Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill, Spiritual Abuse and What to do About It, Part 3

Part two provided the context and reason for part three (but if you haven't read either of those then start at part one!). Below are some thoughts I penned 16 months ago; thought better of posting them, and set them on the shelf.


I don't know if that's exactly the right word, but it's the word that keeps coming to mind when I think about writing what I want to write. I mean it in a detached, dispassionate clinical sense. I don't feel emotionally devastated; I am not in acute pain—but when I think about all of the thoughts I've had this morning—I think they are devastating.

Today is Sunday. Virtually all of the Sunday mornings in my life have been spent at church. But that all changed a year ago. In the last year it wouldn't take much more than one hand to count all the times we have attended a Sunday morning service.

This morning I arose and read a tale of gross spiritual abuse. My wife had come across the story a week ago. She had started to read it (it's very long), and fell asleep crying, probably not even half way through. I had been wanting to read it, so I took the hour or so that was required this morning. It is the firsthand account written by the wife of a former pastor/elder at Mars Hill Church who had been fired from his job with them for "lack of trust and respect for spiritual authority."

I got angry and upset and confused and frustrated. There were haunting, nasty similarities between the story I read and the woeful scenario that played out for my family early last year. Reading this story made me relive my similar story, as it did for my wife, and wounds faded but not gone were revived.

The church can be such an ugly, terrible thing, just like all of us, in our worst moments, when the lower angels of our nature get the better of us. We all fall short, and we all need grace, and we all need our trespasses forgiven, as we forgive others their trespasses.

But the old question—the one that I asked myself over and over and over again this time last year—revived itself: Is there another category? We need to forgive and forget and make peace with other's sin and our own—but what do you do with abuse? And how do you define spiritual abuse, exactly? And if you handle it differently, then how?

But there are just too many things to consider. Who are YOU to say? "Abuse" often falls in between so many shades of gray—one person's spiritual abuse is another person's exaltation of righteousness, of being true to God, of calling what is right, right, and what is wrong, wrong.

When I left my church my overarching reason, which I stated to the leadership on my departure, was this: I would never want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. Since there was no recognition that there was any wrongdoing, I could see no reason why it wouldn't happen again.

So I left. But I wrestled with this: did I have a duty/obligation/responsibility to warn others? I sought the opinion of many people that I trust, and the overwhelming response was "no." These situations, these he said/she said scenarios are always bound up in so many shades of gray and dueling details that it is "impossible" for an outsider to the situation to know where the truth and fault lie.

Then I read this story of the Petry’s. And now I'm not so sure. BUT I'M NOT SURE. How do you know, how do you know what the right thing to do is? My wife and I have spent a couple of hours talking about it this morning. If you see abuse happening, is it evil to NOT say something? Sexual and physical abuse are easy to identify (though, for some horrifying reason, not so easy for churches to put an end to), but what I'm talking about, what my experience has been, is spiritual and/or emotional abuse—a different thing, harder to categorize, spot, confront and treat.

Here are some of the quotes from the story I was reading that put me ill at ease with keeping my mouth shut:

"We believe that to remain quiet now would be unloving and disobedient to God."

"If Mark and the organizations he leads do not change, I fear many more will be hurt, Mark and his family included. To not speak is to not love or care and shows no thought or consideration for those who have been wounded and those who will be in the future. We are witnesses. There is a pattern. There is a history. There is an ethos of authoritarianism and abuse. Mark is the unquestioned head of Mars Hill Church and the Acts 29 Network. His elders have no way to hold him accountable. Those under him likely fear him and want to garner his favor so they don’t dare say or do anything that might anger him. This is tragic."

"And now, I am also very sorry for how my years of silence regarding the spiritual abuse that I suffered have indirectly contributed to the abuse of other precious people."

But what can be done? I have the urge to warn and protect, but what can be done? One thing I have learned through my own ordeal is that, if you didn't have the experience firsthand, it will be very easy for you to overlook the abuse. You will put it on the shelf where you put things you are uncertain of how to categorize, where you will promptly and dutifully forget about it. That's just human nature.

It makes perfect sense—if you don’t have firsthand information, it only makes sense to rely on the authority of that organization for your information and explanation. What other choice do you have? It would seem that one is incentivized, indirectly directed to side with authority in a voluntary organization such as a church. As long as you trust the leadership; which you think would be a foregone conclusion because why would you be a part of an organization whose leadership you did not trust? It's the same old story, there is nothing new under the sun: power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And to add to that, if I may be so bold, fear of those in power tends to corrupt as well.

I should know, I lived it. I spent time in leadership at my church and regularly witnessed or received firsthand accounts of actions by other leaders that offended my conscience. Sometimes I said something. When I said something I usually had a battle on my hands. Not honest disagreement—"honest disagreement" inevitably devolved into recriminations and insinuations of disloyalty and mistrust and lack of respect directed at me. So I learned to pick my battles. And I grieved over the people who were hurt and spiritually abused and I said nothing—their battle was often one I decided not to pick. On each one I had to do a cost/benefit analysis to determine if it was worth the emotional/spiritual/relational turmoil I was sure to bring down on my and my wife's head by speaking my mind.

What can be done? The painful conclusion is that people have been, are, and will continue to be people. As such they are subject to the way of all flesh, which means that most will need to put their hand on the stove and be burned (even though they have watched their friends and family do the same) before their perspective changes.

And only then will they have true empathy for those that have gone before them.

*End transmission from 16 months ago*

Part four will examine what can be done about spiritual abuse. I can't promise you all the answers, but I can promise you some thoughts, some tears, some questions.

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