A year ago, Mark Driscoll, founder of Seattle megachurch Mars Hill, was held up as a champion of the Christian faith. He was gearing up for the release of his new book (co-authored with his wife) Real Marriage. Mars Hill had expanded to 15 different locations across five states, with 15,000 people attending every week.
Driscoll’s dynamism, humour, and shock-and-awe approach to faith had people — particularly young men — flocking to hear him preach. So he cussed a bit. And sure, he offhandedly degraded women from the pulpit. But evangelicals turned a blind eye; after all, he was getting guys back into the pews, and that’s all that really mattered.
Things have sure changed in a year. There have been accounts of not only Driscoll’s mismanagement of church funds and of plagiarism, but of personal and spiritual abuse.
And yesterday, Mark Driscoll formally resigned as elder and lead pastor of Mars Hill Church.
Rachel Held Evans, in a recent blog post, asks the question everyone is thinking: “Why didn’t more people recognize these unhealthy, abusive dynamics?”
“Far too many Christians just don’t know how to spot and respond to the signs of abuse,” she continues, “be it spiritual abuse, abuse of authority, or even the physical/emotional/sexual abuse of women and children.”
Craig Welch of The Seattle Times highlights one example of this destructive ignorance in his article “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Church.” He quotes Matt Rogers, another Mars Hill Pastor: “The hard part is that some of what’s out there is true, and [Driscoll has] owned it and apologized for it and is trying to correct it, and some is not …. If someone went through and dragged out every example of where I’d been short with my wife, or rude to a co-worker or done something stupid, and trickled that out week after week after week for months, you would have no respect for me, either.”
Rogers’ statements are deeply disturbing; he doesn’t recognize — or refuses to acknowledge — the abuse Driscoll is accused of. Basically, Rogers is equating Driscoll’s decades of damaging behaviour with minor blunders such as “being rude,” snapping at a family member, or doing “something stupid.” This is a drastic misrepresentation of the allegations against Driscoll. And the frightening part? Rogers is in charge of the board responsible for examining the accusations against Driscoll.
Rogers’ minimization also includes passive victim-blaming. He contrasts Driscoll’s good behaviours (“owning,” “apologizing,” “trying to correct”) with the suggestion, twice, that the majority of the accusations are slanderous lies. He does this without explicitly attacking the accusers. But the effect is the same; his words subtly suggest those who have accused Driscoll cannot be trusted.
[Mars Hill] is without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with. (Dr. Paul Tripp)
Rogers assumes that “owning,” “apologizing,” and “trying to correct” wrongs are all that are needed in a case of systematic abuse that has created what Dr. Paul Tripp has referred to as, “without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.”
Whether or not Rogers is aware of it, his statement affirms the distorted thinking and belief system of an abuser’s worldview. He minimizes the abuse, shifts blame subtly to the victims, and implicitly accuses them of dishonesty at best and slander at worst. At the same time, Rogers presents Driscoll as morally superior, and concludes by offering a mocking parallel to the abuse accusations, implying the victims and their supporters are overreacting, and need to just get a grip.
Unfortunately, Rogers is not alone in his inability to recognize abuse and his own distorted thinking concerning it.
The New York Times offers this insight from one Driscoll supporter, “We’ve seen how he has changed so many lives, and to see him treated this way is just sad…. There’s positive stuff about our church that’s not being heard, and it feels like a family member is getting bullied.” Unfortunately, this brief commentary highlights characteristics of Driscoll’s effective community grooming.