Mark Driscoll, Adrian Warnock, and how we respond to the fall of a spiritual abuser

"Turn the Other Cheek" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Turn the Other Cheek” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

This cartoon depicts the danger of surrendering our dignity and rights to a spiritual abuser.

I read Adrian Warnock’s thoughts on Mark Driscoll and the Acts 29 story. Warnock’s thoughts can be summed up with the following:

  1. Accept it. We shouldn’t be alarmed by what’s happening with Driscoll. No church is perfect. No pastor is perfect. These things happen. Paul and Barnabas are an example of disputes within the church.
  2. Back off. Warnock blames the internet for a lot of the problem because everything gets reported by everybody for everyone to see. We don’t really know what happened. Most of the criticisms now seem to have more to do with the past than the present. There are elders around Driscoll that know him best and we should leave them alone and trust them to handle this.
  3. Restore him. Warnock says that we should accept Driscoll’s apologies and trust the elders who say that he’s changed. Driscoll has been a great voice for the gospel and he should be restored to his bold preaching ministry.

When Warnock’s asks the question, how should we all respond as Christians?, he immediately set the tone for his article. I suggest that telling us how we should respond in such situations actually inhibits true critique and true healing. Warnock means well for the church, including Driscoll, but I fear he underestimates the importance and impact of the story that is unfolding for the countless people who have suffered or are suffering from spiritual abuse.

Let’s consider Warnock’s advice through the questions of a victim of spiritual abuse.

  1. Accept it: Should I stand idly by and accept what’s happening with Driscoll and his ministry as normal? I agree that there is no perfect church and no perfect pastor. So shouldn’t we remind ourselves of this by allowing ourselves to be observed and critiqued? Saying these things happen and that there is scriptural precedent for it sounds like a toleration of Driscoll’s teaching and behavior. Shouldn’t the unhealthy culture of Mars Hill Church not only be questioned, but challenged, and even require intervention? Isn’t asking me to be objective, not take sides and not let my emotions get involved the same kind of control abusers exercise?
  2. Back off: Even though some might see the internet as the enemy, I don’t. Driscoll obviously thought it was his enemy and tried to remove himself from it. So is it not possible that the internet helped to bring a dangerous teacher and his church to account? Am I allowed to rejoice that Driscoll can no longer get away with his harmful teaching and practices? Why should we now trust the elders who have been with Driscoll for so long to accomplish the difficult but necessary task of resolving this when they’ve been his greatest supporters so far? Driscoll and the leaders of Mars Hill Church have used silence to protect themselves from criticism. Isn’t it strange that we’re now being asked to be quiet as well?
  3. Restore him: The very things Driscoll is praised for are the very things that have harmed people. A mouthpiece of God? Vocal? Bold? A man who roars about the gospel? A gift to the global church? Strong? Unique voice? Isn’t asking those who have been abused to forgive and forget Driscoll’s and Mars Hill’s treatment of them so that he can get back in the pulpit and resume his amazing ministry typical of the church’s handling of abuse? Why does the church continually ask us to overlook abuse for the sake of the gospel? Are you telling me to trust him again?

I can hear the abused person say, “I won’t accept it! I won’t be silent! You can’t require me to trust him again! And I don’t appreciate you suggesting that this would be the Christian thing to do.”

I’m concerned for the victims of bad teaching and unhealthy church culture, as I’m sure Warnock is. But not just Driscoll or Mars Hill. In fact, this is what nakedpastor is all about: critiquing what is unhealthy about the church and helping people find meaningful and helpful ways of moving on theologically and spiritually.

So I’m just wondering: Can we see how advising the abused on how they should respond to the news of Driscoll’s ministry’s downfall is not helpful but actually harmful? Can we see how this can actually prevent the process of correction from happening in a thorough way?

Shouldn’t those who have lived under excessive spiritual control be free to express themselves spontaneously, honestly, and authentically?

I know Warnock is mostly addressing the many people, probably myself included, who he thinks don’t have anything directly at stake in this story. But in my opinion, as well as in the opinion of many, Driscoll and Mars Hill represent spiritual abusers. So in this way I do have something directly at stake in this story. Many people are watching something fall that was beyond accountability. Everyone who has suffered at the hands of the church and its leaders has a stake in this story.

So this story is also symbolic. It gives us hope that other spiritual abusers… leaders and churches… won’t get away with it anymore either.

Have you suffered spiritual abuse? Come join others who have and are survivors and learning how to move on at The Lasting Supper.

Read my illustrated story, The Liberation of Sophia, about woman who escapes and finds her freedom.


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19 Responses

  1. Linda says:

    Thank you! I’ve been frustrated by the bloggers with influence who have used their voice and influence in this situation in a manner similar to Warnock, basically instituting the “always be nice” and “don’t talk rules” against those who have experienced abuse.

    In listening to and reading the stories of many of the actual victims who were abused by Mark and Mars Hill, I hear genuine concern for Mark and an attitude of forgiveness. For some victims, forgiveness will be an ongoing process as they heal from the wounds of abuse. We should always encourage, not command, forgiveness as a path to freedom for the victims. Forgiveness however does nothing to absolve Mark and Mars Hill of the damage that has occurred.

    As for public opinion, Mark has the reputation that he has intentionally cultivated. It will be up to him, through his future behavior to restore or change his reputation. There is a difference between an ugly pile-on and a groundswell of consensus that this matter must be addressed. Mark is not the enemy AND it is not unloving to ask that he be accountable for his leadership behavior.

    For those not directly affected, it is timely and necessary for Mark’s peers, particularly for those with the same level of influence as Mark, to publicly express a stand regarding behavior that is unacceptable in ministry. In the SGM scandal, one of the most important outcomes was a much greater awareness of the necessity of reporting of all incidents of sexual abuse in churches. In the Dricoll/Mars Hill situation, a desired outcome would be a greater awareness of the level of transparency and care that is required of pastors and the mechanisms needed when there are repeated, substantiated reports of pastoral abuse with failed systems of accountability.

    Unfortunately the abuses of the shepherding and discipleship movements are often repeated in newer, hipper packaging. This is another opportunity for the body of Christ to learn to recognize toxic church systems and toxic leadership. Hopefully with more education and exposure of these issues there will be greater discernment of unhealthy charismatic church leadership.

    There are many victims and bystanders coming forward now, with love and grace, saying, “This behavior is wrong and it must stop.” This is not a mob attempting to scapegoat Mark as the enemy. It is time for his apologies to become specific and personal.

    The abuse is systemic and corrective action will have to extend to the entire Mars Hill government and to many of the Acts 29 churches who have duplicated the abusive methods. This will require that the greater body of Christ no longer be complicit bystanders, but instead tell the truth about the standards of pastoral and church behavior that have been violated and discontinue endorsement and promotion of ministries when there is so much public evidence of violation.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly Linda. Thanks!

  3. Mark P says:

    Thanks for this, I completely agree, no virus or infection gets healed in secret, it must be exposed. To default back to “support the system” is to re-empower something that is being dismantled. The inheret logic supposes the system itself is sound, just the aplication was wrong, but to disallow honest question, intense and even hostile reactions is to suggest that Driscoll is somehow more special than those who have been victims of the machine he was operating. Personally it would not be a bad thing at all if he never preached or ran a religious empire again…if his teaching has any merit, he should submit himself to it from the pew and demonstrate it’s virtue at least as long as he has lauded it’s power from the pulpit. i fear there is a different disease at work here and it is ego based and dysfunctional and somehow the idea we ignore it is not a healthy or lovng response…if he is someone who must remain in power to be “whole” he is far from it.

  4. Yes Mark I agree. I like the way you put it… re-empowering the thing that needs to be fixed.

  5. Thank you.

    I appreciate you tackling this. I have been waiting for some one with a bit more influence to speak out against this wreckless call for silence.

    I have tried to say so to Adrian but he seems to feel comfortable in protecting those he has been friends with in the past.

    Here is the point I have made:

    ‘It is my contention that Mark has a problem, and I prayer he gets help, but the problem is with the wider church that lacks discernment when supporting the constructs that allow for such things to happen and then asking us to be silent so that their culpability can be hidden.’

  6. Brad says:

    Well said David. You’ve triggered a few further thoughts for me around this.

    First, Driscoll’s so-called ‘fall’ (from the Acts 29 p.o.v.) seems mainly to involve scandalous improprieties re: funds and books and tone and so on, but the theology that undergirds the spiritual abuse doesn’t come under fire since Acts 29 not only doesn’t see it as a problem, but generally holds to it as well. I’m thinking of the basic Calvinism that says God loves his children, but not all are his children … and the intrinsic misogyny of keeping women silent, disqualified from teaching and leadership. Mark wasn’t spiritually abusive merely because he communicated these doctrines in a rude way. The doctrines themselves are abusive. I’m glad that they’ve called for him to repent … but of what? Calvinism’s abusive TULIP? The abusive misinterpretation of 1 Tim. 2? Hardly.

    Second, as a corollary, Acts 29 is thus scapegoating Mark in that they’re implying that he’s the problem and if he had just not diverted funds and been insulting, everything would be fine … and by expelling him, now there’s no problem with the system he helped build. But it’s that very system that created the capacity for spiritual abuse. Again, I’m glad that Acts 29 chose to exert some accountability, but lopping off a branch and some bad fruit isn’t taking the axe to the root of the tree … it’s just a bit of pruning. And thus, is throwing Mark on the fire an act of repentance on their part? Or is it a PR move that dissociates them from the one who shows the world how bad the fruit of that tree can get when it’s properly ripe?

  7. Excellent point Allan. Silence is another tool that won’t help lead to healing.
    Thanks Brad. I was wondering that about Acts29 myself.

  8. kris799 says:

    When the internet was working for Driscoll, he loved it. But it backfired on him and that was his own fault.

    I am so tired of people who excuse abusive behavior b/c that person is “spreading the Gospel”. Why should we accept that “the Gospel” be spread in such an abusive manner? If Driscoll were in any other career, no one would try and protect him. I am reminded of a bumper sticker my dad saw. He said that it stated “Either Jesus pays or your pay”. So now we are threatening people into becoming Christians? Sheesh.

  9. Kenneth Mack says:

    As one who has been through the living hell of spiritual abuse in my old church there is no way I can keep quiet about those who abuse church members. I won’t be silent, I won’t leave it up to the elders of the church to “restore” them. Those who are charged with a teaching ministry within the church have a responsibility, in my mind those who use their position to abuse members rank with rapists and pedophiles.

  10. Scary bumper sticker kris799!!!

    Thanks Kenneth. Continue to speak!

  11. Marley says:

    I agree, it’s not acceptable to keep quiet about abuse in a church. Speaking out about it is so important. It shouldn’t be happening. Never turn the other cheek.

  12. Adrian Warnock says:

    Thanks for this, I don’t think anyone has drawn a cartoon inspired by one of my posts so far. Just want to say one thing clearly: my post was not intending to advice anyone who feels they have been hurt by Mars Hill and tell them what to do. I was just saying that I think that armchair commentators, of whom I am one, really do not have skin in the game, and so I want to just back off, and allow the process of reconciliation which I understand is still underway to bear fruit. I am certainly not in favor of dominating or abusive church leadership. This will I hope be my last comment on this matter for some while in any social media forum.

  13. Thanks Adrian. I do appreciate your concern for the church. I just wanted to provide my perspective through the eyes of the spiritually abused who feel, even though they are not directly involved, do have skin in the game. Your concern for the church is not just local, i.e. Mars Hill, but global, and the global community obviously feels it has an investment in the way this turns out. Again, thanks! (Shoot, I was going to comment on your blog but noticed you closed your comments.)

  14. Rowdie Jones says:

    Warnock is merely attempting damage control for the charismatic camp. His response is a bucket of red herrings to divert attention away from the implosion of Driscoll.

  15. L'abre Croche says:

    Mr. Warnock,
    I respectfully disagree with your comment about armchair commentators. The entire body of Christ has been impacted by this, as some have stated the sad impact is even global. I would say that every brother and sister in Jesus should be concerned when the flock is hurt, abused, maligned, and deluded. It is a justice issue. The only sin Jesus publicly confronted was religious sin. He was not so gentle either, I wonder why?

  16. kris799 says:

    When it comes to people in power abusing that power, everybody has skin in the game. And people who may no longer be Christian b/c of abuse may feel they have a lot more skin in the game b/c they are seeing what happened to them happen to others.

  17. Safer to be invisible says:

    I’ve been hurt by the church. Just the thoughts of entering the building makes my heart pound. As I long to sit among my brothers and sister’s in Christ I fear. My daughter, She says “Nothing would ever cause her to open herself up to this kind of pain again.” My entire family has been wounded. It almost caused the death of my junior high daughter. And our doctors and medical team were angry, supportive and wanted us to … And we didn’t.
    Yes, I forgiven… I also am left to pick up the pieces of brokenness. Mr. Warnock, our lives would be different today it someone in the church had been bold enough to take a side. A side that represented truth, justice and restoration. Your words echo what I so falsely believed. That I should keep quite for the sake of the gospel. Now, I know without a doubt was wrong. I should have gone to a lawyer and the police. My daughter should have never questioned why Jesus needed us to be silent and coverup the sins of someone in spiritual authority. I am certain you have not encountered the level of pain my family or others have endured by the church. I find it odd that you would be offering such advice just adding salt to our wounds.

  18. Thanks so much for sharing.

  19. L'abre Croche says:

    @Safer to be invisable,
    What a heart wrenching story. I am so very sorry your daughter and your family were purposely hurt by a false representatives of The Lord. This was so very very wrong and your hurt and feelings are totally understood. You are not alone, in this sadness. And I am pretty sure they are not recognized by Him as his body.