Mark Driscoll, spiritual abuse, and fluffy bunnies…

We’re going to talk about Mark Driscoll today on the blog.

I know that, for many, the mere mention of that name brings up feelings of anger and overall  yucky-ness. So, I’m going to help you get through it. Inspired by the “Bunnies to Replace Mark Driscoll” movement, every time your brain imagines this…:

…I want you to mentally replace that image with this:

Got it? Okay, now for the post!

If I wrote a response about everything awful or stupid Pastor Mark Driscoll (hereafter known as VoldeMark, courtesy of Dianna Anderson) said/did, I would have enough material to write about him everyday. My little brain and heart cannot handle that. Also, I know I could easily fall into the trap of hating on VoldeMark just because he’s easy to hate on. Sure my blog views would go up, but my happiness would go down.

So, I pick my battles.

When I read Matthew Paul Turner’s recent posts (found here and here) about church discipline in VoldeMark’s church, though, I knew it was time to pick up my magic wand.

These posts talk about a man named Andrew, who, while in attendance at Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church, make a terrible mistake and, realizing his mistake, repentantly sought help from the leaders of the church.  You can read the full story on Matthew Paul Turner’s site, but long story short, the leaders of the church presented Andrew with some ridiculous, controlling and voyeuristic conditions  that he had to agree to (in the form of a contract that he had to sign) before they would accept his repentance. When Andrew refused to sign the contract, and instead decided to leave the church, his sin was made public (completely ignoring the fact that he had repented and sought help) to the rest of the church, and the rest of the church were forbidden from spending time with Andrew unless it was to address his sin.

Go read the rest of the story if you want to know the details and see the documentation. Then, come back here for a fluffy bunny break. You’re gonna need it:

Image via

Sometimes I see stories about Mars Hill and VoldeMark as an over-the-top parody of all the things that are wrong with the church. Many churches handle situations like Andrew’s terribly, but in a much more subtle manner. Mars Hill, however, throws all subtlety out the window in an almost terrifying manner.

But this abuse of power and manipulation doesn’t just take place at Mars Hill.

In fact, my reaction to this story was not one of shock, but one of familiarity.

I’m familiar with Andrew’s story because I’ve seen it take place many times, albeit on a much less obvious/well documented level, especially at the Christian schools I’ve attended.

It’s called spiritual abuse.

Leaders in church settings, be they pastors or Sunday School teachers or Christian school administrators/teachers, are often thought of as beacons of light. People often feel safe with these leaders–like they can go to these leaders for advice, tell them anything, and receive encouragement and counseling.

But sometimes those in power abuse this perception.  Sometimes these leaders take advantage of people’s comfortability with them. Sometimes these leaders set out the bait of a “safe space,” and people take this bait, only to find themselves caught in a trap set by power-hungry authoritarians.

I recall my Christian highschool, which had no counseling program. Just teachers and an administration who felt that everything from self-injury to sexual sin was grounds for punishment. Who abused their power to drag confessions out of people. Who felt that the school’s reputation was more important than the well-being of the students who attended there. Who turned away those most in need of help. Who, though much less obviously than Mars Hill’s leaders, encouraged those of us in good-standing to avoid close friendships with those who had “turned away.”

And not only were there no “safe-spaces” among the administration, but many of the leaders expanded their desire for control to the personal lives of the students–expelling students for things that they posted on their social networking sites (I remember the administration calling people down to the office, and asking students to sign in to their own private Myspace pages so that the administration could look at them), and even confiscating their phones and reading their text messages. Chapel sermons sometimes stressed the importance of telling on your friends, “for their own good,” so not even private conversations with your best friend really felt safe.

Phew. I need another bunny break, don’t you?:

I survived my highschool years by withdrawing from the world. By pretending to be the perfect Christian. By covering my self-injury scars rather than asking for help. By staying with my abusive ex-boyfriend who had manipulated me into sleeping with him, rather than asking for support when I tried to leave him.

I just acted perfect.

And because I’d been so brainwashed, I thought that was normal. I thought that’s what we were supposed to do. Forget confessing our sins to one another. Forget bearing one another’s burdens.

Flush your own shit.

Wash your dirty laundry in secret.

Stay in the closet.

Hide, hide, hide.

Brothers and sisters, these things ought not so to be.

I’m not sure how to end this on a positive note. Perhaps I’ll think of something tomorrow. But here’s one last fluffy bunny:

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  • Justin

    Thanks for this post Sarah!

    The first part of Andrew’s story was like, “ok, this is kind of messed up, but I sort of understand where the church is coming from…” But then the conclusion.. the reply from Pastor X and that letter sent out… aksdjhfalksjdhaflksjdhfalksjhdfalksjhdfalksjdhfa;lskdjfaoweiufasihudalkjs!!!!!!!! what BULLSHIT! I don’t need to tell you, you know, but gosh.. it’s like they can extrapolate every “theological” idea into some letter of douchery to MH members, but they forget this one tiny little theological idea of “grace”. hmm…

    on a side note, in the contract (and other discipline scenarios) where they ask for all the details, I’m like…. do you get off on this? heh maybe it’s all some conspiracy.. “tell us about your sin… like how big was your sin? in what position was your sin? oh really? mmm….”

    • Justin

      *do THEY get off on this.

      that was me speaking to them, hence the “you”.. just to clarify…. 🙂

    • I know, right? I thought the same thing about the creepy voyeurism. Yeah…

  • I’m pretty sure Emo bunny is my favorite.

    I’m working on my own post about this, but mostly it’s just, “really, we recognize love and honey, this ain’t it.”

  • Your high school sounds a lot like BJU. I’m so sorry.

    At first this whole situation made me livid. And I still am, to an extent. But now…man, I’m just tired. It’s everywhere. It almost feels pointless to fight back (but then again, it’s 8:30am and I am NOT a morning person). But still – just almost feels pointless. But only if we don’t value individuals (which really, weren’t we kind of taught not to value individuals? One for all was awesome, but it was never all for one). And so we keep talking and fighting and listening and loving people – because real love is so intoxicating compared to the kind of abuse that many of us have lived through.

    I feel like the above is totally incoherent. I hope there’s some sense up there.

    • “…real love is so intoxicating compared to the kind of abuse that many of us have lived through.”

      Indeed! 🙂

  • The bunnies are helping, but only a little.

  • There’s a reason they call it BJ University… /badjoke

  • So, your wand conjures fluffy bunnies? Are you Pottermoon or Sarahmione? 😉

    I was unsurprised by Andrew’s experience. Unfortunately, that’s the face of Christianity too many people encounter and rightfully reject (including me, for that matter — though I was never “stuck” in it).

    The true definition of those who have eyes, but do not see, ears, but do not hear.

  • First time here. Awesome post, funny and poignant. Your bunnies will keep me chuckling all night.

  • I enjoyed your post, Sarah, and checked out other posts and liked those too. And such cute bunny photos! Your link for Dianna Anderson didn’t work, though. I will make you a “Favorite” and continue reading. I also love Rachel Held Evans blog and it was a link from her that led me to you. I spend a lot of time on the internetmonk site. Take care!

    • Psst: You can just click my name here and it’ll take you to my site. 🙂

  • Got here from MPT’s post, which is just giving me a headache. This whole thing breaks my heart. The other serious spiritual abuse cesspool in many churches is their marriage counseling. I have heard story after story of women being blamed for their husband’s beatings and infidelities and even drug habits. “This is your cross to bear,” they say. I think there will be a special place in hell for these sorts of folks.

    Just makes me think all the more that we need more sensible loving church planters to tip the scales away from these ugly practices.

  • Bobby

    Wonderful. Now we’re airing a church’s dirty laundry. No one knows the full context of what happened, and no one’s heard the other side of the story, but at least we have a new nickname for Mark Driscoll.

    • Do I need to grab my “Mark Driscoll Apologism” Bingo Card?

      Seriously, though, there’s some pretty damning evidence against Mars Hill at MPT’s site (linked to above). Spiritual abuse isn’t something that I can let slide, especially in a church as influential as Mars Hill.