A Good Dad Buys: The Classism of Mark Driscoll's Masculinity

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A couple of weeks ago, the evangelical internet exploded (as is its wont) in response to the release of Mark Driscoll’s Pastor Dad, an ebook based on a 81 minute sermon that he delivered in 2001. Based mostly on a select few Proverbs, Pastor Dad instructs Christian fathers on how to be good dads, by seeing their parenting and their family as a ministry. In true Driscollian fashion, there are some kernels of truth (I wrote “This isn’t awful” in the margins a couple of times while reading), but they are buried in so much sexist, classist shite that it’s impossible to recommend him as a good authority on the subject.

There were two passages that garnered the most attention – one in which being a stay at home dad is referred to as an “inane idea” (pg 24), and one in which Driscoll tells the story of repenting of the sins of his two year old, for his two year old (pg 35). It’s quite easy to focus on the sexism that pervades the work, and there’s quite a lot there to support the idea that women are merely objects in his world – in the section about who to marry, for example, female agency in choosing a husband is completely erased and male dominance takes over. Additionally, Driscoll instructs fathers to be the guardians of their daughters’ purity, relying heavily on the problematic passages of Deuteronomy 22 to do so. And, at one point, he hilariously refers to “hot women with necklines that plunge down to hell” tempting away a father’s son, “who is not built for abstinence” (pg 34).

However, I think one of the largest – and often most overlooked – problem with the piece is not necessarily the expected and predictable sexism – after all, was there anyone who expected Driscoll to praise women who work outside the home? – but the classism that upholds and strengthens this sexism. It is this classism – a borderline prosperity gospel approach – that I find incredibly worrisome, as it necessarily restricts the work of a godly father to his worldly accomplishments, a point that runs counter-intuitive to the Gospel message.

In chapter four – “Cultivating Kids” – Driscoll begins his money-based qualifications for fatherhood. Driscoll here begins a refrain of fathers as providers, as breadwinners, and casts shame upon fathers who cannot provide adequately. “Adequately” in Driscoll’s estimation, however, is different from what most people would say.

On page 20, he comments that, “As the father, you will also need to determine how you will make enough money to educate your children.” This demand is found in the midst of a section about educational options for one’s child, and is followed immediately by a paragraph imprecating the worth of public education, though it is tempered with caveats about how public education can, on occasion, be the right choice. The implication, however, is that fathers must be sure to make enough money to give their children options for their education.

Educational opportunities are only the first monetary burden Driscoll places upon fathers. In chapter five, “The Masculine Duty to Provide,” which is the true meat of the book, Driscoll comes into the ring swinging:

“Godly fathers consider it a masculine honor to provide for their wives’ and children’s needs. First, a godly father gives spiritual sustenance to his children. It is dad who should also be reading his Bible with his kids, praying with them, and answering their questions – not just mom, the church Sunday school teacher, or the youth pastor. Second, a godly father provides for the physical needs of his children. This point may seem obvious to some, but it is apparently lost in our culture, where children are the most likely people to live in poverty, and elementary schools now serve breakfast to children because many of them were not eating breakfast and were falling asleep in class as a result. My point is simply this: if you want to be a godly man who provides for his wife and children, you will need to out-work and out-earn other men and take to heart Paul’s words from 1 Timothy 5:8: ‘If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.’” (pg 23, emphasis mine).

It’s worth noting here that my elementary school in 1993 was serving breakfast to children in the area (myself included, as the principal’s daughter), so it seems odd that Driscoll is painting this as a recent phenomenon when it is, at the very least, 20 years old.

But that’s small fish compared to the sentence I’ve bolded above – “out-work and out-earn.” It is not enough for Driscoll that fathers simply provide enough for their family to get by. They must, instead, be in competition with all other men, earning the most and being the best, so as to provide the best life they can. Regardless of ability, field, or actual effect, if you are not a higher earner in your field, then you are not doing your absolute best to be a godly father.

This is interesting to me, especially when juxtaposed with the professions of the apostles Driscoll keeps quoting – Paul, for example, was an itinerant preacher, someone who didn’t make a whole lot of money and relied on the kindness of strangers for much of his life. Indeed, when Paul became a Christian, he gave up a fairly lucrative life to live the Gospel. Much of the Gospel is built upon stories of people who gave up lucrative careers to leave everything behind for Jesus - in fact, Jesus instructs that this is Gospel in Matthew 19:29.

But let’s not stop there. Driscoll goes on to say that it is not enough to merely provide for one’s immediate family – one must “lean in to the future” to provide for eventual grandchildren as well. On the next page (pg 24), Driscoll states that “A wise man begins investing for his grandchildren long before they are born, trusting by faith that they will need his college fund to further their wisdom and his tithe money to fund their ministry.” A paragraph before that, he states that “wisdom lives generation to generation, while folly lives paycheck to paycheck and racks up credit cards without concern.” He closes that section by saying “In Ecclessiastes 10:19, Solomon ironically says that, ‘money answers everything,’ and a godly father aspiring to be a godly grandfather knows what that verse means in this fallen world, where everything from a decent education to the startup funds for a church plant would ideally come, at least in part, from godly fathers and grandfathers.”

It seems that Driscoll is happy to call himself counter-cultural when it doesn’t confront the millions he has made from his church ministry and the trust funds and inheritance his kids will surely be privy to when they turn 18. It also seems that Driscoll is mapping his own personal riches onto what a “godly father” does, self-justifying his massive fortune by ordering that other men do so as well, or they are not godly fathers.

This is classist to the core. To set up poverty as folly and riches as wisdom, as Driscoll has done here, is to ignore systemic oppressions that create poverty and to conflate poverty with ungodliness. Fathers who find themselves unable to provide a college fund for their children – my father, for example – are failing in their duties as fathers, despite all other factors. In Driscoll’s world, a father who, for example, chooses to be an elementary school teacher in the state of South Dakota, is acting in foolishness because he will not have enough to provide for a grandchild’s college fund. Think on that reality for a minute – my father, who has been married to my mother for 42 years, who ran his own business in college and worked as a principal for many years and now works as a teacher in a prison, doing work he enjoys and views as a ministry, is “foolish” because he did not out-earn other men and may not have enough to set aside to pay for outlandishly high private college tuition for his granddaughter.

I call bullshit. Driscoll's declarations here are nothing more than a classist stratification which shames fathers like my own for following a ministry instead of a monetary fund.

It is telling then, on page 25, Driscoll tells of asking his four year old daughter what makes a good daddy, and the first thing on her list is “makes a lot of money.” We see this pattern reflected throughout the rest of Pastor Dad, with Driscoll’s framing of “a wise dad” having material possessions for his children – “a wise dad … buys props and secondhand clothes so that his children can dress up in costumes and act out Bible stories with full drama while he serves as the narrator” (pg 28). Additionally, a “wise father has a good set of Bible reference books on the shelf or software on the computer.”

Here’s a brief example of how much those reference books cost.

There is a subtle classism in the “wives stay at home” command, but Driscoll makes it outright obvious with his commands that fathers provide in ways that are open only to the echelons of the upper-middle class and higher. Systemic oppressions (like racist zoning codes that prevent black families from renting in certain neighborhoods and historic poverty repeating itself throughout generations) are ignored outright in favor of blaming fathers for a failure to provide. Indeed, no other factors are considered besides a man’s unwillingness to embrace God as a Lord and Savior – on page 40, Driscoll refers to impoverished men as “lazy” and says that they “hate children by their actions.” In Driscoll’s world, no matter how good of a father you may be in terms of being a spiritual guide, in terms of helping your children become a solid, healthy adult, it is all folly if you are unable to provide in extravagant and ridiculous ways.

I almost can’t believe that I need to write it down, but this is directly contrary to the life the original apostles and the first century Christians lived. Providing for generations upon generations was not a concern post-Jesus - partly because they believed in the immediacy of Jesus’s return, but also because they found riches to be a distraction to living a Gospel centered-life. Many scholars point to Paul’s rules about modesty (1 Peter 3:3) and about communion (1 Corinthian 11) were explicitly about being ostentatious about riches to the point of actively harming those who are poor. With the communion meal in Paul’s time, the Lord’s Supper was not the cracker and wine we use in symbols today, but it was an actual meal, provided by those who had the ability to provide. Unfortunately, as Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians, many of those who provided the meal were eating it before those who were poor and hungry had the chance to eat. Paul puts a stop to this practice, arguing for generosity, saying in quite harsh terms:

“Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!”

Driscoll’s classism here is not a mere matter of perpetuating systemic oppressions that distract us from examining institutional structures, but the way in which he issues it as a command creates an unnecessary spiritual burden upon his brothers. If men are not providing ostentatiously, in Driscoll’s world, they are ungodly. This, my friends, is spiritual abuse – no person should be made to feel like less of a Christian because they are unable to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when they do not have boots. Good Christian fathers exist in the worst slums of the world just as they exist in the suburbs of Seattle. To ignore this is to encourage the oppression and harm of one’s Christian family.