is the most loving or effective means for bringing positive change. Rose Swetman, for instance, (who happens to be the wife of my church planting coach) has written an open letter to Driscoll and posted it at several prominent blogs around the internet. Personally, while I am sympathetic to the protestors and hope that they can have some impact on Mark's influence there in Seattle, I think I probably prefer Rose's approach. Her letter was gracious, loving, and well-reasoned.

Driscoll has in fact taken notice of the storm he kicked up. Just the other day he finally wrote a response to his critics. While he stopped short of apologizing for his rudeness (his response was more of a clarification than an apology), his tone was far more gracious. If he had written this way in the first place I think more people would have been willing to listen to him. However, as many people have pointed out, clarifying one bad post doesn't make up for an ongoing history of sexist, chauvinist, spiritually abusive behavior towards women. IMHO, Mark still has a long way to go.

What I can't fathom though is why anyone (outside of the extreme Reformed and complementarian circles that Mark tends to move in these days) is still listening to this guy. He may occasionally have a few good things to say about being "relevant" or "missional", but there are plenty of other good authors to read on these subjects as well. Why do we need to keep paying attention to such a blatant sexist? Would we hold a blatantly racist pastor in such high regard?

Frankly I hope that if enough negative attention comes Driscoll's way, eventually he'll stop getting book deals, invitations to speak, media attention, people coming to his church, etc. There are just some Christian leaders who don't deserve the power influence they have been given, and IMHO Mark is one of them. I fear for the Christian church if Mark's brand of Christianity becomes the "hip", new model to follow for years to come.

And let me say this, even if one agree with Driscoll's stances on women, I'd like to remind us all that there's a difference between being right and being kind. And while both are certainly important, (to quote something Brian McLaren said at the Revolution Conference): "Being kind may not be more important than being right, but if you aren't kind, you aren't right." (Which to me is simply a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:2.) If you agree with Driscoll's views, then I hope you would be among the first to stand up to him and say, "Please, for the sake of all of us, be quiet. You are representing us poorly and giving our views a bad name."

And one more thing... non-Christians are watching us with this controversy, both with Haggard and with Driscoll. The Conversation at the Edge blog is specifically for dialogue between Christians, atheists and agnostics, and a lot of the atheists connected with it are following the controversy closely. I've also seen that several other secular and mainstream blogs have taken notice of Driscoll's comments. They are watching to see whether the Christian world will continue to wink at injustice or if we will finally call out one of our own before they do. They want to know if we can deal with extremists like Driscoll in a way that reflects both justice and love. So, as we look at the way pastors like Driscoll act, and the ways others of us respond to him, let's not forget that the world is watching.


posted by Mike Clawson at 5:10 PM | Permalink |


At 11/20/2006 01:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

Thanks for such an elegant summation of the whole debacle. Guess I should go to bed before I end up so tired that I "let myself go."


At 11/20/2006 10:27:00 AM, Blogger gerbmom

When I read things like the article from your "burned Bridges" link, I not only get offended, I get mad. It makes me embarrassed to serve the same God. Especially the "in conclusion" comment. I won't let my children say this, and my friends know better too, how dare a pastor say such a thing....
Thanks for getting me all riled up this morning. :)


At 11/20/2006 11:31:00 AM, Blogger Shawna

Hey Mike,

I had not read your blog before I responded on the Emerging blog. Glad to hear you remind those who are in opposition to Mark to be sure to be careful of their words as well.

Thanks for leading with graciousness.


At 11/20/2006 04:42:00 PM, Blogger Wendy Taylor

Wow. The YouTube link where Driscoll talked about everything "church" being feminine was pretty shocking.


At 11/20/2006 09:59:00 PM, Anonymous Sojourner

Mark Driscoll is taking a stand againt Brian McLaren and Doug Paigg. Bravo! It was time that these two heretics were exposed!


At 11/20/2006 10:33:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

I notice that you're still not brave enough to expose yourself "Sojourner" by actually giving your name or links to anything about yourself...

You know my policy on anonymous posters. Don't make me delete you again.


At 11/20/2006 10:37:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Yeah Wendy, you can really hear the disdain in his voice every time he says the word "feminine". It makes me wonder "What is this guy so threatened by?"


At 11/20/2006 10:37:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Nicole, welcome to my blog. Thanks for posting.



At 11/21/2006 06:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Why are you so mean spirited with Sojourners? It's just an opinion.


At 11/21/2006 09:24:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Because I've already repeatedly make my blog's policy clear to him and everyone - anonymous negative posts are not welcome and will be deleted. And yet he continues to flaunt this policy.

If you are so concerned about it, I'd encourage you to identify yourself as well. Give us a name and a link to your profile, website, etc. - something that lets us know who you are and which forces you to be somewhat accountable for your words. Otherwise you're nothing more than a troll.


At 11/23/2006 03:12:00 AM, Anonymous J. Michael Matkin

The whole conversation has become so polarized now that it's almost impossible to extend esteem and respect to folks and arguments on both sides. From my perspective, both sides have stepped over the line and are in need of loving correction, but I can't see anyone who has enough stature with both Driscoll and his critics to be able to bring them into reconciliation. Everyone's too busy trying to 'win', it seems to me.


At 11/23/2006 03:21:00 AM, Anonymous J. Michael Matkin

I should clarify my opening line by saying "it's almost impossible to extend esteem and respect to folks and arguments on both sides without getting eaten alive by one side or the other." It's dangerous to step into this pool right now if you aren't totally defensive (a la Mark's supporters) or totally outraged (as his critics).


At 11/23/2006 07:42:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Perhaps so Michael (and btw, welcome to my blog)... though, just for the record, I've been "outraged" by the things Driscoll says for a long time now, well before this most recent controversy broke.

IMHO, there is nothing wrong with people eventually standing up to someone who is consistently offensive and abusive and saying "Enough is enough". If this were a case of domestic abuse rather than spiritual abuse, would we be so quick to blame the victims for being outraged by how they're being treated?

Just my perspective. Feel free to disagree.



At 11/23/2006 11:01:00 PM, Anonymous J. MIchael Matkin

Thanks for the welcome. I'm enjoying your blog.

I don't want to be misunderstood. I sympathize with the outrage. I don't agree with Mark's beliefs regarding complementarity, and I don't much enjoy his Dave Wooderson impersonation.

That having been said, I also think that a lot of you folks are angry with him for stuff that he's not really saying. There's a difference between being boorish and being malicious. Mark may be an insensitive boob, but he is not the quintessence of misogyny. He is not, as you put it, "consistently offensive and abusive". There are lots of things to get after Mark about, but I really think that this situation has been magnified out of all proportion.

Just as one example, so that I'm not simply making assertions here, you mentioned in your post that Mark "basically blamed pastoral infidelities on pastor's wives who let themselves get fat and don't give their husbands enough sex." Reading Mark's original post, the one that you are referring to, I count twelve specific, actionable areas of concern. Several of them refer to the pastor's personal spirituality, his walk with Christ. Others speak to the way that a pastor conducts himself with his parishoners, administers his availability, etc. Of those twelve, only one refers to pastors wives, and even there Mark doesn't come close to laying the blame for infidelity at their feet. My point here is that in post after post and comment after comment I'm reading too much hyperbole and exaggeration, and that only serves to obfuscate the real issues.

Again, that isn't to say that there aren't serious issues with Mark. There are. They just aren't the ones that I'm hearing from everybody.


At 12/01/2006 09:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

I think the comments about being "right" and "kind" are right on, especially. He blasts everyone. Driscoll spreads rumors about himself, too. He loves the limelight and he seems to be an incredible narcissist.


At 12/01/2006 10:51:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Anonymous, I'm not sure I quite get what you mean. Perhaps you could introduce yourself and clarify your comment a little bit?


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