I have watched Brian Houston interview Mark and Grace Driscoll. As you may imagine, I have thoughts on it.
There are various ways language has been used to minimise and avoid responsibility for Mark Driscoll’s choices, both from Brian Houston and Mark Driscoll. I previously wrote a post called “Translating Mark Driscoll” after his resignation. It feels that this video also needs some level of translating.
Before you start though, have a read through the sheet I hadn’t out at the Hillsong one-woman protest I did. You can access it by clicking HERE.
Mark says, “I made a lot of mistakes.”
One of the big issues in Christian culture is this affirming of mistakes instead of insisting on responsibility. Creating a church that one Mars Hill elder described as “without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with” is not a mistake. Abuse and coercion is intentional. It’s not like falling over. It’s a pattern of behaviour that creates a certain response from those around us. Abuse and coercion is used because it results in the abuser getting their own way.
Brian talks about it having been “a turbulent year for you both…”
Rather than use language that infers responsibility, this makes it sound like a storm that happened to them, rather than the result of choices Mark Driscoll has made. This is the consequence of years of abusive behaviour.
Mark says, ““My contributions and my faults and my sins. I don’t want the kids embittered against me.”
When responding to Houston’s questions about the effects on their children (which I’ll come back to later), the language Driscoll uses isn’t “my choices and actions”. By using the word “contributions” it infers that there are other contributions to the situation. That he isn’t the only person with faults and sins.
Mark says, “There’s no way to say I’ve always acted with grace or with appropriateness. There’s been anger.”
This response isn’t, “I acted angrily and without grace.” Though people might hear that, it’s not what he says. Rather than categorically stating how he has behaved, he reverses it. “I haven’t always acted with grace etc…” The reality is, no person can say they’ve always acted with grace or appropriateness. So rather than owning his extreme behaviour, he brings it back to something that anyone could say. He also doesn’t own his actions and say, “I was angry.” He removes it from himself and makes it something separate to himself, “There’s been anger”.
Mark says, “Some people see me as…harmful, angry, careless with words.”
Though this sounds like he’s saying, “I was harmful, angry and careless with words”, that’s not what he’s actually saying. He places the responsibility for this onto the people who have seen him in this way. Rather than owning his behaviour and actions, he makes it about other people’s perceptions.
When describing some of the impact of his behaviour Mark says: “What that does is it drives your team and it makes them feel unloved and uncared for”
This doesn’t say, “I behaved in ways that were unloving and uncaring towards my team.” It infers that it is his teams feelings that are the problem. The non-apology of saying, “I’m sorry you FEEL that way” is a classic tactic for placing the responsibility onto the person who has been hurt. This is no different.
Brian Houston asks, “So would the word bully have been an accurate description do you think?” Mark responds by saying, “I think for sure on occasions yeah. I think, um, I think on occasions sometimes, um, strong leaders there’s a line…”
Mark doesn’t say, “Yes I was a bully.” He again removes the description from himself and makes it about “strong leaders”. There is no owning of his behaviours or his bullying. Brian Houston’s questioning doesn’t help here. He could have asked, “Were you a bully?” But he didn’t. They both distance themselves from Driscoll being a bully or even acting in a bullying manner. It becomes a “description”.
Driscoll also says, “on occasions”. Bullying some of the time makes someone a bully all of the time. The bullying infects every aspect of a person’s relationships. People fear the bully all the time, not “on occasions”. It seems “on occasions” is closely related to “occasionally”. Yet Mark Driscoll was not a bully occasionally. He created a culture of bullying and abuse.
Bullies act in the ways they do to get what they want. It’s not an accidental thing that all strong leaders have a tendency towards. The actions are intentional for someone to a) get their own way and b) maintain control. And the reality is, it often works.
Mark says, “so that there wasn’t anger or hurt or defensiveness that was driving some of my motivation.”
Driscoll doesn’t say “I was angry, hurt, defensive.” And within this sentence it’s only driving “some of” his motivation. It has not consumed him or anyone else, it’s just part of what drives him. Throughout the entire interview Driscoll avoids statements that start with “I was…” or “I am…” And until he starts to use statements which own his behaviour, it’s impossible to fully change that behaviour.
When asked what he would have done differently, one of the things Driscoll says is, “I would have had more mature people…in my oversight or governance.”
Whether intentional or not, this suggests that a) there were not any mature people in Mars Hill who worked with him or had eldership in the church and b) the fault wasn’t entirely Mark Driscoll’s, it was the lack of eldership. My understanding is that anyone who did try to challenge him, those who were in eldership, were sacked and/or abused. He talks about all these kind people who’ve looked after them since the impact of his behaviour started to hit him. But what about all the people who loved him enough to challenge him in the midst of his all-powerful status? They aren’t honoured within this interview. In fact, it seems they are erased.
Brian Houston states: “…there’s been a huge fallout from some of the mistakes you have made.”
We are back to the language of “mistakes” and added to that is the euphemism of “huge fallout”. He doesn’t use the language of choice; Driscoll’s choices to behave in ways that have hurt others and (for a long time) benefitted him. Instead he talks of mistakes; accidents that have happened. It is not a mistake to systematically bully and damage people. That is a choice. (I’ll come back to the “huge fallout” later…)
Mark says, “Having gone through this very complicated season…”
Again with the euphemisms. This isn’t a “complicated season”. This is dealing with the consequences of choices made over a prolonged period of time. The term “season”, while legitimate “Christian speak”, infers something external to Driscoll. Something that has been done to him; similar to the mistake, the season is a thing that happens to a person.
Brian Houston asks, “Do you personally take accountability for the break up of Mars Hill church?” Mark Driscoll responds with, “Yes I think as the leader I have to bear the lion’s share of responsibility for that.”
Leaving aside the fact that Brian uses the word accountability when he should have said “responsibility”, there is significant avoidance of responsibility in this statement. Though this sounds like Mark Driscoll is taking responsibility, what he’s actually doing is saying, “because I was in charge, it’s my fault.” He has not said, “Because I was an abusive bully, of course it is my responsibility, my fault.”
Brian Houston suggests Driscoll’s views on women were a “red rag to the bull to the secular media”. Mark responds by saying, “The fact I can’t even come see you in Australia, you are onto something…”
It wasn’t solely the “secular media” who have a problem with Driscoll’s misogynistic language. There were many Christians who were horrified by his views and thoughts.
Driscoll’s response is telling. Rather than acknowledging his actions have led to him being uninvited from the conference, he sees that it was the media response that meant he was prevented from attending. He doesn’t see this as a legitimate consequence of his behaviour, but rather as something separate to it.
Mark responds to Brian’s questions about his views on women “Some of the misperception is entirely my fault. Some of the things I did were ungodly, unwise and unhelpful.”
As before, when he talked about other people’s feelings, this again makes the problem not what he has said or done, but how other people have “perceived it”. I’m not sure how he expects people to rightly perceive his historical comments about women as penis homes or his views that women shouldn’t work or that men can’t be stay at home parents. He does acknowledge that he did things that were ungodly, unwise and unhelpful”. But saying that straight after talking about “misperceptions” leaves it slightly hollow.
When asked specifically about calling women penis homes, Mark states, “What I said is not representative of what I think or how I feel. Looking back on that, that was not a healthy person working from a healthy place. And so I would have a hard time explaining it. I wouldn’t even make an effort to defend it.”
What Mark does not say is, “Yes I did think like that and I’ve realised that is wrong and hateful”. Those words are blamed on being an unhealthy person in an unhealthy place. The term “unhealthy” doesn’t really infer responsibility, rather than “I made bad choices, I said terrible things about women” it’s the language of “not being representative”. He sees it as something to “not defend”, rather than something to describe as abhorrent and misogynistic.
Brian Houston asks him, “Were you ever a misogynist?” Mark Driscoll answers, “No, but because of things I have said foolishly, that impression is entirely my fault…I’ve allowed that to become the impression”
After talking about being unhealthy and saying things from an unhealthy place, he now does not accept that what he said was misogynistic. That’s some high level cognitive dissonance, right there. The term “foolishly” is the same device as “mistake”. It’s something whimsical, accidental. Whereas his ministry was (in part) defined by his ongoing views of women as inferior. That’s not “foolishness”, that’s intention and choice.
On at least two occasions in the interview Brian Houston infers that Driscoll’s age a) when starting Mars Hill and b) when he wrote the majority of his most misogynistic stuff are relevant to the actions he took. Mark was 25 when he started the church and in his late twenties when he wrote about women being “penis homes” etc.
There is no excuse for Mark Driscoll’s behaviour. I am 31 and at 29 I was quite able to see that calling women penis homes was a problem. Mary was around 14 years old when she had Jesus, the apostle Timothy was criticised for being so young. Being young does not give anyone a free pass for making abusive or bullying choices. Brian’s inference that his age is a mitigating factor only serves to absolve Driscoll of some responsibility.
Grace Driscoll, who remains quiet throughout much of the interview says that: “I’ve never seen him as a misogynist. There were methods that were wrong.”
It is clear that some of what Mark Driscoll has said is categorically misogynistic, and denying it isn’t going to change that.
Who Has Been Hurt?
Throughout the interview we hear about some of those who have been hurt, namely Mark and Grace Driscoll, their children, the pastors Mark Driscoll was publicly critical of, but throughout the entire hour interview we don’t hear about the many people who were thrown under the “Mars Hill bus”. We don’t hear the names or stories of any of them.
Here are some of the ways Mark Driscoll’s many victims are erased…
After asking the Driscolls how they got into ministry Brian Houston asks, “How are you both doing?”
This invites a very emotional response from the Driscolls. It makes this about their pain, which although not irrelevant, is not actually why the interview is taking place. Mark Driscoll is not the victim of some tragedy that he had no control over. He made choices and benefitted for many years from bullying and abusing other people.
By starting the interview in this way, we are invited to see Mark Driscoll as a vulnerable, emotional person, miles away from the abusive choices he made.
Within his response to Brian’s question Mark Driscoll says, “watching the kids and the pain that they’ve had, to experience in the grieving process.”
Though it is clear that the Driscoll children have been caused pain within the choices their father has made, at no point during the interview do we hear about the children of any of those whose lives Mark Driscoll has destroyed. Whose parents are in long-term therapy because of his behaviour? Whose parents lost jobs because they challenged Mark Driscoll’s authority? Who were moved halfway across the country for the parents to work in a church that subsequently kicked them out? We don’t hear any of those children’s stories.
We also hear about Mark’s health problems. He says, “Fatigue, adrenal glands, intestinal ulcers. There were times where I drove myself to a point of not being well.”
Though he acknowledges he drove himself to this point, he doesn’t acknowledge the likelihood that other people were made ill by his actions. This is one of the issues with the whole of the interview format used. The victims are erased within it. We don’t hear their stories at all.
Mark describes some advice he was given, to “put down the binoculars and pick up the mirror.”
Though I appreciate the sentiment, what about focusing on those hurt? One of the big issues with counselling perpetrators of abuse is that counselling “focuses on my feelings and other people’s actions” and what an abuser needs to do is “focus on other people’s feelings and my actions”. While self-reflection isn’t a bad thing, Mark needs to focus on the people he has hurt, he needs to hear their stories, feel their pain. Restorative justice programmes use that model. An abuser cannot simply change their self-perception, they must also work on their perception of “the other”.
Mark says, “What has been useful to me, older people…”
The focus is still on him. On him getting sorted and being restored. What about the hundreds, if not thousands of people who are trying to be restored after the hurt he has caused them? How different would this interview have been if he said, “I have been trying to find out what would be useful to those I have hurt and what they have said is…”
Brian Houston states: “…there’s been a huge fallout from some of the mistakes you have made.”
I quoted this above. I mention it here as this is the only time Brian references the actual people who were in Mars Hill. Except he doesn’t. He talks about the “huge fallout”. Which must be a euphemism for large scale spiritual abuse, job losses, financial irregularities, damage to women’s views of themselves, damage to men’s views of women, damage to LGBT* people, people losing faith and no longer being able to trust, along with a whole host of other issues.
When discussing the Australian media interest around Mark Driscoll’s involvement in the Hillsong conference Mark says to Brian Houston, “I apologise for putting you in that position…”
Even the impact on Brian Houston is acknowledged more than the impact on the many people who were in Mars Hill for ten years or more.
Mark says, the “people who have loved and encouraged us have been out of our tribe.”
I can’t imagine the pain these words must have caused the many people who stuck by Mark through his bullying and abuse. Who sought to help him change and who endured abuse and shaming when they challenged him. All the families who were deeply wounded and tried to stay onboard, believing God could transform the situation.
Maybe the reason the people who have “loved and encouraged” them have been from outside of the church is because they burned all their bridges to those within the tribe? Maybe it’s not the tribe’s job to love and encourage Mark Driscoll after he has chosen to be abusive for years?
Mark talks about how those who he judged (focusing on the pastors and preachers he spoke against from the platform) have offered grace and kindness that has “brought about repentance”.
Perhaps unintentionally, this seems to infer that those who have not offered grace or kindness haven’t “brought about repentance”. As if it is incumbent on the victim to behave in ways that bring about repentance, rather than on the offender to become repentant.
Brian Houston mentions that he doesn’t like people speaking against pastors…
He doesn’t mention that he doesn’t like bullying or spiritual abuse or misuse of funds. Which is actually the main reason I set up the petition that contributed to the media in Australia pressuring Hillsong. I know that being a pastor himself, he’s probably quite uncomfortable with pastors being criticised, but actually maybe we should be more concerned with the oppressed and downtrodden. It’s not the powerful who are most wounded by Mark Driscoll. Yet Brian doesn’t really mention the wounded, just his friends who have been offended.
“And for the people. It was a great honour to be their pastor for 18 years…There’s a lot of joy and a lot of gratitude. For the people in the church who have been hurt.”
This is the first we really hear about “the people”. There is no acknowledgement that maybe the way he pastored wasn’t very honourable. He also talks about the people “who have been hurt”. Yet again he distances himself from his choices and actions. He doesn’t say, “for the people I have hurt”. We’re back to the language of “mistakes”.
When talking about how God told them to resign, Mark explains that God said, “We’re released from Mars Hill. A trap has been set, there’s no way for us to return to leadership.”
Within this he doesn’t acknowledge the additional pain this heaped on those within the church. He doesn’t explain how all the elders at Mars Hill could have been getting a different view on the situation to him. He doesn’t explain how God’s words to him and Grace fit within Jesus’ or Paul’s model for dealing with sin. It’s simply that this was right because God said. The wounded yet again are ignored.
There’s also something significant about him saying that there was “no way” for them to return to leadership while staying at Mars Hill. Maybe that is the issue, he knew staying would result in an end to him having a platform, whereas now, he’s ready to start a new ministry less than a year later.
Towards the end of the interview Mark thanks, “…the people who were really wonderful for us.”
This seems to be the same people who have offered kindness and grace. I’m not sure the people who attempted to hold him to account when he was in power are considered “really wonderful”. But then, I could be wrong…
Throughout the interview there’s some quite mixed messages about the next steps. In parts it seems that they have no plans, but then the steps they have taken seem to be ministry based:
Mark says, “This whole season, I’ve been largely out of public ministry for about a year, with a few exceptions”
The thing about being out of public ministry is that you actually don’t do any public ministry. I know this is quite basic, but I’m not sure he’s grasped that. His first speaking engagement involved him talking about being a “shepherd that had been struck”, that he had to forgive lots of people who had hurt him. He not only has been on the public platform, he has used it to further hurt the wounded.
Brian Houston says, “I know some of the people who have stood with you…”
I could be wrong about this, but I would suggest that most of the people Brian Houston knows are famous pastors. He could mean the woman who works on the checkout at his local supermarket, but I’m guessing not. That the Driscoll’s have likely been spending time with famous pastors kind of suggests the direction they’re hoping to go in. It also seems that this inference from Brian Houston is “hey guys, he’s in with my lot” which sounds a lot like an endorsement…
Mark explains that they have wanted to, “Meet with pastors and learn from them…”
If someone is unsure what the next steps are, why focus on one particular ministry? It seems they are convinced God wants them to continue to lead churches. Which doesn’t sound like they’ve really opened up to the million of other ways God calls people to serve Him…
Mark says, “We don’t know what is next. I would like to teach the Bible.”
It seems odd that he doesn’t know what’s next when they’re spending a whole lot of time with pastors (possibly famous ones). That they’re moving to Phoenix to start exploring churchey things and that fact he’s just bought a load of mailing lists back from Mars Hill church is neither here nor there.
When asked about the concerns around his theology on women, Driscoll says, “In the future, for the women I pastor…”
This doesn’t sound like someone unsure of what is next. This is someone who plans to be a pastor, not solely someone who “would like to teach the Bible”.
At the end of the interview Brian Houston says to him, “You’re anointed to [teach the Bible]. You’re a gifted teacher…” He goes on to pray that Mark Driscoll’s “greatest days of preaching and teaching” are yet to come…
So after an hour long interview in which the majority of Mark Driscoll’s victims have not been focussed on, Brian Houston is essentially endorsing and blessing his new ministry. The ministry Mark Driscoll doesn’t even know is coming next. Hmm…
A Few Other Concerns
I know, I know, you would think I’d have had enough by now, it’s likely you probably have too. But there are a few other concerns I’d like to share…
Brian Houston self identifying
Throughout the interview Brian Houston regularly self-identifies with Mark Driscoll. Early in the interview he shares how they both started churches their mid to late twenties. He talks of making mistakes himself and that all pastors and preachers say things they regret.
None of these things are necessarily wrong, but the issue with empathising with an abuser is that you have to be an abuser to empathise with one. Rather than likening abusive choices to “mistakes we all make”, the abusive person needs to hear that their behaviour isn’t the norm, that what they have done is totally unacceptable.
Regularly during the interview Mark Driscoll talks about lacking empathy. That he wants to increase his empathy levels and acknowledging he has a lack of empathy. This is of great concern. He hasn’t mentioned how he is going to increase his empathy levels, and although I’m not a psychologist, I would suggest moving to set up a new ministry less than a year after abandoning a ministry where thousands of people have been damaged is not really enough time to develop the empathy skills required.
For a blogger called “God Loves Women” I haven’t written much about Grace Driscoll’s contribution to the interview. That’s mainly because she didn’t contribute much. Once during the interview, Mark asked Grace to offer her view and she did say a bit within the interview, but Brian Houston didn’t ask her many questions. I was surprised that during his questions about Mark’s views on women, Houston didn’t ask for Grace’s perspective. She is obviously 100% committed to her husband and his continued ministry. My question would be, given the damage it has done to her children and their community of 17 years, whether her uncompromising support is the most helpful thing for him? Then again, with their strong complementarian theology, that’s the only available option.
There’s more I could write, but I’ll leave it there for now.
If you’re reading this as one of those Mark Driscoll has hurt, I stand with you and am so sorry for the ways Christian culture is complicit in your ongoing pain. Much love to you…
Thanks to Michael Roca-Terry for proof reading this!