Today, Mark Driscoll published a response to the brouhaha caused over the weekend by an ill-thought and ill-timed facebook status with a blog post on his website. I have a few comments, and as Driscoll has disallowed commenting on his site, I'll have to respond here. I apologize to those who think I am harping on Driscoll, but like I’ve said before, it is his issues and the way he expresses them that I dislike, not the man himself (as I have never met him, I cannot necessarily judge his character).
First, I have to commend Mr. Driscoll for being willing to offer a kind-of-sort-of apology, albeit one that seems to be offered begrudgingly. I appreciate that the elders of Mars Hill responded to the email campaign and that the Driscolls are now making an effort to, if not provide a space for discussion, to at least provide a space for context. I think we can all agree that one-off Facebook statuses and tweets without context are not an edifying means to have discussion over what is, ultimately, a meaty and contentious spiritual issue. So, thank you to Mr. Driscoll for pledging to set up this new website, even if it is, in part, self-promotion of his new book.
That said, I do have a few problems with how he has chosen to frame the issue. He starts out with a title about gender being socially constructed or Biblically given, which is misleading at best, considering he barely addresses that particular issue. He is right in his assessment that it undergirds a lot of related issues, which is why I began my current series with a post explaining the difference between sex and gender.
In the middle of his piece, Driscoll touches on a few particular issues concerning gender in the church – translations about referring to God in feminine and gender-neutral terms, about the book The Shack portraying God as a black woman (recall, however, that he discussed and bashed this book without ever having read it), the recent headlines about a family in
Sweden Toronto who have decided to raise their kid, Storm, as genderless (which, by the way, is an extreme and not representative of the whole). His last point is about the acceptance of homosexuality in the church.
The inclusion of this last point tells me that Driscoll still doesn’t quite “get it.”
Homosexuality and social construction of gender are, indeed, related, but still separate issues. The relation is tangential and the construction of gender really only enters into the picture when discussing the B and T in LGBT (bisexual and transgender, for those of you who are unfamiliar). However, the femininity or masculinity of a man or women has very, very little to do with their romantic relationships and attractions to either their own gender or the opposite gender; indeed, homosexuality cannot be determined by a man being effeminate or a lady being masculine. In fact, I know lesbians who are much more feminine than I am and straight women who are “butch”* which signals to me that one’s construction of gender identity does not have a lot to do with their sexuality.
The conflation of these two issues – gender identity and homosexuality – tells me that, in Driscoll’s mind, they are still inextricably linked and it is impossible for him to have a discussion on it without bringing back the stereotype that “effeminate men” are secretly gay, rather than merely comfortable with their personalities and their bodies. Such a stereotype is hurtful across the board – I cannot tell you how many times I was called a “dyke” when I had short hair, and I have quite masculine gay friends who are deeply offended by the idea that because they are gay, they must (for example) know a lot about shoes. This is a stereotype that our culture perpetuates, and it appears that Driscoll has bought into it hook, line and sinker. And that is regrettable.
Driscoll then launches into a confusing false dichotomy about the debate about whether or not God is more like a mother or a father (most of the time, the argument is that he is genderless…so, way to talk around it?). From the way he constructs the paragraph, it is clear to me that he views the idea of God as a motherly being as a bad idea. He places motherly characteristics alongside a description of theology that he publicly despises (there’s even a slight nod to Rob Bell!):
Outside of the gender debate, other debates about such things as God judging people, punishing them, and pouring out his wrath in the conscious, eternal torments of hell are in some ways asking if God is more like a Father who defends his children from their enemies or a Mother who loves everyone until they inevitably and eventually decide to join the family.
He then offers the fact that young single men are leaving the church in droves (ignoring the fact that most studies point the idea that young people are leaving the church, or at least the more conservative churches). But it begs the question: are we sure that men are leaving the church because it’s becoming “sissified,” or could it be that they feel they cannot live up to the ridiculous and arbitrary standard of manhood? One really cannot take a fact about a demographic and then decide that their explanation is the right one – I’m pretty sure there are a lot of other factors that go into why young people are not in the seats at church. I know that I have been fairly disillusioned with the American church and its overall take on gender and social justice issues, which is why I’ve had a lot of trouble finding a good church to settle in, especially here in what is historically the most Republican state in the nation.
That said, I appreciate that Driscoll has a heart for young men. I really do. I just disagree with his methods. Drawing young men back by catering to an arbitrarily high and rigid standard of masculinity does not challenge them to be better men, but, I would contend, only solidifies latent misogyny and brings it to the surface.
He also claims that because young men are not maturing (presumably because our culture has become fuzzy on gender), young women are not “expecting to marry and are preparing to become mothers” because they cannot find “stable” men. I get where he’s going – lots of single mothers with deadbeat fathers for their children – but I would argue that this goes far beyond mere social construction of gender roles. It also ignores the agency of the woman – perhaps women are delaying marriage because they, like me, would prefer to pursue a career and have more opportunities now than ever before to do so. For me, I know that having a career has delayed my romantic life, and I’m okay with that.
And here we are: finally! CONTEXT! Evidently, the facebook status (as many noted in comments over the weekend) stemmed from a conversation he had with a blue-collar guy who walked out of a church service because the worship leader was, as Mark has paraphrased, too effeminate.
However, I would contend that Driscoll’s reaction does not get to the root of the problem. Rather than admonish the man for his individual problem of failing to recognize that the Body of Christ is huge and massive and is a big tent community that includes all sorts of people and yes, one of those people is the worship leader in question, Driscoll decides that the worship leader is the problem. Rather than affirm the great graceful community that we all become a part of when we claim the name of Christ, Driscoll instead launches an attack, bullying men who do not fit his mold and pushing women to the sidelines. Bluntly: That’s not a Christlike response.
I am glad Driscoll appears to have realized that his method of delivery is poor and that he will seek to give greater context to his musings (and possibly some well-exegeted Biblical support? Or is that too much to ask?). I am grateful for the chance to engage in this discussion further (are you going to enable blog comments? Are you? Huh? Huh?). But I think this non-apologetic apology starts us off, again, on the wrong foot.
Here’s praying and hoping that Driscoll’s mind will be opened up by exploring this issue, but I’m not holding my breath.
*This, by the way, is a term I personally hate and I apologize for using it. It serves to get my point across clearly.