This morning I watched the 17 minute videoed announcement from Mark Driscoll this weekend that he is stepping down as Pastor of Mars Hill for a minimum of six weeks. You can watch the video and read the transcript here.
Within the announcement Mark speaks of the “court of public opinion” not being useful in addressing issues in a Biblical manner and suggests online conversations, like this blog for instance, are unhelpful. I can see that everyone having OPINIONS can be problematic, but without the courageous tenacity of bloggers across the internet raising the issues, Mark Driscoll would not have taken the very necessary and welcome step that he has. So I’m not going to apologise for adding to the OPINIONS in the public space and I would suggest his denigration of the “court of public opinion” is a tactic to silence the hurting, and as a book we Christians honour states, “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.”
I have recently begun working with perpetrators of domestic abuse. I am facilitating a Respect accredited programme with men who have chosen to be violent and abusive to their partners. And if there is one thing that perpetrators are “gifted” in, it is avoiding responsibility and manipulating people’s views of them. I would suggest that some of what we see in Mark’s announcement uses those same tactics, whether intentionally or not, whether orchestrated by a PR plan or by the man himself. I would like to clarify that I am not suggesting Mark is perpetrator of domestic abuse, but that his words and actions mirror those of abusers.
During the announcement Mark was emotional, at points he seemed very close to tears. It is interesting to note that domestic abuse perpetrators who visibly show remorse change at about the same rate as those who don’t. In our wider context of power based masculinity, men crying, or being close to tears brings out a specific response for many. That act of vulnerability in a society that states the only appropriate emotions for men are humour and anger can change perceptions of an offender in an instant. I’m not for one minute suggesting they were “crocodile tears” but that we must be careful not to use an emotionally remorseful delivery as a litmus test for repentance.
This is my translation of some parts of the announcement:
“When a small group of us started what would become Mars Hill Church in 1996, we could not have dreamed it would be what it is today. Thousands upon thousands of people have become Christians as the gospel of Jesus Christ has proven powerful over and over. Every day, it seems, I hear of someone whose life has been transformed by the power of the Word of God taught in this place and modeled by so many who call this their church home.”
I’m going to start by reminding you of all the 1000s of people my ministry has saved from hell, so that when I get to my bad choices, we’re all feeling that is insignificant compared to all the people I have helped. So many people’s lives have been transformed by my teaching of God’s Word and you all living out my teaching.
“Today, we are blessed with lead pastors who love Jesus and the people He gave His life for. These men faithfully serve the Mars Hill family.”
Though there are 21 ex-leaders of the our church who are publicly stating that I have behaved in horrendous ways and were either sacked or left due to their strong convictions, the current leaders are supportive of me.
“While I’m still young, I suspect when I’m old I’ll be known for many things—some good, and some not so good.”
I am a 43 year old grown up, but I am going to describe myself as “young” in order to suggest that my young-ness mitigates the bad choices I have made. I would also like to remind you that I have done good things and not actually say that I have done bad things, but just things that are “not so good”.
“I may be an author, a speaker, and a thought-provoker; but in the deepest recesses of my heart, I’m a local church pastor, and that’s what I want to give the rest of my life for.”
I would like to remind you all of the powerful man I am and the many successes I have had in my career so far, but that I also want you to know that I am humble local church pastor, even though I have intentionally and ruthlessly built a large megachurch over the last 18 or so years.”
“It is because of my deep love for the local church in general, and Mars Hill Church in particular, that it grieves me to see anything come against it or threaten to harm it. It also grieves me greatly when something I say or do results in controversy and publicity none of you signed up for when you decided to be a part of this church family.”
I get upset when my choices, actions and words result in people challenging me. I am so totally uninterested in the people I have hurt that I’m not even going to mention their hurt in my announcement. I don’t want to accept the consequences of my actions as the leader of a large church which I am paid large amounts of money to lead and rather than say this, I am going to make it about the peripheral hurt of the church family, which I am actually responsible for not those who have challenged me.
“Over the years, as I have grown and as the Lord has been molding and pruning me, I have, on many occasions, shared with you some of the lessons I’ve been learning. Some of these have been painful, and some I’ve been slow to learn. I’ve acknowledged and confessed many of my sins, shortcomings and missteps, and God has been more than faithful with His forgiveness. Most of our Mars Hill family has been forgiving as well, and for that I’m grateful and blessed. By God’s grace, I want to always be humble and teachable.”
I would like to remind you all of the times I have said sorry for what I did over the years. The fact that at no point have I actually changed my behaviour is something I’m going to try and ensure you don’t think about by making it all about the ways I’ve learned. I’d like to also remind you that before God I am forgiven. Rather than mention how much I appreciate and value all those who have tried to stop it coming to this point, I’m going to validate all those who collude with my behaviours by honouring those who keep forgiving me. Although I have proven that over the last 18 years of ministry that I am not willing to be taught and am not humble, I am going to say that I am both of those things.
“A central theme in my personal walk with Jesus in recent times has been to follow the Apostle Paul’s charge to Believers in Romans 12:8: If possible, so far is it depends on you, live peaceably with all men. God is not honored by conflict, strife, disunity, arguing, slander, gossip or anything else not consistent with the fruit of the Spirit, and I am deeply sorry for the times I have not done my part to living peaceably with all men.”
By quoting Scripture I can reduce my ongoing hurtful behaviour to the term “not living peaceably with all men”. I am going to use the term “my part” so as to suggest that it is not all my fault, but that it is a reciprocal thing where both I and every other person involved are partly to blame for the hurt I have caused.
“I want to thank those who have come directly to an Elder, lead pastor or me to tell us of an offense they are carrying. This allows us to deal with it head-on between the two affected parties, rather than in a court of public opinion and public media. I believe God is honored by this approach—the approach He prescribed for us in Matthew 18 and other Scriptures.”
All those who have used public spaces to challenge me are wrong and dishonour God and only those who have come to me and the leadership of the church are right and honour God. I am going to use the term “offense they are carrying” so as to avoid saying that I had hurt people. The fact that when people tried to come to me I refused to listen, sacking them, threatening them and destroying their lives and livelihoods is of absolutely no relevance. God is not honoured by anyone who publicly holds me to account. I am going to mention the first bit of Matthew 18 where Jesus tells us to approach other Christians who we have been hurt by, but I am going to conveniently ignore the bit Jesus says that’s someone who fails to listen should be treated like a non-believer.
“Others have chosen to air their grievances with me or this church in a more public forum. As is often the case, some of what is said it true, some is partly true, and some is completely untrue. Lately, the number of accusations, combined with their public nature, makes it much more difficult to know how to respond appropriately. Indeed, many times we have chosen not to respond at all, which probably raises even more questions in some people’s minds, and I understand that.”
I am going to use the term “air their grievances” rather than talk about people being hurt. I am going to talk about truth, half-truths and lies without distinguishing between them so that I subtly cast aspersions on all that everyone has accused me of. I am going to talk about “the number of accusations” increasing which makes the issues external to me, rather than about my own choices and hurtful actions. I am going to reinforce my criticism of people holding me to account publicly, but will use it neutral language like “public nature” to hide that. I am going to mention that we haven’t addressed the issues, acknowledge that is problematic but continue doing it.
“In other cases, some have publicly brought up issues that were long ago addressed and resolved, adding to the understandable confusion many of you may be experiencing recently. For example, nearly 15 years ago I wrote some things on a Mars Hill discussion board on our website using a pseudonym. I quickly realized what I wrote and how I did it was wrong. We removed the entire section of the website a few months later and I addressed it publicly in a book I wrote six years later—calling it what it was: wrong.”
The only accusation I am going to address during my announcement is the one that relates to historical actions. I am going to manipulate the facts to suggest that a book I wrote six years later dealt with what I had done, when in actual fact, that book mentioned that I thought it was funny how I had a man turn up at my house to challenge me; that I talk of things “going crazy”. I’m not going to mention that at no point in the book do I actually own or apologise for my misogynistic, homophobic behaviours and attitudes. I am also not going to mention that for the past almost 15 years I have continued to use similar language and ideology in my preaching and writing. I am going to use language that distances me from my actions by saying “what I wrote and how I did it was wrong” rather than saying “I was wrong and I have hurt people”.
“I have taken full responsibility for those actions and will forever be ashamed by what I did, even as a 29 year-old preacher. What I did in this case back in 2000 is indefensible. It is also forgiven; and thank God, I’m not the man I was back then. I have learned hard lessons from this situation, as I have from other situations where I have done wrong things and God has had to deal with me.”
I am going to talk of taking full responsibility for something while still using language that distances me from my choices and actions. When talking about what I did I will mention the age I was in order to justify it as related to being young (like I did earlier in my announcement). Although at 29 years old I had been an adult for over ten years, I will suggest my age made me immature, though I was a married father entrusted with the leadership of a church. I will remind everyone that this happened in 2000, keeping people focused on the historical accusations and not the current ones. I will talk about learning hard lessons which will allow me to suggest I have changed, when the way I have behaved and the choices I have made since then have continued to hurt many people.
“Storm clouds seem to be whirling around me more than ever in recent months and I have given much thought and sought much counsel as to why that is and what to do about it. The current climate is not healthy for me or for this church. (In fact, it would not be healthy for any church.)”
I will again talk about the consequences of my actions using language which distances me from any responsibility by talking of what “storm clouds seems to be” doing. I will talk of how unhealthy this would be and subtly place myself as a victim. I will then restart talking of Mars Hill Church as the main victim of the issues, keeping my audience feeling like they are the centre of this and their interests and hurts are cared about while continuing to completely ignore the hurt and pain of the people I have hurt throughout my ministry.
“Some have challenged various aspects of my personality and leadership style, and while some of these challenges seem unfair, I have no problem admitting I am deserving of some of these criticisms based on my own past actions that I am sorry for. In recent years, I have sought to apologize to people I have knowingly offended in any way. I’m grateful that God has honored many of these encounters and granted true reconciliation and restoration.”
I will start addressing criticisms by saying that some have been unfair. I will not use language which states that my critics are right, but will instead say “I am deserving of” some criticisms. This sounds like I’m taking responsibility, but subtly avoids doing so. I will use the term “past actions” to suggest that this isn’t related to my ongoing behaviour, thereby subtly connecting it to my previous comments on my actions in 2000. I talk of seeking to apologise to people even though those who have been hurt report being shunned and destroyed by me. I will talk about God honouring these encounters without specifics.
“But I’m particularly sorry that any of my past actions or decisions have brought distraction to the mission of Mars Hill Church, and therefore, to those who call this their church home. Part of this is no doubt a function of the media age we live in—anyone can write anything, anywhere, anytime. As a public figure, I recognize and accept this, even if I don’t like it; for this is one of the paradoxes of being a pastor in a media age—the same media channels that can be used to carry a sermon to virtually anyone around the globe can also be used by anyone around the globe to criticize, attack or slander.”
The first time that I start a sentence with “I am sorry” it is related to the impact on the church community which yet again reinforces to the audience that their feelings are validated, but the actual victims of my offences are not mentioned. I make my sorry focused on the mission of Mars Hill, reminding everyone that is the priority, not the reality of the people who have been hurt. I will then yet again criticise people who have publicly challenged me and place myself as the victim by talking of myself as a “public figure”. This makes the situation more about my position than my choices and actions. That I have used media channels to criticise and attack is irrelevant, and I will suggest my detractors are “criticizing, attacking and slandering” without actually stating that is what those who challenge me are doing.
“However, another part of it is simply my fault and I will own it, confess it and move on from it as God continues to redeem me. I will seek to resolve unresolved issues with others, and will seek to avoid such conflict in the future; at least to the extent I have any control over it.”
After spending time being negative about my detractors I will now talk about my fault. Yet I won’t take responsibility for any of it, I will just accept partial fault, which essentially means the other people involved are also at fault. Essentially I am blaming everyone else while using the language of responsibility. I will talk of God redeeming me to remind everyone that God is okay with me, having previously implyred that others have dishonoured God by challenging me. I will use the term “avoid such conflict” which essentially distances me from fault and focuses the issues as conflict based rather than founded in power and abuse.
“There is a well-documented list of past actions and decisions I have admitted were wrong, sought forgiveness, and apologized for to those I hurt or offended. I will not review them here, as it is my prayer we can, together as a church, move on as Paul writes in Philippians 3:13—But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead.”
I will talk about admitting I am wrong when what I have done previously is apologise but continue to do the same things over and over. I quote Philippians and use the word “forget”; this implys that forgetting is the option for the church community. That forgiveness and forgetting are not in any way related and that forgetting is impossible when we have been hurt badly is something I want to avoid people being aware of.
“These are serious times we are living in and people all around us are dying every hour without Jesus. It is this reality that drives me and motivates me to keep learning God’s Word, and teaching God’s Word to His people so that together, we can continue to reach people with the saving grace and love and mercy of Jesus. I hope that regardless of whatever else is swirling around us, we never lose this perspective on why Mars Hill exists in the first place – Jesus loves people and people need Jesus.”
I will now spend time explaining how people’s souls are at risk of burning in hell and that in comparison these issues that have been raised are really not a big deal. I will talk about my purpose and call and will talk of the current issues that have resulted from my actions and choices as “swirling around us” yet again distancing myself from being the instigator of the issues.
“I realize the vast majority of you just want to come to church and hear God’s Word taught. You want to feed your families spiritually just as you feed them physically, and Mars Hill should be a safe place to do just that. As your pastor, I want that for you more than anything. All of our lead pastors want that for those under their care as well.”
I will keep the audience supportive of me by yet again talking about them as the primary victims in the situation. I will talk about the consequences of my choices and actions in a way that acknowledges the struggles of people are going through without taking responsibility for them.
“I have submitted to the process prescribed by our church Bylaws as overwhelmingly approved by our entire Eldership for addressing accusations against me. I invite this process, rather than debating accusations and issues in social media or the court of public opinion. A report on this process will be presented when it has been completed.”
I will not mention that one of the accusations against me relate to changing the bylaws of the church to make it very difficult for the church to hold me to account. I will talk of inviting the process even though it has taken enormous public pressure to essentially force me to take action. Book shops are withdrawing my books from sale, I am being removed from church networks and others and although there have been issues throughout my entire ministry, I have shut down all criticism to the point of changing church bylaws and sacking employees, yet I will state that this is a process that I have invited. I will again reinforce that challenging me publicly is wrong. I mention that a report will be presented, but I haven’t mentioned who that report will be presented to, and I have called it a “report on the process” not implyring whether the outcomes will be made public.
As a general rule, I will respond to little if any criticism of me in the media, on social media, blogs, open letters, etc. Conducting church business and biblical conflict resolution through media channels is not healthy and is more likely to prove unproductive at best, and destructive and dishonoring to the Lord at worst.
I will now categorically state that media channels are unproductive, destructive and dishonouring to God. That without these media channels I would be able to continue behaving in hurtful and damaging ways without any accountability or negative consequences. This places anyone who comments publicly about what I have said as unproductive, destructive and dishonouring God. The hurt I have caused people should be compounded further by me attempting to silence and denigrate their attempts to heal.
“I have asked our Board of Advisors and Accountability to strengthen our board by adding members to it, and they are in the process of doing so with local members being our first choice.”
We will strengthen the board of advisors and accountability by inviting people who are still in the church and have stood by me throughout all that I have done. Anyone who has had the courage to challenge me has talked of how they were sacked or abused by me. By saying this I yet again focus on my audience, enabling them to feel they are being given power to change things and trusted with that.
“I have agreed to postpone the publication of my next book until a future season, to be determined.”
Bookshops have removed my books from sale and due to the current climate I would probably not sell many books if I did publish my book, plus I am no longer able to pay a PR company to unethically get my books onto bestseller lists.
“I have begun meeting with a professional team of mature Christians who provide wise counsel to help further my personal development and maturity before God and men. I have never taken an extended focused break like this in my 18 years as your pastor, and it is not a vacation but rather a time to focus on deep work in my soul in the areas of processing, healing, and growing.”
I will talk of meeting with a professional team of mature Christians but will not mention any of their names. The fact I haven’t taken an extended break in 18 years will be used as an opportunity to be applauded for my commitment rather than concern that I have not had a healthy work life balance.
“As I look forward to the future—and I do look forward to it—I believe the Lord has shown me I am to do two things with the rest of my life: love my family, and teach the Bible. I deeply love my family and our church family and am seeking the Lord for how to have a godly and loving future that is not just sustainable but fruitful.”
I will now talk about my family which reminds everyone I am a human being with good priorities. I will establish that I plan to continue teaching the Bible for the rest of my life which suggests I will continue be seeking to influence and lead people.
“Finally, I want to say to our Mars Hill family—past and present, I’m very sorry. I’m sorry for the times I have been angry, short, or insensitive. I’m sorry for anything I’ve done to distract from our mission by inviting criticism, controversy or negative media attention.”
Having spent over 15 minutes talking I will finally say that I am sorry, not to those I have direct hurt, but to my church family. I talk about inviting criticism rather than behaving abusively and focus on the actions of the commentators rather than my own actions.
“God has broken me many times in recent years by showing me where I have fallen short, and while my journey, at age 43, is far from over, I believe He has brought me a long way from some days I am not very proud of, and is making me more like Him every day. The gospel is powerfully at work in me, your pastor, thanks to the faithfulness of our Senior Pastor Jesus Christ, and the best thing for us each to do is look to Him and point others to Him. Thank you Mars Hill. I love you.”
I talk of “falling short” and doing things “I am not very proud of” yet still do not quantify that in terms of identifying what I have actually done. I make this last section about what God is doing in me and still do not mention anything about the people I have damaged who are no longer in Mars Hill church. After this I am given a standing ovation by the church and my wife and children all come onto the platform to embrace me. This reminds the audience that there are children involved in any decisions made about me. The image of them embracing me will be used on the Mars Hill website alongside my statement.