Mark Driscoll is no longer speaking at the Hillsong conferences in Australia and the UK. This is a Good Thing.
I set up the petition asking for Hillsong to remove Driscoll from their conference after they confirmed he and his wife Grace were doing an interview, subsequent to his resignation from his position as a pastor, surrounded by accusations of bullying, plagiarism, spiritual abuse and misuse of funds. The pain of those who are continuing to live with the consequences of Driscoll’s choices must have grown as one of the biggest platforms and brands in Western Christianity welcomed him to the stage.
The recent media coverage has focussed on some of Driscoll’s many woman-hating comments he made over ten years ago. Although his attitudes and beliefs about women are very concerning, the direct impact of the well documented bullying and abuse perpetrated by him, towards many within his church and wider community was what led me to set up the petition.
Many people have commented on Brian Houston’s statement, and while I hope his actions in uninviting Mark Driscoll speak louder than the words in his statement, I wanted to comment on various parts of the statement, partly in response to him and partly to correct some assumptions within it.
After personal interaction with Mark Driscoll today, we have agreed that he will no longer be coming to Australia or the UK to attend Hillsong Conference. It is my hope that Mark and I will be able to speak in person in the coming weeks to discuss some of the issues that have been raised, what – if anything – he has learned, and for me to understand better how he is progressing in both his personal and professional life.
This part of the statement is excellent. It suggests that in conversation with Mark Driscoll, Brian Houston may have realised that Driscoll is not in the right place to offer appropriate responses about his behaviour in recent years. As Pastor James Miller wrote after hearing Mark Driscoll speak at the Thrive Conference, “Driscoll just gave a long lecture on forgiveness without asking for it. Aside from the allusion to “not being totally innocent,” he really didn’t point out his own failings.”
It is likely Driscoll will continue with the same minimisation, denial and blame in private conversation as on the platform and it is good to know Brian Houston has taken this into consideration.
The teachings of Christ are based on love and forgiveness, and I will not write off Mark as a person simply because of the things that people have said about him, a small minority of people signing a petition or statements he has made many years ago for which he has since repeatedly apologised.
I agree with Brian that love and forgiveness is at the core of Jesus’ teaching. Nobody has “written Mark off” and any action that is taken has been based on well documented and extensive information about the ways Mark has behaved in bullying and damaging ways; both as a leader and as a Christian.
Ensuring that someone who has chosen to hurt many people does not have access to a platform is not writing someone off. If Mark wanted to work in a supermarket or office, aside from concerns about his bullying behaviour, I would not have set up a petition asking him not to be employed. Being given a platform of any size (especially one of the largest in the western world) is an enormous privilege and being denied access to that is an appropriate consequence for someone who has misused power in so many ways.
In the same way that taking a person with alcohol dependency to a bar might be problematic, giving someone with power issues a platform invites them to continue to misuse power.
The petition was not primarily about statements Mark made years ago, it was about his ongoing misuse of power.
The petition has been signed by 3000 people. This may be a small minority for a church which has around 30,000 people attending its Australian campuses, however some of those who signed the petition have been directly hurt by Mark Driscoll. They are not a number. They have a painful story of Mark Driscoll’s choices, they are still living with the consequences of his choices.
However, I do not want unnecessary distractions during our conference, particularly as this 30 minute interview was only a small part of this five day event. It was clear to me that Mark’s attendance had the potential to divert attention from the real purpose of Hillsong Conference, which is to see people leave encouraged in their own spiritual journey.
Some have commented that this part of the statement is concerning. I would agree. He has shifted the focus away Mark Driscoll’s choices and lack of repentance, to talking about “unnecessary distractions”. For many, Hillsong’s brand has long been associated with the more negative elements of Christian culture, and this section of the statement will have done nothing to dissuade them of that. However, perhaps it could be seen that he is saying “interviewing Mark Driscoll is not going to encourage people in their own spiritual journey”. Which I think many would agree with.
Clearly Mark has held some views and made some statements that cannot be defended. One or two of the more outrageous things he is purported to have said, I have heard for the first time through the media exposure over the past week.
I think similarly to Steve Chalke’s quotes about Yoder, Brian Houston perhaps made an uninformed choice to include Mark Driscoll. But unlike Steve Chalke, Houston has had the wisdom to not collude with power misuse or hatred of women. Perhaps this situation will cause conference organisers to investigate speakers more thoroughly before inviting people onto their platform. Maybe they can also address the lack of women on the platform at the same time…
I am grateful to Hillsong and Brian Houston for their decision and hope that this will lead other conference organisers to think before inviting Driscoll onto their platform. There is much time that must pass, responsibility that must be taken and restitution that must be done before Mark Driscoll should be considered for any platform in any part of the world.