My high school years were not kind to me. I was still experiencing residual fashion debacles from my denim jumper stage, I cut my own bangs, and I thought it was cool to dress up as Hillary Clinton for the San Juan County Annual Goat Costume Contest (see chapter three of Raised Right).
But I had one thing going for me. I lived before Facebook, blogs and newspaper Internet archives. The photos of me with jagged bangs and calf-length skirts are stacked deep in a closet, not floating in the cyber-sphere somewhere, and most importantly all of the writing from that stage of my life is recycled into some nice eco-conscious stationery or buried in landfills. This is one, if not the primary, blessing of my teenage years.
So this goes out to Mark Driscoll’s 14-year-old daughter Ashley who will, Mars Hill Church has announced, be blogging at the slick new PastorMark.TV about “how to balance the pressures of high school and staying faithful to Jesus” and “about practical ways to grow spiritually as a teenage girl.”
Oh Ashley. … Don’t do it. Oh Driscoll. … What are you thinking?
We’ve all heard pastors use family anecdotes to illustrate spiritual lessons. The pressure of pastor family branding and temptation to pastor worship is enormous, even in tiny churches. Families crack beneath the pressure or calcify into plastic people with painted smiles and a 35-year supply of C.S. Lewis quotes for their Facebook statuses. There’s a reason PKs have a reputation for going insane.
But this is a whole new level of using your family for spiritual props. This blows the already-big problem of celebrity pastordom to potential Gosselin-Palin proportions. It’s not just Driscoll who’s achieving celebrity or his wife (who had the privilege of not being a minor when she got into all this) but his barely teenage daughter and yes—Driscoll dangles the promise—his other children later, too.
If Driscoll is the one elevating his children to celebrity status, he’s inviting people to invade their privacy. When you use your 14-year-old daughter as a model for how young women should follow Jesus, you lose the ability to plead for grace when she, well, doesn’t follow Jesus quite like everyone thinks she should. If your daughter is blogging about modesty, all her clothing choices are up for debate. If she’s blogging about dating, her offline choices in boys are open for criticism. This is absolutely not right for people to do—I undoubtedly would have needed even more years of therapy if my high school clothing had been open to public criticism—but they will do it. When you turn your children into celebrities you have forfeited your ability to protect them when people treat them…like celebrities.
And then there’s the whole problem of changing your mind. I realize that Driscoll’s welcome post says Ashley’s “heart is to encourage young women to follow Jesus.” I don’t doubt it, but following Jesus is actually very hard—not just hard to do but hard to figure out how to do. You change your mind about it and the older you get and the more complicated life gets, the more you realize what it means and how hard it is.
My old classmate, Hans Zeiger, was dubbed an up and coming religious leader in a 2005 Newsweek story on America’s next generation of leaders. He wrote two books before graduating from college along with dozens of columns for the ultra-ultra-conservative WorldNet Daily. When he ran for state representative he was forced to admit that he would not today write a column calling the Girl Scouts “radical feminists, lesbians, and cookie peddlers” like he did in 2005. I could call up a few dozen of my own examples of incendiary language but fortunately they didn’t end up online and I didn’t end up running for state representative.
Of course, twenty year-olds aren’t the only people who say stupid things. Not so long ago, Mark Driscoll wrote–and swiftly deleted–a Facebook post inviting his fans to mock their “effeminate” worship leaders. He even had to issue a halfway, sort-of, not-really apology for it. It happens; let’s just hope not in front of thousands of people when you’re 14 years old.
I thought the whole point of Driscoll’s macho theology was to be a tough leader who had his family’s best interests at heart. A tough dad—a good dad—would, when his daughter says she would like to exhort thousands of people on how to follow Jesus, say, “No! Go daydream about Frank Sinatra and read Anne of Green Gables.”
Oh wait—that was me.