Let’s Get Started With Piper/Wilson/Driscoll’s "Masculine Christianity," But A Few Comments First

We’ll get into “masculine Christianity,” but let’s first stop to consider how far-reaching the influence of men like Doug Wilson, Mark Driscoll, and John Piper really is.

I returned from my trip to Tucson last week with a couple of experiences that reminded me of how pervasive — and for now, let’s just stick with “pervasive” — each of these men’s teachings are.

The Internet is abuzz with the horrifying treatment suffered by a young man at Driscoll’s Seattle Mars Hill Church after he freely confessed to one of his cell group leaders that he had been sexually active with his girlfriend. The result was a cult-like, heavy-handed battering from the group leader all the way up the extensive Mars Hill hierarchy that required this young man to sign a contract stating his culpability for his own AND the girl’s sin — because as the male in the relationship, he didn’t protect her sexual purity — as well as his acceptance of a blisteringly un-Biblical program of rehabilitation that would’ve required him to confess his every sexual thought, experience, and struggle as one of many hoops to jump through before being “restored” to full Mars Hill fellowship, plus seemingly endless “pastoral” meetings, confrontations, encounters, and soul-baring exercises in manipulation and humiliation that guaranteed his loss of community and friends. What Driscoll and his fellow spiritual thugs call “church discipline” was, in this case, nothing more than an exercise in patriarchy, where one powerful man “owns” and exercises control over others, men and women, deemed to be “under” him.

I submit to the Scriptures regarding the need to minister to our brothers and sisters when they sin, but Driscoll’s behavior here isn’t even appropriate for entrenched, unrepentant sin, and certainly not for a young man who felt the Spirit’s conviction regarding his sin and brought up the issue himself. Driscoll is being roundly condemned, both within and outside of the Church, although sadly not within Mars Hill, and he should be. Driscoll’s sadistic treatment is worthy of the strongest rebuke, not just for the abuse this young man has suffered, but also for the abusive and cultish control here that is not at all a Matthew 18 response but a spiritual gang-rape of a young brother’s conscience. I pray not just for the young brother involved, who has left Mars Hill under a shadow of shame,trauma, and humiliation, but also that the powerful and fresh wind of the Spirit would topple that and any other church structure that honors bullying and abuse under the guise of following the Bible’s commands for pastoral leadership.

All of this had hit the Internet in the weeks before my Tucson trip, but I was reminded there, too, that bullies with media empires aren’t held to greater account, much less silenced, just because their bullying begins from the pulpit. In fact, their spiritually impotent and ultimately destructive theologies find even a wider audience because of their “pastoral” occupations — not, sadly, because the world expects better from Christian pastors, but because so many of their followers enthusiastically embrace phallocentric and masculinist theology no matter how little it looks like the life and message of Jesus Christ. After all, as Driscoll himself says, look at the numbers. Mars Hill and its church plants and programs are growing like crazy.

Cancer does that.

I was with my niece in a funky little anarcho-leftist coffeeshop and bookstore on Tucson’s delightful Fourth Avenue when the proprietor and I began one of those, “Oh, you grew up here? Where do you live now?” conversations that flow so easily whenever I visit the place I lived the first 22 years of my life. I told her I was from Moscow, in north Idaho, and braced for what I’d heard before — lots of questions about neo-Nazis, Aryans, and other white-supremacist landmarks of a rotting culture.

But this woman asked if Moscow was the place where “some pastor guy” had written a book a few years ago about the “mutual harmony” that slavery in the American South brought between slaves and masters. Twice before, on visits five or six years ago, strangers who learned I was from Moscow asked if that was where the “Classical Christian education guy” whose homeschooling products their grandkids used was from, and they both seemed only moderately intrigued that Doug Wilson’s view of “classical” Christian education, or any education not the sole province of defenders of the Great Cause and the slaveholding that upheld it, required an embrace of the kidnapping-supplied, race-based, family-shattering and permanent ownership of Black people by whites.

This time, though, the owner of Revolutionary Grounds on Fourth Avenue asked if Moscow was the home of the “pastor” who not only defended antebellum slavery, but applauded it as a culture and spiritual condition more beneficial to its subjects than today’s. She knew someone claiming to be a Christian pastor had written a book that defended the indefensible from the Bible, and while she was clear — crystal clear, in fact — that she was not a Christian, she wanted to know if any other Christians “up there” objected. We talked for about 20 minutes as I explained that no, the evangelical, Trinitarian Church in Moscow from which the only effective rebuke of Wilson’s execrable defense of slavery could possibly come was largely silent in the face of such a Gospel-defaming effort.

Further, I said, Moscow’s “liberals” were too often so concerned about things like the “eat local” sourcing of meat at the Co-Op, and too convinced that all Christians were “just that way,” to really protest — an insipid “tolerance” of things having earned its place as the highest evident value our progressive community holds. I mentioned the eight to ten “Intoleristas” who regularly pushed back against Wilsonian bigotry, but lamented the roar of silence from the larger community and the Church. I told her about Prevailing Winds and my 2008 KRFP debate with Wilson, received her thanks, bought a T-shirt, and left with the task of explaining to my delightful 15-year-old niece that an entire community, and a conglomeration of church institutions, seemed content to let Wilson’s bigoted blather continue largely unchallenged.

My niece thinks I’m a total rock star, but me? I just felt lonely.

The toxic effect of Wilson’s filthy take on history and theology was made clear just days later, when a Christian woman I know commented that she and her husband had taught their kids that slavery was, according to the Bible, not necessarily always bad — and could even be OK, as long as the slaveholders treated the slaves in accord with the Word of God. It was there in the Bible, she said, and any attempt to condemn slavery in the American South was evidence of a Christian culture simply unable to submit to the Scriptures and altogether unable to grasp the importance of complete obedience to the Father. My protests — that slavery in the Old Testament was NOT the same as the slavery in the United States, owing to the latter’s being possible only through kidnapping, racial subjugation, and un-Biblical violence and generational ownership of entire families by white men — was, to her, nothing more than my sad apology for parts of the Bible I just didn’t like. There would be no redemptive hermeneutic, no cultural context, no honest assessment of antebellum slavery, and no reading, even, of Wilson’s “Southern Slavery As It Was” (she was going to give him the benefit of the doubt as a fellow Christian) — Paul’s Epistles never specifically said slavery was a sin, so . . . there you go, and there she went, down a tragic and toxic path of fundamentalism and the illogical, illiterate folly that accompanies it while explaining to her beautiful grade-school aged children that two hundred years ago, they, too, could hope to grow up and own other human beings, as long as they treated them “Biblically.”

Sadly, the reality that her white, Christian sons would never themselves have been owned, and certainly not by a Black man, never occurred to her, never tugged at her mind as evidence of the inherently evil social structure that gave us the slaveholding Wilson — and she — defends. This woman isn’t a Christ Church member, not a homeschooling, quiver-filling victim of fascist fundamentalism, and not a blind sheep gamely gamboling after the first voice she hears. She’s simply afraid to make a mistake in applying Scripture to her and her children’s lives, and the way to avoid that is, to her, to engage in a simple commitment to take the literal words on the page and shove them into her life and that around her. There are hundreds of women like her in the Moscow area — good Christian sisters who revere the Word of God and yet shrink away from the hard work of interpreting and applying it in a Gospel-affirming way that requires more reliance on the Spirit and less on the ink on the page.

It’s the ink on the page, the words on the blog, the voice from the pulpit, and the chatter of thousands of fellowship groups, Bible studies, and Christian media that promulgate the worst of heresies, the most toxic of teachings, the most prurient and puerile sermons, and the seemingly endless stream of horror — patriarchy, slavery, hierarchy, inequality, violence, villification — pouring from the Church. Words carry, and they carry with them an assurance that they contain the truth, that any deviation from them is disobedience to God and any criticism of those who speak them an ungodly exercise in tearing down the Church. But to be silent in the face of this tide is to sin. Public error must be confronted publicly, personally, strongly, Biblically, and comprehensively.

That’s why I write, and that’s why I won’t — cannot — stop. It doesn’t matter that Wilson, et al, are unlikely to change because of what I write. It does matter that I do, and to expose, as Scripture says we must, the deeds of darkness around us is a simple matter of obedience to the Holy Spirit, through whom I am being conformed daily to the character of Jesus Christ. It’s his Gospel, and I love it.

So when it’s trampled on, abused, and dressed in filthy rags by those who ought to know better and don’t care to, don’t expect silence from my corner. There won’t be any. Know this, however: With the criticism and protest, there’s an underlying song of praise to the One who is truth. Don’t miss it, just because the words are stronger than you’re used to hearing. The Church is doing battle. Unfortunately, the casualties are untold millions of Christ-loving women who want only to serve as the Spirit leads, the men who love Christ more than they love their masculinity and are bruised and battered because of it, and the children among them who look to Christ Jesus and too often see masculine superheroes, soldiers, and sages who belittle the very things that the Gospel compels. The stakes are high, the words are strong, and the way is clear.

I hope you’ll join me.

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