Making Sense of the Mars Hill Saga

Ruth Graham tells the story of “How a Megachurch Melts Down” in The Atlantic. Graham begins by outlining the rise and fall of the evangelical church:

“Two years ago, Mars Hill Church was the third-fastest growing large church in the country. Its original location in Seattle had spawned 14 other branches in five states, and 13,000 people attended weekly services at which founding pastor Mark Driscoll’s sermons were projected on large screens. Thousands more connected with the church online, and Driscoll and his wife Grace wrote a guidebook titled Real Marriage that hit #1 on the New York Times best-seller list in January 2012.”

“In hindsight, that year was the pinnacle for Mars Hill. Now it’s all over. Driscoll resigned a few weeks ago after a leave of absence that begin in August. And last Friday afternoon, Mars Hill Church announced online that it will dissolve by January 1.”

Then Graham explains that Driscoll’s and the church’s troubles began in late 2013 when a Christian radio host accused Driscoll of plagiarizing a theologian in a recent book. Graham adds:

“A few months later, the conservative Christian magazine World broke the story that Real Marriage had only landed on the best-seller list because Mars Hill paid a consulting firm $210,000 to boost it there. In July, bloggers dug up a series of crude and relentlessly misogynist comments Driscoll made under a pseudonym on a church discussion board. Writing as William Wallace II, he lambasted America as a “pussified nation,” and posted a bizarre glossary that mocked “male lesbians” (men who think like women), “femans” (women who think like men), “momma’s boys,” “Larry Limps,” and “rock-free” men who attend churches headed by female pastors. His defenders pointed out the comments were 14 years old, but they occurred years into his tenure as a professional pastor.”

Graham poses the obvious question. What went wrong?

“. . . Driscoll was a vocal proponent of the idea that the contemporary American church lacks manliness; as he put it in 2006, “real men” spurn the church because it celebrates a “Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ.” His message appealed to many people for many years. But recently, Driscoll’s own peers and followers began to turn against him, too. Their disfavor ultimately made it impossible for Driscoll to survive. What went wrong—or, from the perspective of Marsh Hill’s numerous noisy critics, what went right?”

The less obvious, more interesting question is why did a “relentlessly misogynist” leader’s message appeal to many people for many years?

Because people, whether inside or outside the church, resist change and prefer simple answers to pressing questions of the day, especially when they are offered up by charismatic demagogues. For example, instead of trying to understand, let alone welcome into the church people whose gender identities and sexual orientations are different than their own, they find comfort in Driscoll-like name calling and his proposed return to unquestioned patriarchy.

If I were a pastor, and I often engage in that flight of fancy, I’d repeatedly tell my congregation that we have to cultivate and then demonstrate empathy for everyone who has felt marginalized by Driscoll-like church leaders. And the only way to do that is to embrace all the subtleties, nuances, and ambiguities inherent in people’s different gender identities and sexual orientations.

But I don’t think I’m very charismatic, so I don’t know how many people would attend my church.

Young Adults Aren’t Having as Much Sex as Everyone Thinks

Sentence to ponder:

“More and more technophilic and commitment-phobic millennials are shying away from physical encounters and supplanting them with the emotional gratification of virtual quasi relationships, flirting via their phones and computers with no intention of ever meeting their romantic quarry: less casual sex than casual text.”   –Teddy Wayne in the New York Times

I recommend reading the article in its entirety. It’s required reading if you don’t know what “IRL” stands for. Wayne’s descriptions and analyses challenge my thinking. Normally, I find the negative reactions of older people to changes in youth culture predictable and mindless. Older people thoughtlessly flatter themselves to think things were always better “back in the day”. By reminding myself that the changes aren’t better or worse than in the past, just different, I consciously practice a form of cultural relativism.

But when many millennials give up, as Wayne reports, on “the more challenging terrain of three-dimensional partners”, it’s hard for me to think screen-based relationships are just different than IRL ones. By punting on in-person vulnerability and physical touch, millennials are foregoing intimacy. And by living less intimately with others, they’re compromising the quality of their lives.

Committed friendships—especially romantic ones—are risky because they’re a by-product of vulnerability. You can’t know how caring and accepting a friend will be until you reveal some of your unflattering attributes, insecurities, fears, and related neuroses. Many millennials appear to be like grade-obsessed, risk-adverse students who consciously avoid challenging courses and instructors.

Wayne focuses too narrowly on sex at the expense of physical touch more generally. Sometimes in fact, the more subtle the touch, the more profound. My clarion call in the Writing Seminar last week was “Depth of description and analysis trumps breadth.” To illustrate this, I had them read a Joe Morgenstern essay titled “How One Scene Can Say Everything: Deconstructing The Five Best Minutes of Little Miss Sunshine“. After reading Morgenstern we watched the scene in which a major family crisis is avoided when a ten year old girl puts her arm around her devastated older brother sitting on the ground below her. Then she gently rests her head on his shoulder. She doesn’t say a word. Within seconds his anger subsides and the family reconciles.

It would be easy to offer up apocalyptic conclusions about the millennials choosing watered down, on-line acquaintances, over wonderfully and painfully flawed “real life” ones. And to the cumulative effect of less physical touch. But I’m going to resist that because their intense aversion to risk didn’t arise in a vacuum.

I suspect something was amiss in the way my peers and I raised our millennial children. Maybe we gave into our fears about their safety and were too overprotective. Maybe we didn’t model as well as we could have what we know. That life is sweeter as a result of intimate friendships even when they provide tremendous joy one day and heartbreak the next.

Are Women Smarter Then Men?

The seven minute video story at the bottom, about a group of friends in Chile, is a true joy. Do yourself a favor and start your week with it. How wonderful that these women have been friends for six decades. And I love their quirky personalities and exquisite taste in baked goods. Best of all, the beautiful “punchline” at the very end.

The Good Wife has had a similar group of close friends for close to two decades. To the Chileans, the Olympia Coffee Klatchers are mere pups.

For decades, in Ybor City, FL, Mother Dear has spent almost every Saturday morning enjoying Cuban coffee and cheese bread with the same girlfriends.

Big Sissy has been walking her Northwest Indiana ‘hood with the same few girlfriends for decades.

Increasingly, positive psychologists are telling us what we already instinctively know. Life is most meaningful when lived in community.

In fairness, some men make time for one another. My closest friend at work has helped lead a raucous book club in Tacoma, WA for the last 20-30 years. Of course, when Oprah learned about “Gower”, they were invited onto her show. And Older SoCal Bro gathers for coffee with a few male friends most Saturdays. And I run with the same group of male misfits a few times a week. We’ve had women members, but we’re so uncouth, they don’t last long.

Despite some evidence of male bonding, I can’t help but conclude women are more intentional, and therefore smarter, about investing in friendships. Why is that?

Hey Beginning Teachers, Don’t Do This

In a 40 yard dash the Labradude would beat me by at least 20 yards, but stretch it out a few miles and the tide turns. In fact, when I pick him up near the end of a run for a lap around the ‘hood, he often slows me down. Until I yell at him. Not that kind of yelling. When I say, “Good boy! That a boy! Keep it up Marley! You’re the Usain Bolt of Labradoodles!” he picks up the pace.

When Kemberly Patteson was getting her teaching credential, someone should have told her that even dogs respond best to positive reinforcement. What’s true for the Labradude is doubly true for adolescents. Which leads to the funny/sad story of the week.

From the Associated Press. STEVENSONSkamania County — A Stevenson High School teacher who used a “Wheel of Misfortune” to discipline students will keep her job.

The Stevenson-Carson School District concluded Thursday that science teacher Kemberly Pattesonused poor judgment but never intended to hurt or embarrass students with the spinning wheel, which violated the district’s anti-bullying policy.

The Columbian reports a parent complained last week about how students would spin the wheel to find out what their punishment would be for low-level misconduct.

One of the choices was a firing squad with rubber balls that classmates would throw. The wheel has been removed.

Think how much time the Wheel of Misfortune took from meaningful teaching and learning. I can just picture the class hooting and hollering as the smiling offender approaches the Wheel. Patteson, playing Vanna White, probably narrated the whole thing. “What has today’s perp won? Death by rubber balls!”

At that point, I imagine, all hell broke lose. If I was a high schooler, trying to bean my classmate would’ve been a highlight of the day. It probably took most of the class period to recover from the pandemonium.

Paragraph to Ponder

Imagine two well-off households, each with $100,000 in the stock market in 2007. A family that sold in 2009 after losing half its portfolio’s value may now have $50,000 in a savings account. A family that held on would now have about $130,000 in stocks. The inequality has yawned merely because of the investing decisions. In the long run, those savings accounts have a vanishingly small chance of outperforming stocks.

From Bad Stock Market Timing Fueled Wealth Disparity

On Guns

Another high schooler takes a gun to school and uses it. Washington State voters consider an initiative to tighten gun ownership regulations. I still have no idea about how to talk about gun ownership.

One approach would be to study the historical context of the Second Amendment. For example, we could turn to Michael Waldman’s “biography” of the Second Amendment. Here’s an excerpt of a Mother Jones interview with Waldman.

MJ: What preconceived notions about the Second Amendment did the history that you uncovered confirm or debunk?

MW: There are surprises in this book for people who support gun control, and people who are for gun rights. When the Supreme Court ruled in Heller, Justice Scalia said he was following his doctrine of originalism. But when you actually go back and look at the debate that went into drafting of the amendment, you can squint and look really hard, but there’s simply no evidence of it being about individual gun ownership for self-protection or for hunting. Emphatically, the focus was on the militias. To the framers, that phrase “a well-regulated militia” was really critical. In the debates, in James Madison’s notes of the Constitutional Convention, on the floor of the House of Representatives as they wrote the Second Amendment, all the focus was about the militias. Now at the same time, those militias are not the National Guard. Every adult man, and eventually every adult white man, was required to be in the militias and was required to own a gun, and to bring it from home. So it was an individual right to fulfill the duty to serve in the militias.

MJ: You point out that the NRA has the Second Amendment inscribed in their lobby, but with the militia clause removed.

MW: Yes. That was first reported in an article inMother Jones in the ’90s. But I didn’t want to rely on just that, so one of my colleagues went out to the NRA headquarters to look at the lobby. And she had her picture taken in front of the sign so we could confirm that it was actually still there!

MJ: Based on the history you’ve uncovered, do you think the founders understood there to be an unwritten individual right to arms that they didn’t include in the Constitution?

MW: Yes. And that might be noteworthy for some. There were plenty of guns. There was the right to defend yourself, which was part of English common law handed down from England. But there were also gun restrictions at the same time. There were many. There were limits, for example, on where you could store gunpowder. You couldn’t have a loaded gun in your house in Boston. There were lots of limits on who could own guns for all different kinds of reasons. There was an expectation that you should be able to own a gun. But they didn’t think they were writing that expectation into the Constitution with the Second Amendment.

MJ: So then why focus on the Second Amendment and not the English Bill of Rights or other things the framers drew on that more clearly address individual gun ownership?

MW: We are not governed today, in 2014, by British common law. Law evolved, the country evolved. It was a very rural place. There were no cities. There were no police forces. It was a completely different way of living. So gun rights activists turned this into a constitutional crusade. Those who want more guns and fewer restrictions realized they could gain some higher ground if they claimed the Constitution.

When I learn about the historical context of the Second Amendment, the question I’m left with is this: Is the threat of a federal government take-over at the hands of anti-American insurrectionists so great that local police, state troopers, and the National Guard can’t be expected to repel it?

But no matter how reasonably the “historical context” argument is made, the pro-gunners will never accept Waldman-like interpretations of the amendment because doing so would impose limits on gun ownership and that is an anathema to them. Making that approach a complete dead-end.

What about appealing to safety in public spaces? Also a dead-end. Most pro-gunners believe school cafeterias, legislative buildings, movie theaters become safer as a greater percentage of people in those places carry licensed guns. The thinking being upstanding private citizens will gun down the evil ones perpetrating acts of violence on innocent bystanders before authorities are able to respond.

For example, if the food service workers in the Marysville High School cafeteria were carrying, one of them could have killed the shooter from across the cafeteria before he had the opportunity to kill and injure any of his classmates. I guess we’re supposed to assume that she hits the perp, but no other students because she regularly receives expert firearm training.

What about pointing out the loopholes in gun ownership laws, the propensity of some parents not to hide or lock their guns, the uneven training gun owners undergo, and the number of mentally ill people that manage to get ahold of guns. Dead-end. The pro-gunners think that if they give into any tightening of gun ownership requirements it will lead to more, and eventually, the confiscation of their guns.

What about comforting those most afraid of dying at the hands of violent criminals with what we know about how most people die?

Number of deaths for leading causes of death—2011 (Center for Disease Control)

  • Heart disease: 596,577
  • Cancer: 576,691
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 142,943
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,932
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 126,438 (1. poisoning; 2. car accidents; 3. gun violence)
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 84,974
  • Diabetes: 73,831
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,826
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 45,591
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 39,518

A dead-end too because pro-gunners will argue that if you’re more likely to die while driving than at the hands of violent criminals, it’s proof that the status quo of relatively uninhibited gun ownership is working. My reading of those statistics is that no amount of weaponry will protect the mostly sedentary masses from what and how much they eat.

One dead-end after another.