Not exactly repentant

Evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll faces protesters and learns some life lessons.


Rebecca Traister
December 5, 2006 11:15PM (UTC)

Some news from that crazy place where evangelism and feminism intersect: Prominent evangelical leader Mark Driscoll has sort of apologized for comments he made in the wake of the Ted Haggard scandal.

After news of Haggard's affair with a male prostitute broke back in early November, Driscoll, the founder of Seattle's Mars Hill Church, wrote on his blog that some of the blame might rest with Haggard's missus, Gayle. "It is not uncommon to meet pastors' wives who really let themselves go," Driscoll opined. "They sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband's sin, but she may not be helping him either."

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A bunch of humorless people got all irate about this blame-the-woman stuff and organized a protest, scheduled for Sunday at the Mars Hill Church. Apparently wanting to avoid a messy public showdown, Driscoll has announced that he met with the protesters, and published a limply conciliatory message on his blog.

"A few weeks back, in the wake of the Ted Haggard fall," he wrote, "I posted a blog that I hoped would help young pastors to diminish some of their vulnerability to disqualifying sin. At first, I had joy because many pastors notified me of how helpful they found my comments. But my joy soon faded; one of the quotes in particular that was intended as a general principle was applied specifically to Mrs. Haggard, which I did not intend to have happen in any way."

So, a quick recap: When, in the wake of a pastor's public straying, Driscoll wrote about how a pastor might be prompted to stray by a lazy wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available, he was not referring to the actual straying pastor or his wife. But no one got that, which resulted in a diminishment of joy.

A result of this simple misunderstanding was that "an online group" of ticked-off joyless people started "combing through seemingly anything and everything that I have ever written or said, seeking statements to fan a fire of protest against me and the church that I pastor."

More background: Sleuthing wizards who applied a super-fine-toothed comb to Driscoll's blog did in fact turn up an August entry in which he took down some Presbyterians thinking of applying gender-inclusive language to the father-son-centric Holy Trinity. "Some chicks and some chickified dudes with limp wrists and minors in 'womyn's studies' are not happy because two persons of the Trinity have a dude-ish ring," wrote Driscoll.

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Then there were the nit-pickers who took their semantic microscope to a Driscoll ditty posted days after his possibly Haggard-related comments, in which he weighed in on the installation of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the head of the Episcopal Church, and her "get over it" retort to dioceses that rejected her election on the grounds that she was female. Using his gift for subtle satire, Driscoll posted the "related news" that "the testosterone levels of male Americans has dropped significantly in the past twenty years," and his speculation that "if Christian males do not man up soon, the Episcopalians may vote a fluffy baby bunny rabbit as their next bishop to lead God's men. When asked for their perspective, some bunny rabbits simply said that they have been discriminated against long enough and that people need to 'Get over it.'"

Driscoll says the protest had him concerned for his safety, and that he was inspired by Billy Graham's biography, in which the evangelist "turn[ed] his most vocal critics into coaches" to meet with his own detractors. (He was also inspired by a call from Haggard's publicist's niece. Money quote: "Through her, God convinced me that I need to hire someone to do what she does.")

On Nov. 30, he sat down with protesters from "mainline and independent churches, megachurches and house churches, male pastors and female pastors, Reformed and Emergent," and spent a few "honest, respectful, and helpful" hours with them. And what he learned was that his "theological convictions, even the most controversial ones, are as unwavering as ever."

Awesome. But his critics also taught him that he has a "responsibility to speak about my convictions in a way that invites other people to experience charity from me, which means inflammatory language and such need to be scaled back." (Note to Driscoll: ix-nay on the "chickified dudes with limp wrists" and "fluffy baby bunny rabbits.") One chick pastor even had "a very good insight": That Driscoll should consider that as an influential leader, his words are being heard both by those who know and understand him and by those who are unfamiliar with his work.

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Right-o. So to sum up: Driscoll still believes that girls are like bunnies and shouldn't run churches, and that some pastors have fugly wives who kick-start their gayness, and that anyone who gives thought to updating religious language probably holds a degree in "womyn's studies." But now, thanks to the time he spent turning his critics into coaches, he understands that he shouldn't use such mean words to say all this stuff. And he's happy that his critics have helped teach him this valuable lesson.

Anytime, buddy. We're in the book.


Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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