A few weeks back I wrote about a sort of insanity that first blinds us to the wrong that surrounds us, next makes it very difficult for us to break free from the wrongful situation, and finally prevents us from identifying the cause of the wrong. As I wrote there,
I try to choose my words carefully, and I try to resist bolstering my case with over-the-top characterizations. So when I describe a tendency as “bordering on insanity”, I really do mean that I think madness is on the horizon. And in what follows, this joky definition of insanity may be applicable: doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.
The culprit, of course, is authority. In the previous post, the wrongful situation was the long, continuing history of sexual abuse in the church. This week it is ecclesiastical tyranny, or what David Chilton called Ecclesiastical Megalomania. This week’s maniac is Mark Driscoll, a celebrity pastor and head of an operation where the wheels are currently coming off.
Much has been written about Driscoll’s abusiveness, which in itself doesn’t interest me. But I’m very much interested in how thugs like Driscoll manage to create the circumstances in which they operate, and especially how they are often empowered by the very people they abuse. This recent blog post by a former colleague and best friend of Driscoll’s provides a reflective history of how the current Mars Hill Church came to be. I recommend you read the whole thing, since here I am only excerpting passages which illustrate how devotion to being “under authority” is the linchpin, and without it abusers would be unable to abuse.
To those who say that to be a Christian one must be under some sort of authority besides that of King Jesus, I hope that you are prepared to explain either (a) how the normal Christian in search of authority can discern that the authority Driscoll and his cohorts exercised was illegitimate and therefore can righteously be rejected or avoided, or (b) that such abuse is just par for the course, something to be expected and endured in the normal Christian life.
I remember you and Grace coming up to my house and challenging me to transition the awkward college-age ministry thing we had, and to plant it as a church. I remember your assurances that you would walk beside us, and I remember distinctly how Grace said that “as long as we continue to give God the glory for whatever happens, He will continue to glorify Himself through what is happening”. That resonated with me, and for many years you walked beside me faithfully. We were your first church plant, and for awhile, there was even some discussion about our church going with the name Mars Hill North.
I listened closely as you preached the virtue of Biblical Eldership, where men proven to be of sound character, pastor the church together and hold each other accountable, a supposed safe-guard against any one person lacking accountability or taking over. […]
I also remember when my brother-in-law Brian Kirkman went through the eldership process. Brian, known to me as one of the most faithful, loving, gracious, godly men I know, and yet I believed your lies and how you characterized him. He was unjustly removed and the way the Kirkman family was treated foreshadowed the shunnings that would occur with the Petry’s, the Meyer’s, and others. I have since gone to Brian and Liz to confess my complicity in how they were treated. It was so incredibly unjust. […]
But then I listened as you slandered and maligned the men and women we worked with behind their backs -who though we didn’t agree with some of them theologically- were wonderful people, and never deserved to be spoken of, or treated the way you did. People who I know would have considered you a friend and have no idea how you really felt about them. I have personally tried to go back and apologize to people who were “kicked to the curb”, along the way, and yes, I do feel I was complicit to your actions; guilty by way of association and being silent. […]
I remember during one of our conferences somewhere around 2002, sitting at the table with you there in Boca, when you interviewed Rich DeVos on how he structured his business model. I remember soon thereafter when you started talking about how it wasn’t that important that you knew your people or led them yourself, but that you “led the people, who led the people, who led the people”. Unlike the Chief Shepherd who knows all His sheep by name, knows their voice, and they, His, you distanced yourself from them. In fact, I remember you bragging about how you had this back corridor between your office and the stage and you didn’t have to be interrupted by anyone before or after church. I was so confused. I bought in to the meaning, truth, beauty, mission thing. I certainly didn’t buy into this. […]
Again, it is hard to express how much you helped us. Much of that influence however, was very unhealthy and systemically flawed. It took me many years of distance and separation to truly gain objectivity and see just exactly how flawed. For instance, I was patterning my/our discipline process after what you were doing. One of those situations was with a man in leadership named Dale. I will always grieve over the heavy-handed way we dealt with Dale. Not only was it ungracious and unfair, it was hypocritical. Again, something for which I’m profoundly sorry.
Add to all that, some significant personal weaknesses and sins of my own, and I/we needed serious help. I asked you for that help, and in customary fashion, you dropped the hammer. When all of your recommendations on discipline weren’t followed, you came unglued. You cursed me up one side and down the other. You threatened and berated me. I have never been spoken to the way you did to me then. It was vicious and startling. […]
Then you involved yourself in our Eldership in a most irresponsible and reckless manner. In hindsight, it never should have gotten to that point, and I accept full responsibility for that, but what I needed was trustworthy, Biblical accountability, and instead I got slander, threats, and verbal abuse. We had good elders who were caught between a pastor dealing with personal and familial sin, and an outside accountability that was reckless, irresponsible and ultimately had a destructive influence on a once unified eldership. I know it all now. I’ve read the communication you had with the other elders behind my back. Ugly, slanderous, defaming lies, Mark. I thought you were my brother and you treated me like scum.
On March 17, 2005, I sent a letter of grievance to the Board of Acts29, asking them to address what I had come to realize over time, were serious character flaws of yours. I made the case that Biblically you were unfit and disqualified as an Elder. A case based off long established patterns of pride, lack of self-control, sexually vulgar and slanderous speech, exaggeration that bordered on deception, gossip about others and confidentiality issues. An excerpt from that letter stated: “The fact that Mark is an incredibly talented leader and charismatic personality, cannot in any way substitute for the simple Biblical requirements of being Christ-like, much less the qualifications of being an Elder. I can make a Biblical case from Titus regarding his being overbearing, quick-tempered, self-controlled, upright, and holy, as well as 1 Timothy regarding being above reproach, self-controlled, respectable, not quarrelsome, and a good reputation with outsiders”.
Not surprisingly, we got a response letter from the Board of Acts29 informing us that they would accept our resignation from Acts29, as we had made our continued participation in the network contingent upon their dealing with your issues. Apparently, they lacked the fortitude and resolve to deal with your out-of-control behavior, and so became complicit themselves. How the board of Acts29 abdicated their responsibility in this, is beyond my comprehension. […]
David wanted the Board to come help our church work through this situation, but you wanted to do it your way. That added to the growing conflict between the two of you. He had said that the Board would be coming to meet with our Elders during the Reformission conference, and then suddenly, somehow, you took over as President of Acts29. I remember talking to David on the phone afterwards and him being stunned at what just happened. You somehow had enough support to vote him off of the board. […]
For you, the ultimate endorsement was always driven by numbers, and we were like the Israelites of old who proclaimed to want a King like David, but were drawn to a King like Saul. We all need to own up to the fact that we helped empower you to become what you have, through our willingness to eagerly endorse what you are, and you were more than happy to let us.