Public Criticism of Christian Leaders

Like many others, nakedpastor was criticized for this comic

The church is changing. We can debate whether that is a good thing, a bad thing, or most likely in my opinion a neutral thing because of some of each. One of the ways that not only the church but also the world is changing is through our use of technology. For example, during Monday’s Inauguration, Mark Driscoll tweeted comments about President Obama, claiming that the President did not believe the Bible or know God. Understandably, there has been a lot of backlash. This statement by Driscoll is nothing short of playing God, deciding who is and who is not a real Christian.

The more interesting to me are those who backlashed against the backlash. Not all were necessarily fans of Driscoll either. Criticisms of the criticisms usually followed a particular formula. First, they say in broad terms that it is not very Christian to call out other Christians. One obvious response is the irony: you criticize a Christian for criticizing a Christian for criticizing a Christian (well, Obama isn’t a Christian according to the critic). But at a more important level, Jesus clearly called out judgemental religious leaders for the oppression that they were a huge part of. So let’s look at what some of the critics of the critics (people like me) of the critic (Driscoll) have been arguing.

Jesus Wouldn’t Use Twitter

The critics of the critics of the critic then shift to saying, “Yes, Jesus held religious leaders accountable but he wouldn’t do it over Twitter!” I found this claim very curious. This is pure speculation either way, of course. Arguably Twitter is a waste of time and that would be the best reason why Jesus would prefer other means. I can see that reasoning. But it is also a reality that this is how our culture communicates. So the question to me becomes: would Jesus stoop to our level in order to communicate with us? I think the answer is clearly yes. He stooped to the level of humanity. He stooped to the level of being ridiculed by religious leaders and being misunderstood by his followers. The Incarnation is one of the foundational doctrines of Christianity. We could easily argue that a lot of the Old Testament story was also a case of God stooping to our levels in order to connect with us. So yes, while Twitter may be seen as below the god of the universe, I think if that’s what it took to show his love for us, he’d do it.

Keeping Criticism Local

Consequently, I don’t think it is fair to say – as some critics of the critics of the critic have suggested – that we should only comment on our local church where we are involved. This is blatantly denying a couple of things. First, the church is a universal entity. We have local expressions of it and those are very important, but it is also important to remember that Mars Hill in Seattle is just as much part of my church as the people I see each weekend. Second and related to the above point, God didn’t just criticize the judgemental religious leaders who were hanging out in Heaven with him. He pretty deliberately went out of his way to engage those who were using his name to hurt others. Jesus clearly didn’t think it was ok to ignore the religious oppression happening against his people. So why would we?

The Real Problem?

So after quickly realizing that the cited reasons didn’t make much sense, I was stuck with a question: why are Christians afraid of criticizing our leaders? Again, the judgemental religious leaders were the only ones that Jesus ever called out in public. If we were to be comfortable critiquing anyone, it would be Christian leaders. Instead, we like to do the opposite: we avoid criticizing leaders in the church but we are welcome, maybe even encourages, to exclude any other sinners from our midst. It’s the exact opposite approach of Jesus who was actually killed for his radical love of the oppressed and his critique (without demeaning the humanity) of the oppressors.

So to me it is fairly clear that we feel like we are not allowed to criticize our brothers and sisters in leadership even when they criticize and exclude a brother or sister (like Obama) who isn’t in religious leadership. Maybe we’re simply afraid of the power that religious leaders yield. Maybe we’ve seen others oppressed by religious judgementalism and so we would rather stay quiet than face the risk that it would turn against us. Maybe we have just been indoctrinated into assuming that whatever our leader says must be true. Maybe we’re just tired of standing up for the oppressed and can’t take the fighting anymore. Maybe the most accurate is that we don’t want to criticize our leaders because their sins are often the same ones that we have and we want to make them seem less significant; it is a lot easier to condemn the abortionist or the unwed mother or *gasp* the Democrat than it is to condemn the greedy and the judgemental even though the latter were the two main concerns of Scripture. I imagine those all play a part for some people.

The last panel pretty much sums it up

Here’s another theory for the big scale: I think that this is at least in part because of the culture war mentality. If we are going to “win” the supposed culture war, we cannot afford to splinter the Christian side which would make it even weaker against those heathens opposing us. Driscoll criticizing Obama is ok because Obama is not a white Republican and thus is probably already considered on the other side anyway even though he has routinely demonstrated a devout Christian faith. This idea of politics allowing us to issue judgements on peoples we’ve never even met isn’t new, particularly in the United States. I’m finding more and more that everything American is needlessly polarized between the supposed good guys and the supposed bad guys. The whole church has this problem to varying degrees, though: we prefer to look at our perimeters, arguing about who is in and who is out, then we are in building up Jesus from the centre.

To my brother Mark, I pray that you will be transformed into the Jesus we see in Scripture: a Jesus who forgives, who welcomes the sinners and questions their oppressors instead of the other way around, and who doesn’t play partisan politics. I believe you are sincere in your faith; I just worry that you’ve warped Jesus to your own design. You’re not alone. We all do that to varying degrees. But God offers us the forgiveness and the new creation so we can carry that love forward. Please embrace that and seek to leave the judgement to God.

To those who have been hurt by Mark’s comments, I pray that you remember there are many who are willing to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and stand up for you. The angry, violent god taught by Mark Driscoll is not the God we believe in. We will continue working to show this God to the world through one broken chain at a time, even if the chains have been placed by our Christians brothers and sisters, as we have been doing for two thousand years. Be encouraged. God still sees you with unsurpassable worth and nobody, not even a celebripastor, can take that away from you.

Recommended Books

Repenting of Religion: Turning from Judgement to the Love of God by Greg Boyd:

The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus by Bruxy

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

1 Response

  1. Bethany Lewis says:

    I am not a fan of Mark Driscoll, but he isn’t being judgmental by saying that Obama doesn’t know God…the Bible says that by their fruits we shall know them. Where has he “demonstrated a devout Christian faith” as you say?? His “fruits” of believing in abortion and gay marriage alone would indicate his lack of a relationship with Christ. As far as a violent, angry God, God is a God of wrath as well as a God of love.