Sympathy for the devil? No, Ms. Held Evans, just for Mark Driscoll

I don’t have the book in front of me, and if I did, I probably couldn’t find the quote. But about 25 years ago I read something by St. Francis de Sales in which he warned against judging others. He said something like this: we cannot say for certain that anyone is a thief, liar, or adulterer just because they’ve stolen, lied, or committed adultery in the past. Why? Because we are unable to look into their hearts at this moment and see what’s going on. Only God can. When we judge, however, we presume to have this God-like ability.

We must always, de Sales says, give our fellow sinners the benefit of the doubt that they’ve changed.

Although I wouldn’t necessarily apply this principle to the criminal justice system or our national defense policy, I think it’s a good principle for our personal lives. Indeed, I think it gets to the heart of Jesus’ words against judging.

With this in mind, you can imagine what I think of this week’s popular blog post by Rachel Held Evans entitled “Inside Mark Driscoll’s disturbed mind.”

How does Held Evans know not simply that Driscoll can be a boorish jerk at times, or that he believes things with which she strenuously disagrees—but that he has an “ugly heart,” that he has a “disturbed” and “troubled mind,” and that he “needs counseling”? Because of some recently unearthed comments that he posted pseudonymously to his church website 14 years ago.

Fourteen years ago.

By all means, at 31, he was old enough to know better, to be smarter—heck, to be a better human being! But is it fair to judge the man today based on what he said or did 14 years ago? Suppose that 14 years ago (or five years ago, or last year, or last month) someone secretly filmed or taped you at your worst. How would you look? What conclusions would people reach about you as a person right now? And would those conclusions be fair?

Driscoll has recently apologized for some of the very things that Held Evans doesn’t like about him. Is it impossible to believe that the Holy Spirit can actually change someone’s heart?

It’s hard to miss the irony when this same Rachel Held Evans complained in a post just two days earlier about her own critics, asking, “What do you do when religious people respond to your questions by calling you names? By mocking you? By casting you out?”

Held Evans doesn’t get many dissenters in the comments section of any of her posts, but she got at least one very smart one—a theologian and apologist from New Zealand whom I read named Glenn Peoples. He wrote:

I say this with not the least bit of hope that it will do any good, and I’d like to be wrong.

You say that there’s no excuse to be had because of “youth,” because he wasn’t even a youth. Fair enough. And yet, the very reason this needs to be pointed out is because you are aware that this was some time ago now, and you know that Mark – even though you evidently do not like him or what he says – no longer says things. He has “grown up,” even if you think he should have known better even then.

You say “I’m as sick as everyone else of talking about this guy.” But the truth is that you’ve spent many words criticising him. However, until now you’ve been criticising him for the person he is – or at very least the person you take him to be – now. Why then do you need, now, to give coverage to this gold nugget, this scoop that someone has uncovered, this smoking gun of how much worse Mark was years ago? Is it because you think he has regressed to that old self?

How is this not just a Christianised version of the British tabloid? yes, Mark has been a jerk and confirmed some male stereotypes in the process. There’s a certain stereotype about girls and gossip too.

Ponder the reactions you are now getting. One woman has said, in effect, that she has been concerned about mark for some time, but now she has seen THIS! As though this represents how bad he has gotten. But it doesn’t, does it?

I’ve criticised Mark in the past and have no problem with those who do. But this? This does not help your own reputation any more than it helps Mark’s.

Keep it juicy, RHE. Apparently it’s the thing now.

18 thoughts on “Sympathy for the devil? No, Ms. Held Evans, just for Mark Driscoll”

  1. Wow! Terrific smack down. Reminds me of C. S. Lewis’ way of addressing critics, rubbish peddlers, devils, and dark kingdom purveyors dressed as white knights. Or, more curreently, N.T. Wright!

  2. Brent, help me understand Dr. People’s point? How is it gossipy for RHE to refer to a public conversation about shocking and apparently fairly hate-filled language used by a prominent Christian leader?

    1. Gossipy in a sensationalistic way—in a way that generates lots of heat (and blog traffic) and little light. In other words, it’s well-known that RHE dislikes Mark Driscoll, and who can blame her or anyone else for disliking Mark Driscoll? These new revelations from 14 years ago, however, add nothing to the argument against him—unless she can show, as Peoples says, that he has regressed to that level. Driscoll says he’s trying to be a better human being, so who knows?

      I’m for giving him the benefit of the doubt. Again, I wouldn’t want the world to see me at my worst 14 years ago. His comments were semi-private, in the sense that he didn’t imagine that the public would attribute them to him.

      I hope I don’t need to point out that I’m not defending Driscoll’s words or behavior. I don’t like his style or substance! But that doesn’t mean I think he’s a monster. And my virgin ears have heard worse. His expletives don’t give me the vapors or anything.

  3. Sorry. I disagree, and that’s fine that you and I disagree. However, leadership is held to a higher standard. Yes, he repented of some mistakes he has made in the past, but in a sense these are new accusations. He has NOT specifically addressed this lengthy blog and the posts he made. He literally sounds like a mad man. These blog posts were made public (at least anyone with a brain knows that posting things online puts them out their for eternity). They were thought out, they were made over a long period of time, and they are harmful if he indeed feels that way. You are right, there are things I have said years ago that i am not proud of. However, I would NEVER and have never posted stuff like this on the web over such a prolonged period of time. He did this when he was a pastor! Such hateful words and shaming are serious things…they are spiritual abuse. And I still snese such a shame-filled message from Mark Driscoll when I hear him that it is not out of the question for one to think that Driscoll has watered down his tone, but still believes this basic “pussified nation” stuff. Yes, we forgive him. But should this man lead? Put another way, would you trust a teacher with your kids who created written blogs over a period of time that exemplified severe verbal abuse, shaming, hatred, misogyny, etc? Would you accept his/her apology and continue to allow them to teach your children? Yes, you forgive them, but you don’t allow them to lead. (And how many apologies has Mark made over the years and continued to demonstrate boorish behaviour??) I guess we will “agree to disagree”.

    1. Questions about his fitness to be a pastor are irrelevant to my point. Of course I wouldn’t want him to be my pastor—or pastor to my children. But I don’t need his comments from 14 years ago to know that. While you wouldn’t want anyone shining a spotlight on you at your worst 14 years ago, you’re confident that “you at your worst 14 years ago” were not as bad as Driscoll.

      Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t be willing to say that.

    2. Also, you mention his watering down his tone over the years. But isn’t “tone” a big part of everyone’s problem with Mark Driscoll’s pseudonymous comments? What I mean is, if he’s watered down his tone, then that’s a sign of progress as far as I’m concerned. There are actual ideas underneath his ugly words, some of which are worthy of debate or discussion. I happen to think that there’s a crisis among men in this country—boys being treated as “defective” girls in education; men increasingly refusing to grow up (as reflected in declining rates of college attendance). I’ve blogged about it. Many serious scholars agree—although their tone would obviously be very different from Driscoll’s, to say the least. While I disagree with Driscoll about women in ordained ministry and his interpretations of those scriptures he cites, the fact that someone believes women shouldn’t be ordained for biblical reasons doesn’t make them misogynists.

      Do you see what I mean? These are actual ideas—with “tone” stripped away. I usually disagree with Mark Driscoll, and don’t get me started on his hyper-Calvinist theology, but I’m happy to have a conversation or debate about the ideas… So long as he changes his tone first.

      1. Again, we will agree to disagree. But did you read the blogs? They exuded hate, he told women to shut up, he ridiculed effeminate men….these are traits of a disturbed, hateful person with some major hangups. I am not perfect, but i can promise you I have not committed such hateful prose over a prolonged period of time on a blog that lasts forever. Few have. How many times has he apologized and then acted boorish again? Scriptures also warn us to be wise and discerning. It sounds like you have never been a victim of serious spiritual abuse and shaming that MD excels in. Be glad. It is not to be taken lightly. It drives people away from the Lord, sometimes for good. And in regards to women in ministry, it is NOT just that he thinks they should not be ordained. He feels they should not be the major breadwinner, they should stay at home with the kids, and in his blog he refuses to even acknowledge their ideas and basically tells them to shut up and listen to a man. He treats them like lesser people. He has blamed infidelity partially on their not continuing “to look attractive”. This is dangerous stuff and has resulted in people being hurt..

        People do not like bullies. And MD is a bully. Must I list his long list of offenses? How many bullying behaviors must he continually exhibit, ‘repent of” and repeat until people like you say “OK, maybe this guy should not be in leadership.” Bottom line is that he stays there because Mars Hill is big business and has a lot of customers. You know it and I know it. The elders will probably say “We need to forgive him” and the pattern repeats itself. Matt 10:16 says we should be gentle like doves, but also wise like serpents. I think people like me (and RHE) are disgusted that the MH elders continually refuse to remove such a dangerous and abusive person from leadership….people have been hurt, are being hurt, and because of their lack of action will continue to be hurt.

  4. Also, what did you mean when you said “boys being treated as ‘defective’ girls in education”? You lost me there…

    And again, MD’s feelings that women should not be ordained do not make him a are correct. But his behavior, other beliefs, written word, spoken word over the course of decades DOES in my opinion. I mean, Brent…if this guy ain’t a misogynist, who the heck is? He continually perpetuates a feeling of women as lesser beings.

    1. “He continually perpetuates a feeling of women as lesser beings.”

      If that is true, then there is no need to go digging into what he said 14 years ago. It’s not a convoluted observation. if he’s not still saying things like he did then and he has indicated that he has changed, then what’s the point?

      Traffic. That’s it. Let’s not call it anything else.

      1. I address why there IS a need for the Elders to dig into what he said 14 years ago….read comments below on this page.

  5. Olson’s article is good. I am a college prof and i have noticed the same thing. I talk to my male students about this. Ironically, James Dobson (another person lampooned by MD in his blogs) has discussed the same thing.

    It looks like we will not agree. Here is summary of what I feel. He has repeatedly said offensive things over the years…RECENT years. His cycle is to do/say something offensive, say he is sorry, promise that he has changed, claim that the church elders have counseled him……and then repeat the same boorish behavior. Finding blogs like those written when he was in his 30’s as pastor….blogs that were well thought out and detail his idea of a “revolution”, blogs that present his innermost thought re: the subjects he continues to offend…are enlightening in the sense that some nowhave their eyes opened in regards to HOW DEEP AND OFFENSIVE that MD’s beliefs AT LEAST ONCE WERE. When his elders are trying to correct behavior that does not seem to want to be corrected or stay corrected….Yes, I think it good that they finally know the depth of the problems.

    And in regards to RHE, you can criticize her, but people such as her (and me) are frustrated that MD keeps getting a stage despite the fact that he says and does things that hurt people deeply. There is much evidence of people being driven from God and the church because of the venom spewed by MD (Even MD is admitting this, yet he does not appear to be able to change). RHE is smart enough to know that people putting pressure on the MH elders…..through articles like hers and even the blog post I am typing at the moment….DO have an effect on those who will ultimately decide how to deal with this “pastor”. If people continue to write and demand accountability, then perhaps the elders may actually have the courage to do what needs to be done and remove such a dangerous person from a worldwide stage in representing MH. Take his microphone away. But ’tis so hard when there remain such a large number of people who lap up his message….and I feel many who love his message ARE those who treat women as underlings and they only need to hear the blessing of their pastor to continue their bullying ways.


    1. The 14-year-old comments are relevant, you say, because they show how deep-seated Driscoll’s problems are, which help us understand why he is unable to change, even though he repeatedly tries to change—or says he does.

      In Driscoll’s small defense, however, he has changed—in the sense that he isn’t saying the same things today. (See my words above about “tone.”)

      You would counter this by saying, “Ah, but he is saying the same things today, and let me tell you why.” But that can’t be true. If he were saying the same things today, why are these comments noteworthy? What need is there to dredge them up. They offer no new insights. It’s the same old story. In which case, just judge the man by what he says now.

      If, however, his 14-year-old comments are actually worse (maybe much worse) than what he says today (the shock value of which is what inspires RHE to blog about them in the first place) then doesn’t it stand to reason that he has changed? At least a little? In which case, isn’t it unfair to bring this old stuff up?

      You and RHE can’t have it both ways, can you? He’s changed or he hasn’t. And I think that is Dr. Peoples’s main point too.

  6. You’re missing one very important part, Brent. RHE is the arbiter of the sincerity of MD’s actions/repentance.

    I was discussing this with a group of friends, and someone asked, “But shouldn’t even he be given time to repent and learn and grow and repent?”

    My response: I’ve seen growth/learning/repentance [by MD] on several things, and EVERY time, RHE either refuses to believe its sincerity or obfuscates by saying, “But what about these other 50 things that get my knickers in a twist?”

    Another person in the conversation noted that this was really counter-productive. And he’s exactly right. Mark Driscoll could walk up and punch me in the throat, and I’d still take a moment or two to think about it before I got upset, solely because of people like RHE and her — let’s call it was it is — fetish for all things evil in Seattle. And this coming from someone who is no longer a fanboy of MD. This kind of stuff goes over like a pregnant pole vaulter with anyone who REALLY needs to hear about MD’s problems.

  7. I’m surprised this discussion did not land on the issue of research trolls who are (even now) searching the wellspring of youthful indiscretions to discredit their selected ideological targets. This is the age of social media bounty hunters. Facebookers beware! Let me name several indiscreet Big Mouths in my conference. Should I allow them to grow up? To repent? Or should they be ferreted out, hounded to death, anathematized and paraded before the community on the cross of their words? What has happened to common sense?

    1. Common sense and a strong dose of humility and self-awareness. I would hate to be judged by the worst of what I’ve said and done over the past 14 years! I honestly believe I’m becoming a better human being by the power of the Holy Spirit—praise God. But still… Whose life could withstand public scrutiny if the public saw us at our worst? Even us pastors. Right?

      1. Exactly right. But who hasn’t been tempted to make a donkey laugh in the form of an adversary’s past performances? Part of Christian maturity is “leaving room for the wrath of God” (setting aside childishness). Thanks, Brent.

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