By Jim Henderson
In an ocean of tolerance we desperately seek an island of certainty
I got “saved” in 1968 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Ballard, which is not exactly the kind of church or neighborhood where you’d expect to find a revival going on. Nevertheless three nights a week scores of young people “went forward” to accept Christ as their personal savior and also renounce astrology, Satan, pre marital sex, drugs, long hair and (remember Bono was only 8 years old at the time) rock and roll. It was the beginning of The Jesus People movement.
Forty- five years later another revival of sorts has been transpiring in the exact same neighborhood and the church this time is anything but Episcopalian, Mars Hill is a non-denominational church that meets in a huge warehouse in Ballard. The revivalist, Mark Driscoll is more pugilist than priest. No clerical collar but lots of cockiness.
Long hair is ok, rock and roll is required but everything else on my do-not-do list is still out. This is the church I wish I could have joined when I got saved. Driscoll is so similar to the people I got saved with. We were on-fire and quite certain the rest of the church wasn’t. We spent our days “witnessing” and “ preaching” in bars, cars and parks.
By the early seventies, the Northwest version of the Jesus People movement would be hijacked by a group called The Children of God who’s super-serious about-Jesus leader was named Moses. Ultimately Moses would be exposed to be what today we commonly call a sex addict.
Another high control group, known as the “Shepherding movement,” hijacked many of the lets-go-back-to-church crowd of the Jesus People movement. The Shepherding movement leaders would tell their people when they could leave a church, who they should marry and in some cases when they should have sex.
Both movements died an early death but many of their victims are very much alive. Many have left the church and Jesus.
High control leaders like these lack the ability to “put the brakes on” their irrational ideas. They love the risk the chase and the fight.
Bill Clinton comes to mind.
Imagine being elected President of the United States. Now imagine looking in the official bathroom mirror of The White House and saying, “ I’m going to stop having sex with women I’m not married to for the next 8 years.” Now imagine breaking that promise by having sex with a twenty four year old intern right in The White House. Now imagine being caught and going on national TV and lying to the entire nation “I never had sexual relations with that woman.” That’s a high control leader.
Which brings me to why I would have followed Driscoll. He is a man and like many in his well-stated target demographic – young men from broken homes – my parents had divorced when I was ten and my dad left. I grew up with all women and no men. See the connection? Driscoll offers me Jesus PLUS a dad figure. The church becomes my real family and since it is comprised of someone who is more akin to an older brother/gang leader/tough guy for Jesus, I find a home. However, I lack the one thing I desperately need to “see through” this older brother/gang leader/tough guy for Jesus – life experience. I contain a full tank of exactly what he needs to grab my attention – idealism. Thus, I become a sitting duck for Driscoll Style Christianity.
My attraction to Driscoll is explained, but why Seattle, why does this city provide such a ripe market for his version of Christianity?
Driscoll is not a brilliant theologian. Driscoll is a brilliant marketer. He has the gene for reading people and social groups. He knows that many young people in Seattle lack direction. He knows that most liberal churches in the city are incapable of providing that direction. They’re too hung up on being fair, egalitarian and tolerant.
If you are a young person raised in Seattle, odds are you came from a liberal leaning home. When your two very hip and tolerant parents divorce it causes you to ask “why”? Lacking life experience and looking for relief from your pain you gravitate to the opposite of what they told you, which in my case and thousands of young people currently attracted to Mars Hill Church was that good old black and white Old Time Religion. When you can authorize the black and white with The Bible, and then deliver it with the forcefulness of Driscoll’s gift of oratory, you have a very powerful tool with which to control people.
When we feel adrift in an ocean of tolerance we desperately seek an island of certainty. Which is what Driscoll has landed upon and is now spreading. He continues to do what his high control forebears have done before him. Consolidate power, cut off disloyal former loyalists and leverage his personal identity with The Brand.
Why am I calling Driscoll’s behavior out in public? I believe Christian leaders who publicly leverage their platform can be held responsible on that same platform. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t expound your ideas via speaking, tweeting or writing and then accuse people of not following Matthew 18 when they use those same public tools to call attention to your behaviors. If you don’t like those rules, all you have to do is stay off the stage.
Back in the 1970s, most of us never had an older person in the faith tell us the truth about these destructive patterns of dogmatic leadership. We had no idea that the Christian faith was not as black and white as Moses (or now Driscoll) preach. Our elders were trained to err on the side of not making waves because it would make the church look bad in the eyes of outsiders. It’s called circling the wagons. That’s what Christians do, especially when they belong to a place like Mars Hill Church. They circle the wagons around their leader and take a bullet for him and he lets them.
I’m done circling the wagons. Driscoll is way to visible to ignore. If Christians won’t listen then at least I want to go on record with the thousands of Non Christian’s who have their image of Jesus shaped by Driscoll’s high control leadership antics. I’m appalled at how little Christian leaders seem to care about the negative impressions Driscoll makes upon the people Jesus misses most. Especially since Jesus was far more concerned about his reputation with Outsiders than he was with Insiders.
I recently interviewed a young leader who was once very very loyal to Driscoll. I asked him about his current involvement with church and he said; “I’m not involved”. I then asked him about how he feels about God and he said; “I try not to think about it”.
If this pattern keeps up Driscoll will end up producing more Atheists than Christians.
No one has the right to rob young people of Jesus, not even the guy with the biggest church.