[CORRECTION NOTE: An earlier version of this article suggests Mark Driscoll has in fact now resigned; this is in fact not the case, and I’m very grateful to fellow saint and sinner Mark for bringing this error to my attention. Driscoll is facing increasingly louder calls for resignation from within his own church and by way of dismissal from the Acts 29 Network—as this corrected version now states. For my own part, I can’t help but wonder if Driscoll’s resignation from Mars Hill will eventually be inevitable…]
The news of increasingly louder calls for megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll’s resignation on the heels of a series of now public and inexcusable improprieties on his part, while not surprising, begs a question: whose day of reckoning is it, really? After all, it would be easy to lay the blame squarely at the feet of Driscoll if this sort of scandal (a megachurch leader’s moral failings) were a first in history; since it’s not, I have to ask whether Driscoll is as much a symptom of a larger problem as he is a cause.
Sure, Driscoll has his issues (as we all do in various manifestations, if we’re at all honest with ourselves). (My heart hurts for Driscoll’s family as they face a growing deluge of public embarassment—even as I am glad that Driscoll is receiving the grace of being taken to task for his improprieties and, hopefully, getting help.) But anyone remotely familiar with Pauline notions of the systemic nature of sin—or with a basic knowledge of family systems, for that matter—should be asking what in the way of dysfunction causes evangelical churches to be particularly prone to these sorts of scandals.
Human sin and failing? Of course. That’s a no brainer.
But is it possible that there is something more unique to American evangelical church culture at play here, too—insofar as this particular way of being church is even more bound to set up its leaders for moral failure? The bigger the pedastal, the higher and more painful the fall, it seems. When a charismatic leader comes to be the first and almost exclusive form of association with a church—in this case, Mark Driscoll as Mars Hill—something has gone very wrong.
Ultimately, Driscoll did not come to equate himself with Mars Hill Church on his own. It took a whole peanut gallery of admirers sold on his version of an in-your-face “Christianity with cahones” (my words, not Driscoll’s) to plant and build his church and to feed Driscoll’s pattern of ethics and boundary violations. And it took a wife with a very traditional understanding of her place in the home to support her husband’s efforts (and a church culture that at least implicitly promoted this understanding of women as best fit for work as wives and mothers, rather than as gifted and true equals in ministry). Such common expressions of American evangelical church culture in the 21st century warrant at least a healthy suspicion.
My own church background and ministry experience have caused me to take note of this phenomenon—one that, if my experience is not exceptional (and I suspect it is not), I find peculiar and sad at the same time. As both a woman raised in conservative evangelical church circles and ordained for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church, and as one who would still consider herself evangelical (at least in Barthian terms), I’ve come to wonder why it is that an often latent chauvinism (and in some cases misogyny), homophobia and other forms of discrimination—against those with particular illnesses, for example— are more apt to be present in churches whose leaders exude larger-than-life savior complexes and an inflated sense of self-importance.
From my experience, a church bent on bigger, more attractional, more “evangelical” and, especially ironically, more “culturally relevant” presentations of the Gospel will be less welcoming to women in leadership and in some cases demeaning; that church will also be less apt to see itself as a true priesthood of all believers dispatched to the world in a myriad of adventurous ways; instead, that church will be more and more the creation of one senior pastor’s (usually, one man’s) expression of the Gospel, for whom other persons are ultimately disposable.
In short, this sort of evangelical church culture has much to reckon for, Driscoll’s indiscretions notwithstanding.