Hi and welcome back! It’s our 200th Lord Snow Presides! How amazing is that? On this occasion, it seems fitting that we turn our attention to the topic that began the LSP series: that disgraced onetime megapastor, Mark Driscoll. None of us thought Mark Driscoll would learn a thing after losing Mars Hill and Acts 29, the church-planting umbrella group he helped create, back in 2014. And nope, he sure hasn’t. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the strange way that past performance predicts future behavior for Christian authoritarians like Mark Driscoll.
(This week’s 1st-Century Friday topic can be found here.)
A Quick Review of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill.
It’s hard to believe that all that Mars Hill drama happened 7 or 8 years ago. But here we are. For those who are out of the loop, here’s a rundown. (With thanks to the folks at Sola Sisters, who created a good timeline with info and links.)
In 1996, Mark Driscoll founded Mars Hill Church. His brand of macho, aggressive, chest-thumping, culture-warring fundagelicalism combined with the extremism, arrogance, and cruelty of Calvinism. The result was a scary hybrid with all the worst traits of both parental flavors. And it appealed to a lot of folks in the Pacific Northwest, somehow. He’d been running a home church in the beginning, but it grew very quickly. Soon enough, he was swiping A/V equipment from other churches to equip a new one for himself.
In 2013, Lindy West wrote that in addition to sporting a “fauxhawk” and releasing books, Driscoll had some quirks:
Oh, and he also bullies effeminate men for fun, thinks divorce is the fault of ugly wives riddled with sex demons, and requires congregants to sign a covenant vowing to abstain from “homosexuality, pornography, and fornication.”
By behaving like a crass, petulant man-child himself, swearing and talking about bodily functions even on the stage of his pulpit, his followers got a sense of permission to do exactly the same. In 2012, Bitch described them in terms that would become all too familiar in the years to come:
Mars Hill members talk about sex, drink alcohol, get tattoos, and swear. They listen to Fleet Foxes; they love Star Wars and graffiti art.
However, like their Dear Leader they were also ferociously anti-feminist and complementarian.
Seriously, this coarseness, trendiness, and misogyny found a bigtime home in the hearts of a certain breed of fundagelical.
Mark Driscoll rose to dizzying heights. He rubbed shoulders with all kinds of big names — like Rowdy John Piper in 2006 and shameless prosperity huckster T.D. Jakes in 2012.
The Eventual Fall of Mark Driscoll.
It didn’t matter what Mark Driscoll said or did. His followers adored him nonetheless and forgave anything. And he could count on his fellow crony network members to protect him, as a comment reveals on this 2012 post about his leaving The Gospel Coalition (TGC).
However, this braggart and bully’s days were numbered. Watchdog blogs began springing up to record and archive his nasty behavior. Around Seattle, where Mars Hill was based, word got around that its culture was really “control-freaky” and cultish.
In October 2013, when he lied about an encounter he had at a Christian conference, he got called out hard.
The very next month, he went on a Christian talk show hosted by Janet Mefferd. He was there to hype up his new book, A Call to Resurgence. Instead, she wanted to talk about the multiple instances of plagiarism discovered therein. Evangelicals heaped their abusive brand of Christian love on her for this audacity. But the ball was rolling. Serious watchdogs like Warren Throckmorton eventually found serious plagiarism in seven of his books. (See? They all do this.)
In March 2014, after allegations arose about it, Warren Throckmorton published a copy of the contract Mark Driscoll signed with a third-party company offering to artificially inflate sales numbers for his book Real Marriage. The goal was to get him onto the New York Times Bestseller List. He apparently used ministry funds to pay for this service.
In July 2014, the world learned that Mark Driscoll had, in his church’s early days, played on his forum as “William Wallace II.” Believing himself anonymous behind this sockpuppet account, he wrote blistering posts revealing a disturbing level of misogyny. He abused anyone who disagreed with him.
I’ve left out a lot. His assertions about women being responsible for their husbands’ infidelity. His infamous comment about women being penis homes for their husbands. Him grilling his elders’ wives about their sex lives. His rants about yoga. His disrespectful and mean-spirited treatment of his own wife.
This guy is seriously the worst.
The Mark Driscoll Defense Wall Crumbles.
By August 2014, all kinds of people began coming out of the woodwork to accuse Mark Driscoll of bullying and abuse. Many of them were current or past leaders from Mars Hill. Twenty-one of those former leaders brought formal disciplinary charges against him.
One of his former besties and a onetime original member of Mars Hill, Ron Wheeler, published his now-famous “I am not anonymous” open letter to his former friend. The title of it comes from Driscoll’s frequent assertion that only anonymous people were complaining about him. Yes, that was his way of invalidating what those complaints had to say.
Wheeler was willing to put his name on his complaint, and it did a lot to destroy the defense walls that Driscoll had built around himself for years. (Wheeler even talks about those walls in his letter. It’s very likely that Driscoll had begun constructing those walls around 2007, when he changed his church’s bylaws to give himself a great deal more power over his elders and sub-pastors. Any pastors who resisted these changes got purged.)
By the end of August 2014, nine more pastors sent a letter to their elders about Mark Driscoll’s behavior. They, like the others, wanted Driscoll to leave the ministry, submit himself to authority for once in his miserable life, and to finally learn to stop being an abusive git.
In response, Mark Driscoll went on vacation.
And Then It Falls Away Entirely.
At first, Mark Driscoll was just taking a long break. It was supposed to last 6 weeks. While he was gone, his church went through some shuddering schisms and drama involving the 2007 changes, restoration plans for their leader, and various confessions of bullying from other sub-pastors.
When the dust had settled, Mark Driscoll was facing pastoral restoration. That means that his church had decided to subject him to various humiliations and struggle sessions until they decided he was sorry enough. Then, they’d put him through a program that was supposed to teach him to do better.
There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that restoration does anything to curb any problematic behavior or protect vulnerable church members from abuse.
Pastoral restoration exists, literally and entirely, as a way for fundagelicals to punish wayward leaders in a way that leaves them eligible for future leadership opportunities. Depending on who the target of it is and what he did exactly, it can be very easy, of course. But it wouldn’t have been for Mark Driscoll, I don’t reckon. A lot of his former subjects were out for his blood.
So he did the one thing in his career that I actually agree with:
Mark Driscoll Nowadays.
After quitting Mars Hill, Mark Driscoll flounced to Arizona and began pastoring Trinity Church. That’s a very common move for disgraced pastors. Nobody can stop them from moving to a new church (or starting one), and it’s not like they really have any legitimate job skills besides pastoring. A Seattle blog offers us a story outlining this move, including a funny picture of Driscoll with a hangdog sadface.
Driscoll continued to put out (ghostwritten) books, though his endorsements sure looked different after the crony network disowned him. To hype up the books, he wrote blog posts sporadically here and there — none very good. Since he refused from the get-go to allow dissension at all in his comments (either turning them off entirely or severely moderating them), we had a good time around here pretending to be “Mark Driscoll’s Comment Board for the Day.”
Warren Throckmorton continues to run “postcard” blog entries from people who still need to unpack and share their bad experiences with Mark Driscoll. Here’s a recent one. It’s from a Mars Hill volunteer who moved to Arizona when the Driscolls did. Things didn’t go well for her.
Gosh. Who could have guessed that Mark Driscoll might go on to repeat his former abuses at a new church?
A New But Unsurprising Alarm Gets Raised About Mark Driscoll.
This past May, Julie Roys wrote a blog post sounding an alarm about Mark Driscoll. It was downright explosive in nature, calling him out for “cult-like actions; 24/7 surveillance, mandated loyalty.” She writes:
Only this time, the disgraced former Mars Hill pastor apparently has no elders to rein him in—and his tactics reportedly have grown more extreme and cult-like.
Since Driscoll had deliberately tried to create that atmosphere in Mars Hill in 2007, it’s clear he understands the dampening effect that accountability has on his whims’ expression.
To summarize her post, a Trinity Church family’s teen son had kissed Driscoll’s teen daughter. In response, Driscoll released the hounds. He hired a private investigator to keep 24/7 tabs on that family, and he filed a police report accusing the parents of “threatening communication.”
(Aww, did oobie-boo tough guy Marky Mark snoogums get all afwaaaaid? Gosh, whatever would big bwave William Wallace II do here?)
Needless to say, Driscoll also kicked the family out of his church, and all of their Trinity friends dumped them.
However, other former members, staffers, and volunteers have indicated that this whole situation is just “the tip of the iceberg.” If even half of Julie Roys’ info is correct, Mark Driscoll runs his Arizona church like a more-militarized version of Jonestown. Allegations of abusive tirades, control tactics, and name-calling abound.
For his own part, Driscoll has been seeking refuge behind new walls at Trinity. He released a creepy, weird “newsletter” that threatened legal action against any dissenters.
What’s Next for Mark Driscoll?
It’s really hard to say what Mark Driscoll will do next.
One thing I can tell you with perfect assurance, however, is that Jesus changes no leopards’ spots. Abusive asshats-for-Jesus remain so for life, unless they do an awful lot of work to unlearn their worldview and habits. Angry people remain angry. Those who blame others for their own problems keep doing it.
Thus, the belligerent William Wallace II posting in December 2000 about Americans becoming too “completely pussified” for his taste is still the same exact Mark Driscoll in 2021 acting like a power-maddened despot in his sad little church in Scottsdale.
And as Julie Roys has said, this time there’s not even a pretense of accountability holding him back. I think we’re gonna see some really bad scandals coming out of his church sometime soon.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over the very strange way that Jesus doesn’t lift a finger to help anybody against abusive pastors — or to change those pastors’ hearts.
NEXT UP: How Milton changed the Hell game (again). See you tomorrow!
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Final note: There’s a new podcast out that traces the rise and fall of Mars Hill in excruciating detail, if you like podcasts
1st-Century Friday Topic:
For 1st-CENTURY FRIDAY, we’ll be talking about Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE – 50 CE). I’m very optimistic that his work holds great relevance for our quest.
As always, nobody is required to do anything. I provide this announcement only for those who want to read the source material ahead of time. (Back to the post!)
About Lord Snow Presides (LSP)
Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow was my very sweet white cat. He actually knew quite a bit. Though he’s passed on, he now presides over a suggested topic for the day. Of course, please feel free to chime in with anything on your mind: there’s no official topic on these days. I’m just starting us off with something, but consider the sky the limit here. We especially welcome pet pictures! So what’s on your mind today?