© 2014 John Casimir O'Keefe

The Driscoll Factor

With all that’s happening around Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill (MH), one could get lost in the idea that this whole event is an isolated factor; but I can assure you it’s not. The scary thing surrounding what’s happening, for me, is that Mark is not an anomaly when it comes to many Pastors in many churches today; he is, in fact, the norm. Let me see if I can explain the jumbled mess that is in my head, by sharing a few “main points.”

Main Point One: Honesty.
There are many issues of honesty circling around Mars Hill. I see all forming around one certain issue, and it is a personal pet peeve of mine. My biggest pet peeve over the past decade has been that many churches aren’t being honest with the people who attend. When it comes to light, it’s a huge red flag for me. What is it you ask? Simply put, it’s when churches deny there denominational connection, or they deny claiming to be a denomination unto themselves. Now, that may seem like a small issue for many (usually for the Pastors who pastor such churches) but it speaks volumes to me.

Once, I started to attend a “Community Church” that described itself as an “Undenominational Church” (whatever that means). When I began to attend a membership class it was explained that they were part of the local Southern Baptist Association, but that they were a very different kind of Southern Baptist Church (again, whatever that means). As it turns out, they were just like any other SBC, just with different music. It was explained to me that if they told people they were Southern Baptist from the start, people might not want to join them, or even come to the church.

OK, if you’re connected with a denomination and you fear telling others that you are – because of the way people view that particular denomination – then leave the denomination. Although I will have to say they were right, in the interest of being honest with you, being lied to made me walk away from the church anyway. My first reaction upon hearing about the connection with the SBC was, ‘If you lied to me about that, what else did (will) you lie to me about?’ You see, if you can (would) lie about that, you can (would) lie about anything. While some may see this as no big deal, realize that too many people it’s a very big deal.

Maybe because I’m so turned off by the whole thing, I soon came to the realization that Mars Hill and their stepchild Acts 29 (A29) are, in fact, denominations. Both MH and A29, define themselves as a “network of churches”; but in fact, they are small, fledgling denominations. How can that be you ask? Well, let’s look at what a denomination is:

According to Wikipedia, a Christian denomination is “an identifiable religious body under a common name, structure, and doctrine within Christianity. Divisions between one group and another are defined by doctrine and church authority. Issues such as the nature of Jesus, the authority of apostolic succession, eschatology, and papal primacy often separate one denomination from another.”

A claim by MH (and A29) that they are a “non-denominational network” loses something when you truly look at how they’re structured. Each church within their “network” shares the same structure, the same doctrine, and even the same worship style. In fact, any deviation from the “true doctrine” will cause the church to remove (be removed) from the network. For example, if a church within the network decided to have a women Pastor, they would be removed from the “network” because only men can hold such a position. This would indicate that the local community of faith does not have the authority to interpret the collective narrative on their own, and must follow the doctrine of the parent organization.

While they may not all have the same name, many do (of the 16 MH locations in 5 U.S. states,[1] they all hold to the name “Mars Hill” and give a city name; i.e. Mars Hill, Everett).

This idea of not calling themselves a denomination is silly when you realize that both MH and A29 hold central authority over the individual communities of faith within the “network.” Within the MH “network” Mark is, for a lack of a better term, the “Pope of Mars Hill.” Within Acts 29, we have much the same reality. All Act 29 churches share the same structure and doctrine, and any deviation is seen as unacceptable. As far as names go, they are usually seen as “Some Cool Name, and Acts 29 Church.” The central authority of all churches in the Acts 29 “network” can be found in the Leadership Team of Acts 29.

Main Point Two: Abuse
Any theology that centers on power and control will always bring about abuse, always. With MH and A29 having the same DNA (remember A29 is a child of MH), abuse is seen throughout the whole. This abuse can be seen as even deeper than MH and A29 when you take into account the incestuous reality of “Resurgence”[2], a kind of theological cooperative where MH, A29 (and others) aim to train church leaders in conservative neo-reformed theology. MH, A29 and Resurgence, have given direction to many other churches claiming a “neo-reformed” theology that can, and I believe will, give birth to some of the same issues facing MH and Mark Driscoll. Because, at the center of the new-reformed theology is found the heart of a very misogynistic, bullying, controlling, macho, and homophobic theology that can only be defined as destructive.

Main Point Three: Diversity
MH and A29 church planters have one very important thing in common, they are (with few exceptions) white, middle class, and male. A glance over the Leadership roster of all plants makes one thing clear: “middle aged white guys are in charge here.” Of the 7 Board Members of Acts 29, all but two are white males, with two African-American males (no females at all). It seems to me that the idea of a “church leader” within their “network” must be a middle class, white male – and if you differ, you might not be welcomed. Of the 66 pastors listed on the Mars Hill site, all but one is a “white guy” (there is one Asian-American). While some may not see this as a big deal, I find it hard to believe that within a “church planting network” there are no qualified people of color. Maybe, just maybe, they are unable to find people of color willing to be as misogynistic, bullying, controlling, macho, and homophobic as they desire.

Closing Point
I have a very bad feeling that over time, what happened to MH will happen in many different places (and to be honest with you, it should). With all of the churches planted by A29, and those within the MH “network”, one can see the possibility of an avalanche of fallen Pastors. While MH is kind of willing to look at the issues (though I am not sure how honest they will be in looking them over), I am 100% certain that not much will change. If Mark does step down, he will simply be replaced with another misogynistic, bullying, controlling, macho, and homophobic white guy. If Mark does step down, I would encourage them to look deeper into their theology and find a person outside the “network” to come in and help clean house.

Side Note: Who knows, sometime in the future when a Pastor goes on a rant in church, it might just be called “pulling a driscoll”.

[1]  http://marshill.com/

[2] Created by MH, A29 and others

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