I have to admit that I have some sympathy for Mark Driscoll these days. Driscoll, the embattled leader of Mars Hill Church, built up a following of thousands of mostly young men and women who, somehow, were attracted to the drivel that drooled out of his mouth. He has my sympathy because I think it takes two to tango. Driscoll’s followers are an equal part of this story. The young men who became pastors under his mentoring have a lot of soul searching to do. What was it about this macho misogynist that caused them to tingle with warm fuzzies, following and recruiting others into these teachings?
The congregation that formed at Mars Hill, like most congregations, is full of broken people seeking healing, hope and a listening ear, along with a coherent theory that will make sense of their lives. Many who went there were seeking a protective father to fill up a heart-hole left by an absent dad. What they found was a slick show, with rocking music, plenty of possible mates abounding and a preacher who was just too cool.
The religion, in other words, was perpetually adolescent, preying upon those with little spiritual maturity — and even less wisdom. Driscoll and his pastors exploited the confusion and desperation of living in a culture of permanent war and propaganda, mindless hedonism and consumptive excess. Rather than training its adherents to transform the culture so that everyone belongs, Mars Hill created systems of shame where everyone conforms.
Those who went, and who continue to go, have some soul searching to do. What is it about the “strong man” that they need? What is it that they like and admire? Why are they so afraid to confess their weakness, vulnerability, fear and failures? What is it about their religion that requires taunting the other, just so the “chosen” can pretend that they are better?
Christianity can produce awesome leaders who liberate people from both psychological and political enslavement. I think of Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun who co-chairs the Global Peace Initiative of Women, as examples. But it can also produce buffoons and bullies, false prophets who act as shepherds and eat their sheep. Farce becomes tragedy and a further crucifixion of Christ.
What abusive Christianity doesn’t understand is that true religion is about cooperating, not competing. It’s about helping others in their struggles and encouraging them so that each can contribute to the good of all. True religion is about liberating people from shame and psychological manipulation, rejoicing when each person learns to think critically and trusting one’s gut. It teaches that when we act together with others we might creatively carve out social spaces of hospitality, welcoming those who don’t perfectly fit. Such religion lifts Christ from the grave.