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.