Monthly Archives: October 2014

Mars Hill RIP

Mark Driscoll is gone from Mars Hill and I don’t think it will survive in its present form. Much has been said, much could be said but I will relate some of my own experience. I was a guest for about a year, never a member, participated in a variety of activities and sought help from various people and resources.

I can’t say how much good it did me, but I know it did a great deal of good for other people.

The truth is I feel really bad about this. I could sarcastically say, to the progressive Christians who orchestrated this, “I hope you’re proud of yourselves” but of course they are proud of themselves. This was bound to happen eventually. No prominent non-PC institution can be allowed to exist for long.

Mars Hill was not a comfortable place. It was pretty hard core, and spiritual and personal confrontation were part of the atmosphere. If you take unapologetic, traditionalist, biblical Christianity of a Calvinist nature into a strongly pagan, hedonistic and epicurean environment such as Seattle you’re going to make people uncomfortable. People with no experience with Christianity will be uncomfortable. People with experience with progressive Christianity, who liked it will be extremely uncomfortable. People with experience with modern evangelical Christianity- which is basically a mildly countercultural movement dating from the 1970’s, and progressive enough to keep from getting crushed by the system, which is to say fairly progressive, will be mildly uncomfortable and confused. People who have experience with progressive Christianity and hated it- which may only be me- will be uncomfortable and confused.

It’s quite possible that Mark Driscoll was and is just an obnoxious dick who pissed too many people off. There were multiple different conflicts in this situation. One was secular progressives hating straight Bible Christianity. Two was progressive Christians hating straight Bible Christianity. Three, which was the most important one but the most amorphous, was modern evangelicals who could not stomach Driscoll’s approach to things.

Modern Christianity is an odd beast. It’s a social control mechanism, one that is sometimes aggressively confrontational but usually non-confrontational and passive-aggressive. Many classes of people are to be handled with kid gloves- women, children, criminals, sexual deviants, all non-whites, and especially poor non-whites. Others are treated quite harshly and aggressively- men, whites in general, and especially poor whites. The church environment is in general therapeutic, “safe” in terms of maintaining an overtly pleasant environment and not putting too much stress on anybody. Really bad people, like blue-collar white men, are made uncomfortable here and know they aren’t welcome, so the minister can talk about evil things like racism and sexism and homophobia and the congregation can nod their heads knowingly, because of course none of those rotten people are among them.

Bourgeois professionals and their lower-class helpers run on a social consensus where authority is distributed enough to appear democratic and the important thing is not to rock the boat. This has been the way the English middle and upper classes have done things for centuries, I think, judging from Orwell’s essay on Swift. I come from an aspirational middle-class Irish Catholic background, growing up around people whose greatest goal and fondest hope in life was to integrate into this social environment, at whatever psychic cost. The psychic cost is as far as I can tell serious neurosis to the point of social dysfunctionality, which is why I ran away from home, literally and figuratively.

Mark Driscoll, however, comes from a working-class Irish Catholic background and would have had no exposure to this. He went to a middle-class school, Washington State, and would not have had an intense exposure to it there. He would have first had some mild exposure to it with his acquaintance with evangelical Christianity. But I don’t think it registered on him. And his religious background was of unquestioned male leadership with high religious and spiritual power.

The Bible is powerful and dangerous stuff. It’s frightening, mesmerizing, hopeful, terrifying, awesome and transformational all at the same time. The confrontational model of Christianity is very biblical and goes back to the very beginning, when God confronts his disobedient creatures in the garden, through all the prophets, Jesus himself, Peter, Stephen, Paul, James, Jude, and John. Driscoll picked up on this, ran with it, and found a lot of eager followers.

The truth is, people like the truth, even if it uncomfortable. A lot of people came to Mars Hill. A lot of the leadership didn’t have quite the same stomach for confrontation Driscoll did, and I think that caused a lot of the early conflict. As I have pointed out, and Dan Savage has also perceived, more of the leadership was fine with confrontation as long as it wasn’t directed at them, and I think that caused a lot of the later conflict.

I first encountered Mars Hill going by the old downtown location, and having been recently much affected by Acts 17:19 et al, I was gripped by the coincidence. I went there a few times, but couldn’t get into it. Later after some serious problems and a conversation with a Catholic priest I’m pretty sure was gay, I thought to give it another try.

Mars Hill was already undergoing various changes. Everyone credits the structural changes in 2007, but more importantly I think was that it began to get progressive media attention. A story on church discipline in the free Seattle weekly The Stranger caused a stir and actually prodded apologies from the church leadership. This seems like a classic case of showing weakness drawing in the sharks. The young man featured was not treated in a way that was anything other than biblical but the idea of reprimanding someone for not following clear rules of the Bible is so foreign today, that it shocked people.

A lot of the church management did not like this, did not want to be seen as the mean church, and wanted to be seen as respectable Seattleites, albeit weird neo-Calvinist ones. The problem is that with Protestant Christianity, there is no middle ground. You are either a mainline church with a rainbow flag in front or a knuckle-dragging Bible church. Catholic and I suppose Orthodox Christianity have a lot more wiggle room, or slack, or toleration of hypocrisy or what have you. But Protestant Christianity bases itself largely on denying this space, which is probably necessary for people.

Like this young man, a lot of people were butt-hurt by getting straight Bible Christianity preached to them. Culturally Protestant churches of the Methodist mold are supposed to be places of comfort, spiritually, culturally, and socially. This is true of Lutheran churches too, and as a renegade Lutheran pointed out, I can’t remember who, maybe this was more understandable in the harsh world of the 18th and 19th centuries. But the world of the first century was a whole lot harsher, and the apostles weren’t pulling any punches. The good news is Jesus is risen, the less good news, if you want to call it that, is there is a lot of work to do.

If you want to go to a fag flag United Methodist or ELCA church and hear about how all us wonderful progressives are good, and all those horrible Republicans in Texas are evil, well, that’s your choice. (Here I am being quarrelsome and unloving. Hey, you want quarrelsome and unloving, read the Book of Jude.) Nobody had to go to Mars Hill. There are plenty of churches where nobody will make you feel uncomfortable at all, and they will be happy to have you.

There is something however evil in ruining something for somebody else. Lots of people liked Mars Hill, lots of people needed Mars Hill, lots of people were transformed by Mars Hill. That’s probably gone now. The staff at Mars Hill was riding on Mark Driscoll’s coattails, and I doubt any of them can do more than manage a slow decline.

I believe, or hope, that nothing can undo God’s plan.

Dear God- for those lost, and those having lost guidance at Mars Hill, I pray that you will guide them in some other way you have planned. I pray you will provide them with some shepherd to protect them and guide them.

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Harsh Words, Overwhelming Love

I have been reading the epistles recently. Paul is usually approached as a theologian. It has appeared much more obvious to me that he was mostly giving practical advice and instructions. People didn’t know how to live, and they needed to be told, and frequently cajoled.

Something I missed, and I think the mainstream analysis misses, is the overwhelming love Paul expresses for the followers of Jesus. He speaks pretty directly- he doesn’t pull any punches- particularly by the standards of the mealy-mouthed Methodists of today. But more than this he expresses his love and great hope for the people he is writing to.

I deliberately didn’t use the phrase “hard words” because “hard words make soft people” is some kind of cliché among certain evangelicals. I came up with the phrase “speaking the truth with love” for myself personally, after a lot of agony. And then I find that is a cliché also, although I suppose I should have known it already.

Usually when you hear this there is not much truth and hardly any love. What I find with most people is the desire to be right. If it’s a matter of right or wrong you can be wrong, which sucks, or you can be right, which is no great pleasure either since somebody else has to be wrong. I can’t take any pleasure in someone’s error, no matter how prideful and self-righteous they are. If there is love, both have something good, and if somebody is right and somebody is wrong, one person has nothing, and the other person has something not much worth having.

For those committed to their error- I don’t know much what to say. Maybe God has turned them over to it, and they are left to cope with the consequences.

For those humble worshippers, for the saints, if you will- I love you. I believe your humility, your respect, and your search will not be in vain. I believe God is faithful and forgets no one who seeks him and worships him. The qualities the world so despises are the ones he values most. Don’t give up, remain in hope, and recognize all the glory where it truly is, in him.

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The Virtue That Has No Name

Via Calculated Bravery, an extremely important discussion that addresses hypocrisy, one of the primary crimes of progressivism, Christian and otherwise.

Sometimes a vice is just a vice, but more problematically a vice can be a distorted virtue. The writer runs through all of these, then comes to the virtue which is distorted as hypocrisy, and finds there is no actual word for it.

It is a very basic progressive idea that one has no right to advocate any moral standard that one does not actually meet oneself. As with all things progressive, this is selectively applied of course to enemies and overlooked for friends. As with most progressive things, this has a basis in Protestant theology and the Reformation.

One of the Reformers’ charges against the Catholic Church was that the Catholic clergy was hypocritical, living large and having mistresses on the side while preaching poverty and celibacy. This charge was probably overstated, priests probably demonstrated a wide range of behavior, some saints, many more or less decent and dedicated servants of God, and a not insignificant number of scoundrels. But they did have a point.

Nobody actually meets a strict standard of morality, at least by Christian standards, so the Reformers had to resolve their own cognitive dissonance. They did this through the idea of antinomianism, that the true believer is under no law, and because he is a good person, anything he does, thinks or says is good. Luther explicitly denounced antinomianism, but the idea is pretty clearly basic to Protestant theology. Conversely, if you are not a good person as defined by the progressive Protestant, nothing you do is or can be good.

If progressives want to fornicate or sodomize, those things are wonderful and good, whereas evangelical virgins are laughable and contemptible. Whatever you want to say about the Pharisees- Jesus said they were children of Satan- at least they were actually following all the rules they said were important, not just saying they could do whatever they want.

But getting back to hypocrisy, a toleration of a gap between formal moral standards and actual behavior seems to have existed better in rural, traditional societies, Catholic or Anglican, than the urban merchant society that developed some time after the Reformation with globalization. In rural society everybody knows everybody’s business, and one’s social position can neither be much enhanced by good behavior or reduced much by bad behavior. In urban society, you are who you can convince people you are, and a reputation for probity can get you a better job or more business.

Roughly the idea of what was correct went from understanding and acknowledging the limits of the ability of people to adhere to strict moral standards- which benefited rich, idle landowners the most, which was a big part of the reason rich, constantly working merchants and bankers didn’t like it- to the understanding that whatever your sins, you should best keep them carefully hidden for the good of society.

And then another change came along, in which the idea of moral standards became a big drag, and that one should not pretend anything. Ganymede calls this the “cult of authenticity” and it comes down to the idea that suppression is the worst thing a person can do, because deep down inside each person is the true self, what the person is supposed to be.

The cult of authenticity is a very powerful idea that has shaped most of Western culture for the last 150 years or so. It is also not in the least Christian. Jesus hated hypocrisy, but by the definition of replacing a true moral standard with a false moral standard.

For everybody there is a gap between what they should be, and what they are. For some people the gap is bigger and more obvious. What Jesus wanted people to recognize was that the gap was there.

Obeying and honoring God is a kind of journey. Where ever you are, you have a long way to go. You can stop and rest, but don’t set up camp, and definitely don’t build a house.

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One Flesh

H/t to who I don’t remember, we see an ancient concept of reproduction- long thought to be evil superstition– may in fact be true.

Telegony is the idea that offspring can have the physical characteristics of males a female has previously mated with, although they are not actually the fathers. People seem to have noticed this way back, because people noticed things in the old days, before it was a thoughtcrime, and because in small communities people would have known the woman, the first lover, and the husband/father, and been able to compare and see the influence on the children.

Genesis mentions the male and female becoming “one flesh”. Paul talks about how you don’t want to become one flesh with a prostitute. Until recently men have wanted to marry virgins, and non-virgins have been considered “damaged goods”.

Of course being sophisticated moderns we know this is all very silly. If a woman has intercourse and semen is expelled into her vagina, nothing at all happens, as long as no venereal disease is transmitted and no pregnancy occurs. Since most common venereal diseases are treatable, and pregnancy is easily prevented or ended, there is no reason for women not to have all the intercourse they want.

Until recently among certain subcultures, young people were tolerated or tacitly permitted all kinds of sexual gratification, short of intercourse. More recently among some that seems to include anal sex, which is probably not a good idea for anybody. But it seems that keeping the female reproductive tract clear of all sperm other than the one father of eventual children is the only way to assure 100% paternity, the basis of patriarchy and strong family life.

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