I come to you, my audience, today with a heavy heart. The brother of a friend of mine was recently ousted from his church, and his story is only just beginning to be told. As these are events that happened VERY recently, this young man is still struggling with a massive amount of hurt, pain, and heartache. The story is over on my friend Matthew Paul Turner’s blog, in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2.
This week, we learned Andrew’s story. Andrew was a member in good standing at Mars Hill church in Seattle, Mark Driscoll’s domain. He was engaged to the daughter of one of the elders. He cheated on her with an old friend, and almost immediately (within the week) confessed his sin to her. Needless to say, this ended their relationship, which was blow number one.
Blow number two came when the church became involved. Andrew (of his own free will) admitted that his relationship with his ex-fiance was also sexual. This was seen as a sin worthy of “church discipline.” After a month of meeting after uncomfortable meeting with an increasing amount of people in the church (exposing his “sin” FAR beyond just the people directly involved), he was given a contract of church discipline. I strongly urge you to go over to MPT’s blog and read this contract (and come back, of course, because I’m not finished). The “contract” detailed a plan for repentance. It involved banning Andrew from dating (for an unspecified amount of time), required that he write out “in detail” his sexual exploits, and that he have meetings with a church pastor for an unspecified period of time.
Andrew, rightly, thought this was voyeuristic, controlling, and ridiculous, especially in light of the fact that he had confessed his sin, and was already working to make amends. So he refused to sign it and told the church that he would be leaving.
They responded by saying that the discipline would therefore be “escalated.” “Escalation” entailed sending other members of the church (it is a church of 10,000 people, mind), a letter explaining that Andrew had left the church as a "member under discipline," and detailing how people should interact with him should they run into him out and about. These instructions included specific things to say and specific ways to react to him – including refusing to go to social events with him. Basically, “stop being his friend” was the instruction. Again, I urge you to go read the letter over on MPT’s site.
When I read the story, I didn’t know what to do or even how to respond. I told MPT that it made literally sick to my stomach. Forming a coherent response was the furthest thing from my mind. All I wanted to do was give Andrew a hug. As he’s in Seattle and I’m in Chicago, that’s not possible, so, Andrew, if you’re reading this, I want you to know this first and foremost:
You. Are. Loved.
What Mars Hill sees as church discipline is not love.
What Mars Hill did to you is not loving.
It is abusive. And it is wrong.
It is spiritual, verbal, and emotional abuse. It is far worse than any sin you committed.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite lines from the movie Hairspray, spoken by the ineffable Queen Latifah: “Brace yourself for a whole lotta ugly comin' at you from a neverending parade of stupid.” And Andrew, there has been and there will be a whole lotta ugly coming at you for this, both from Mars Hill members and Mark Driscoll sycophants.
But I’m also reminded of another piece of literature, a quote from the wonderful John Green, who writes in his debut novel Looking For Alaska: “We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken.” Andrew, Mars Hill has tried to break you. You said it yourself – they beat you down into spiritual submission. They try to break your spirit.
But your spirit, the part of you that is YOU, can never be broken. They have tried to turn you into a pariah. They’ve tried to make an example of you. But all they have done is made themselves look like asses. And you, the wonderful human being that is Andrew, can never be broken by such people. You proved it when you chose to walk away.
But it with a heavy heart that I know there are so many more in that church experiencing this and feeling alone. And it is with a heavy heart that I realize that Driscoll has been running this church, training these elders and pastors (all without formal training himself, it should be noted and highlighted and underlined and bolded), and developing this church discipline system for the past ten years. Ten years of abused members. Ten years of people being told that they are unlovable unless they obey the church, which has taken the place of God. Ten years of people being made to feel like complete and utter shit.
When Rachel Held Evans posted a call last year to call Driscoll out as a bully, I supported it. Driscoll’s views on women are despicable, and his treatment of those unlike him is far from Christlike, and he is a bully.
And now, we have more proof that he not only is a bully himself, but that he trains his leaders in the church to be bullies. He actively prepares people to abuse others.
But there is hope in this darkest of days.
With the information that is coming out about Mars Hill, the rest of God's Church is speaking up. I see hope in the reactions from the Reformed sphere about Driscoll’s new book. I see hope in the reaction from the UK when Driscoll insulted them by calling them cowards. And I see hope in the internet’s reaction to this story.
Because here’s the thing: it’s all very easy to have an abstract disagreement on theology. I understand that Driscoll and I disagree on, well, everything. And I’ve no problem debating with his ideas and talking about how they’re bad. And debating ideas is fine and healthy, but it admittedly gets us nowhere (Driscoll won't listen to the voice of a woman, for one).
But this? This is indefensible. It is much harder to continue on with approval of a particular theology when you have a hurting, bleeding, broken person staring you in the face, asking you to hear their story. There is such power in listening to these stories, in understanding how someone has been hurt.
After all, Christians proclaim Christ as “the Greatest Story Ever Told.” Narrative is interweaved with our lives as Christ-followers.
So, the breaking of this story gives me a heavy heart, but it also gives me hope. Because theological arguments can be shoved aside, they can be ignored as a “different belief.” But when someone comes to you and tells you their story of brokenness, of hurt, of pain, it is impossible to walk away unchanged.
We never were going to take down Driscoll with theological arguments and debates over Biblical interpretation. That’s not how transformative change happens. Change happens when we hear stories like Andrew’s and we respond with a righteous anger and a radical love. Change happens when we refuse to let pain and anger and voyeuristic legalism win the day.
Love and hope may just be whispers at times, but goddammit, they refuse to be silenced.
And we are the megaphone.
(photo from Todd Metcalfe, of an organization from London called "Love Police.")