It is impossible at this point to find a good guy in the Acts 29 dispute with Mark Driscoll. The organization has now separated from their founder and erstwhile rockstar preacher. The man who became an icon thanks to the dreadfully unoriginal Blue Like Jazz, has now become a parody of maleness, which is the final, hysterical irony since he thought to reimagine masculinity for this "pussified nation," a nation that included churches and pastors with whom he disagreed. "They will know you are my disciples by your love." Silly, Jesus. They'll know it because I write books about sex, all kinds of sex, and I yell at men for not having Mars Hill DNA, which is to say they must believe leadership is about having literal and metaphorical testicles.
Before proceeding, it's fair to inform readers that I am not criticizing from a pristine history. I was a staff pastor at a church in the 90s that was, by any definition, spiritually abusive. I, too, participated in behaviors I later regretted, primarily because I did substantial harm to some people who trusted the leadership of our church, a leadership team that included me. I have apologized to some, but not all; many of them I will probably never see again. This critique, then, comes not as a jeremiad, but as a lesson learned at the expense of others.
Driscoll has always been Driscoll. He did not suddenly become the abrasive, abusive, misogynist whom Acts 29 now conveniently repudiates. That his own board responded to the Acts 29 decision with the dubious claim that, "There is clear evidence that the attitudes and behaviors attributed to Mark in the charges are not a part and have not been a part of Mark’s life for some time now," only highlights how aware they were of the behaviors going back many years. Driscoll has been verbally abusing people in a multitude of ways, and according to charges filed by his own network of pastors, actively working to destroy lives and reputations for years.
Those are hideous charges against someone in any field, but for a pastor to engage in those behaviors only shows that he knows some perverse form of the message but ignores Jesus, "You read the Scriptures because in them you believe you have eternal life, but they testify about me." And it's painfully clear that Driscoll and many of his followers never met Jesus, and I say that as someone who believes the idea of relationship with Jesus is absurd, but I believe it's possible to be transformed by an ideal or a persistent belief in a relationship with a god, just as I believe a commitent to the 12 Steps can change an addict's life. The 12 Steps have to be followed, much like the Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism, but Mars Hill and Driscoll seem to practice a Christianity devoid of actual practice. It's the most bizarrely cultural expression of faux Christianity I've seen. Liberal churches, which are often accused of being cultural compromisers, actually do something besides believe a 500 year old strain of European theology, one that is tainted with an American Psycho style masculinity and obsession with image.
No one at this point should be surprised by Driscoll's long-overdue fall from rockstar status. There will be defenders; that is the nature of celebrity. Many will be compelled to defend this man for reasons we have discussed before, but the board of Mars Hill and the board of Acts 29 are both actors in bad faith in this situation, even as the board of Acts 29 put out an exasperated-sounding letter divorcing Driscoll and Mars Hill. They sought to seize the moral high ground, but it's been unavailable to leaders in Acts 29 since they signed on for Driscoll's methods and signed those idiotic, clearly-meant-to-hide-ugly-shit nondisclosure agreements. Seriously, how could they not see what was coming? A business has you sign a non-disclosure agreement to protect proprietary products, processes, recipes, etc., and parties in a lawsuit will sign them to protect plaintiff or defendant or both (and, yes, I know they can be sketchy, too), but why in hell would a church ask a minister to sign one? Why not just put an explanation at the top: "We do bizarrely bad shit here that is completely antithetical to the faith we claim, so sign this just in case you find your conscience; we'll help you find your balls."
The problem with Acts 29 is not going to be solved by removing Driscoll. His DNA is the grammar of Acts 29, as in his methods, his haranguing, his taunts, his mockery, his misogyny, his abusive tactics, his obvious sexual pathologies, all are built ino the system, and the DNA won't be removed by removing its creator. He's already replicated himself and his model hundreds of times in young men who wanted to be just like the "Cussing Pastor." He is obsessed with power and control, and why not? Acts 29 believes in a God who is equally obsessed; they simply give it a theological term, sovereignty, and then add it to "grace" to create one of the most untenable theological phrases of all time. The desire for power and control have been passed onto the leadership; indeed, the whole model attracted insecure males with power and control issues. All that was left was to convince the wives that they needed to open their uteruses and close their mouths, unless the latter was necessary for other things, and no, I don't know which chapter that was in How to Have Reformed Sex Like Your Favorite MMA Star, or whatever his book was called.
Two questions remain. First, why did Acts 29 wait so long to make this move? You don't get to pat yourself on the back for being patient and gracious with Driscoll if you knew all along he was hurting people. You don't help an abuser get better by working with him to be incrementally less abusive. That just allows the abuse to continue, and the ones who suffer are supposed to be the ones this message of grace is helping. It's perverse by any standard, and to call it graciousness is to get the Bible wrong yet again: "Woe to them who call evil good." Seriously, read the book.
Second, is this smackdown of Driscoll because the others are tired of taking his shit and now want to be the ones who dispense it? I hear good things about some of the leadership of Acts 29, but I've also seen mini Driscolls right here in Oklahoma City. One local church is basically an homage to his methods. Clearly, several pastors in the Acts 29 network in Oklahoma City understood what Driscoll was saying. How is it not inevitable that this is true in every city? Acts 29 is not a church network; it's very bad, very destructive viral theology and praxis. Getting rid of Driscoll just cleared the way for mutations of this virus.