I have bit off more than I can chew. I’ve spent some time thinking about it, and the truth is that I cannot resolve the issues for Mars Hill, Driscoll, the problem of spiritual abuse in the church, etc.
Let’s say that I wanted to. I guess the way I would start would be to begin to dispense advice and make rules. Unfortunately that doesn’t work for me: I am very wary of the double-edged sword that is advice, and I don’t like rules. We can’t live our lives according to a rule book—it’s why God didn’t give us one. Oh, we want one, desperately, that’s why we try to turn the Bible into one (unceasingly), but it is not.
The Difficulty of Advice
What do I have against advice? There are situations where it is called for; you just won’t really know when. Bad advice hurts people, every day. Good advice, applied wrongly, hurts people, every day. Advice can have unintended consequences that you cannot divine. In order to dispense good advice, you need the following to align: You need to know the person extremely well, you need to understand the situation you’re advising them on correctly, and you need to know for someone else what the correct thing to do is. People are complicated and, to some extent, unknowable. “Situations” are only these two elements (complicated & unknowable) compounded by a factor of how many people happen to be involved. It’s a minefield. It’s reaping the whirlwind. I have been helped by advice. I have been hurt by advice. I have ignored tons of advice. It’s a crapshoot.
I can’t give you advice because I don’t know you, and I don’t know your situation. I’m not writing this to anyone in particular. I saw something in the world that corresponded to a wound I suffered and am suffering, and I opened my mouth.
Now that I have gotten all of that out of the way I can get to my final goal of this series, and talk about what we can do about spiritual abuse in general, and in our current particular.
The Defense Stands: Pro-Driscoll Arguments
Here is a reaction to Mark Driscoll that I have read in the past few weeks many times over, and I don’t think it works:
I don’t know the full story, you don’t know the full story, so let’s not judge, don’t take sides, pray for all involved and shut up.
I’m sorry, that’s not going to fly. The allegations being presented revolve around abuse: mismanagement of funds by leadership, a culture of fear being perpetuated, dozens upon dozens of individuals claiming mistreatment by authority.
Here is a thought experiment for you: Do you know any of the sexual abuse victims in the never ending Catholic Church scandals? No? Would you say the same thing to those victims as you would to the many who are claiming victim-hood at Mars Hill? Can you imagine how unbelievably cruel, thoughtless, and dare I say evil it would be to say to a rape victim, “Well I don’t know the whole story, so I’m not going to take sides”?
So why is spiritual abuse any different? Because sexual abuse is illegal and spiritual abuse is not? That’s absolutely true. The only problem is Jesus did not give us the same out that the world would—“it shall not be so among you.” This is a point of emphasis, so let me emphasize it: “IT SHALL NOT BE SO AMONG YOU.” Unfortunately we are not better than the world, but Jesus has mysteriously called us, and especially our leadership, to a higher standard. So equivocating cop-outs (“not uncommon or illegal") are unfortunately not acceptable in His House.
Here’s another thing you might hear: “don’t judge lest ye be judged.” Some would level that against the things I have said. It goes something like this: “look, Mark Driscoll has done countless good for the cause of Christ. The good he has done far outweighs any bad that he may have done.” This appeals to our sense of logic—but our sense of logic is a fairly base tool that only accounts for logic. There are many aspects beyond logic that should be considered and brought to bear when trying to decide what to do in any given situation—morality, justice, mercy, grace, emotion, just to name a few. For instance, once again, we would not use this “greater good” argument against a sexual abuse allegation.
Here’s one last thing that gets said, and was even offered by Mars Hill leadership as a reason for why Mark should not be under fire: His bad behavior, his pattern of abuse and unhealthiness, is something from the past. So yes, there may be a pile of dead bodies behind the church that Mark is (formerly?) proud of, but they were run over in the past, and this is now.
Really? Well, to that I guess my only question is: What is the statute of limitations on spiritual abuse? Apparently the accountability board of Mars Hill thinks it's pretty short. Usually pastors "disqualify" themselves via adultery or money mishandling. Can you imagine a pastor and his board of elders stating, "Sure, I had a couple of affairs, but that was five years ago"?
But Jason, has he actually done anything? He might stand accused and guilty in the court of public opinion—but that court, as much power as it might hold sway, doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with reality, with the truth. That is true. I can’t prove what Driscoll has or has not done. But, having been the victim of a gross misuse of spiritual authority myself, my opinion is that of course he’s guilty. But I don’t know that. Just my opinion.
What Should Mars Hill Do?
I told you that I can’t know and shouldn’t tell Mars Hill what they’re supposed to do. But I know you want me to opine anyway. I also think I have given sufficient context for how one should think about these matters, and so you know that what anyone’s individual opinion is just doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot. So let me just say it and be done with it so we can go on to other things:
The world is watching, and Jesus wanted us to operate differently than the world. With all of the allegations that have been made, and especially with his removal from the Acts29 network, it seems obvious and fairly simple to me that Mark Driscoll needs to be placed on administrative leave, and during that time ensure that he have no ability to have any sort of control over Mars Hill (decision making, hiring/firing etc.). Then a full investigation should be done, free of any fear of recompense. Then Driscoll needs to be held accountable for the wrongs that are piled before him, make restitution, repent, have a time of healing and then be restored to his position of authority. That’s assuming all of those things take place, and his repentance is true. It’s a difficult thing to do, because we can’t “know” if someone’s repentance is true. We can’t look into the soul of the person standing next to us, or even the person we are married to. But this is the world as God has arranged it, so we have to make a decision we can’t be certain of, and then have faith.
What Do We Do? A Suggestion
We live in fallen world, a vale of tears, a hostile environment. As Francis Spufford puts it, we all suffer from the HPtFtU (which means, if you’ll pardon the unvarnished truth for a moment: the Human Propensity to F*** things Up). We all suffer from that. We all do. Christians and non-Christians, no separation. That’s not going away. We are not going to get flawless leaders, and we are not going to get flawless followers. We have to allow for that. Please don’t hear me asking spiritual authority to write a check they could never hope to cash.
My suggestion is this—that we remember one of the sustaining bass notes that resonates throughout all of Scripture: The heart of man is deceitful above all things. But this needs to be taken one step further in the Christian world: THAT TRUTH DOES NOT CHANGE THE MOMENT WE ACCEPT JESUS INTO OUR HEART. Being a Christian means that you understand the regrettable condition of your heart, and you have admitted you need help. That admission doesn’t flip the condition of your heart like a light switch; it just grants you access to help.
How do we apply this priceless piece of wisdom? If you are in leadership, or thinking of going into leadership, know that your single biggest challenge will be to wield your authority correctly. Know that you will be compelled, you will be inclined, to do the wrong thing with it. You’ll feel like throwing your weight around, leaning on someone, calling something wrong right, because it will be easier, more convenient, and most of all, because you can. In the short term, you can get away with it.
Spiritual abuse has a pattern. A friend of mine called my attention to this invaluable website. It has some firsthand accounts of mostly former Mars Hill leadership repenting of the abuses they perpetrated and helped to perpetrate at Mars Hill. I've spent some time reading it, and have noted the disturbing similarity to many of their stories. I've pulled out some warnings signs that are not anyone's opinion (least of all my own), but what actual spiritual leaders actually say that they actually did, felt, thought. If you recognize any of these things in your own church or small group, it is an indication that spiritual abuse may be present:
Actions of leaders:
- getting defensive with people who have hard questions
- lording over others
- an over emphasis on numerical growth (easily justified as "spreading the gospel!")
- From one confessor:
- I wrongfully believed the lie that Jesus is not working in any other church and that He is only working in Mars Hill
- I did not call Mark out when I witnessed his sin as a fellow pastor should, because of the fear of losing my job
- shunning people [and I would just add that a formal call for shunning does not need to be made in order for people to be and feel shunned and isolated in every way from their suddenly former body of believers]
- Grace language being preached and utilized, but ultimately hollow, giving way to a practical application of works based salvation
- A general approach to congregants as masses needing to be controlled, versus valuable participants in the body of Christ that is the Church
- A lack of information and openness regarding the actions, decisions and consequent behavior of leadership
- When wrongs are acknowledged, an inability to offer genuine, thoughtful and sincere apologies
Experiences of followers:
- A harsh demand for immediate turning away of sin that you may or may not be committing
- Family members being told to "shun" other family members that are "in sin"
- Asking hard but fair questions of leadership, but not receiving a response to the actual question, but an invitation, direct or non, to leave the church
- Exclusion of information or involvement of a partner or vital family member in the happenings of a cataclysmic situation
- Refusal to engage or honestly participate in mediation to resolve and heal wounds and suffering sustained by both leadership and individuals
Finally, If you’re not in leadership, know these things: being in leadership is incredibly hard. Your leaders will make mistakes. You shouldn’t keep count of these, nor be suspicious of your leaders for the sake of suspicion. No good can come from this. But abuse has a pattern, and we are called to have the courage and humility to call this out. So while you are out not hunting for it, you may stumble across it. Be sure that you are right. Take your time, pray, think, ponder, question. Know that you are subject to the same fallenness as your authorities. Treat them with the same grace you would treat yourself. It is glory to overlook an offense, and it is wrong to say "peace," when there is no peace. God didn’t make it easy on us, and he didn’t give us a rulebook, but he promised us mysterious help, and said of himself, go and do likewise.