10 reasons why abusive churches succeed

10 reasons why abusive churches succeed December 9, 2013

10 reasons why abusive churches succeed cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

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I immediately want to acknowledge the danger of blaming the victims of abuse. My hope is that I’ve prevented myself from doing so or from even implying it.

I’m fascinated by the fact that such ministries as Mark Driscoll’s continue to grow. For a culture that is clearly abusive and swift to bully its members, it surprisingly lives on. Or is it surprising?

Here are 10 reasons why I think such abusive churches succeed:

  1. Bullying works: We all know that bullies position themselves as leader of the pack just by sheer force. Even though it may be a compromising alliance, your compliance promises a relative immunity against future bullying. For example, Mark Driscoll’s recent plagiarism allegations hint at bullying used to effectively silence dissent.
  2. Some confuse abuse with discipline: There are too many examples of churches that are clearly abusive but guise it all under the discipline of the Lord. Having been a pastor for many years as well as a member of many churches and ministries, I know from experience and observation that people will suffer unbelievable abuse because they think it is from the Lord… justly deserved and fruitful.
  3. Bad attention is better than no attention: In a world of people craving any kind of attention, to get any at all is a deeply felt need satisfied in churches that hand it out abundantly but negatively. Like Leslie Morgan Steiner relates, one of the prominent characteristics of abuse survivors is that they didn’t realize they were being abused.
  4. Their anger sounds biblical: There are plenty of verses in the bible intimating the wrath of God, the anger of Jesus and the affliction of the Spirit. So abuse can find biblical support even if it may be misinterpreted as such. One scripture verse trumps everything else, including common sense.
  5. They provide a place to belong: I know what it means to belong and I know what it means to feel like I don’t. I prefer to belong. Communities that accept people and promise to give them a family with direction is like boot camp where even though you must suffer incredible hardships, there is the very strong satisfaction of admission to an exclusive club.
  6. There’s the appearance of cool: These churches often talk about and copy contemporary music, popular culture, fashion, speech and style. They talk about sex with their smoking hot wives, drinking beer, smoking and other cool things. Sure, they have their own spin but it’s all under the appearance of cool and relevant.
  7. It is popular: Once these churches start to grow and create buzz, then growth is inevitable. Even negative press is good press. For many it’s fascinating to be a part of a growing phenomenon. If so many young, sane, cool people flock to it and belong to it then it can’t be all bad.
  8. Black and white appeals: In a culture that is increasingly fuzzy in its spirituality, beliefs and ethics, it can be nice to be a part of something that is clear about what it believes and how to live. It is not only satisfying, but vastly spellbinding to listen to black and white messages like it’s spellbinding to watch an accident scene. Here it is: your search for clarity is over!
  9. Shame needs pain: As I’ve sadly concluded, many people live in shame, and shame needs pain. Sadomasochism provides a means of escape from the stresses of life, from guilt or from responsibility. For others, to have a powerful authority figure dominate them provides the safety and security missing from their childhood.
  10. You don’t have to think: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had members of my churches say, “I would much rather you just tell me what to believe than ask me to think about it. You’re the professional. Not me. Just tell me and I’ll do it.” Unfortunately, being told what to believe and how to live is highly desired and sought by many.

Feel free to add your own reason to the list.

Again, I want to empathize that in critiquing such things there is always the danger of blaming the victim. I’m hyper-sensitive to that tendency and mistake and hope I haven’t done so here or even implied it. As I’ve discovered, often the thing that attracts people unbeknownst into abusive relationships is not the same as that which keeps them there.

My hope is that more and more people will continue to find the courage and then act upon it to name abuse and bullying wherever they see it.

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  • 2TrakMind

    Is it by pure chance that the pastor resembles Mark Driscoll? 🙂

  • Pat68

    Totally agree with #1. Unfortunately, the bullying is successful in that what parishioners see is that if you stand up to the bullies, you’re abused and so they become reluctant to take on leadership roles because they equate it with being bullied. However, change is never brought about without some sacrifice and sacrifice at times will be painful. But how much do you believe in change? As the saying goes, change doesn’t occur “until the pain of remaining the same outweighs the pain of change.” And therein lies the rub. Everything appears okay on the surface. People are happy with the little ministries and groups that they participate in and Sunday worship is nice, so they try not to concern themselves with the ethics that underlie the whole thing. Thus, they accept and continue to keep people the bullies in leadership rather than trying to effect change on the system. They’ve learned that quiet compliance is better.

  • Christopher Fisher

    I don’t know much at all about Driscoll. I think I listened to one sermon a few years back, thought it interesting but kind of ho-hum, and moved on. So I’d be interested in hearing specific types of abuse he and pastors like him have been committing. Maybe these things are common knowledge among those in Evangelical circles, but for many like me on the outside, when we see a certain pastor or denomination singled out in this way, it looks a lot like the same internal striving that’s been going on in the Church since Peter and Paul argued over circumcision.

    You do make some great points; don’t get me wrong. I especially appreciate the clarity that abuse and discipline are not the same thing: discipline may hurt at times, but just because something hurts does not make it discipline, or from God. I’ve sat in many a church where that kind of “discipline” has been exercised, and it’s seldom healthy for anyone.

    However, many of those were older, more traditional churches led by entrenched, autocratic pastors well into their 60s and composed of a congregation and worship style that was far from contemporary. So I’m not sure why you included the “appearance of cool” in your list, since (at least in my experience) pastoral abuse can and does occur in all types of churches. And also–not trying to pick a fight–but I just can’t help but wonder at the irony of a criticism on those churches’ provocative sermons (on sex with hot wives, drinking beer, etc.) coming from a “naked pastor” and “graffiti artist on the walls of religion.” I’m not saying your blog title is offensive or wrong, mind you (hey, it made me come here and read you, so kudos). But at least on that one point, could there maybe be a little kettle-and-pot here?

  • Jason Jones

    Having been a pastor before, I really believe that you are spot on with a couple of these, and I am glad you addressed them. They need to be exposed, especially to the churches (and the victims) of this kind of thing. But as you mentioned with #2 and #4, there are biblical passages that offer support for loving, redemptive, discipline and for controlled anger against sin. So my question is, where is the line drawn? You will never assemble with a group of believers where it doesn’t get messy. When sinners gather, whether because of culture or their own personalities, conflict will arise, especially if it relates to change. With #8, lots of issues biblically are black and white whether it is comfortable or not, harsh or not, and Jesus said a lot of them. #10 Countless? I can’t ever remember a church member saying this or something like this, unless it related to a terminal or health related decision about their loved one. So, great post on some, seen a lot of it. Crossing the line on others. Thanks!

  • Josie Sullivan

    The Bully Pastor delivers contradictory/mixed messages constantly, such as imploring people to “follow their calling” or to “become more involved” creatively in ministry. However, when someone in their community tries to creatively become involved by suggesting possible new ministries or ideas, he (subtly or even blatantly) demonizes the person and refuses to listen to him/her. I heard a Bully Pastor this weekend tell people that we “must abandon the old and trite ways of doing things and explore new more creative ways centered in Christ” yet the same pastor has consistently debunked ANY new ideas and suggestions (for example, a suggestion to begin a Bible study at church for mothers and housewives during the daytime hours, since there are plenty of Bible studies catering to the younger generations in the evening), saying that what is already in place is already enough. Thus, he once again contradicts himself and sends confusing messages. People want to get involved in new and creative ways because he says he welcomes change, but when anybody steps up to give suggestions, he always shuts them out. It’s got to be ultimately HIS tried and true way or the highway! In addition, some people in the parish (Catholic) have recently decided to write to the Archbishop expressing their concern about the pastor and explaining that they feel there is increasing lack of ministerial growth in the parish, and the Bully Pastor learned of it. He then proceeded to give an angry lecture this weekend about the “devil and his minions” being alive and well and secretly active in the community and that this “Enemy” had been bad-mouthing him to the authorities. The Bully Pastor was almost foaming at the mouth, but, of course, he justified his anger as “holy anger” and compared himself to Jesus with the money changers in the temple. Everyone was speechless, but I suspect that the majority was intimidated, find some justification in his Bully Lunacy and will support him! Un-freaking-believable!

  • There’s nothing wrong with being cool or relevant, as long as you actually are and it doesn’t conceal uncoolness and irrelevance.

  • “An abuser almost never does anything that he himself considers morally unacceptable…Entitlement is the abuser’s belief that he has a special status and that it provides him with exclusive rights and privileges that do not apply to his partner. The attitudes that drive abuse can largely be summarized by this one word.” ~Lundy Bancroft [source]

    So take away their entitlement. Quit calling these abusers hierarchical titles such as people-herder (pastor) and “reverend.”

    Jesus was against hierarchy anyway.

    “Call no man your boss.” ~Jesus

  • Paula Coyle

    complete with kewpie doll hairstyle… yup.

  • Paula Coyle

    Christopher, there are some links compiled at the Sola Sisters blog about all the problems with Driscoll.


  • Al Cruise

    Mark Driscoll’s ministry is a very good example of the Church being influenced by the world and adopting worldly practices. Bullying works, a good comparison is politics. Lobbying groups routinely target individuals that they do not agree with, and use very negative advertisements to prevent them from being elected and are usually successful. The business world is also full of similar conduct. None of this is lost on Church leaders, and they know the areas were their not held to same scrutiny as the secular world, and adopt bullying as a legitimate Church practice. It is especially used when dealing with women in Church. Lance Armstrong used the same scorched earth approach against all his detractors, until his house of cards finally collapsed. Driscoll is pedalling the same bicycle.

  • scribble73

    Emotional denial and shame play a big roles here.

    Leaders deny they are abusive. Church elders deny they feel more entitled than members. Members deny they have been made to feel abandoned and hopeless. Everyone denies that issues or controversies exist when they appear within a congregation — unless it is a birth, marriage, baptism or death. Churches deny that they aren’t helping community residents, or that they need to, or that their community needs their support.

    I think denial and shame are big problems here and I don’t see them on the list.

  • Kenneth Garrett

    We joined an abusive, (house/semi-communal) “Bible” church primarily because it seemed to provide what we desperately felt we needed at that time, as a young couple, expecting our first child: Stability, Clarity of belief, “Coolness”, Community, and a sense that we were joining something that promised it was going to have a great impact on the culture in the future, and we were thus getting in on the “bottom floor.” 12 years later–there we were, driving away from our abusive house church and meglomaniac pastor in our clunky Datsun B210, near bankrupt, with our kids, our TV, our clothing, and my guitar…and a wealth of experience! I think abusive groups are esp. popular with younger people/families/couples, etc., because they promise to meet those basic social needs. I believe it’s been pretty well established that cults and such are esp. successful with the young adult/college age/young professional group, promising many of the same things our little Gulag promised us over 30 years ago…

  • Erik Merksamer

    So well stated. I’ve seen this exact pattern.

  • Erik Merksamer

    “Messy”. That is a buzz word that I’ve often heard talked about, but rarely have seen it truly accepted. The churches I’ve been part of even went so far as to label the messy lives as lacking self-control or “needy”.

  • Oavafe’iana

    Religion is part of a system of male domination. All religions and belief systems are part of a false-light system. Abuse and domineering, is part of their plan, and they cleverly disguise it as “good” and justified, and condition any follower to believe it as acceptable behaviour. There is a lot to this, and it goes back farther than any ancient history can reach. Here is an interesting read: https://www.facebook.com/notes/the-truth/turds-of-karma/419338941527616

  • Jamie Harned

    Josie Well said! I’ve experienced this in the past myself. I just refuse to be bullied anymore!

  • shultquist

    I think that there are also far more subtle ways that abuse occurs in the Christian church these days. Authoritarian pastoring (“You need to follow what I say because you’re under my authority as your pastor”) hides its “lording over” character in scriptural underpinnings.

    It is fueled by the current tendency to use the teachings of others as gospel, reflecting various opinions and cultural interpretations instead of seeking truth through a personal exploration through a relationship with the Father.

    Ultimately, much of this is a result of the modern “competitive” paradigm of religious communities: being right, having the truth, drawing people into the light from the dark, etc. all becomes about feeling good about ones own membership and being part of those who are “right”.

    So, the “Bully Pastor” may not look the bully at all to those outside or even to those inside who have not “crossed” his will. But, cross him and you quickly discover just where things really stand.

    BTW, it’s very difficult to distinguish this situation from one simply trying to maintain order in a biblical way.

  • Sandy

    Would you consider putting a trigger warning at the top of this? Perhaps the warning should be implied in the title, I knew the post was about abuse, but I really could have done without seeing that cartoon. Also, I love that you are trying not to blame the victim, but unless the victim is pretty far removed from the abuse and had some counseling, all except #1 do seem to blame the victim. If they hadn’t been so blind, so stupid, so needy, so lazy, then the pastor wouldn’t have gotten away with it. Certainly, victims need to examine whether anything in their decision making led them to being susceptible to abuse, but that is better done in a counselor’s office than in a blog post. If I were not so far along in my own healing, this post could have left me in tears. Again, I appreciate your effort here and I don’t think you’re brushing aside the pain of the abuse. It’s a complicated subject.

  • Stephen

    Has anyone here actually met Mark Driscoll or any of his members? How do you know they are being bullied? I have only heard great things about this man. Probably should leave out examples of specific pastors unless you have experienced their abuse in the church. Just a thought. Great article, I would just leave out the names.

  • Jason Jones

    It’s kinda like a marriage l guess: as sinners who say “I do,” we all have our control issues and neediness…

  • TheRedeemer316

    Actually the church isn’t male, but female dominated. The women call the shots and use men as their puppets. Just ask a congregation that never had one, if they’d like a female pastor… Another story

  • Al Cruise

    Yes, first hand. A pastor trained under Mars Hill and a member of Acts 29. Bullying and intimidation was his leadership style.

  • Stephen

    Good to know…I was in the process of interviewing there for an assistant Worship Leader Position. I guess this was a divine read.

  • 64TayeFosterBradshaw82

    I agree, can’t tell you how many times, especially in the Word of Faith or Name-it-and-claim-it ministries that promise certain punishment from God if you “speak against the anointed.”

  • Roshan Easo

    To break the unholy trade in market-based acceptance and rejection it is essential that we preach the Gospel of Acceptance and here it is: The love of the Lord is not for sale. Like everything with grace, His acceptance and approval are a FREE gift through Christ alone. – The Gospel in Ten Words

  • Susan

    I get it that you need to live, but I had no idea it cost money to get to the Everlasting Supper.

  • Well it’s not everlasting. It’s just lasting. And yes I do want to live and the site is very expensive to run and maintain.

  • Skip Patterson

    “is like boot camp where even though you must suffer incredible hardships, there is the very strong satisfaction of admission to an exclusive club.”

    I remember feeling that very strongly when I was in boot camp.

  • Skip Patterson

    Shame needs pain: As I’ve sadly concluded, many people live in shame, and shame needs pain. Sadomasochism provides a means of escape from the stresses of life, from guilt or from responsibility. For others, to have a powerful authority figure dominate them provides the safety and security missing from their childhood.”

    Man, that is right on the money. There has always been this Sadomasochism within the Christian religion but people never seem to be able to see it and get real offended if you bring it up.

  • Skip Patterson

    The real damage these kind of churches do, especially to children, is they teach them to live their lives in fear. And as I heard in an old tape that Amy Goodman aired on Democracy Now where Martin Luther King states, ” A person who lives in fear is not a free person”. They actually rob themselves of their lives. .

  • Shary Hauber

    As a survivor of abuse as a child in a missionary boarding school I believe what he said was very true. As children we believe all we were taught and felt we were to blame for anything wrong. Some who grow up like this never get it. They continue to follow what ever leader they are convinced is God lead. They never think for themselves. Not sure why but think many just were “trained up as a child” to be that way. I did not realize even the sexual abuse until I was in my 30s. It was just life. He is not blaming the victims any more than you blame the cancer patient for his cancer. It is undiagnosed abuse. The only cure is to expose the abuse and the lies it has taught people. To bad Christian parents aren’t more concerned about teaching their children to think than obey. People who think don’t have to obey rules, they do the right thing because they have thought about it.

  • They say the words “gospel” and “Jesus” enough to make you think that everything they say is, in fact, about the gospel/Jesus.

  • CoffeeHoundPress

    Well, since 92% of senior pastors are male, I don’t see that you have a leg to stand on. Overall 88% of pastors in the U.S. are male. It’s men who have the higher paying jobs, the power, the responsibility, and the control of the money. It is completely false to claim the church is woman dominated until those ratios switch to 85-15% in favor of female pastors.

    It’s as ridiculous as saying that women dominate the Fortune 500.

  • I found your analysis interesting (and insightful, as always).

    Some of your 10 reasons work for any church:

    3. attention is better than no attention

    4. “sounding biblical” feels right in a Christian privileged world

    5. Place of belonging

    6. Appear cool — gain community status as upright

    7. It is popular

    8. Black and white appeals

    10. You don’t have to think

    Wow, seems 1,2, and 9 were only ones unique to these church followers.

  • Dawn Fallon

    Also there is the Stockholm Syndrome which is a psychological phenomenon where people respect and protect their abusers. Very insightful list, thank you for this.

  • Roland Giesler

    But looking at church membership and attendance changes the picture: There women dominate. And many women still believe that God has said the leaders must be male. The males have come to abuse that position, many not even knowingly, also believing God requires them to be the leaders and rule on his behalf.

  • Pat68

    And then you have women like myself who made it into a leadership role like elder only to have a small group of power brokers to decide (2.5 years later, I might add), that it was not biblical. Not to mention the disrespect I endured from a couple of fellow elders.

  • That’s just not true! (see what I did there? :p)

  • Anjel Scarborough

    Messy is the key word. Abusive people will not accept any kind of “messy” process (like discernment and conversation, for example). Abusive pastors insist on clarity – black and white – where they get their way. Conflict isn’t the problem – in fact healthy conflict can be generative. Abusive pastors tend to stifle conflict and make no room for messiness because they fear it.

  • Anjel Scarborough

    Just read his Twitter feed. Dropping his theological “bombs” as if they are infallible and then refusing to engage any discussion. Typical bully behavior.

  • Anjel Scarborough

    This is fantastic and spot on David! My first call out of seminary was to a “seeker friendly” congregation within my tradition that was founded by an abusive pastor. I’m convinced he was clinically narcissistic in addition to other issues. The more I journeyed with this wounded congregation (who started out blaming everyone but the pastor), the scarier their stories of what had transpired became. Suffice it to say I found evidence of every form of misconduct short of molesting children. And this was in a mainline denomination which gave this man wayyyy too much leeway and no oversight! By the time it became evident what was happening, the abusive pastor had built a cult of personality and the diocesan authorities were intimidated by him.

    The most healing thing we did together as a congregation was make a safe space for everyone to have coffee after the worship and just talk. Getting everyone in the same room to share their stories with me was incredibly healing and exposed many demons. By asking lots of clarifying questions, the members slowly began to realize the level of abuse they had experienced from this pastor and came to realize that all the people who had left their congregation had been publicly berated by this man at some point. When I asked the “survivors” (and that’s what they were) why they stayed, their response generally was, “My friends were here” (#5) and the desire to be part of something “different” (#6).

    Needless to say, the congregation spent a year with me healing and then closed. All of the members are clear about all the failings which happened and how abused they had been. They are now active and grace-filled members of other healthy congregations in the area.

  • Thanks for sharing that Anjel. Wow!

  • I’m not part of the Lasting Supper, so my comments may be off here. But something I like about the idea of a pay to play community is that it keep out trolls and proselytizers. I suspect the financial hurdle helps to keep the place a safe space.

  • Sven2547

    Actually the church isn’t male, but female dominated.

    Which denomination of Christianity is, or has ever been, “female dominated”?

  • that’s exactly exactly right irreverance

  • Susan

    I don’t have a problem with it costing. I just happened to miss that part of the information, and thought I’d check it out, but since I’ve been unemployed since 2012 it is out of the question for me.

  • R Vogel

    Wow, Brian, that really hits home. I grew up in a bully pulpit church and no one ever referred to the pastor as anything other than ‘Pastor’ in person or ‘The Pastor’ in the 3rd person. He had no name. He was G*d incarnate, infallible, and unquestioned. How much does that put him in a position to be a bully and you in a position be be bullied? I can’t even get myself to utter the term anymore.

  • R Vogel

    We are programmed by evolution to bully or be bullied. We are, at base, a pack predator species and they need hierarchy. Position is generally determined through violence and intimidation. Just another evolutionary bias Jesus challenged us to overcome.

  • bully pulpit

    Your writing that term clarifies its common usage in the context of this conversation. So thank you! Perhaps the term is somewhat redundant? 😉

    How much does that put him in a position to be a bully and you in a position be be bullied?

    I’m a consummate egalitarian who believes all men are created equal; thus, pastors don’t much welcome me into their hierarchical “flock.” I’m not a domesticated sheep anyway, so it doesn’t bother me much. Like the author of the Declaration of Independence, while yet a Christian:

    “I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.”~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Ezra Stiles Ely, June 25, 1819

    So my Sunday mornings are spent at a brunch with neighbors, all church drop outs, 22 of us last Sunday. No sermon. No invitation. No tithing. No pastors. No drama. No religion. Just the fun parts: fellowship and music.

  • Anna Lopez

    ugh. This article is very true, but does nothing to lift my already badly sagging faith in humanity. Voluntary stupidity is just so repugnant…

  • > We are programmed by evolution to bully or be bullied…need hierarchy

    I don’t think so. Paleolithic people were egalitarian, i.e., nobody ruled over anybody else:

    Historically, people in non-state societies are relatively autonomous and sovereign. They generate their own subsistence with little or no assistance from outside sources. They bow to no external political leaders. Nor are they routinely exploited by outsiders.

    Elman R. Service (1975), Origins of the State and Civilization: The Process of Cultural Evolution. New York: Norton.

    “…remain politically autonomous as individuals … this egalitarian arrangement.”

    Christopher Boehm (1999) Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. Harvard University Press. p. 194.

    Our present day bully-pulpit abusive religions stem from the Neolithic Revolution, which, as Jared Diamond put it, was The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race. I’m a farmer myself with a degree in Agriculture, and this is somewhat humbling to have to admit. 😉

    Daniel Quinn gave a great speech how the advent of agriculture caused these horrible religions we see today. His argument is that in agricultural civilization, we simply have no clue how to live anymore, thus all the religious rule-making.

    Our Religions: Are they the Religions of Humanity Itself?
    Delivered October 18, 2000, as a Fleming Lecture in Religion, Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas

  • R Vogel

    Great idea! I have a developed a slightly different strategy – I found a local church with great music that does communion every week (important to me), and lots of community service. When the preacher begins talking, I quietly pull up SacredSpace.ie on my iPhone and meditate on the daily prayer. 😉

  • R Vogel

    i recently had the opportunity to see Nadia Bolz-Weber on her book tour (Highly recommend the book) One of the things she says they do at All Sinner & Saints is liturgy ‘in the round.’ No stage, no pulpit, no one ‘above’ anyone else either literally or figuratively. Just a circle of chairs. It was strangely moving. Not really conducive to the mega-church model, but I can’t see that as anything but a plus!

  • “An argument isn’t just contradiction.”
    “It can be.”
    “No it can’t. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.”
    “No it isn’t.”



  • Sandy

    And yet, if you attend a church without abusive leadership, you won’t be abused, despite the fact that your childhood experiences led you to believe that abuse was normal. No matter how compliant the victim, no matter how unquestioning, it is still the responsibility of the people around them not to abuse. You shouldn’t have to ‘get it’. The person doing the abusing should ‘get it’ and act like a decent human being. If the reason people are being abused is that they never learned that they should be treated any better, then we’ve come full circle- abuse leads to more abuse, but not because of the victim; it is because of the original abuse.

    I agree that parents should teach their children to think critically rather than teaching a blind obedience, but wow, I took a lot of criticism for doing just that. My kids are happy, but I’m not popular in churches. So be it.

    I’m truly sorry for what you’ve gone through. I hope you’ve found a place of healing.

  • Leal

    Do you attend Mars Hill Church?

  • Leal

    Mark Driscoll is a wonderful pastor. Each of the Mars Hill Churches has a lead pastor as well as an executive pastor with additional elders and deacons. I, as a member of Mars Hill Church, have NEVER felt bullied or even heard tones of bullying during service. Mark Driscoll is one of the founders of Acts 29 church planting around the USA and world. We are encouraged to give but not pressured to give of our time, treasure and talent for the glory of God. The only “discipline” I have heard of is a member or elder/deacon sinning and not repenting. Then the church steps in for Christ centered discipline but no bullying.

  • Grant Barber

    As far as I’ve read comments most focus on pastors. I’ve had the experience in two parishes where members are bullies, toward one another and toward myself. Angry explosions; owning a program and brooking no alternative decision making or discussion; almost masterful way of belittling others; constant vigilance for criticism measured in the breathtaking way they can respond to any perceived ‘challenge.’ Self-righteousness, judgmental. They rely on social norms–no one to speak up against them in group settings. Room for everyone, they do so much good…on and on. But I hear from the folks who have been sidelined, hurt, dismissed, or just won’t participate in anything these folks do. Making needed interventions in this sort of situation is disruptive, which the bullies count on.

  • Cecilia Davidson

    Likely sects that were deemed heretical by the power brokers

  • Mark

    Our growing church began to decline shortly after our charismatic pastor left for greener pastures. Maybe, in retrospect, we should have gotten abusive.

  • Mark

    Only the baloney I’ve read on his Youtube videos. I would never set foot in his church. He seems to have a plan for every situation. It’s “Don’t think, just do what I tell you to.”

  • Mark

    As long as you women know your place, and everyone accepts Driscoll’s interpretation of scripture.

  • Mark

    I also read somewhere, Michener I think it was, that when we started learning agriculture, and the role of the sun and the rain, we created sun gods and rain gods to help us with the crops, and that was the beginning of religion.

  • Mark

    I like all of that except the “through Christ alone.” What makes Christians think they have a lock on God? How can Christians be so presumptuous as to believe that God won’t reveal Godself to people of other faiths? Or even people of no faith? When it comes right down to it, who appointed you the spokeperson for God?

  • It sounds almost like you went to the same church I did! The replacement pastor’s first series of sermons was about being the body of Christ, with everyone having gifts. He invited as all to a discover your gifts series of Bible studies, to find out what we could do in church. This series was about real gifts like teaching, leading, discernment and prophesy.
    But he was not open to have anyone use those Biblical gifts if he cannot control it. Many left the church after he came, me included.

  • LaurieInSeattle

    One interesting thing I’ve noticed: The people I’ve met from Mars Hill are all young and extremely attractive. I have yet to meet an ugly Mars Hill-er. It is a place where beautiful people go. There is a cachet to it. If you are a person who can fit in at Mars Hill, you are SOMEBODY. (As opposed to those nobodies who go to regular churches.)

  • Usually, with bully pastors, those doing actual church work (paid or volunteer) are bullied, while many of them tend to come across dynamic and interesting to the pew-sitter during sermons.

  • JW

    “My hope is that more and more people will continue to find the courage
    and then act upon it to name abuse and bullying wherever they see it.” Is that the answer…to call a bully, a bully? What if God wants His own to be a scent of life in the midst of this?

  • I concur; once humans abandoned their evolutionary niche of foraging day to day, trusting in the hands of the gods to provide, neither sowing nor reaping, they became as gods, necessarily fussing over the fertility of the earth with their technology, and looking to the skies for guidance when to plant.

    I have in my library a text on the subject, Astrotheology & Shamanism: Christianity’s Pagan Roots. It’s a rather interesting read, and a bit more accessible regarding the influence of entheogens than The Sacred Mushroom and The Cross: A study of the nature and origins of
    Christianity within the fertility cults of the ancient Near East

  • ♪ Love Church is a Battlefield. ♫ ~h/t to Pat Benatar

  • Don Marsh

    I’ve been a member of two different abusive churches. I was in each of them at their formative stages. What attracted people to them was strong leadership. As a person who has been in churches with tepid, indecisive leaders, I can tell you that leadership is very important. Those of us in the Body of Christ who want to do ministry find it refreshing to find a leader who wants to actually get things done. You just have to be careful of what it is that they are wanting to get done.

    In regard to all the nasty statements that are made about Mark Driscoll, I have to wonder if his detractors on this blog are just the same do-nothings I have frequently encountered who are jealous of someone who is successful. Is Mark Driscoll a bully? Maybe. But he is most certainly another fallible human being, like the rest of us, who is reaching the lost. I like that. I miss that. Are you doing that? Or are you part of our current generation of hipster critics for whom nothing is ever good enough…

  • Don: Of all the comments, yours makes me the angriest. You are the very type of dangerous man I would warn people of because you believe that hurting people is okay as long as good is being done. You think the end justifies the means. Mark Driscoll is certainly a bully, and if you can’t see that then you’re a bully yourself, as your comment clearly indicates. You need to look closer at your violent tendencies towards human beings that you think is useful for good results.

  • Don, many in the Third Reich felt the same way about Hitler’s strong leadership and ability to achieve good results. But they weren’t careful enough of what he wanted done. (Most people just aren’t!)

    Be careful what you wish for…

  • One of my fav MP skits! 🙂

  • Oavafe’iana

    when i talk about ‘male dominated system’ i am talking about the majority of the etheric beings, which are behind most types of religion, (especially christian or moslem faiths) not necessarily the people within the religions, themselves.

    this system of spiritual beings is a multi-staged hierarchy, which spans 50 dimensions and every spiritual plane attached to these dimensions, with a supreme, male god-being who is above the 50th dimension, and many of these beings pretend to be “good” but are manipulators who impose suffering, and through brainwashing, force, and authority/domination, they condition people to believe that suffering is “good” for a “learning experience” (read the article that is in the link i shared) but i am left wondering why so few actually question this? it is not so, at all. long ago, there was a rebellion among spirit beings. this was sometime during the first creation. christian religions call this the ‘luciferian rebellion’ or some variation. this really did happen. but it is not quite what christianity or any religion, portrays. these beings were all male beings, who rebelled.

    i do not recall exactly why, but it is somewhat similar to what is told of in religion, but that viewpoint is not 100% accurate. anyway, they stole power for themselves, and took over all 50 of the dimensions, and all the planes, except for the one spiritual realm that all of our souls had originated from, and also took over all the physical realms, (dimensions up to the 6th dimension, we are in the 3rd, can support physical matter….quantum physics has actually proven the existence of at least one other…the 3rd dimension is the lowest vibration of matter that supports physical humans.) which encompasses every cosmos, every universe (there are far more than this one!) and we are now in the 3rd rebellion, and it is far beyond anything imaginable.

    our earth-planet we are on is one of the worst of all, and there are many, many, other earth-planets that have people just like us, and the suffering we endure on this one, is not the norm. (you would be very surprised at the truth!) if you wonder why things are so twisted and evil on this place we call earth, it is because negative entities have basically taken over, and many of them pretend to be ‘god’ and they demand sacrifice, worship, praise, and this actually was not so, a real being who is of genuine love, never wants to be worshipped, actually. (Jesus is actually a very loving, good, soul who was born into that body we know of as Jesus, but this person does not demand to be worshipped, either. Jesus was actually born sometime in May, i think around the 18th, but christmas is set in December for some reason.) many of the manipulators have controlled the people who are in positions of power, too, so their will gets enforced. everyone’s been deceived. (why have so few questioned things like this?) there were many truths that were actually taken out of the church, around 325 AD, in the Council of Nicea. the manipulators did this, and the people in positions of power were controlled to do this, to keep people in fear and control, and to keep them from ‘waking up’ and empowering themselves.

    there are many records that still exist that contain the truth that was taken out of the scriptures that we do still have, that have been withheld from public release, and many were destroyed, that contained truth. (did you know that they bible has over 40,000 documented errors? and many things missing, that were “edited” out, in spite of the threat that we all read about in Revelations, of what happens to those who do this?) the corrupt among the authorities in upper echelons of power-positions have removed many of these truths, because it is a threat to their power and they do not want to upset their ‘gravy train’ that they have enjoyed for so long.

    this is not some ‘new age’ baloney or any silly ‘conspiracy-theory’ nonsense ‘paranoia’ but is actual truth, and it will be revealed quite soon.

    i happen to be clairvoyant, (not one of those silly ‘fortune tellers’ or any of that nonsense) and have been contacted by genuine angels regarding this, and when i was born, i was born against my will, not choosing this, it was imposed on me by force, and my premortal memory was not erased, and i remembered things, which made me question the reality we live in, and all the imposed suffering.

    yes, we are spirit beings, ourselves, who have existed before we were born. not all is as it seems, and you will be very surprised when all truth is revealed.

  • Y. A. Warren

    Religions have historically been based on gurus pedaling fear and shame. I am the high priest/guru/professional “God” person who has special pull to keep/get others out of trouble with the scary supreme being. Awe is all around us and free for the asking. The trick is in freeing enough minds from fear that we can all admit to what gives each of us a sense of awe, whether others agree with us or not.

  • Y. A. Warren

    How revolutionary, to give thanks for your best friends, with your best friends around a table containing real food. Sounds like “heaven on earth” and real Eucharist to me.

  • It is a bit of a heaven on earth. All our neighbors are good friends. Some of them, including us, are trying to live simply, and moved to this township because there is no zoning. My friend Ron, with his unique cabin featured in the Toledo Blade, showed me how to build and lended tools to build my family’s shelter. He’s also an ordained minister who has never taken money from churches where he preaches. (And I’m the fellow in the article from whom he bought beef.) My house is a small 32″x24″ (with a livable attic) and wouldn’t have been approved under zoning rules. (I know, because I was the President of the Zoning Commission which formed the regulations when the township was forced to vote on the zoning issue several years ago, which did get defeated. Yay! The State hates us, so says the regional planning director, but can’t force us to do it.)

    Another neighbor a couple miles away has a junkyard, and I often cruise its aisles for a serendipitous part for a project, and then weld up something, like I did for my library shelves.

    Here’s my elliptical table I hand carved from a flawed $600 walnut slab which we gather around when its our turn. I like salvaging junk nobody else wants, and adding some elbow grease. By the candle is a granite (free junk laying around) inlay over the crotch of the tree trunk that I ground into an elliptical shape. I was going to inlay the hole in the middle, but everybody liked it too much, so it stayed. 🙂 If you ever want a good meal with grass-fed beef, stop in with your family.

  • Y. A. Warren

    How nice! thanks for the invitation.

  • Don Marsh

    Really?? You go straight to Hitler?? Mark Driscoll may be rude at times, and I have a few theological bones to pick with him, but I would much rather talk about them than try to totally discredit him. It’s so cowardly to compare him with a mass murderer. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  • Don Marsh

    Wow. You have zero credibility with me now. You know nothing about me and you impugn me as a bully with violent tendencies. No one who knows me thinks such a thing, even those with whom I have serious disagreements.

    As far as I can tell, you are like Cain, who hated his brother because he was jealous of his sacrifice. Here we are, talking about someone neither of us knows, and you are so full of hatred for him that I make you angry for NOT hating him!

    I like him as a Bible teacher. I am glad he has a vision for reaching people for Christ. I wish more pastors did. Too many of us have been content to watch the world go to Hell while we fuss at each other over minor differences. If you don’t like Mark Driscoll, don’t go to his church!

    I have left a number of churches over control issues. I have gone to my brother personally and shared my concerns, and left. THEN, I got preached against and excoriated by that pastor publicly. Now, THAT’s a bully. But, so what? I was man enough to tell him he was wrong. Then I left and took my tithes with me. I did not hide behind an internet alias, like some people, and call him names.

    So, now I will leave your little party and forget about you…

  • Leal

    You have not met me! I am not an especially attractive woman. We have a number of locations and not everyone is young and attractive. Perhaps you have met the more outgoing members of Mars Hill. In the Mars Hill location that I attend, the age range (not including the children) is somewhere between 18 and 70 or so (I am not a real good judge of age). Some are very nice looking but that is not the majority in my eyes.

  • Leal

    I do serve my church as a volunteer. I am not bullied at all.

  • Leal

    Yes, we do as he tells us – his sermons for the most part come straight from the Bible. At this time, we are going through the book of Malachi. Of course, I am not in the executive level so cannot address any of that HR. I do know that Mars Hill Church is the first church I have ever been comfortable in and felt like I belonged. I have attended probably 60 or 70 different churches in my lifetime and find that this is the first church that actually puts Jesus first and studies the Bible (the word of God).

  • Leal

    Don – Well said. I just viewed a discussion between Mark Driscoll and Glenn Beck. Many of the churches I have attended in my lifetime teach and preach in a very wishy washy way – don’t rock the boat type of Christianity. Mars Hill Church and our leaders are very strong teachers/preachers. I enjoy going through the books of the Bible. If bullying means that what is taught is: You will spend eternity in one of two places. Pastor Mark is very loud and outspoken about our need to repent and accept Jesus Christ’s death on the cross as our payment for our sins. He and Glenn Beck discussed tolerance and intolerance in their interview (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slaCP4mK4_8) that if we don’t believe or accept what someone says or does, we are intolerant/bigots/racist/homophobic – whatever. If one person’s opinion makes someone angry so be it. The indication is that I have to tolerate someone else’s “whatever” but the other person does not have to tolerate my “whatever”.

  • Leal

    I just thought of this – Billy Graham was pretty much a bully as well – he very strongly told people to repent and his sermons were all about repenting of sin and accept Jesus or you spend eternity in Hell. If Mark Driscoll is a bully, so is Billy Graham.

  • Mark

    If you’re happy, there’s nothing more to be said. Thanks for keeping it polite.

  • Al Cruise

    “You have left a “number” of Churches over control issues” My guess would be you left because you couldn’t get your way, the control issue was you wanted it and couldn’t get it so you left. Your posts reek arrogance and self righteousness.

  • Leal

    Christians believe that God’s grace is given only through Christ and only when we accept Christ as our Savior from the death we all deserve because of our sin. We believe that Jesus, as God’s Son, came to earth to atone for our sins. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, our sins past, present and future are forgiven.

  • Gary

    Good riddance. You come in here and attack the author with a very personal character assassination and have the nerve to act all self righteous when he responds to your abusive bullying? Well fuck that!!! We don’t need your pompous condescending bullshit in here anyway!!

  • Al Cruise

    You make a good point, Both Billy and Mark are basically saying the same message but nothing like this has happened to Billy. This can mean only one thing, Mark really is a bully.

  • Leal

    Have you read the timeline for nakedpastor?

  • Leal

    Al Gore had not invented the internet yet when Billy Graham got started! Just joking. I don’t see Pastor Mark Driscoll as a bully. I am a member of Mars Hill Church and can only say that through the preaching at Mars Hill Church, I have truly come to faith and grace through Jesus Christ.

  • Leal

    Are Solasisters.com the foremost authority on Mark Driscoll? I looked over the website and didn’t see anything that was all that new.

  • Leal

    I have read through all of the comments. Looks like stoning has taken on a new venue.

  • Leal

    Mark Driscoll’s interpretation is just as valid as the baptist preachers or the methodist preachers or insert whatever church you want.

  • Paula Coyle

    No, they just happened to nicely compile the links. And they are fairly solid when they do write. Who is the foremost authority on Driscoll anyway? IS that what you were looking for? I don’t recall you asking for the “foremost authority” and I wasn’t responding to you.

  • Mark

    Not all Christians believe that. Quite a number of us believe that God reveals Godself to anyone who searches, and doesn’t turn seekers away simply because they don’t pray the sinner’s prayer. We’re all going to die – that’s the way life is. I don’t believe we carry some “original sin of Adam” that makes us deserve eternal separation from God, or worse, an eternal torture chamber fabricated by God for those not lucky enough to be indoctrinated into the right version of Christianity (are Catholics Christian? or Mormons? Surely not Jehovah’s Witnesses, who don’t even believe in the Trinity?).

    Does Driscoll say that it’s OK to keep sinning, because your sins past, present and future are forgiven? You get a free pass? A lot of people do believe that. For that matter, I guess I do, too.

    Just remember: just because some words some men wrote 2 or 3 millennia ago say some interesting things about God doesn’t necessarily make them the literal truth. People think that about the Koran and the Book of Mormon, to. Who are we to say God doesn’t live on the planet Kolob? Have you been there to check it out?

  • Al Cruise

    Yes I have. His posts don’t reek arrogance and self righteousness.

  • Mark

    Not sure I can agree with that. But what I’ve always wondered is, if there is an ultimate truth, why doesn’t God stick it smack in our faces, so we can’t make these mistakes of whether women can preach and teach men, whether blacks can marry whites, whether slavery is OK, and whether we can worship with instruments or not? How hard would it be for the omnipotent God to give us ALL the same vision at the same time? Could it be God likes to see all these grubby humans groping around, arguing with each other over how long our hair can be and whether to cut our beards? I just have to believe He could do a lot better than this kluge if He wanted to. When I try to help my grandkids with their homework I try to make it as plain as possible – unless I want them to engage their brains and think, and I’m more interested in them learning to think than in learning “correct” answers by rote.

  • Al Cruise

    Don , maybe Hitler is a little over the top. I would go for some good old boys from the USA, like Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Marshall Applewhite.They were strong religious leaders and they got their followers to do some pretty jaw dropping things.

  • Don, please re-read what I actually wrote. I paralleled the language of your first paragraph, using the hyperbole of mass murder to make a general point about leadership in damaging directions.

    I was actually agreeing with you: “you just have to be careful”. Even many churches in Hitler’s era were not.

    And I never mentioned Mark Driscoll by name, or any behaviours which are specific to him.

    I won’t try to tell you what you should feel about your response to me. But I ask that you please read and respond to what I’ve actually said. Please give me the benefit of the doubt, as I have done my best to understand you, and share points of mutual agreement.

    If we can’t do that, because of a breakdown in communication, then let’s stop here.

  • Al Cruise

    The internet wasn’t invented yet! You mean that same internet where Driscoll uses twitter, facebook, youtube, etc. to insult people, and be rude and crude. Now it has come back and bit him. Billy spoke to people live in sports stadiums etc. Whether you agreed with him or not he always treated his audience with a certain level of respect and I respect him for that. Please don’t compare Driscoll to Graham.

  • Leal


  • Leal

    Ok – this Christian believes what she has said. Pastor Mark does not say to keep sinning. As a sinner who has been saved by the Grace of God (and this is what I believe) I know there will be times that I sin. I still have to repent of that sin but I know that I am forgiven.

  • Gary

    It would seem your bias leaves no room for objectivity.


  • Roland Giesler

    The question is not whether you are bullied or not, the question is rather, do you take everything Mark says as being correct, or are you like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 making sure that what “Paul” teaches is actually backed up in scripture and challenging it if you find it’s not?

    Mark is a literalist, judged by his sermons, so he takes everything in scripture as literal as possible (as long as it suits his worldview, vision and doctrine…), despite other scriptures, historical evidence and other sources showing that that there are many passages that are allegorical and not literal (take Gen 2 for example). But without doing your own fearless study (in which you are not afraid to find contradicting evidence to what Mark teaches and subsequently challenging him on that), you will never escape the iron-grip of a fundamentalist church on your mind. I know what happened to me when I opposed the leader of such a church in a “new members class” for teaching something blatantly unscriptural. If he could have, he would have bitten my head off! Despite that, I survived, but before that incident, if someone had told me something like that would happen, I would not have believed it for one moment.

  • Roland Giesler

    Try raising your hand in church, getting up and challenging something that is incorrect and see what happens.

  • Gary

    If you are already forgiven…then why do you still need to repent? What happens if you don’t?

  • Leal

    Appears to me that if I am biased in one direction and have no room for objectivity then you are biased in the opposite direction. If you cannot tolerate my opinions, should I also not tolerate your opinions?

  • Leal

    Just as my parents loved me and forgave me when I misbehaved, I still had to ask them for forgiveness or say I was sorry (perhaps that is just my nature). I feel it is the same with God – I know I am forgiven but when I sin, I still need to ask for forgiveness for that sin. As a human being, I will sin as it is in my human nature to sin. I will continue to repent and ask for forgiveness from my Lord.

  • Don, is Hitler a trigger for you?

    If so, I apologise. Please don’t feel the need to read or respond any further.

    If not, I’m concerned there’s been a significant miscommunication. It’s clear I’ve communicated quite poorly – again, I apologise. Here’s what I intended:

    I was using the hyperbole of mass murder to illustrate a point. It’s a literary technique – although I may have made a mess of it, it’s neither timid, nor worthy of shame.

    I didn’t intend to specifically criticise Mark Driscoll, and I certainly wasn’t comparing him to Hitler. I neither mentioned Driscoll by name, nor described any of his well-known behaviours. (And neither does this particular blog post refer to him specifically.) I was making a general, pointed comment on the state of the church.

    And perhaps it wasn’t pointed enough: during the Third Reich, many churches supported Hitler’s leadership. As you said, people need to be careful enough of what strong leaders want to do. (I’m agreeing with you here.) Hitler is an obvious example of where people (and churches) weren’t careful enough.

    Given your experience of abusive churches, do you think that people, and churches, are any better today?

  • Gary

    Oh I can tolerate you having an opinion. Should I tell you however that your opinion is accurate when it is based upon bias rather than observation? Of course not!! If you believe that the definition of tolerance is when others agree with YOU…I guess I can understand why you are a Driscoll supporter.

  • Gary

    You seem to have sidestepped the important question. What happens if you don’t ask for it? I am not being funny here. This question speaks to the very core of the nature of God.

  • CoffeeHoundPress

    Roland, I agree with the second part of your comment, that some leaders have come to abuse their positions because that’s what their followers expect, due to poor Christian education, but “dominate” is not a word I would use for women in the church. That implies power and authority.

    You can say that women are the majority of the attendees, but dominate? No. They don’t have the high paying jobs, the responsibility, the control, or the money. For example, employees outnumber the executives, but they don’t dominate.

  • Roland Giesler

    You’re right, CoffeeHoundPress. By dominate, I simply meant that they are way more than the men in numbers.

  • Roland Giesler

    See my reply to CoffeeHoundPress. I meant to say there are way more women than men in the institutionalised church.

  • Sven2547

    Given that Oavafe’iana’s comment was specifically about domination from a leadership and control standpoint, why do you pollute the discussion by claiming it is “dominated” by women from a completely different standpoint (the demographic standpoint)? This is very dishonest and not germane to the discussion at all.

  • Roland Giesler

    Sven2547, Where does your aggression come from? Goodness, go read who said what.

    I didn’t say the church is female dominated. TheRedeemer316 said that and I explained quite clearly what I think the issue is. I said that the female dominated membership supports the male dominated leadership because they have been taught that’s what God wants.

    You should really read up on what honestly/dishonesty means before accusing people. The issue of female dominated church *membership* is very relevant to the topic under discussion!