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Why Christians shouldn’t celebrate Mark Driscoll’s demise

After more than a decade of controversial comments and behaviors, mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll has taken a leave of absence. But should Christians celebrate the news? - Image courtesy of Mars Hill Church (http://bit.ly/1woCMpR)
After more than a decade of controversial comments and behaviors, mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll has taken a leave of absence. But should Christians celebrate the news? - Image courtesy of Mars Hill Church (http://bit.ly/1woCMpR)

Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler via Shutterstock

After more than a decade of controversial comments and behaviors, mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll has taken a leave of absence. But should Christians celebrate the news? – Image courtesy of Mars Hill Church (http://bit.ly/1woCMpR)

The high in Seattle today was 75 degrees and balmy, but you can’t help feeling that winter is coming early for Mars Hill Church and its founder, Mark Driscoll. The beleaguered pastor announced to his congregation during their 8:30 am service via video that he would be stepping down for at least six weeks while Mars Hill reviews formal charges against him made by 21 former ministers. A round of applause rose in the main auditorium following the announcement.

As I consider this development in light of the shifting tide of public opinion toward Driscoll and the barrage of scandals that he has endured this year alone, I arrive at only one conclusion: [tweetable]The hyper-masculine minister, Mark Driscoll, has been effectively neutered.[/tweetable] He will likely never write another book, and if he does, far fewer will read its words. He will likely never again jet set around the country speaking to tens of thousands week after week. And even if he returns to the pastorate–which I imagine is likely–he’ll ascend the stage a shadow of his former self. [tweetable]The glory days of Mars Hill and its celebrity founder are irrevocably behind them both.[/tweetable]

In the aftermath of the unraveling, even Driscoll’s most longsuffering friends seem to have deserted him. Several prominent church board members resigned, and the Acts29 church planting network that Driscoll founded kicked out Mars Hill Church and called on him to resign. Even the normally even-tempered Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, spoke harshly of Driscoll in a New York Times cover story this week, chiding him for “the brashness and the arrogance and the rudeness in personal relationships.”

So how should Christians respond to such a spectacle?

Part of me, I admit, wants to pump my fist and dance ‘round the kitchen. For more than a decade, Driscoll has angered the masses by  spewing offensive, misogynistic, and homophobic comments. And in the past year, his ministry morphed into an all-out grease fire amid charges of plagiarizing in booksbullying and shunning former staff members, and spending $210,000 in ministry money for personal gain.

So, yes, part of me wants to pop bottles and strike up the band. I want to rejoice like one person in my twitterfeed who responded to the announcement, “Good riddance, Mark Driscoll”. But as I’ve given it more thought, I cannot celebrate the demise of Mark Driscoll, and I don’t think Christians should either.

This may seem like a precarious opinion in light of such a long history of ministerial malfeasance. But I recall Solomon’s words in Proverbs 24:17: “Don’t rejoice when your enemies fall; don’t be happy when they stumble.” As the son of a warlord-king, Solomon had witnessed more fallen foes than he could count on his fingers and toes. Each defeat meant more wealth for his country, more security for his people. Even still, Solomon says that wise people resist the urge to celebrate in such moments.

Why?

Perhaps Solomon knew that releasing the animosity we harbor towards others is the only way the offended can be truly liberated. Maybe he knew, as Henri Nouwen said, “Joy and resentment cannot coexist.” Too often we forfeit all manner of joy, like the elder brother in Jesus’ powerful parable of the prodigal, because we want those who’ve hurt us or others to pay, pay, pay. But what we often find when we thirst for retribution is that the pain of the offender never fully quenches. We pant for more payment, more pain, more shame to satisfy our anger, hurt, disappointment. [tweetable]As the root of bitterness grows deep, its sour fruit hangs heavy.[/tweetable]

There is no doubt that Driscoll should have stepped down–and for a lot longer than six measly weeks, if you ask me. I say this not because I believe in the myth of the perfect preacher who resides in an ivory tower and lives more righteously than others. But rather, because his patterns of behavior seem to illustrate instability of his emotional state and have resulted in the harm of others. I hope he receives help from a professional. (I know firsthand the difference that counseling can make.)

So in the wake of this news, I find myself relieved but not gleeful. I’m relieved the spiritual abuse is beginning to end. I’m relieved that I won’t have to wake to another one of Mark’s hurtful comments trickling down my twitterfeed. I’m relieved that I won’t have to tell another non-Christian friend, “He doesn’t speak for most of us.” I’m relieved, even as I grieve that the story did not have a happier ending.

Yes, I am relieved but I cannot rejoice. For when we celebrate the demise of another, we wake to realize we are also celebrating our own.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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