First, here’s some context and news from yesterday’s post on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer‘s Strange Bedfellows blog:
In a reversal of what normally happens inside a church, about 65 people stood outside Mars Hill Church in Bellevue on Sunday and called on the pastor of the mega-church to acknowledge his sins and repent.
The quiet, peaceful demonstration — “It’s very unusual to have evangelicals protesting,” said participant Jim Henderson — was directed at the church’s controversial, authoritarian and domineering co-founder and senior pastor, Mark Driscoll.
Driscoll claimed in a video last week that his critics had chosen to remain anonymous. The central message of the protest: “We are not anonymous.” On Sunday, ex-members outside carried signs of what they were not permitted to do inside Mars Hill: “Question Mark.”
“People have been harmed, hurt,” said 17-year-old Bailey Strom, who passed up a day of lifeguard duty and drove over from Yakima with his family to join the protest. Strom’s parents were married by Driscoll. Now, said father Gerd Strom: “Suddenly he became very important and disconnected. Nobody can talk to him.”
The protest came hours after the second resignation of the week by an “outside” member of the church’s Board of Advisers and Accountability. The departure of James MacDonald followed that of Paul Tripp, although both will keep ties to the church.
So now let’s look back at part of what caused the flareup: the video, which was actually released two weeks ago now.
The video of July 18 (posted on Mars Hill’s The Weekly blog for the July 21 slot), was entitled, “Church Family Update From Pastor Mark.”
Having watched the video, I was drawn to the tone and sincerity of Pastor Mark’s message.
I also appreciated some of the things he claimed about himself, which I’ll get to in a minute.
However, in light of the many recent controversies surrounding both Driscoll and Mars Hill Church, in light of some seemingly dishonest or surprisingly ignorant statements made on the video, in light of the video’s introduction and presentation, the message feels like spin-doctoring and damage-control.
In other words, the video makes yesterday’s protest understandable.
(Less understandable is why anyone remains in the Driscoll audience.)
The video seems designed to make a close listener skeptical. Let’s look at a few issues.
The Elements of Propaganda
The video was embedded in a blog post with this introductory text:
We started the Mars Hill Weekly to increase our communication to you. With that in mind, before Pastor Mark enjoys some much needed annual vacation time with his family, he sat down at Mars Hill Bellevue and recorded a video update for you, our church family. Please take a few moments to hear from Pastor Mark about his heart for Mars Hill Church.
If you’re older than 30, you ought to recognize that introductory text as corporation-culture, public-relations-speak.
I’ll note some specific aspects that were like fingernails on the chalkboard.
1. The attempt to be generous backfires (probably because it’s a self-conscious attempt to be deliberately generous when an ongoing lack of generosity has been publicly exposed).
In the introduction, the mentality I hear is something like, “The king has stepped down from his throne to speak with you.” How kind and noble of them to increase their communication, as if the members are serfs, not vested interests.
2. Despite the Mars Hill Church motto “It’s All About Jesus,” notice it’s really about Pastor Mark and his heart for Mars Hill Church.
Anyone who genuinely wants to hear about Driscoll’s heart right now has been thoroughly hypnotized.
Forty-plus elders have left the Mars Hill Church organization within about 3 years.
So maybe Pastor Mark’s heart is especially, uniquely, directly the problem.
How much of his humble pie will you eat?
Let me use a hyperbolic analogy. I’ll overstate my case for the sake of illustrating my point.
An abusive husband is always an ace at apologies and promises after the punches have done their damage.
Again, it’s an exaggerated analogy, but it’s something to think about while watching the video: a lot of damage has already been done (witness this incredibly thorough blog).
So, we get to hear about his heart just before he leaves for some “much needed” vacation (from multiple self-inflicted crises) time — he’s squeezing us into his busy schedule.
He recorded this “video update for you, our church family.”
For you, dear ones — gather around and Father will speak to you!
(Better yet, Captain von Trapp is going to put the kids to bed and give Maria the evening off. What an amazing man.)
The entire text introduction screams calculation and manipulation.
3. Now, roll the tape.
Notice how the video opens with an empty chair.
Then, as Driscoll steps into the video shot and sits down, a Bible is the first thing we see, pages shine with a flourish in front of the lens.
Consider: If a political candidate or a president had done that very move, and a Bible with shining pages was the first thing we saw, we’d know it was a carefully crafted, timed, and rehearsed symbolic and propagandistic move.
The Christianity Today and Patheos.com blogs would overflow with commentary on the politician’s conspicuous possession of a Bible.
Is it fair to use a similar standard for a minister? Maybe; maybe not. After all, shouldn’t we expect a minister to carry a Bible? So I’m not sure if that was meant to suggest something to the viewer or to motivate the viewer’s point of view.
Wait — I spoke too soon.
Then, like the dog in President Nixon’s “Checkers Speech,” the personally significant Bible and the personally significant chair — both with specific histories in his life and his church — become props for Driscoll’s description of Mars Hill Church growing from a little Bible study in his little house to a big church today.
As Warren Throckmorton noted, Driscoll excluded two other founding members from his Checkers Speech-like narrative of the church’s history.
Maybe the Checkers Speech reference is a stretch. (Feedback? Comment below.)
Either way, holding a Bible and saying good scripted things for a camera are not indications of a healthy leader.
But to encourage members to stay on the boat (which is suffering from bailing leaders and sinking donations), he calls them “Some of the most lovely, generous, resilient people” — although what’s doubtful is whether Pastor Mark has been as loving, generous, and resilient toward them, as the next major heading below might demonstrate.
5. He says some locations of Mars Hill Church have wanted a lot of information about recent crises while others have requested very little, so Driscoll and the leadership had to figure out how to best communicate.
That sounds like crisis management in a political campaign’s war room. “How do we managed this?” leaks through the spoken words.
Solution? Just tell the truth to everyone — be as open and honest as possible — and if major legal considerations prohibit full disclosure, say so.
(When I was a member of a very large church in N.C., the pastor screwed-up, and the church leadership did just that.)
What should really be disgusting — and should really be a thing of the past — is a belief that church leaders ought to withhold organizational information from a congregation.
Outright Dishonesty or Staggering Ignorance?
6. Warren Throckmorton excerpted the following segment of Driscoll’s video:
As well one of the things that has been complex is the fact that a lot of the people that we are dealing with in this season remain anonymous. And so we don’t know how to reconcile or how to work things out with people because we’re not entirely sure who they are. And so that has made things a little more complex and difficult as well.
That statement is a major problem. It’s at the heart of yesterday’s protest, which featured the sign, “We Are Not Anonymous.”
Throckmorton makes a two-point reply to Driscoll’s outrageous statement. Part of the second point reads:
I have interviewed over 50 former Mars Hill leaders and members who have made their concerns known to the executive elders with full identification. I have seen some of the formal charges and reviewed emails from executive elders and members where there is full identification of the former member’s identity. However, according to the former members, the leaders have not followed up on the issues.
Love your enemies, but hate your former church members?
Throckmorton says a woman named Bina E. is one of the former Mars Hill members who (with her husband) wrote Driscoll a letter in 2008. According to Throckmorton, Bina E.’s comments on Friday’s video are in part as follows:
The comments about anonymous concerns are amazing to me. We wrote Mark [Driscoll] personally with our concerns in 2008– a gentle, truthful, heartfelt plea with our names on it. We received no response from him except from other pastors who said Mark was rocked by our letter, but that we burned our bridges with him. That was a sad thing to hear about the pastor who helped lead my husband to Christ and who married us. We also spoke directly with pastors, face to face, about our concerns before leaving– and when we left, we were dropped as friends by them after leaving; some more gradually and some more violently. (emphasis added)
Furthermore, a former close associate of Driscoll’s, Mike Anderson, posted this telling essay on why he left Mars Hill Church after about 10 years as a member. The essay was posted on July 1, three weeks before Driscoll’s video went live.
Driscoll knew nothing of Anderson’s departure?
But Driscoll says, “…we don’t know how to reconcile or how to work things out with people because we’re not entirely sure who they are…”
If he’s not reading the reporting and blogging about him, he needs to be.
We’ve all admired political leaders who’ve said, “I don’t look at the polls.”
We’ve all, on second thought, suspected they were lying, but never mind.
Sometimes you have to know exactly what’s being said about you. It is relevant to Driscoll’s career and his admirable claim, made in the same video, that he is willing to learn from anyone.
Actually, he used the royal “we” — We are willing to learn from anyone, apparently speaking for his entire leadership team. That is the right attitude.
Love-bombing / love’s bombing
7. Driscoll ends by saying, “I love you.”
Oh, this ought to be a good thing. It really should.
But, again, it feels manipulative, and not only in the context of the text introduction and the rest of the video.
As Driscoll gets to the end of his message, he begins to talk more and more about love, before he finally says, “I love you.”
In the study of cults, or at least controlling and abusive organizations, some researchers have identified “love-bombing” as a recruitment tactic.
While love-bombing is a one-on-one persuasion, seduction, or recruitment strategy, it shares with Driscoll’s mass-message a critical feature: the use of “love” in a manipulative manner.
In light of that, consider the evidence against Driscoll loving his followers. It’s above, it’s on Throckmorton’s blog, it’s in the Post-Intelligencer blog linked at the beginning of this post, it’s in other accessible places.
Is this unfair? Well, let me try a new angle on a cliche’. We have evidence of a duck’s foot. We have evidence of a duck’s bill. We have evidence of a duck’s feathers.
Do we have a duck?
I don’t know for certain, but in his essay, former Driscoll colleague Mike Anderson included a link that read, “warning signs that help identify if you are in a cult.” Should that count as evidence of another piece of the duck?
The Age of Mass Messaging
As I’ve tried to bring my mind to the Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll crises, I have continued to recall a thought from Jacques Ellul’s book, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes.
I can’t place the exact quotation in the book, but here’s the gist of it as admittedly filtered through my memory:
Propaganda has become such a normal mode in our time and its techniques have become so internalized in our psychology, people do not even realize when they are being propagandists.
Essentially, no other mode of communication is available to them naturally or intuitively.
The Driscoll video was propaganda. Former leaders and former church members have seen through it.