Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Fiasco of Evangelical Leader Mark Driscoll: "Something in the Masculine Christianity Playbook"?

Yesterday, I noted that the contemporary discussion of exile among conservative Christians who believe they are losing culture-war battles against women's and gay rights is clearly being driven by straight white males. It's that subset of the church who, quite specifically, feel defeated and now want to lead their churches into petulant exile. 

I noted that the impulse to abandonment is the flip side of the impulse to control. It is another manifestation of the impulse to control — control by shunning and cold scorn — those who have been resistant to the attempt at overt control. There is a strong gendered subtext in the discussion about exile, and it needs to be lifted out and examined, if our discussion of this escalating theme in conservative American Christian thought today is to be fruitful. 

And now today, I read Becky Garrison and Hollis Phelps reporting at Religion Dispatches about what has been happening at Mars Hill church in Seattle, the influential evangelical megachurch founded by (among others) its controversial current pastor, Mark Driscoll. I discussed Driscoll recently.

Driscoll has just returned from vacation to find himself in a heap of trouble, as 21 former leaders of the church have asked that he step down as its pastor. Their request comes on the heels of a decision of the Acts 29 Network, an all-male coalition of evangelical pastors he founded, to remove him and Mars Hill from the group's membership list and to ask that he resign as pastor. Prior to this, 80 former church members publicized complaints about what they allege are years of abusive, bullying behavior by Driscoll as pastor, with misogynistic overtones.

There are now growing rumblings about fiscal impropriety. The church used to practice financial transparency, disclosing its financial records to congregants, but now uses loopholes provided to faith communities by the IRS to keep its finances hidden, including from its members. A former Mars Hill employee has gone public with strongly credible allegations that funds donated to the Mars Hill Global Fund ended up being used for other purposes.

As Becky Garrison notes, what's happening with Driscoll and Mars Hill mirrors events in other prominent evangelical megachurches and evangelical organizations, all headed by powerful, dominating charismatic men. And then she concludes:

It’s tempting to ask whether there’s something in the masculine Christianity playbook that makes its proponents so scandal prone.

Hollis Phelps follows Garrison's lead with a headline, "Blame Muscular Christianity for Driscoll Fiasco." In Phelps's view, Driscoll's abuse of power (and the abuse of power evident in many other like-minded evangelical churches) has everything in the world to do with the theology of "male headship" of church and family. Phelps writes,

Although Acts 29 stresses that "male headship" should not be confused with "domineering control," it’s no anomaly that given the terms such control is the real result, historically and in the present. Nor is it an anomaly when the imaginary of "male headship" expresses itself in overtly misogynstic and homophobic terms, as in Driscoll’s case. It's a logical result of a "ministry" that grounds itself in inequality, and it would, unfortunately, be easy to draw up similar instances.

"It's a logical result of a 'ministry' that grounds itself in inequality" — ministry that grounds itself in inequality, as the ordained clerical ministry within the Catholic church does, citing the mind of Christ, which the all-male official leaders of the Catholic church claim to divine in an exclusive way though Jesus himself never said anything at all about restricting leadership in the community of his followers to males. In fact, he contravened strong gender norms of his religious culture by including women among his disciples and by practicing open table fellowship that did not exclude women, despite the purity regulations of his religious culture that found women a source of potential pollution when they sat at table with men.

It seems to me that it would be inadvisable for Catholics to read about how the notion of "male headship" sometimes wreaks havoc in evangelical communities and to imagine themselves smugly aloof from the same havoc. "It's a logical result of a 'ministry' that grounds itself in inequality": this applies to the Catholic church, too.

P.S. The hog theme in the graphic certainly fits if we're talking about the current man-cave leaders of the U.S. Catholic church, doesn't it? First there was this. And then there was this. What next, one wonders?

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