Why we need to speak up

By Adamantios, via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, this post received a lot of attention.  The author, Lore Ferguson, urges Christians to focus more on their local congregations and less on what big-name pastors like Mark Driscoll are saying or doing:

I don’t go to Mark Driscoll’s church. I don’t have to concern myself with how he teaches the book of Esther or how Mars Hill handles church discipline or how threadbare his tshirt is.

I don’t go to Rob Bell’s former church. I don’t need to worry about how progressive the service or teaching is there or how cool his glasses are.

I don’t go to John Piper’s church. His hand motions don’t affect me and the size of his congregation doesn’t bear on me.

I don’t go to Rick Warren’s church. I’ve never read The Purpose Driven Life and the main purpose of my life is drink more coffee, so that’s good enough for me.

I go to my church. I am covenanted in there. I am knit there. I seek theology first in the Word and second from my pastors. I trust there. I am trusted there. They rightly have the most influence on me and I trust that even with all the influence I might have elsewhere, the most influence I have is there. At my church.

To a point, she is correct.  We absolutely need to make sure that our primary connection (if we attend a church) is to the one in which we serve locally.  However, she is wrong that we don’t need to concern ourselves with what well-known leaders are doing or teaching.

The first thing that it’s important to note is that Lore attends a church that is part of the Acts 29 Network.  I believe she should have put a disclaimer on her post stating such.  While Mark Driscoll is not the president of the Network, he is still affiliated with it and it was originally his baby.  Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the theology of an individual church within the Network differs significantly from that of the Mother Ship.  One would hope that the abusive practices of Mars Hill have not trickled down, but there are definitely some teachings that are concerning.

The other problem that I have is that Lore seems to be unaware of the influence Pastor Mark has on church leaders across the country.  The practices at Mars Hill are indeed being implemented at smaller, local churches.  People are looking to Pastor Mark for guidance and reading his books.  This is not a good thing.  I would not suggest that every word he’s ever written is terrible, but the overarching themes in his books, sermons, and comments are all of the same variety.  If we want to stop the poison from spreading, it is absolutely our responsibility to inform people before they walk into a book store to purchase one of his texts.  Local pastors need to be aware of the underlying hostility and abuse.

I am distinctly uncomfortable with Lore’s assertion that “God has this, He’s on His throne, His eyes on His children. He’s got this.”  It sounds to me like a bit of magical thinking.  I’ve heard this one before–we don’t have to do anything except pray, because God will take care of it.  Now why does that sound so familiar?  Oh, yes.  It can be found in James:

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? [James 2:14-17, The Message]

It most certainly is our job to do something.  Anything else is merely an attempt to assuage our discomfort and avoid getting our hands dirty.

The fact is, real, live people are being hurt and abused directly and indirectly by Mark Driscoll and his teachings.  Speaking out is not “gossip” any more than speaking about rape or child abuse or domestic violence or hate crimes is “gossip.”  The only way to prevent more people from suffering is to name the abuse and affirm that it is wrong.  We need to ask ourselves why there is an entire web site devoted to people sharing the ways they have been harmed by leaders at Mars Hill.  We need to read the stories of abuse and shame and we need to get angry that someone who claims to be speaking God’s truth is getting away with actively harming people.

There are two other things we must do.  First, we need to examine why we feel uncomfortable when we hear stories of deep hurt coming out of churches.  If we conclude that it’s because we don’t like “bad-mouthing” leaders, then we need to go back and read Jesus’ words to the Pharisees–and lather, rinse, repeat until we understand that it is not the hurting that Jesus called out, it was those who claimed to speak for God. If we conclude it’s because those people must have “wrong” theology or that the abuse they suffered was somehow their fault, then there are bigger problems we need to work out about victim blaming and our own personal doctrine.

Second, we need to stop defending Pastor Mark (and others like him).  We need to stop saying things like, “Well, he’s just cashing in on his shock value–it’s what he does” and start realizing that this is not a healthy way to spread the Gospel.  I’m not going to stop pushing back on this.  I refuse to sit here in silence, even though I don’t attend a church remotely related to Acts 29 and even though I can’t fathom a reason our pastor would ever pick up one of his books.  There are people I know personally (including myself) who have been deeply wounded in one way or another by the implementation of Mark Driscoll’s abusive teaching.  I will not sit idly by and watch more people’s lives be destroyed.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am.  I am angry that we have let this go on too long.  If I can do anything–anything at all–to stop this from continuing, then I will.  I will speak until I have no voice and write until I run out of words, but I won’t stop or back down as long as anyone is allowed to continue to spiritually abuse people in the name of my God.

5 thoughts on “Why we need to speak up

  1. I read that article last night. I understand where the author is coming from. The way I see it, though, if even our local churches are a part of the bigger Body of Christ, then that means an abusive leader should matter because we’re all connected together in the same Body. Plus, we’re not talking about any old controversial loudmouth who is un-PC. When you’ve got a number of people accusing you of spiritual abuse, then something is wrong!

    • I understood her too, and if that’s the choice she wants to make, that’s okay. But I think her intent was to convince everyone to do the same. And I had a serious problem with the conflict of interest due to her church being part of Acts 29.

      I agree that as part of the larger Body we are responsible for one another, which is why I think it’s important to take on these pastors and their irresponsible theology. I just also think that there are ripple effects of these pastors that the writer didn’t take into consideration. She also seemed to be under the impression that one can’t both shred Mark Driscoll or John Piper AND help those in need through the local congregation.

      Actually, looking back on it, she also seems to be under the impression some of these pastors’ only problems are being loud and obnoxious–she doesn’t seem to understand that there is real abuse going on.

  2. Her stance is EXACTLY why spiritual abuse is continuing; most everyone prefers to turn their back when it isn’t affecting them personally and pretend it isn’t happening. They don’t have the guts or the backbone to stand up as they should.

    And YES, I am angry too!

    • It’s the same principle as in domestic violence. People are barely willing to get involved when there is child abuse, and almost never when there is spousal abuse. People avoid it with churches, too, in part because they don’t believe it’s any of their business. But when people are hurting at the hands of someone else, isn’t it our job to do something in any situation? It makes me sad and angry that people calling themselves Christians would get away with such horrors.

  3. Yes, it is our job to do something. And questioning why people who call themselves a Christian get away with what they do is what I do. They seem to get together in groups to protect each other and have a following of the blind to act as if nothing is happening. Thank you for your voice of calling out the abusers!

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