Today we’re going to talk about how, to toxic Christians, the only moral lie is their lie.
I’ve said before that Christians–especially the toxic sort we discuss often on this blog (btw, for the persecution-fantasizing Christians at the national-level Republican Party’s Twitter feed who got upset with me last time I used that term, here’s a link to what I mean when I talk about “toxic Christians”)–seem to think that it’s okay to do immoral or dishonest things if they think everybody else is doing it, especially if those things will greatly benefit themselves. We’re going to talk soon about subjective morality and demonstrate that most Christians not only have no idea what that term even means but are even more guilty of doing it than anybody else, but for now, we’re going to talk about one of Christianity’s reigning misogynists, megapastor Mark Driscoll. We’ve talked about him before–he’s the guy who thinks yoga is evil and who talks about women in a bizarrely demeaning, insulting, patronizing, and infantilizing way. He’s the fellow thinks that only posturing, ultra-macho dude-bros–like him, obviously–are “real Christian men.” His vision of Jesus, far from being the “pansy” pacifist that most people (Christian and not) envision, is a violent psychopath whose patience with humanity’s disobedience is quickly running out. In other words, like most toxic Christians, Mark Driscoll’s god was very much created in his own image, and I’m sure it’s only by the wildest coincidence that his god is just as violent, nasty, judgmental, and stereotypically macho as he is.
I wish I could pretend I have no idea why he seems so crazily popular with the Religious Right. I wish I could say that I just have noooooo idea why his brand of hatred, xenophobia, imperialism, misogyny, and cruelty sells so well to such a large segment of Christians. I wish I could. But I know better. There are just certain people who really seem to embody and encapsulate the Religious Right’s sheer hatred of others and its desire to destroy or dominate anybody different from what they think is the only right way to be. Mark Driscoll is just one of those people. And like most of their other heroes, like that viciously sexist and racist Duck Dynasty twit or most of the Republican Party’s big names, Mark Driscoll shows the nasty, evil underbelly of the most toxic type of Christianity.
The religion as a whole will not heal till it rejects these anti-prophets. But for now, quite a big segment of Christianity is totally happy to drool at his feet.
Thanks to all his pandering to the Religious Right, Mr. Driscoll, who struts around as the head of a huge megachurch out in Seattle called Mars Hill, seems like he’s doing pretty well for himself. Mars Hill has 15 different locations and hundreds of thousands of views on the sermons it puts online. They have thousands of members (though the number does appear to be dropping, I’m sure in large part because of what we’re about to talk about). In its scant 20 years of existence, Mars Hill has had more than its share of squabbling and infighting, much of it centered around Mark Driscoll’s inflammatory, power-hungry, narcissistic, and dishonest personal style and his beyond-dysfunctional idea of how a nonprofit, volunteer organization should work.
Most people have no idea how such a group should work. I’ve been involved in online gaming since the 90s, for longer than Mars Hill has actually existed, and I can tell you that volunteer organizations like games and churches seem to draw to themselves people who have no clue in the world how to treat volunteers and how to direct a non-business enterprise.
If you’ve ever attended a lavish wedding, then you know exactly what it looks like when a bunch of untrained amateurs try to put on an elaborate community production. The real surprise is that most of them finish without too many problems! (I’m sure most of us who’ve been married have some entertaining stories about stuff that went hideously, catastrophically wrong at our weddings, and feel perfectly free to share yours if you want–I just love hearing them.) Not much is different when you look at most churches, especially the non-denominational or more independent types of church. And let me tell you right now that it doesn’t matter what the group is or even what its focus is; the dynamics aren’t a whole lot different from any other group of volunteers trying to make something big happen.
Some of these groups try to go the route of a corporate business, with rules, by-laws, and committees. That works until people figure out that they’re getting all the griefs that come with a corporate 9-to-5 job but not a single bit of the respect or money that would come with one. Most of the leaders of these groups have no real training in how to lead groups or even in the skills required to keep staff and volunteers happy and working, so they’re just aping what they think those sorts of people are like.
These leaders’ simple incompetence plays out quickly in the group itself. Volunteers predictably aren’t really happy about getting told what to do, when to do it, how to do it, or not to do something they think needs to be done. They really don’t like how most of these tin-gods treat them–with a singular lack of tact, respect, or decorum. They’re especially not happy about getting mistreated or yelled at. While someone in a decently-paying job might put up with a small amount of abuse to keep the job, a volunteer is likely to just leave.
It’s probably no surprise that the online game I played the longest (and the first one I really got into), whose leaders are actually paid professional IT directors at a large American university, is still going strong. Heck, most of the staff I served alongside and managed are still active on that game, and the ones I didn’t know when I visited there not long ago were people I’d known while gaming there–in the 90s. A stable volunteer effort tends to yield dividends for many years. It’s not a very large game, but it’s fun and it’s got really great people hanging out there, so I still play there every so often. It’s had a small bit of drama over the years, but overall, its leaders are trained and long-experienced management professionals who know how to treat people and how to get solid results from a volunteer force.
Meanwhile, the online game I played most recently and by far the largest game I helped with, had a troubled history marked largely by its leader’s attempt to run his volunteer-staffed game as if it were a corporate-style business. It sounded like such a great idea at the time, but the problem was that he had never even managed a lemonade stand, so despite his great intelligence and rationality (or maybe because of these), he really had no idea how to handle a leadership role on a shared project. Nor did he have any idea how to select people to help him run the game, nor how to handle day-to-day challenges, much less the big problems that inevitably crop up on a big project. Very quickly his ego began writing checks his skill set couldn’t cash.
A lot of these games begin like churches begin–as a response to some other game doing something the new game’s leaders didn’t like, so they don’t tend to put a lot of thought into how they’re going to do anything differently. This game was no different. Its creators crowed, “We’ll do things better!” but couldn’t actually identify how they’d do things better or why their idea was better, and within a couple of years this game was indistinguishable from the game it’d splintered away from.
At one time, the game–with a peak playerbase of about 25-35 people (this is a gaming term that means that on weekends and evenings they saw 25-35 people online at one time; the rest of the time, you could expect to see between 3-10 people ingame)–had about 40 staffers and about 10 committees devoted to handling player needs, along with an I-kid-you-not corporate-ese mission statement and an absolutely huge list of rules with lots of Roman numerals in it. Most of this armada of staffers were outright incompetent if not predatory bastards, and despite there being about twice as many staffers as there were active players, I still heard players complain constantly that time-sensitive stuff they desperately needed wasn’t getting done. Decent, honest staffers–like me, thank you–left after repeated incidents of disrespect and mistreatment, and eventually the game–out of sheer desperation–began hiring the utter idiots and undersocialized malcontents that they’d passed over the first few rounds of “admin applications” (because of course they had a super-formal application and interview process).
After about seven years of life, the game imploded not long ago amid a series of accusations of financial impropriety, administration fouls, huge and possibly-legally-actionable incidents of player mistreatment and staff miscalls, and more than a few technical issues caused by their adulation of an abusive and inept coder that they couldn’t see was destroying their game from the inside out. Yes, this was a volunteer game that didn’t cost anything to play, so I can understand if it sounds simply mind-blowing that stuff like that could happen in such an environment, but this isn’t even the worst story of a imploded game that I’ve ever heard, just the worst I’d ever personally seen happen. I’d been gone for years by then, but I had enjoyed the game for a while and was sad to hear about its troubles. All of it could have been avoided had they just not tried to run the game like a business when nobody there had management-related skills. Nothing good comes of handing untrained, unskilled, self-centered, socially-inept people power over others.
(I’ll also mention here that at least three people that I know of came out of the wreckage of that mess telling themselves, “I’ll start a new game! And we’ll do things better!” It’s like the gaming Circle of Life.)
So when I see a church that is really huge but marked by shocking infighting and blatant abuses, I think of my past in online gaming and I can see a lot of parallels, as strange as it sounds. I’m sure most ministers are very familiar with the kind of concepts I’m talking about here.
With that all said, Mars Hill has been linked to serious abuse of its members. The church and its tyrannical leader are also guilty of a recently-resolved bit of plagiarism and now, it seems, of gaming book-sales numbers to make his terrible books look more popular.
The book in question is called Real Marriage. It’s about how to have a properly sexist and misogynistic fundagelical marriage, according to yet another young(ish) Christian man who got married and subsequently knows exactly how everybody should conduct their own marriages. The book has absolutely scandalized Christians, who don’t like how it openly discusses topics like buttsex and uses the Song of Solomon as some kind of explicit sex guide. It’s enraged everybody else for being, well, a product of Mark Driscoll’s deranged sexist worldview that treats women as servants and slaves to their benevolent, sex-obsessed
masters husbands. So it’s curious that he expected the book to do really well. The target audience he appears to have been aiming at is “sexist, violent, controlling, edgily-hip, crude-talking Christians exactly like him,” and as popular as he and his church are, that just can’t be a really big group of people.
But they don’t let little things like facts get in the way of a good story. We know that toxic Christians regard success as a barometer of their god’s approval of them. And we also know that toxic Christians regard successful products as proof that their god likes that product best, unless the product is something fundagelicals don’t like, of course, at which point I’ve personally seen Christians assert that it is just proof that demons are real–don’t you just love unfalsifiable beliefs that “prove” Christians are right no matter what directions the facts go?
An egomaniac like Mark Driscoll couldn’t possibly write a book that isn’t wildly popular, therefore. I’m sure the temptation to buff his numbers up was extreme and intense. He was getting a drubbing from Christians and non-Christians alike. What’s a man like him to do when he’s in such an untenable position?
Why, deceive everybody, of course.
And it probably wasn’t hard to figure out a way to make his book seem very popular when it really wasn’t. He bought his way onto a bestseller list once it became abundantly clear that honest sales of his book wouldn’t get him there.
Look, most of us know that a lot of authors and publishers purchase favorable reviews on Amazon and other such places. We also know that because of how the gaming industry works, often professional reviewers are under constraints (either implicit or explicit ones) to be cautious about discussing anything that might give a negative impression. Heck, that’s why Metacritic has two completely different scoring systems for games, and why most gamers barely look at the professional reviews when deciding what to buy next. So it’s not hard to extend those ideas from games and movies to books, especially Christian books.
Forbes broke the story over a year ago about exactly how to buy your way onto the New York Times‘ bestseller list. It isn’t that hard, and technically I guess it’s not strictly speaking illegal. But it’s dishonest. And it’s not cheap at all. The Forbes story indicates that it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it.
Don’t you hear a dollar amount like that and immediately think of all the senior citizens and poor people attending Mars Hill and writing checks in a trembling hand, sacrificing and going without, so Mark Driscoll can blow their hard-earned money on purchasing a bestseller spot for his stupid book? Because that’s what I think of. I think of all the hungry people that Mars Hill could have fed. All the charity they could have done. All the college funds they could have set up. All the food and clothes and well-digging trucks they could have purchased.
But no, Mark Driscoll had to have the gloating rights of having written a fucking bestselling book about fucking.
At least the toxic Christians blowing hundreds of Gs on statues and theme parks have a statue or a theme park to show for it afterwards.
Even Christians have spoken out against this practice. I can see why, though I am a little surprised they’d dare to say anything, since there’s also a culture of not criticizing other Christian leaders (it’s part of that “he’s serving the Kingdom” mentality; the term I used to hear back in my day was “muzzling the oxen,” and Christians who did this were treated very poorly). It is clear to me that Mr. Driscoll’s antics have finally outweighed the Christian culture of not saying anything bad about misbehaving leaders.
Avoiding the “appearance of evil” is a big deal in Christianity, and if Mark Driscoll is going to claim to be a good and moral person, it doesn’t quite look right if he’s buying his way into bestseller lists. That it’s done sometimes by others doesn’t make it okay for him to do it. He’s the one who claims to have a stranglehold on morality–so he should be acting like it, in my very humble opinion.
But really, what should we expect from a guy whose preaching career began with theft of another church’s equipment?
“I stole an unused sound console from my old church, along with a projector screen, which were sins Jesus thankfully died to forgive.”
He also brags about how he stole electricity from another building to power his own during that first ministry. I’m sure Jesus didn’t mind him tossing those sins onto the pile. Might as well, right? Not like Jesus is going to die a second time or anything. Romans isn’t part of Mark Driscoll’s Bible, I guess, so he doesn’t know that he’s supposed to be making an effort not to sin, not to keep sinning just to see grace increase.
Definitely check out that link about the theft if you want some more reasons to rage about this crude jackass and his chicanery, but did the world really need yet more reasons to dismiss him as a charlatan, a buffoon, and a sexist creep? What blows my mind is that anybody would consider him any kind of spiritual leader.
My dislike of Mark Driscoll is not based on his religion, but on what he is like as a person. He’s just using religion to express who he is, like everybody does. The religion isn’t the problem here, except insofar as it’s allowing him to realize his dominionist, exclusionary vision. I know people in the ministry who have different religious ideas than I do, but who are good people–wise, kind, gracious, grace-filled, generous, and calming to the spirit. Even if I don’t share their religious views, I consider them people whose views I respect and sometimes seek, and I am proud to call them friends. But Mark Driscoll is nothing but a galactic-level douchebag who has created a god in his own image, a god who hates women yet lusts after them, who hates anybody who is different and can’t bear to be around those who aren’t just like him, who despises anybody who doesn’t conform to his outdated and nasty stereotypes of how men and women should act. He and his god are one and the same, and so it is no wonder to me at all that he acts like he is the king of the world.
Slowly, scandal by scandal, gaffe by gaffe, Mark Driscoll’s allure seems to be fading. Though he and his church originally defended the decision to buy a slot on the NYT Bestseller list and justified the expenditure because they thought it helped them tell “lots of people about Jesus,” slowly everybody is realizing what a horrible mistake it is to even try to defend something this dishonest and shady. Mars Hill used to have a rather smug-sounding bit on Mark Driscoll’s biography page referring to his bestselling book, but the website has been scrubbed recently to remove all references to the word “bestselling.” This may well be the scandal that brings some real change to Mars Hill.
I can’t wait for his fans to collectively realize that their village god is nothing more than an idol made of cheap tin.
And then I want to see them to crush him on their foreheads like any dude-bro would.
Interesting related stuff: