The Apology of Mark Driscoll
I’m not afraid of calling out when people use their spiritual authority to hurt others. Mark Driscoll is one of the more persistent and drastic cases in recent years. I’ve been far from the only one pointing this out. He’s been criticized for teaching that hurts women, gay people and others who are oppressed. He’s been criticized for treating his understanding of what it means to be a Christian as if it is the only valid way. He’s been criticized for blatant plagiarism. He’s been criticized for using ghost-writers while claiming it was him. He’s been criticized for Mars Hill spending $200,000 of church tithes to buy his book onto the New York Times bestseller list. And all of those criticisms are valid and should be pointed out for his own good as well as the good of those who he has hurt and continues to hurt.
It seems that these attempts at calling out his actions may have even worked as he has recently issued an apology and a promise of seeking a better way forward. I know we sometimes pretend like the prophetic voice is doing more harm than good, that we shouldn’t point out the injustices he perpetuates and the harmful images of God he spreads. I really don’t think that’s true. Sometimes we do need to publicly stand up and say that something is wrong when it is forcing oppression on others. We do it as lovingly as we can, of course, but we follow Jesus’ example and do it.
I choose to celebrate this apology. I know a lot of people are critical. There are many things about the letter that make me think there is no substantial change so I understand where those critics are coming from. Yes, he still sees himself as ultimately in charge, and in charge because God chose him to be there. Yes, it seems like the Board isn’t really going to hold him all that accountable. Yes, he still will promote a lot of harmful theologies and he’ll probably still do it in anger a lot of the time, although I do take his word seriously that he will try to be less angry. Maybe it isn’t really repentance – a complete turn-around life shift – but it is still a positive tweak in the right direction.
But I’ll repeat something I’ve said before: I’m convinced that he really does want to follow Jesus as best he can and to help others do the same. He just got way too much power way too quickly and his maturity didn’t keep up. The more power means more responsibility, more stress, more anger, more desire to cling to that power, and pretty much more evil in general. It happens to a lot of celebrity pastors, which is why churches need strong accountability structures from the start, not trying to implement them after it becomes too much.
What this letter says to me is that his heart is still for Jesus. Maybe it is mostly a PR move. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t even write most of it. He probably still has a very warped view of God, of the church, of women, etc. But he’s still trying to point his heart in the right direction. It may be a small step, but if he stays disciplined about it, if the BOAA actually keeps him accountable, if he actually engages with the Jesus of the Bible and other Christian voices rather than reinforce his presuppositions, I am optimistic that there will be more steps.
Yes, it is optimism. It quite possibly won’t happen. But maybe it will. God’s grace is a beautiful and powerful thing and I regularly understate it. But despite the signs it isn’t that big of a change, despite my scepticism, and despite any concrete proof yet, I choose to believe that if he genuinely is letting it, that grace is so amazing that it can and will even get through to Mark Driscoll.