I’m going to try to stick to a very narrow point in this post and I ask the reader to do the same. There are other things that could be said about the breaking Mark Driscoll story. I’ll leave it to other people to say them.
I just read that Driscoll and Mars Hill Church were removed from the Acts 29 Network, an organization that he helped to start and for which he served (a few years ago) as President. (Read here: http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattlepolitics/2014/08/08/evangelism-network-to-mark-driscoll-step-down-and-seek-help/#25601101=0)
It seems to me from reading the letter of dismissal that:
1. For a number of years, colleagues in the network have tried to help Driscoll see the harm he was doing with his brand of “leadership.” It appears that they finally came to the conclusion that no other way of handling this situation could be found.
2. They emphasize that this act of discipline was the most loving route they could take, following their understanding of the necessary biblical protocol. I have to admit, I think they used the word “loving” a time or two too often, as if they were also trying to fend off criticism. It did seem a little like they “protested too much” their love. That said, I appreciate, respect and admire their action.
3. I wish it could have been done more out of the public eye, but in our crazy culture, with people as high profile as Driscoll, there’s no way for this matter not to become a news item. Given the nature of the controversy, for the blogosphere (yes, I realize the irony), this story is like red meat to carnivorous critics of evangelical Christianity.
4. To the self-identified progressives in our beloved United Methodist church, the ones who like to crow about evangelical hypocrisy: Mark Driscoll is getting his comeuppance and I beg you not to enjoy it via your blogs and Facebook statuses. I’m not talking about all progressives, not by a long shot. I’m talking about the gloaters.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with the Sermon on the Mount the past few months. More than the “Judge not…” teaching, the whole tenor of the Sermon reflects the call for Christians to be generous and forgiving toward one another. The quality of our relationships is a major means of showing that we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. I obviously don’t have a relationship with Driscoll, but this matter reminds all of us how we are to treat one another.
Please don’t read me as saying we have to make nice. Anybody who knows me knows that I don’t care a fig for false reconciliation and avoiding controversy at all costs. We must speak the truth as we see it and we must engage contentious topics. Good relationships have plenty of conflict and disagreement. What makes the relationships good is that people love each other through the difficulty and stay in community, that is, until they finally conclude – together – that they must part company. Peaceable people can and sometimes do come to this conclusion, even when they are utterly committed to living at peace with all so far as it depends on them. (No, I’m not advocating for denominational division.)
5. And now my main point: whatever you think about the theology, practices or culture of the Acts 29 Network, you must take off your hat off to these leaders who acted to dismiss Driscoll. Leaders of big organizations have big egos. (This is true of United Methodist leaders, too.) They are powerful people. It takes guts to do what they have done. I can imagine the consternation, yes, the shame, of being associated with a leader who has demonstrated – temporarily, we hope – not only a lack of integrity but a wanton cruelty and egoism. I commend them for taking these steps. They clearly don’t need my commendation and I have no idea what has happened behind closed doors in the lead-up to today’s action, but I take my hat off to them.
By contrast, I don’t feel so good about my own denomination. Too be sure, I’ve been enough “on the inside” to know that bishops have to make similar tough decisions. I’ve served on the Board of Ordained Ministry and have been involved in disciplining clergy, even voting to remove a few. The main difference between the Driscoll case and my small scale experience is simply profile and publicity. I’m trying to say we United Methodists have had our fair share of difficult situations and I’ve seen us handle them as courageously and as compassionately as possible.
But recently, on a big canvas, with national leaders whose misguided zeal has brought shame upon The United Methodist Church, we have not done so well. I have in mind those leaders who – believing they know better than the rest of us how to handle things – simply follow their own designs. Maybe you see their actions as necessary in an unjust world. We can disagree about that point and have our disagreements in Christlike love.
But we also need to pay attention to how we United Methodists look to the public eye. It’s very easy for us to see the speck in some other organization’s eye and not see the log in ours.
Jesus has a lot to say about hypocrisy and most of it is aimed at religious leaders. I hope we’re listening.