Why Mark Driscoll Needs an Elephant | Sojourners

Why Mark Driscoll Needs an Elephant

African bull elephant in Kenya. Image via Getty Images.
African bull elephant in Kenya. Image via Getty Images.

So there’s this fundamentalist, ultra-Calvinist, hyper-macho leader of a mega-church in Seattle named Mark Driscoll. He’s known for reaching out to young males by appealing to their latent misygony and homophobia; i.e.,

to build them up by putting others down.

Disturbing as that is, that’s not why I’m writing today.

I write because I care about Driscoll, the members of his Church — and us. You see, he’s so in control that he’s out of control. He and his ministry are heading toward a train-wreck. And if all we do is point fingers and say “Look at that!”; or merely drive by, slowly rubber-necking as if it were a freak-show on the side of the road; or somehow assume that “someone else will get involved,” we’re no better than the priestly leaders Jesus told about who walked past the beaten up man on the side of the road to Jericho.

It’s been apparent to many of us in the wider Christian community that Driscoll is likely dealing with some serious demons and that he’s repressing his shadow side to the point that he’s acting-out more and more. There is evidence that he may be self-sabotaging himself and his ministry. I fear that some of us may have a selfish delight in watching his ministry gradually implode and are on pins and needles waiting for the final card to be pulled so we can watch his entire house of cards come tumbling down.

To the extent that any of that is going on within us, let’s name it, admit it, engage in a small amount of it, and let God’s grace help us release it as we move forward. That’s the best way to deal with shadows. Sure, it’s a little embarrassing for me to admit to this, but, there’s no judgmental shame or guilt-trip here (those are counter-productive. hint, hint). I’ve had some of that going on within me. I admit to be slightly jealous of Driscoll’s fame and success. I admit to wondering what it’d be like to speak to so many people on such a regular basis. I admit to being envious of him having a young man in his ministry whose YouTube clip went viral.

To remind us, in the past year Driscoll has mockedeffeminate-looking male pastorsand denied women’s role in church leadership. The second of those could be a valid stance for a Church to take. A couple of weeks ago, Driscoll’s thoughts about women in leadership were made known. Quite a few Christian denominations and ministries choose to employ archaic, patriarchy as their norm. Whatever. There are plenty of churches that do affirm and celebrate women in leadership. The critique there is in Driscoll’s language that implies that women “can’t be protective.” I dare him to get between a mother bear or deer, or even my son’s mother, and their offspring. He’d also do well to become more familiar with that Bible that he thumps as there are several passages where God is described as a protective mother bear or eagle.

The first of those two instances of his acting-out is completely out of line. For someone to go out of their way to mock men who he deems as looking “effeminate” suggests someone with issues. Serious issues. It was a female Church leader, Rachel Held Evans, who called him out on that — proving that women can indeed be protective.


I wouldn’t feel inspired to get involved with all of this if it weren’t for the most recent mirror being held up for Driscoll’s Church to gaze upon. In the past three days a series of blogs have been written by Matthew Paul Turner where he recounts the horrific story of “Andrew” — a young member of Driscoll’s Mars Hill ministry. Andrew approached Driscoll for some help regarding his sex life and… instead of responding pastorally

— for instance: thanking him for feeling safe enough to meet with him, deeply listening to the young man, extending Christ’s unconditional love, normalizing his experience, sharing about Church teachings on those matters and why they might be helpful for him to embrace, and then reminding him of God’s forgiveness and grace, praying with him, and offering to be there for him as he continues on his journey –

…Driscoll (and/or other church leaders) threw the book at the poor chap, read him the riot act, and demanded that he sign a “legally binding contract” to

repent — or be ex-communicated!**

That description about what unfolded understates what happened and how. The blogger provides all of the emails between the young man and his church.

Here’s Parts II (“’Gospel Shame’: The Truth About Discipline, Excommunication, and Cult-like Control at Mars Hill”) and III (“Spiritual abuse must stop.”)

Turner’s blogs tell Andrew’s story well and his intention (I think) is to wake up the Church to help prevent these sorts of things that happened to Andrew to happen in other churches in the world.

My intention is to try to inspire those who are in connection, or who could be in connection, with Driscoll to find some inner courage and to help him get the help he needs. I’m urging such people to do an intervention.

You see, I have some skin in this game. I’m a Christian pastor who works with young adults in campus ministry. Increasingly, young people are falling away from Christianity– and in no small part because of the kinds of rhetoric and behavior exhibited by Mr. Driscoll. Simply put,

Driscoll is making it harder for me to do my work as a pastor.

One of the beauties of being a part of a Christian denomination is that there are generally established mechanisms to help rein in pastors who go off the deep-end. The United Methodist Church which I am belong to, seeks to allow pastors freedom of the pulpit, but there are structures in place to help reign in a pastor who goes off the deep-end. Each Conference of the Church has a cabinet comprised of a bishop and district superintendents, there are resources for spiritual direction and psychological counseling, and there’s a Board of Ordained Ministry that ultimately can place a pastor on probation or even revoke their credentials.

Driscoll’s Church, while having a board of elders, is an independent ministry, and it’s one where the buck stops with him. Driscoll’s ministry reaches thousands of people and with such success comes responsibility and danger.

I’m not calling for Mars Hill to adopt an episcopal form of polity, I’m not calling them to adopt more of the “religion” that they seem to loathe, but I have a hunch about what might work.

Driscoll appreciates strong males. He respects them.

As I understand it, in India where rural people live and work with elephants, they’ve come to learn things about elephant behavior. Like humans, elephant calves stay close to their mothers side longer than most other animals. When young male elephants are finally sent forth on their own, they sometimes form wild gangs that terrorize villagers with their rampages.

The villagers have learned that introducing a fully grown bull elephant into the gang of hoodlums mellows them out almost instantly. They thrive when there’s a large male around who they all know could kick their butts (that’s the paradigm that Driscoll operates out of). It’s not really about the potential to kick-ass. It’s that they respect a fully grown mature male and know that they can learn much about how to socialize from being around him. They learn patience, self-control, and they blossom into maturity.

I would submit that

we need to introduce the Christian equivalent of some bull elephants into Driscoll’s village where he is on a rampage.

I’m willing to be part of such a team...though I’m fully aware that I’m still maturing myself, aside from being in ministry for 17 years and having served a wide range of churches. While not particularly big in stature, I’m disproportionately strong for my size and age. I’m currently a fit 43 and weigh in at 155 lbs and can bench press 230lbs (if you give me a couple of months to work back up to it — I’ve been doing a lot of yoga recently).

I realize that I may not be big enough or bull enough … and he’d likely dismiss me out of hand because I’m a progressive Christian who embraces Arminianism instead of Calvinism. And, he probably doesn’t care for my style of masculinity.

The Rev. Jim Wallis however, may be the sort of guy we have in mind. Jim has been a major leader of the liberal wing of Christian evangelicalism. He’s been significant player in Church leadership, has been on the evening news a lot, has spoken before thousands of people on countless occasions, and he helped negotiate a truce between the Bloods and the Crips. Moreover, the guy has been lifting weights for most of his adult life and could bench-press Driscoll several times. Jim’s burly.

Blogger Jonathan Martin might also be one to consider, or perhaps Stanley Hauerwas (“a pacifist who you want on your side in a bar-fight”), Tex Sample (a blue collar theologian and preacher) or Vincent Harding (veteran activist of the Civil Rights movement, who may be most non-anxious presence on the planet). We need to use them while we still can!

But let’s not get too literal here. What Driscoll needs is for some seasoned, mature brothers (and sisters) in the faith who have “done their work,” who have integrated their shadows, who are used to the pressures of the public eye, and who have practiced being a non-anxious, pastoral presence.

Based upon the amount of time and energy that Driscoll devotes to sex, sexuality, and gender issues, my personal hunch is that Driscoll may have issues with his sexuality. Given the pastoral adage

“that which we criticize most in others is that which we struggle with most ourselves,”

the logical tool of Occam’s Razor would suggest that this simplest cause is what’s likely going on here.

It’s an example of someone repressing their shadow. Shadows don’t like being repressed and they tend to explode like volcanoes if not dealt with, owned, and integrated into our lives. An obvious example of this is what happened to Ted Haggard former head of the New Life mega-church and former leader of the National Evangelical Association.

Jesus told a story about someone helping a man who’d been beaten-up and left for dead by highwaymen by the side of the road. Though a stranger, a good Samaritan proved himself to that man’s neighbor by getting involved and taking care of the man and restoring him to health. Church, we’ve just heard about Andrew who was “beaten up by the side of the road” (a victim of clergy abuse). Left unchecked, Driscoll may well do the same thing to other people in his ministry. That simply will not do.

What do we propose to do about it?

In the scriptures, Jesus came across a man whose town felt he was out of control. When he arrived, they’d chained him to a pillar outside of the community. Jesus unbound the troubled man and freed him from his demons.

That is our prayer for Driscoll. He has great talent and potential to be a wonderful pastor of God’s grace and love. He has much of what it takes to be a great Christian leader.

But, Driscoll needs help.

And liberating this troubled man is more likely to happen if we don’t walk-by, or rubber-neck, or gawk, or encourage him to self-destruct. He needs some elephants who

… feel safe enough to meet with him, deeply listen to him, extend Christ’s unconditional love, normalize his experience, share about Church teachings on those matters and why they might be helpful for him to embrace, remind him of God’s forgiveness and grace, and pray with him and offer to be there for him as he continues on his journey..,

Driscoll and Andrew need healing hugs and that can only happen if we get involved.

May God’s amazing, transforming, comforting, strengthening, and healing Grace, Peace, and Love be with Mark Driscoll, Andrew, and the Mars Hill Church during this difficult time.


** We don’t know for certain to what extent Driscoll himself was involved in the incident with Andrew, but we can be certain that Driscoll is a proponent of this form of “discipline,” and, likely was an actor in Andrew’s experience.

The Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor. He is the author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity. He blogs for Patheos, Huffington Post, and Elephant Journal.