Social media was buzzing earlier this week over Mark Driscoll and his impending appearance at this year’s Hillsong Conference. This was on the back of some protests, a petition with 3000 signatures and media reports about a controversial blog in which Mark refers to women as “penis houses.”
There is no shortage of material that outlines in detail the sins of Mark Driscoll. In his books and sermons he appears to just go too far in trying to be funky and relevant to a new generation in order to reach them for Jesus. He swears, uses crude humour and he encourages the people he trains to brew their own beer at home.
In one of his books, The Radical Reformission, he has a chapter titled ‘The Sin of Light Beer’ in where he makes the case that light beer came about to please feminists, and that good Christians should oppose feminism by drinking ‘good beer’. On another occasion he taught women who had unbelieving husbands, “You need to go home and tell your husband that you’ve met Jesus and you’ve been studying the Bible, and that you’re convicted of a terrible sin in your life. And then you need to drop his trousers, and you need to serve your husband.”
Things started to go wrong back in 2007 when Mars Hill Church changed its bylaws that shifted leadership from 24 male elders to a much smaller group. Mars Hill’s former Women’s ministry leader, Wendy Allsup says, “Mark gave power to a few men that he hand-picked rather than trusting the full council of elders that he felt was slowing him down. Mark wanted to grow Mars Hill into a big tree, but in the process he chopped away the root system by dismissing those qualified leaders who were actually shepherding the church — because they raised legitimate questions.”
In 2008 the church cancelled everyone’s membership, saying one could only renew their membership if they said they had no problems with the elders. At that point many people left the church.
Later it came to light that Mars Hill Church had paid a California-based marketing company at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 to ensure that Real Marriage, a book written by Mark Driscoll and his wife Grace, made the New York Times best-seller list. In March 2014 Mark wrote the following apology to Mars Hill Church:
In August 2014, it was discovered that he wrote a blog-post patronising women in 2001 under a pseudonym. His beliefs, written under the name William Wallace II, included the statements that have been highlighted by the media recently:
“The first thing to know about your penis is, that despite the way it may see, it is not your penis. Ultimately, God created you and it is his penis. You are simply borrowing it for a while. While His penis is on loan you must admit that it is sort of just hanging out there very lonely as if it needed a home, sort of like a man wondering (sic) the streets looking for a house to live in. Knowing that His penis would need a home, God created a woman to be your wife and when you marry her and look down you will notice that your wife is shaped differently than you and makes a very nice home.”
Driscoll apologised and took a six-week leave of absence while the leadership of Mars Hill Church investigated the allegations being made against him. The investigation revealed “patterns of persistent sin” by Senior Pastor Mark Driscoll, who was accused of bullying and intimidating behaviour in a complaint by 21 former church elders. They accused him of creating a climate of fear through his verbally abusive language, lack of self-control and arrogant domineering attitude. The church’s leadership tried to put a restoration process in place but Driscoll resigned in October 2014.
The response of the Mars Hill leaders was as follows: “Our intention was to do this while providing for his eventual restoration to leadership. The Board of Elders in agreement with the Board of Overseers are grieved, deeply grieved, that any process like that was lost to us when Mark Driscoll resigned and left the church.”
So where to from here?
Firstly, the Christian church needs to take some responsibility for allowing the culture of churches like Mars Hill to flourish. Over my 30 years as a pastor I’ve seen the fads come and go and I’ve watched some of God’s people come and go with them! Wendy Allsup, put it this way, “Mars Hill was projected on to us as this new and exciting thing that God was doing, but God has been building his church for centuries.” While I celebrate the things that the Spirit of God is doing through the church all around the world, we need to exercise discernment and we need to stop putting people on pedestals. The only man that should ever be exalted is the Lord Jesus Christ. The rest of us would do well to live humbly.
Secondly, we need to be wary of any church that is a boys club and that doesn’t recognise the valuable contribution and gifts of women – including preaching, teaching and pastoral care. For more on this subject please refer to my blog, “Women should be silent in the church?”
Thirdly, there is obviously a world of hurt still being experienced by many people as a result of Mark Driscoll’s leadership. I’m am not privy to what has or has not been done or said to this point but I do know there are former Mars Hill Church elders and leaders who are open and willing to be reconciled with Mark. No doubt there will need to be some honest conversations, lots of listening, empathy, compassion and forgiveness. Much of the New Testament was written to respond to conflict of varying kinds. There are some wonderful principles therein to help with the reconciliation process – and it is a process!
Finally, let’s not write Mark Driscoll off as a lost cause. Yes he has made some very public and very serious mistakes but that doesn’t mean that the Christian church should alienate him for all time. A casual reading of the Bible reveals how much God is interested in using faulty people – Moses was a murderer, David an adulterer, Peter was a hypocrite and Timothy was, for a season, timid and ashamed of the gospel and Paul. Some in the Christian church may want to put Mark Driscoll on the scrap heap, but God doesn’t have one.
Consider these words that Paul wrote to the Galatian Church, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.”
The Bible teaches, “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Jesus will continue to build His church, the unstoppable Kingdom of God will continue to grow, and all the people who’ve been hurt – including Mark Driscoll – have a place in it!