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Throwing Christians to the Christians? Blogging as Bloodsport

“Whatever you have done to the least of these my brothers, you have done it unto me.” – Jesus

Who needs lions when you can throw Christians to the Christians?

This started out as a blog post about Mars Hill and Pastor Mark Driscoll. It was not going to be a favorable post.

Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church. Photo by John Keatley.

I once said on Facebook that Mark Driscoll “has a case of verbal diarrhea,” a statement I later apologized for. Yet Driscoll’s crassness and provoking statements anger me. His personality triggers me—makes me feel shamed and judged. I planned to write about him as an example of a controlling leader.

When I started researching about him, I grew even more concerned.

First about him.

Then about me.

Then about other bloggers.

And finally about the online Christian community at large.

Here is what I found.

Gloating Over My Enemies  

Earlier this year, a popular Christian blogger (Matthew Paul Turner) published a post about a church discipline matter at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. A young man named Andrew seemed to have been mistreated. The church seemed controlling, possibly cult-like. The story was—and is—compelling.

Within days, the blogosphere went crazy.

Articles appeared in Slate magazine, the Wartburg Watch, The Stranger, and in many other blogs and Internet forums. Each blog referenced the article by Turner and sounded off on Driscoll. Selected video clips from the controversial pastor’s sermons went viral. Groups formed for survivors who had left the mega-church. Many folks—both laymen and former elders—came forward to express their concern over what they consider draconian discipline at Mars Hill.

The more I read, the more I disliked Mark Driscoll.

He’s a misogynist, people said. A control freak. An immature, shame-based leader who browbeats elders and delights in crudities. He preaches about sex to exorcise his own shadows, another person said. A bully, opined well-respected blogger Rachel Held Evans, back in 2011 before the latest news came out. A cult-leader, others said. This man must be stopped!

And I agreed. I come from a spiritual abuse background and can often scent the symptoms.

So I opened a fresh page in Microsoft Word and began to draft a juicy blog piece about Mark Driscoll. I thought I might title it, “Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill, and the Leadership Reef.” Reef, as in you can shipwreck people’s faith by your leadership style. Clever. Devastatingly so.

But then I remembered a verse I’d studied years ago when I was in a cult myself. Proverbs 18:17: “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes forward and examines him.” Suddenly my one-sided arguments didn’t sound so clever.

Instead they sounded angry. Simplistic.

Gloating.

14,000 people attend Mars Hill, many of whom would never darken a traditional church door. Several of my friends have testified to me that Mark Driscoll has spoken prophetically into their lives in ways that other pastors haven’t. I may dislike his personality; I disagree with many of his methods; and I think his leadership style may unintentionally harm people.

But I can’t write a blog post about this Christian leader, at least not today.

My motives aren’t right.

I haven’t really researched about Mark. Just read one of his books, the Mars Hill website, and some opposing blogs. And while I don’t doubt that mistakes have been made at Mars Hill and people have gotten hurt, do I really have Driscoll’s best interest in mind? Or do I just want to generate blog traffic by capitalizing on his polarizing name? It seems so easy—gratifying, even—to publicly sink a knife into his back and hear the crowds roar.

Blogging as bloodsport, you might say.

I wonder if anyone else struggles with the same problem.

The Ecstasy of Agony

I think they sometimes do.

Ideally, Christian bloggers should educate, inform, and spur other believers on toward love, good deeds, and critical thinking. They can provoke, but they should not malign. Act as the conscience of the church and society, not the judge or executioner. They must avoid character assassination even as they warn of threats in doctrine or practice.

Responsible bloggers research controversial topics from both sides and offer robust perspective on each. Sure, anyone can write a one-sided diatribe against a provocative person. But do I really want to draw my conclusions from them? On the other hand, balance and diplomacy are a Christian blogger’s best friends.  

Sadly, some bloggers seem to have embraced a culture of antagonism.

Let me explain.

Deborah Tannen, a professor at Georgetown University and the author of The Argument Culture, puts it like this:

“The phenomenon I’d observed at the book-group meeting [where fellow scholars verbally tore apart a book in order to sound smart, rather than discussing its merits in order to benefit from it] was an example of what the cultural linguist Walter Ong calls ‘agonism,’ which he defines in Fighting for Life as ‘programmed contentiousness’ or ‘ceremonial combat.’ Agonism does not refer to disagreement, conflict, or vigorous dispute. It refers to ritualized opposition.”

The seduction of such ritualized opposition is the perceived merits of sounding smarter than another scholar, author, or public figure. It is the adrenaline rush of intellectual combat. The ecstasy of agony.

Tannen continues:

“Many aspects of our academic lives can be described as agonistic. For example, in our scholarly papers, most of us follow a conventional framework that requires us to position our work in opposition to someone else’s, which we prove wrong. The framework tempts—almost requires—us to oversimplify or even misrepresent others’ positions; cite the weakest example to make a generally reasonable work appear less so; and ignore facts that support others’ views, citing only evidence that supports our own positions.”

I believe that this climate of stylized opposition and over-simplification has occasionally infected some of our Christian blogs—if not always in the original blog posts, then certainly in the comments section.

The result is like throwing fellow Christians to the lions.

Bloggers who write whistle-blowing posts about other Christian leaders have not finished their job until they have coated their verbal fire with at least a little asbestos of grace. Otherwise, they leave their followers with lit brands, ready to run like Samson’s foxes through the fields, burning up the wheat with the chaff.

A quick look at the comments sections of Turner’s and Evans’s blogs provides several examples.

This quote was from the comments section of Ms. Evans’s blog:

“if we are throwing [Driscoll] under the bus for misogeny, but i am EFFING tired of Liberal Feminism being accepted in God’s people too… if we are trashing one, trash the other bad ideas too…” [sic]

And this:

“i disagree with [Evans] tagging articles about [Driscoll’s] teachings within the church that GOD has appointed him pastor of… No OUTSIDERS, especially conservative stuff-shirt d-bag ‘Christians’ or liberal hippie outsider ‘Christians’ who don’t attend my Corps/Church, get to critique how i lead my Youth Group until they are INVESTED IN IT… i don’t care if they write 1 million letters on how they disagree with HOW i teach solid biblical teachings” [sic]

Heated stuff.

A number of other commentators tried to reason with folks who made vicious comments. Lively threads popped up. Plenty of respectful dialogue did occur. But non-Christians occasionally weighed in with comments like, “This is why I left the church,” or “99.9% of crimes are committed by Christians.” Cheerful stuff.

Where in all of this was the balance? The perspective?  

The grace.

Blogging in the E-rena

This made me stop to think.

And think.

And think some more.

I began to feel sick to my stomach.

For some reason, the posts and comment sections of these blogs conjured the image of gladiatorial combat.

I began to hear the cheers of the crowds. The clang of metal on metal. Felt the sand under my feet in the arena.

I saw the bloggers as champions on yellow sand, sheathed in metal and wielding swords. They traded blows with their opponents—some matches were fair, others unfair. Some were honorable, others dishonorable. Hit after hit after hit. Several champions accumulated large followings.

And then a gladiator fell.

The crowd of spectators roared!

I roared too.

I looked up in the stands and saw thousands of faces—Christian faces—twisted with passion. Some called out for imprisonment and death. “Death! Death! Death!” they screamed.

Others raised their thumbs and shouted for mercy, “Live! Live! Live!”

The blogger stood triumphant over their opponent, one foot resting lightly on the chest of their defeated foe. Sword raised high. Eyes lifted to look for the pleasure of the emperor.

I followed their gaze up into the stands, to the dais where the emperor usually sat.

But the throne was empty.

The emperor was not there.

Instead, he was down on the dirt of the arena with the least of these.

Covered in blood.

Beneath the blogger’s foot.

I think we can all do better.

I know that I must do better. I am guilty of thinking the worst of public figures in Christianity without asking for the other side of the story. I almost wrote an article tearing to shreds a man I have never met. As a blogger, I sometimes have my own case of “verbal diarrhea.” I don’t want to be a lion.

I want to be like Christ.

12 comments on “Throwing Christians to the Christians? Blogging as Bloodsport

  1. Awesome. “I think we can all do better” should be stamped on every Christian blog as a self-critique and constant reminder of what we’re in this for. I myself have an extremely difficult time with Driscoll’s method and some of his teaching, but if we’re each in this to “educate, inform, and spur other believers on toward love, good deeds, and critical thinking,” (an amazing statment, by the way) tearing apart those we think are tearing others apart hardly pushes us in this direction.

    I’d like to see fearless critical thinking (which includes tough criticism at times) held in tension with both fair-play and love. Thank you for your good thoughts, Steve.

  2. You are right on Matt 25:40. As a brother to the Household of Faith we must also warn our fellow brother should their way cause stumble block to the fellow brother in the Kingdom. Remember one day we will judge the world and even angel#. We convey a just judgment* and warning as related in;

    Ezekiel 33:6-7
    But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.’ “So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me.

    #1 Corinthians 6:2-3
    *Deut 16:18

  3. “Who needs lions when you can throw Christians to the Christians?” ~ Stephen Smith

    “Are you not entertained!” ~ Maximus

    Stephen. Wonderful Samson’s foxes imagery “burning up the wheat with the chaff”! Reminds me of the parable of the feather pillow Father Brendan Flynn tells in the movie Doubt:

    “A woman was gossiping with her friend about a man whom they hardly knew – I know none of you have ever done this. That night, she had a dream: a great hand appeared over her and pointed down on her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt. The next day she went to confession. She got the old parish priest, Father O’ Rourke, and she told him the whole thing. ‘Is gossiping a sin?’ she asked the old man. ‘Was that God All Mighty’s hand pointing down at me? Should I ask for your absolution? Father, have I done something wrong?’ ‘Yes,’ Father O’ Rourke answered her. ‘Yes, you ignorant, badly-brought-up female. You have blamed false witness on your neighbor. You played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed.’ So, the woman said she was sorry, and asked for forgiveness. ‘Not so fast,’ says O’ Rourke. ‘I want you to go home, take a pillow upon your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me.’ So, the woman went home: took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to her roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed. ‘Did you gut the pillow with a knife?’ he says. ‘Yes, Father.’ ‘And what were the results?’ ‘Feathers,’ she said. ‘Feathers?’ he repeated. ‘Feathers; everywhere, Father.’ ‘Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out onto the wind,’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘it can’t be done. I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.’ ‘And that,’ said Father O’ Rourke, ‘is gossip!’”

    About Driscoll. From my perspective nearly every time I’ve encountered the man on video I found him disqualified for his pride. I’ve also heard straight from his mouth some pretty abusive things. Pastor Mark has, indeed, acted like a wolf. The books on him are already open.

    Stephen, I do appreciate the wisdom of your advice to Christian bloggers. Thank you.

    • What a tremendous example. Thank you so much for sharing it with us, Monax. I still wonder how you come across all of these perfect examples. You must share your secret. In the meantime, thanks for contributing so much.

  4. First? What is a Christian (Biblically)? Does Mr. Driscoll sound like a biblical Christian?
    The name of his Megachurch is quite telling if you study the Acts of the Apostles. If he is crude in his speech is he like St. Paul or Christ and thus is he genuine? The Megachurch movement started by Willow Creek and Rick Warren types: is it a biblical model of the church or is it a church that seeks to be relevant to the present culture?
    I don’t listen to Mark Driscoll. I listen to men like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Alistair Begg, Erwin Lutzer. You can throw Christians to Christians, but perhaps it would be better to weigh them against scripture which would require a knowledge of them.

    • That’s it, Mark–to avoid throwing Christians to the Christians we must do our homework and really get to know other folks and where they stand. I have no problem calling a heretic a heretic, or an unbeliever an unbeliever if I know for sure that what they claim they believe or don’t believe consigns them to one of those camps. But I often see bloggers dashing off a blog post which assassinates another person’s character without doing the hard work to actually research what they believe, far less actually meeting them and talking with them. One of my seminary professors told me in regard to salvation, “A sheet of paper tears unevenly.” He meant that when you tear paper you get a ragged edge, not a neat-and-clean cut. The kingdom of God is like that. While the Bible lays out many aspects of Christian faith, in the end there is diversity within the Body even as we become more and more like Christ. We’ll be surprised to see some folks in heaven; we’ll be equally surprised to see who’s not there. I’m not defending Driscoll. My point of this post was that bloggers need to do due diligence before making serious claims about the state of another professing believer. Thanks for chiming in!

    • Yes, Mark—true discernment involves a more than superficial knowledge of Scripture. Amen!

      fwiw, i’m presently listening to an mp3 series by Alistair Begg on Authority in the Church. . first couple messages so far have been pretty good.

      http://www.truthforlife.org/resources/series/authority-in-the-church/

      and Steve—so true about the remarkable diversity of Christlike personalities within the Body of Christ. Except for maybe fundamentalists who all conform to the same behavioral and dress codes and such. They seem to all look and talk alike.

  5. Excellent! I find myself caught up going from blog to blog feeding on the criticism, entertaining myself with it. Almost like drinking from a septic tank.

  6. I know I am a few years late in the discussion, but this is an extremely solid and convicting post you wrote, sir.

    The older I get, the more I am coming to realize the importance of not playing the proverbial “tit-for-tat” game that so many in the world, including so many Christians, are playing. It really is like a gladitorial game, isn’t it? I realize the importance of sometimes engaging your opponent on a view but I think there is a danger when we look at it as a war rather than as a opportunity to inform. It has gotten to the point where I even get that really uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I venture into what may be a tit-for-tat war.

    I see this so much on so many sites, especially in two areas-
    1) Atheism/evolution, and
    2) Politics.

    Instead of there being a well-reasoned discussion, it really does look like a war is going on. It does look like there are warriors suiting up in their armor and grabbing their swords, tridents and nets, preparing to go out and slaughter our “enemy.” The truth is, those who may oppose us on whatever arena you may look at are not our enemy. We only have one enemy, and that is the devil. Yet you wouldn’t know that given the way you see so many Christians (and to be fair, so many liberals/conservatives/atheists/pantheists/whatever-ists) write and speak to each other. You really do get the impression that they are out to slaughter each other, not reason with each other. At least, from what I have read, that is my impression.

    Yet this is not the way that we are called to fight against the powers of the world. Thank you for once again reminding me that we will never be able to change the world using the tactics of the world. We must live and speak the way Jesus would. Granted, that is hard to do. The war is so much easier, but peace is so much better.

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