I’ve been following current discussions about comments made by Mark Driscoll on facebook asking for suggestions of effeminate worship leaders. I’ve read a number of posts criticizing Driscoll including this guest post on Jesus Needs New PR by Dianna Anderson titled “Dear Mr Discoll” and “A Jesus I can beat up” on her own blog explaining a little more why she objects to some of his recent comments on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve also read and commented on Rachel Held Evans post which declares Mark Driscoll to be a bully and suggests that people write or call Mars Hill in Seattle to make their concerns known. Although they have garnered almost 900 comments between them, these are not the first posts addressing these kinds of comments from Pastor Mark Driscoll, but they are two of the many i’ve read.
I’ve been reflecting on these posts. This post isn’t about that particular series of events or about Driscoll or any other Christian leader in particular. Rather I want to offer some thoughts about calling Christian leaders out in the context of digital media. I’ve read some comments criticisng Evans and Anderson and others for making public statements, especially in the kind of stern language and tone that both can use (Anderson is particularly strong sometimes), of these leaders at all.
They’ve been criticised with comments suggesting that they are equally prideful or sinful for criticising another openly. It is this public discussion that I want to consider.
I actually don’t have a problem with their posts, even if I don’t necessarily agree point by point or even necessarily think the tone is right in every case. Mainly I don’t have a problem because I think they have sought to go about it in way that is about sharing Christ and acknowledging the fallibility of the church.
That is to say that when a Christian leader with a great deal of influence makes public statements then I don’t think it unreasonable that there be a public response, hopefully a measured sober response, to those. It should be done in love, with humility, and prayerfully. I think tone is important. But i’m discovering that tone is a very difficult matter and one which is going to be meant and received differently in every case of author and reader. That’s to not to say we should endeavour to write in a clear, and humble way, but the difficulty is that sometimes no matter how hard you try you’re going to come off sounding quite harsh when you compose what is effectively a rebuke. That’s not to say every writer shouldn’t prayerfully keep working at trying to hit the right mark.
In the midst of calls to directly approach the church in question, Evans and others have called upon other Christian leaders of influence (in this case John Piper and CJ Mahaney) to get alongside Mark Driscoll and privately discuss these matters. I think this is right and good. In fact, all I’m going to know about any change in any Christian leader’s behavior (unless i know them personally) is whether or not the outward public behaviors have changed. As such I’m not going to judge the private life of an individual solely on a single post or series of comments, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not appropriate to respond directly to what is in the public sphere.
1 Cor 6 talks about how we should go first to the individual, rather than seeking to take the matter to the secular court of law, and seek to show them that they are not living in a way that is in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected. One biblical model for how to work out disagreement suggests that we should go first to the individual and then seek a wise mediator to meet with the parties, and failing that going before elders of the church, and then before the whole church. This makes sense in a local context. But what about in the context of social media where the world and local are changed incontrovertibly. I think the principles can still be applied but i’m still thinking through how this might work when we live in an age when the influence of a single Christian leaders runs into the millions and where the responses can occur in real-time.
It makes even more sense to me that we really do need to be slow to speak, and slower still to get angry. It becomes even more apparent that it is important for Christians to speak carefully, wisely, and soberly about the truth of the gospel and the transformed life of the Christian believer. As Christians it’s not unhealthy that we are anything but homogenous, but I would like to suggest, that it’s not right to just pass off unwise comments as jokes, or skim over scandal without pause.
Like any family we are going to have disagreements and it’s important that we show a different way of having those disagreements. Indeed, we should be known “by our love for one another (1John 3:11; 4:7).
I don’t believe in public vilification. I do think though that as member of the worldwide Christian church who write and commentate and think there are times when we speak up and say, No, I disagree. Or, I’m sorry, that person should not have said that. It is a very hurtful thing to have said, and does not accord with what I know to be true about a transformed life in Christ. We should not be defensive. We should acknowledge the pain and suffering caused by those who (rightly) think the gospel offensive in its violence and in its grace, but who (wrongly) think that means they can say whatever they like whenever they like and then say, “I was just joking” or “that’s my style of humour.”