Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Absolute Corruption of Absolute Power

A former pastor and elder of Mars Hill Church (maybe "Driscoll's church" is the better moniker) is now telling his story.

Joyful Exiles

He's making public the exchanges that took place during the process of his firing, disciplining, and eventual shunning. Good for him. I wish MORE people would speak out against wrongs (both in and out of the church environment), unafraid of the consequences. There comes a point where we have to stop worrying about the "Christian perception" and act.

His wife's story, found here, is a compelling, frustrating, saddening, and sometimes triggering read - and certainly worth your time. This passage was something I could relate to...

After multiple appeals were continually rejected by Mark and Jamie, we discreetly implored
some local and then national leaders, who Mark said he respected, to help us, including John
Piper and C.J. Mahaney. No one was willing to get involved. I was shocked and heartbroken
again. You’re kidding? The whole Body of Christ and no one is willing to step in, judge the
matter, and attempt to make things right? How can Matthew 18 be carried out if not one
Christian leader will stand in to bring peace and reconciliation?

I discovered in my own situation that people/Christian leaders in a position to have an influence on a situation are simply too afraid to do anything. When people are being wronged, abused, what have you, and people in positions of power decide to stay "neutral", regardless of their intentions, they've sided with the abuser. When evil and abuse is involved, "neutral" is the territory of cowards. Total cowards. Afraid of what they'll lose, afraid of what people will think...just afraid.

While I think that this couple's good intentions combined with some religious addictions to put them in this situation, that still doesn't absolve the abuser of his or her wrongs. This couple's choices of people to reach out to (Piper and Mahaney) weren't the best, but they were probably doing all they knew to do. Frankly, had they reached out to a higher caliber of "church leader", I don't think the result would be much different. Too much fear in leadership positions of the church. Lots of sizzle and no steak. When the fit hits the shan, they all go into self-preservation mode. 

I've felt for some time that the "Matthew 18 process" is essentially useless in the modern church dynamic. Church leaders are generally looking out for #1, and #1 ain't God. Church is big bidness these days. In fact, I'd advise those of you reading that if church leadership ever requests a "Matthew 18 meeting" with you, don't go, cause they're gonna beat you into compliance or shun you. Just leave. Just leave. These aren't processes of reconciliation. These are processes of coercion and veiled threats. I don't think for a minute that there was malice in this couple's Matthew 18 intentions - but they weren't in the position of power in this situation. There was malice in the positions of power. There's no reconciliation to be had with men like that.

The entire story frames a larger picture of authoritarian religious power, control, coercive persuasion and thought reform (all symptomatic of a religious cult) with a leader taking advantage of the religious addictions of his flock, using smoke, mirrors, deception, and diversion to attain sole ownership of the drug, only offering the drug to the flock if they'll play by the rules of his own dictatorial pharmacy - and if unwilling to submit to the dictatorship, the dictator will go to great pains to make sure no one else will give you the drug, either. All submission or all nothing. They don't want you to thrive apart from them, which means, in their heart, they don't want you to thrive at all. It's also exhibit A of why elder-led congregations just do not work. A few ruling over the many, rather than all being genuinely equal in Christ and in the affairs of the church, is anti-Christ at its core and fertile ground for corruption. For a guy like Driscoll, however, it's really his ideal model. Set up an inner circle of yes men and screw the congregation. It's the same model Jim Jones used - and we know how that ended. ANY church where terms like "submission to authority" and "church discipline" are ever at the ready (as they seem to be with Driscoll) isn't a church at all, but a cult. Run from it. It's poison.

Do you want to see what a veiled (or perhaps not so veiled) threat from an authoritarian leader looks like?...

Check this out. 

Immediately following that message (as you may have read at the link), Driscoll fired two respected church elders for daring to question him. This is a man who considers himself untouchable, and due to the culture of religious addiction he's crafted around him that needs the drug he's offering, he probably is. Frankly, I'd dare him to try and "bust my nose" and see where that got him.

If people could shed their religious addictions, this asshole would no longer have a marketplace.

Even though the process of getting out was in many ways devastating, I'm glad this couple got out, and I hope they continue to heal in peace and love.


  1. Lewis, just want you to know that I agree with every word you said. It's funny, it doesn't matter what the theology or ecclesiology might be, whenever a rampant ego gets into a position of power, the dynamics of abuse are exactly the same

  2. Lewis, you wrote:
    I discovered in my own situation that people/Christian leaders in a position to have an influence on a situation are simply too afraid to do anything.

    In your case, it may be that it was just not worth it. I just finished writing on my own blog this week about my own former "submission and authority" church, connected to the same movement that Driscoll's friend Mahaney came out of -- The Shepherding Discipleship Movement, right along with Ken Sande of Peacemaker Ministries. All I can say is this family can be glad that Mars Hill DIDN"T consult them. (Wartburg Watch has a post I wrote for them about how Sande's system which follows the principles of shepherding works in favor of church leaders and exploits members who are placed at a great disadvantage.)

    In the case of Shepherding, the parishioner is always wrong, and in a matter of conflict, it is the duty of the church member to defer to their pastor, even if the pastor is wrong. It's all part of what Gothard, who came out of the same movement, calls the chain of authority and the umbrella of protection. It is that member's duty to suffer injustice at the hand of the leader, and even if the suffering is unjust, they believe that God put that leader over them for some purpose -- because it is best to break the spirit of those who are under your authority. It's your job as a leader.

    The only thing good about Driscoll was that he actually included this stuff in his "membership covenant" which Ken Sande will send to you. Members have informed consent about the submission requirement up front, to some extent, but they never dream that it will obligate them to suffer injustice under the sin of their leaders. The Shepherding Movement says otherwise. In my case, I had no knowledge of this practice and really didn't understand it fully until I left the church and was cursed with death and tragedy by an elder.

    In these systems, the pastors all stick together, and they believe it is their duty to defend the system. So in the case of Mahaney, anyway, who did come directly from the original Shepherding Movement, it wasn't just that helping this family was not worth the aggravation . He had a duty to send them back to Driscoll to submit to him. You have to follow chain of command and suffer whatever consequences befall you. I walked away from my church and was in good standing with my church leadership, and when I called other evangelical churches for pastoral counseling with a mature Christian, I was told to "repent" and go back to my pastor. Repent of what? I was to repent of leaving his authority.

    So it is bigger here than just an unwillingness to get involved or take sides. I don't know about Piper, but Mahaney would see it as a sin to get involved. He would be interfering with God's ordained plan to of transforming that disgruntled church member into the image of humility through suffering abuse. They believe that Calvinism teaches that people have no rights whatsoever and that suffering of any type is always transformative. The "godly submission" of the victim who does it "in the right spirit" is said to affect the abuser and convict them in a profound way, and they will come to repentance because the submission and gentle spirit of the abused works some kind of voodoo on them eventually. If the victim dies before that can happen, they become a martyr for the faith.

    The pastors of the local shepherding churches that I once attended would gather together -- a group of many different churches, including some Presby ones, would meet twice a month and they discussed members who moved from one church to another. When a disgruntled member left our church, they often went to another shepherding church -- and the new pastor already new all about them. They kept their own "full files," just like the shunned wife in your post attests, the files with which Driscoll threatened to punish them.

  3. Yes, yes, yes! Especially to the part about elder run churches and the inner circle of "yes men." My family got conned by one of those back in the early 90s and that's when our family started to spiral into patriarchy. Interestingly enough, when the church finally got wise and rebelled against the head elder and requested that he go through church discipline, he and his family left and went to start another church. Ironically, two of his daughters left and married without his permission. One lives in Germany, probably to be as far away as she can from him. Sadly, the other one that did leave came "back to the fold" and brought her husband with her.

  4. Best quote that self-condemns Driscoll: "They are sinning through questioning."

  5. I have personally known this family for decades. We are, in fact, neighbors. Further, one of the other former elders they speak of is a relative of sorts of mine (by marriage through a cousin). Believe me, their intentions were good. I greatly admire them for enduring what they endured with such grace and care, and am proud of them for speaking out. I watched this unfold, and it was very frightening.

    It also was the undoing of faith for one of my family members. He was involved, with them, at this church. And as this happened, he couldn't reconcile his religion with those people, so he gave up. It grieves me.

    On the subject of churches not getting involved and trying to stay 'neutral' in the face of abuse or injustice by other churches or Christian leaders, I have many stories on that as well. Including, most recently, a church covering over the rape of a minor and shunning the family so that said rapist could get married (to someone else)"under grace", since said rapist was known to them for years and was a member in good standing at the church. His secret sins were once again shoved into secrecy by his church. The church of the minor's parents got involved, and tried to advocate for her and for justice and deal with the church basically enabling and hiding him, and they were basically dragged through the mud. In fact, before they got married one of the pastors from the rapist's church actually confronted the victim and bullied her into silence (aka not reporting it to the police), while promising that they would try to resolve things before the marriage. They got married a week later, all the while that pastor proclaiming to all that "reconcilliation had happened" and now we just needed to "get over it" and "forgive" and "stop making a big deal out of nothing, obviously he's repented and sorry."

    1. This is where grace can never be allowed to trump the consequences (ie legal obligation to report rape to the police), otherwise not only is it cheap grace, it's sure as hell not repentance! And I bet they used the excuse you can't go against a brother in a court of law or some such nonsense. In this case, the guy needs to truly repent- ie GO TO JAIL for his crimes. Personally I would think a painful castration is a punishment that fits the crime. So sorry to hear such a thing.

  6. Lewis, you hinted at this in your post, but you might want to make a direct comment about Mars Hill's recent call for reconciliation. There's been a storm of opinion in the blogosphere regarding whether or not MH abuse victims should seek such reconciliation with their leaders. The conclusion finally reached by some at Wartburg Watch was the IF someone truly felt that the meeting would be fruitful they should make it very clear to MH that the meeting would take place under the VICTIM'S terms with witnesses present.


    1. If Mars Hill is being genuine (and I don't think they are), and it isn't just a PR move they're making (which I suspect it is), they should be willing to meet with the victims on the victim's terms. They should meet as equals. The problem is, until Driscoll wipes the slate of his belief system clean and starts over, he'll never be able to meet with any of these people as equals, because he sees himself as "over" them. I see him as being too drunk on power to ever take his foot off their necks.

      I don't think there's really anything more than a clear conscience to be gained from seeking reconciliation with Mars Hill, and I don't think that's even necessary for a clear conscience. Reconciled into misplaced and misguided submission once again?..cause a Shepherding influenced leadership can't settle for anything less. An exercise in futility.

    2. Exactly! "Reconciliation" to Driscoll means agreeing to go submit to him again, contrary to Jesus word's denouncing hierarchies of power.

      No, no, no. Unless Driscoll's doctrine has changed, there can be no "reconciliation", only renewed self-subjugation on the victim's part. Who wants that?

    3. That was kind of my thinking when I posed the question. I just wonder how many people who were encouraging victims to seek reconciliation actually understand the unhealthy dynamics that go on between spiritual abusers and their victims!

    4. Another topic I have strong beliefs as well as feelings about, so I wrote it in a post:


  7. when there's no action by someone in a higher position...it's fear, it's there's no pay off & it's dissention. no answer is the same as agreeing in this case. typical of any cult. questions are asked with questions. a good friend of mine says it this way. "it's no different than the guy who pulls into town with his horse and cart and wants to sell a bottle of elixir..that can do "anything'...like Jack's magic beans...and then leaves the next day before his is found out. in this instance..the person or persons are sucked in to a "round-robin" of, "oh..gee..I am soooo sorry for you...here let me help you some more..." can I hold the gun for you?...."

    Driscoll is "brow-beating" his congregation & it causes introspection of ones self..worse...it causes SELF DENIAL of what one believes that their heart and mind are telling them..

    Lewis, this is a good statement...."authoritarian religious power, control, coercive persuasion and thought reform (all symptomatic of a religious cult)" nice wording!! it is the same with most any "cult:"

    I too had bad expiereinces with a pastor..they all were full of shit..period. pardon my french!! i feel entitled. it's a continous problem of these who are on the "inside.." who want to project to the "outside' that they are "where it's @"..so follow me.." I am the Piped Piper"...junk..

    this couple"was abandoned..they had only on themselves..

    it's starting with awareness..raising the awareness level..thank you Lewis!!

    Here's a link to Cindy's (commenter above) blog.
    http://undermuchgrace.blogspot.com/ I like how she points out that thought reform can look gentle sometimes, but it's still cruel.

    In the article, Wendy Duncan shares about her and her husband Doug Duncan's cult "church" experience. BTW, Doug and Wendy are my ex-cult support group moderators & Wendy wrote a book called "I Can't Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult". Their website is www.dallascult.com

  8. This whole situation makes me sick, angry, and MAD- hopping MAD. People at our church have been promoting Driscoll's books for a while, and in certain circles he is "Da Man" I guess, but I'm sick of it. God doesn't need cool, with it, (supposedly) young hip guys to promote him- I think God can take care of his own PR (just look at a sunset).

    The worst of it is that I have seen Driscoll on youtube saying horrific things, and making some pretty outrageous claims...and will ANYONE stand up to him? Nope. Too afraid of lawsuits I guess. Which makes no sense, because if Driscoll is following scripture, he won't go to court against a brother over things that should be settled "in house". He is a classic bully from what I see in several of his sermons online, and his underlying view of women (and men) is appalling.

    I guess the only way people like Driscoll can be called to account is if the church universal wakes up and challenges them.

    I'm so glad this has been exposed- it must be a catharsis for those caught up in it to be able to be honest, and I'm glad for the internet, because truth needs to be told.

    I just can't believe Driscoll had the gall to tell his congregation that people were in sin because they were questioning their leaders. Who is he really accountable to, if not his church?! Man, if only the Germans had done some questioning of THEIR leaders a few generations ago...

  9. "...elder-led congregations just do not work. A few ruling over the many, rather than all being genuinely equal in Christ and in the affairs of the church, is anti-Christ at its core and fertile ground for corruption."

    Lewis, what is an alternative, healthier model for church organization in your view?

    1. I'm not sure I can offer a great model (I'm not a traditional "church" guy), but I have to think it'd be a scenario where the people in the pews have as large a voice as the people in the pulpit. I've always believed that successful church "leadership" is that last thing a person would notice in a healthy church setting. When pastors are churning out new books every year or two, the balance seems more than a little out of whack. To me, leadership should be serving rather than lording, ruling, and profiteering.

  10. This spiritual abuse stuff is crazy. I'm dealing with the same kind of issue - same abuse, a little different story. Thank you for bringing this story to light. bgbcsurvivors.blogspot.com

  11. Well, these preachers who teach on marriage spend most of their time trying to prove and justify that the husband has all the authority in the relationship.

    A contributing factor to this is the tendency for people to take one verse (often out of context) and frame a whole doctrine, a whole book or series of books, around a verse or two.

    I have yet to see a marriage teaching that incorporates the teachings of Christ as regards how we treat on another as men, women, and just human beings.

    The lure of Mark Driscoll is,I think, that young guys can be cool and hip and macho and feel that they can kindasorta have one toe in the porn culture while still remaining within Driscoll's definition of marriage.

    I am disturbed though by how many of his detractors seem to be taking a prudish kind of attack, getting all caught up in what sexual practices are ok, how this or that is a health risk, etc. Reminds me of Gothard. Within a mutually respectful, adult relationship, I don't think it's anyones business what people do. We are getting drawn into left field here and will bolster Driscoll's argument that most Christians are repressed and need him to lead us to the promised land of passion.

    Not so, and most of what I have heard from him is reliant on the woman ALWAYS being available as a sexual servant. And, if you let a person define what is ok, you are conversely letting him define what is NOT ok. Is this part of sharing the gospel?

    We have noticed that many times at church, if a young husband has call to introduce his wife to the congregation, he will say something like "This is my SIZZLIN' HOT WIFE, Jane".

    Maybe I'm old school and grew up in the carnal days of the Sex Pistols and such, but that introduction can conjure up all kinds of visuals about Jane that I don't think are necessary...

    Just a thought :)

  12. Wow. I'd heard he was a douchenozzle, but I'm still amazed. And the idiots in his congregation actually laughed at that.

    I don't want to live on this planet anymore.