What Mark Driscoll Teaches Us About Grace and Accountability

Why stepping down was the right move

Yesterday the news broke that Mark Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, was resigning. In his public letter, he cited the charges that had been brought against him by former employees, the divisive nature of his leadership style, and the health of his family as reasons for stepping down.

Driscoll founded the Mars Hill Church 18 years ago, and in that time became a public persona whose style was a cause of both admiration and outrage. His devotees were drawn to his straight-forward, tell-it-like-it-is style. His critics were put off by what they perceived as arrogance and misogyny. Few people are neutral on Driscoll. To know of him is to have an opinion. And his resignation only further illustrates this truth. Some people are breathing a vocal sigh of relief. Others are upset that their admired pastor was outed by what they perceive as bullies and haters.

Regardless of your take on Driscoll, there is no glee in seeing a pastor have to leave a church he founded

Regardless of your take on Driscoll, there is no glee in seeing a pastor have to leave a church he founded, or in seeing a congregation lose a beloved leader. Any admission that his decision is the right thing for the church must be balanced with empathy for both Driscoll, his family and the congregants. Having been a part of a church that went through the painful resignation of a lead pastor, and having been the daughter of a religious leader who resigned due to moral failure, I know how incredibly difficult this transition will be for everyone involved.

It always requires some nuance to extend grace and forgiveness to an individual, while still appreciating the need for boundaries and consequences. Driscoll is as deserving of grace and forgiveness as any of us, but grace is not a blanket protection from natural consequences.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that Driscoll sees that yet himself. In his resignation letter, he is quick to point out there were “no charges of criminal activity, immorality or heresy, any of which could clearly be grounds for disqualification from pastoral ministry.”

That's true. Driscoll may not have exhibited overt abuse. There was no sexual misconduct or pivotal scandal that every can point to as justification for his need to leave the church. However, there is a string of troubling behaviors that together paint a picture of a leader whose effectiveness was handicapped by the severity of allegations leveled against him. Driscoll has suggested that God hates people. He’s been taken to task for his homophobia and rigid gender rules. People have expressed frustration about the way he belittled women, made fun of gay people, blamed Haggard’s affair on his wife, described Jesus as a brute instead of a peacemaker and suggested women who criticize their husbands need to be kept in line.

There are even blogs dedicated to former members of the church who need a place of support. There was the accusation of plagiarism in his book. And then, this year, 21 former pastors go public with formal charges of harmful behavior including verbal assault, bullying and creating a culture of fear.

It’s important for Christians to examine the issues that led to Driscoll’s crisis in his ministry. In the hours following the announcement of Driscoll’s resignation, many people took to social media and reprimanded those discussing it as being guilty of hypocrisy, character assassination, or “tearing down a fellow Christian.” There were many calls to extend grace and forgiveness, and to respond with Christ-like love.

Grace and forgiveness do not equal silence.

Grace and forgiveness should be extended to Mr. Driscoll, but grace and forgiveness do not equal silence. Likewise, restoration is available and possible, but restoration of a person need not mean restoration of a position. We need to honestly address what “Christ-like” means in the face of a religious leader facing some very serious accusations of abuse. When we truly look at Jesus’s example, we see a man who was full of grace, but also could be full of righteous indignation when the church was being hurt by the humans in charge. Jesus was not meek when it came to calling out the abuse of power. In fact, when we ask ourselves WWJD, table-flipping is an option. Jesus was assertive in addressing the religious leaders of his day.

And yet today, many people are silencing and shaming others for addressing systemic issues or individual behavioral concerns with religious leadership, calling for grace—as if grace and accountability are mutually exclusive. I’ve also seen a subtle but pervasive suggestion that Christians should be quiet on matters of Christian leaders in the public sphere because we don’t want to “tear down our own.”

The problem with this kind of faith-based loyalty and avoidance of confrontation is that it allows abuse to flourish. This is the very environment that has been responsible for the wide-spread covering up of abuse in a number of religious institutions.

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Given all of these facts, I believe Driscoll stepping down was the right decision. However, there is no gloating on my part. Only a sober concern for the ways in which the church turns a blind eye to leaders needing accountability and counsel in the name of grace—a brand of grace that frequently seems to grow based on the number of congregants said pastor has gathered.

My hope is that Driscoll’s resignation can activate a much-needed conversation about how Christians should respond when a pastor’s public behavior proves hurtful to those he is supposed to be leading. It’s time we examine the negative ramifications to long-standing microaggressions, misogyny, and verbal abuse as seriously as we would embezzling or sexual misconduct from a church leader.

Grace, yes. But accountability, too.

Top Comments

Sean Emslie

1

Sean Emslie commented…

Good article. Sadly the whole Mark Driscoll saga is a glaring example of a leader that was either above accountability or those who were to keep him accountable abdicated their responsibility. I am praying that Pastor Mark now will seek Godly counsel and those who will keep him accountable to make the necessary changes he must make in his life for his own restoration and also to do the hard work of seeking to make restitution for those he has hurt through his actions. The hope should be for a better Mark Driscoll to come from this and not a destroyed Mark Driscoll which sadly many people want.

Sylvio Carvalho

5

Sylvio Carvalho commented…

Very good article, but I take issue with one thing; it is a theological point that should be accepted, the one pr. Driscoll teaches when it comes to marriage. Even if I don't believe this is the "only way" to do marriage, pr. Driscoll actually have a lot of biblical stuff behind him. And the bible also talks about "God's wrath", so it's kind of understandable that he preaches a God who judges. I agree with most of the things I read here, but when it comes to pr. Driscoll's theology, I can't blame the case on it... That is actually something the Western world needs right now; radical preaching. "Grace-theology" is blurring sin and moral from a lot of Christian fellowships, and that is scary! The perfect solution should be something in between, but the history of the church shows us that people like pr. Driscoll are needed, and theology like his change the worldview of a generation to be more Godlike. I hope I don't step on peoples toes right now, but I don't think it's fair to point at his teachings when the problems that led to this whole thing are about his personal style of preaching and doing ministry..

45 Comments

weege77

14

weege77 commented…

First off, I've never been a fan of Driscoll. However, if you're not a member of Mark's church, then this situation isn't any of our business. What I find the most troubling is that many people from Mars Hill have decided to air their grievances publicly and turned this whole thing into tabloid garbage. "NSFW" has just been replace with word "grace". Yes, Mark is a public figure, but the internal workings of a church is not our business regardless of what side of the debate you stand on.

Joseph Horta

27

Joseph Horta commented…

"I’ve also seen a subtle but pervasive suggestion that Christians should be quiet on matters of Christian leaders in the public sphere because we don’t want to 'tear down our own.'”

Kristen what I have learned after 26 years of marriage and family is that there is NEVER just one sided blame in disputes like this one. That is hard for people to grasp because our society's hypocritical self righteous tangents we are real good at pointing a finger of blame but fail miserably at looking inward first and foremost... BEFORE you bring accusations about a persons character. I am not saying Driscoll should not be judged, so don't get me wrong but Jesus specifically said not to judge hypocritically to harm a brother but instead to restore or help.

As Christians we have specific instructions with how to deal with brothers in the Lord, in dispute with each other. SPECIFiC and if you know your Bible the first steps ARE NOT to bring into the public sphere. The most public sphere it should reach is to the Church or community of believers affected. See I look at your article and you lay out the charges against Driscoll and HE ALONE is drilled in on in your public forum. Even if he is guilty of said charges this kind of public exposure is NOT biblical. If you feel it is please enlighten me.

How can I possibly know you don't have an axe to grind based on your personal view of the "charges"? Like the so called charge of "homophobia"? What are your views as a Christ follower concerning the very relevant biblical view concerning homosexuality? How can I know from your article that what you consider "homophobia" or what his accusers consider "homophobia" is not actually a biblical stance on homosexuality being misrepresented as homophobic? There is a progressive movement to infiltrate the core of the Church from within because they can...We forget we are called to be separate but instead we put that off because we want so badly to be accepted as progressive in our own right.

Diane Rheos

6

Diane Rheos commented…

Thank you for writing such a great piece about grace. What I greatly enjoyed was that you told us what grace really looks like. It does not mean ignoring behavior, it does not mean not talking. It's all about compassion.

j ortiz

5

j ortiz commented…

I was never a huge fan of Mark Driscoll but I have to admit that his zeal for Jesus, His Church and His Word are contagious. I ended up searching Driscoll clips more and more because of that. But never became that hooked on him.

One of those things that kept me a bit distant is this clip from Matt Chandler: http://youtu.be/zhFOkuQ3uvA. It's interesting that the very same Chandler that said Driscoll had a "unique gift" is the same guy who years later kicked him out of the Acts 29. I find that to be a double standard. Friends, if you celebrate a person who call people "stupid" from the stage, you should also celebrate that person when he or she calls you "stupid" at a private meeting. ...... -.-

No. Driscoll is not the only responsible for this huge mess. Every single Mars Hill member that sat and affirmed his attitudes are also responsible. Both parts need some space to deal with the mess, to unlearn some things and make changes. As Mark Driscoll resigns from the pastorate of Mars Hill, both parts will be have some space to unlearn some things, learn some other new things, make changes and move forward.

However, I am one of those who still expects Driscoll to be back at least as a writer and speaker. His zeal for Jesus, His Church and His Word are too contagious. That is, indeed, a "unique gift" and we need that gift in the body of Christ.

Daniel Jonathan Maynes

8

Daniel Jonathan Maynes commented…

This is an extremely sub-par attempt at getting one last shot in on Mark Driscoll while thinly disguising it in a short article about forgiveness. I get the feeling this author thought "This is my last chance to complain about Mark Driscoll, so I need to do it before it becomes irrelevant." Real grace and forgiveness don't do this. Real forgiveness does not deny the wrong done, but it does not bring it up as a means of reminding the guilty party of what they did and how it wasn't ok. I think this author wants forgiveness with some red tape. The basic position (I would guess) is: I forgive Mark, but we can't forget what he did and we should remind him and ourselves about it so that we can excuse ourselves from any of the hard truth that he taught very well, despite his failures.

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