I am angry that lately so many high profile leaders in the Christian church have had to step down in disgrace. I’m angry that it is giving our world, which desperately needs Christ, a negative view of the church–and of God.
I know some of my readers attend Mars Hill churches around the nation, and I know you are likely hurting much more than me. I understand that many of you still stand completely behind Mark Driscoll, and that is fine. This post is not about bashing Mark, because I do not know him. But as I have looked at various scandals over the last few years, it seems as if they have several commonalities that we need to be aware of–and those commonalities affect how we see marriage.
To sum up for those of you who aren’t aware, Mark Driscoll is the young pastor of the megachurch Mars Hill in Seattle. His vision was to create the kind of church that the liberal, non-religious Seattle would flock to, and so he made a church with super-conservative doctrine have a super liberal culture, if that makes any sense. They talked about sex. They joked around a lot. Church was fun.
But in the process, Mark apparently isolated himself at the top and silenced all critics, and it’s that behaviour that has put him in hot water. Mark Driscoll himself admitted to this when he stepped down, so I do believe the criticism was warranted. I also believe that when Mark preached thousands were saved, and that’s why this all seems like such a waste. A work was being done; and somehow ego got in the way.
And it’s that ego that I want to address.
Servanthood, Not Power, is the Focus of Jesus’ Ministry
In all Christian scandals that I can recall, and in all cults, the common denominator is a charismatic leader at the top who has consolidated power and does not tolerate dissent.
That’s why, when I hear people focusing so much on who should have power in the marriage, I know that we have lost the point of what Jesus wanted for relationship.
The very last lesson He gave His disciples about how to exercise leadership was to wash their feet (John 13). Leadership must be exercised with humility and servanthood. Indeed, if you were to look through the New Testament, servanthood is likely the key relational model that Jesus left us with.
How anyone can look at the marriage passage in Ephesians 5:21-33 and think that the main message that Paul is giving is that “men should lead and women should obey” is beyond me. Ephesians 5:21-33 is about servanthood–how the wife should serve the husband, and how the husband should serve the wife. Indeed, the very first verse in that section sets the tone for the section:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Each spouse should be asking, “how can I best serve my spouse?” That should be our goal. When we focus so much on the fact that the husband has all the power to make decisions, and the wife must obey without question, we lose the beauty of what marriage was supposed to be.
A husband leads by setting the tone and by bearing ultimate responsibility for the family. But he does this while serving the family. It is never a question of power, and yet too often when we talk about marriage, we frame it as if God wants men to have power and women to be powerless. No, God wants each of us to serve. When you’re both serving and you’re both loving, all of these other debates seem not to matter (which is what I’ve found in my marriage). We just try to love each other, and isn’t that better?
(To show what I mean about serving one’s husband, we had a bit of a to-do on the blog last week over these posts about prioritizing sex. It’s such a simple thing–a way we can serve–and I think we need to do it more).
Power Without Accountability is Dangerous–Even in Marriage
The leaders who have fallen in the last few years have primarily been leaders of super-conservative movements–the very ones that preach that men should have full power in their families, and that pastors should have full power in their churches. And yet we have seen, time and again, that this simply doesn’t work.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The governments that don’t work in the world are ones in which absolute power is congregated at the top, and people have no recourse.
When I hear women teach other women that they must not question their husbands, no matter what their husbands do, because that is not God’s role for them, quite frankly I wonder if they understand human behaviour. When people have free reign and no accountability, very little good comes of it.
Throughout Scripture we are given specific ways to deal with someone when we disagree–and those methods are relevant in marriage, too. But let’s just think about this logically. How does it glorify God if a man plays video games six hours a day, and he is able to say to his wife, “this is what I want to do and you have to obey me”? How does it glorify God if a man can hit his wife and then say, “you’re my wife and you must stay with me”? How does it glorify God if a man can work 12 hours a day, never talk to his family, text and flirt with women at work, and then tell his wife, “I am providing and you can’t question me”? It doesn’t glorify God. Not at all.
Now, I have heard some Christian writers say, “if he’s really sinning, you aren’t to follow him into sin, but otherwise you must obey him.” Yet Scripture is filled with people confronting others when they are starting to go off course. Paul stood up to Peter and told him he was wrong about refusing to eat with Gentiles. Peter didn’t say, “Well, I’m the one Jesus called The Rock, so get in line.” Peter took Paul’s admonition seriously and changed.
Moses’ father-in-law came to him and said, “what you are doing is not good” when Moses was overburdening himself. Moses didn’t say, “well, I’m the one whom God appointed to lead the people, so go away”. No, he listened to Jethro.
God has set us up in Christian community so that we should have accountability, and yet too often it’s treated as if marriage is the one place where none of this applies. You can confront a pastor, an elder, a friend, or a parent, but you can’t confront your spouse, and you can’t talk to others about a problem. He should have absolute power.
This is one reason why marriages fall apart or die on the inside! We can’t have real intimacy without authenticity, and you can’t have authenticity when there is major disrespect or problems between you. Let’s stop treating marriage like he has all the power, because I have never seen that work out well in any other sphere of human interaction.
Women Deserve Respect, Too
I was quite open-minded about the Mark Driscoll mess for a long time. I figured the man was bringing thousands into the church, and he was preaching on marriage (though I haven’t read his book), so he must be doing something right. Then I saw the comments he made about women on the discussion board several years ago, and I was absolutely appalled.
He called men who didn’t take power in their marriages a derogatory term for women I can’t even print here. In fact, he used so many derogatory terms for women I felt my skin crawl. Would Jesus ever have said anything like that?
Men need respect, and women need love. I completely agree with that, in general. But women deserve respect, too. And one of the precursors for people to behave badly is that they stop respecting those under their leadership. When pastors don’t respect women, it’s awfully easy to get involved in an affair or to sexually abuse others (Mark Driscoll has not been accused of any sexual sin, as far as I know). The Bill Gothard scandal that broke earlier this year showed this perfectly. Gothard built a ministry with a very specific and narrow vision of men’s ultimate authority and women’s ultimate subservience, and then proceeded to sexually harass dozens of young women who were interning with him.
Why were slaveowners able to treat their slaves so badly? Because they dehumanized them. They said they weren’t even real people; they were animals. Why was Hitler able to convince the Germans to kill the Jews (and the Gypsies, and the Poles)? Because he told Germans these races were inferior.
When we make a whole people group into something inferior, it becomes very easy to mistreat them.
Jesus gave respect and honor to all–to women, to children, to different races. We should, too. That protects others from being mistreated, and it protects our hearts from becoming so proud that we would mistreat others.
I do not believe that Mark Driscoll started out as a very angry, authoritarian man, or that Bill Gothard necessarily started out to abuse women. But when you are given absolute power, you start to believe that there is something special about you. And when that happens, it’s easy to start dismissing your own sins. Power changes you. And so, as a church, we must stop this urge to give people power, and we must come back to the biblical model of servanthood and respect.
If we all simply respected each other, held each other accountable, and concentrated on how to serve each other, fewer of these scandals would happen, and far more people would be discipled into healthy, whole relationships.