Evangelical Writers Take Homophobic Hipster Pastor to the Mat—Sort Of

Mark Driscoll, founding pastor of the emergent, evangelical, Seattle-based Mars Hill megachurch, stirred a week of digital debate by sharing the following post on his Facebook page [see image, right]:

So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?

Driscoll was called out by progressive evangelical blogger and writer Rachel Held Evans, who urged readers to write, call, and email Mars Hill church “to request that the elders take whatever measures necessary to stop Mark’s bullying once and for all.” Noting that Driscoll’s recent provocation was hardly his first, Evans strongly condemned both Driscoll and his church:

Mark has developed a pattern of immaturity and unkindness that has remained largely unchecked by his church. In evangelical circles, he’s like the kid from high school who makes crude jokes at every opportunity, uses the words “gay” and “queer” to describe the things he most detests, encourages his friends to subject the unpopular kids to ridicule, and belittles the guys who aren’t “macho” or “manly” enough to be in his club.

I’m Rubber, You’re Glue

By the time Driscoll posted his response to the hew and cry today, more than 8,000 people had “liked” Evans’ post, and screeds were up on Facebook and Twitter with links to letters of outrage to the Mars Hill elders. But before Evans was able to issue her own oddly gracious acceptance of Driscoll’s unrepentant response (to which I’ll turn shortly), emergent evangelical author and blogger Tony Jones took Driscoll to task in a more rough and tumble, old school way. Jones cannily linked Driscoll’s homophobic Facebook posts to his affection for the homoerotic sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) so popular in certain evangelical and non-denominational ministries as a boost for the “natural” masculinity that lies at the root of the patriarchal fundamentalist Christian home.

Deftly highlighting gay assessments of MMA as “gay porn for straight men” and illuminating the post with images of Greek wrestling statuary and pictures of male MMA fighters who appear to be in flagrante, Jones trumps Evans’ outrage with the classic enzuigiri move of a more refined, gentrified homophobia: Driscoll and his cohort of emergent fundies are homophobic, we are invited to believe, because they are repressed, self-hating gays themselves. I’ll let Jones speak for himself here:

So it is, of course, ironic that the churches and pastors who are touting MMA are doing so in order to inject some masculinity into American Christianity. What they seem to be missing—or maybe just what they refuse to admit—is that they’ve chosen the one sport on the American scene that is highly sexually charged. And the sexuality in MMA is not hetero.

Jones has apparently missed the homoeroticism of the quarterback snap in football and the rampant ass-slapping across all sports, gender notwithstanding. In any case, the gays-are-rubber-Mark-Driscoll-is-glue approach to confronting Driscoll’s thug-like homophobia is hardly the same as a clear condemnation. And, I might add, while I personally find MMA, boxing, and wrestling in all its forms distasteful, I’m sure there’s little pastoral grace for either LBGTQ or straight kids who do enjoy these sports in highlighting them as ironically effeminate—even for the sake of pointing out that Mark Driscoll is a jerk. Even the Apostle Paul, disciplinarian of the Early Church, attempted to model the practice of admonishment for bad behavior without resorting to shaming. Just sayin’…

Stand By Your Man

On the more ladylike side of the ring, Evans acknowledges that Driscoll’s response hardly constitutes an apology. “A step in the right direction” is about as far as she can go, letting Driscoll’s promise suffice. A promise, that is, to set up a website on which he and his wife will blog about their forthcoming book and, we are encouraged to believe, clear up the whole “misunderstanding” that piqued Evans’ ire and prompted the elders at Mars Hill church to insist that he “do better by hitting real issues with real content in a real context.”

Surely, “I messed up” is a lot clearer and much quicker than a promised website to plug a forthcoming book. But Evans lets it go with a sigh and invites readers to join her: “I know that many were hoping for an apology,” she says, “but as followers of Jesus we must be willing to forgive without one.” Awfully tame words from someone who two days earlier advised personal friends of Driscoll and members of his church to “approach him as a friend and request that he get the counseling he needs to deal with this destructive pattern.”

Well, she’s right, of course. I’ve read the Gospel of Matthew: “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’”

After a couple seconds of berating myself for being a bad Christian for not wanting to let Driscoll off the hook, I was kind of good to go until I got to this parenthetical note in Evans’ post:

Coincidentally, Mark and I have both written books about the Bible and gender to be released by Thomas Nelson in the near future.

At the risk of going all Rupert Murdoch, I had to just shake my head. The catholic approach to homophobic misbehavior in the emergent evangelical church is to send the offender on vacation and settle the uppity Christian chick-lit lady down till it’s all forgotten? Stand by your man, baby. Stand by him.

Did Someone Just Step in a Big Pile of Mark Driscoll Posts?

Well, I have in fact read Matthew pretty closely. So I also know the bit about the limits of acceptance in the Christian tradition: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.”

I’m hardly suggesting shunning Driscoll and his ilk (okay, I would indeed be down for that, but my better angels are pragmatists), but if the developing progressive voice of evangelical Christianity hopes to gain any sustained credibility it needs to develop a sustained zero-tolerance approach to hate speech from anyone in and around its ranks. This certainly doesn’t mean that conversation ends, that reform and reconciliation are not possible. After all, Elton John and Eminem are now besties. Anything can happen.

But it does mean that the old canards of shaming offenders into silence by “accusing” them of secretly being the very sorts of people they’ve assaulted (Jones), or hiding behind the velvety cloak of open-armed Christian forgiveness (Evans), are more than wanting as responses to bad behavior. I like Evans’ work a great deal. I taught her wonderful Evolving in Monkey Town in a graduate seminar last year. And Jones has been kind to my own work. Which is to say: I have no axe to grind with either. I do, however, have a call to Christian thought leaders whom I respect to speak more clearly and more steadfastly against hatemongering in the church. Here’s where the Mars Hill elders got it right: we all have to do better.

Elizabeth Drescher [@edrescherphd] is the author, with Keith Anderson, of Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Morehouse, 2012). She teaches religion and pastoral ministries at Santa Clara University. She is currently at work on Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of Religious Nones, a project funded in part through a grant from the Social Science Research Council’s “New Directions in the Study of Prayer” project through the Templeton Foundation. Her website is www.elizabethdrescher.com