If you have been scouring the Internet to find hate blogs on Hillsong, this isn’t one of them. I don’t really know much about Hillsong or for that matter, Mark Driscoll. I went to a Hillsong conference many years ago. It was impressive and many people seemed to be enthralled by the atmosphere, but it wasn’t for me.
I am genuinely happy that people get something out of it. I love seeing kids enjoy modern church and the music… at its most basic benefit, it has to be better than doing pub crawls and being subjected to all the vices that go with the club scene. I also know that Hillsong is incredibly generous when it comes to those living in poverty, and for me that gets brownie points.
To be transparent I have worked in a mega church in the USA, despite human flaws (including mine), it was an incredible experience. So why would I bother writing about two entities I don’t really know much about? The reason is… I have two daughters growing up fast and I am concerned about what they will agree to as ‘normal’ and just as important is the attitudes of the people they fall in love with. So understandably, people of influence are of interest to me.
The one place I’d like to see equality expressed the most is in the church. The church has of course failed dismally over the years but it still has its anchor in Jesus, which gives me hope. I am not going to repeat the comments Mark Driscoll has made or repeat stories of his infamous behavior, as it is splashed all over the internet if you want to investigate. What I do want to do is reflect several observations that have been rattling in my brain. I suspect others have been wondering the same thing.
1. What does an interview on a world platform actually say?
As I said earlier, I worked in a mega church and everyone had a heightened awareness around offering the platform to any speaker. In fact, a lot of thought went into what it said to the public by simply offering a sacred place of influence. Brian Houston has qualified his choice to have Mark Driscoll on the platform because he believes Mark Driscoll will be ‘exhibit A’ providing an opportunity for conference attenders to learn from Mark’s mistakes. In of itself this is an admirable thing to show so much grace, I certainly hope for this kind of grace when I trip up. But people like Mark Driscoll do not make this kind of global impact preaching misogyny without mastering the art of manipulation – otherwise why would people have listened to him for all these years? For people to listen to corrupt teaching they have to be attracted to charisma and charisma can cloud people’s judgment. Mark Driscoll has admitted his bullying and coercive leadership and his staff have reported the same. Brian Houston also acknowledges he has vastly different views from Mark Driscoll. Despite the expertise of Brian Houston’s interviewer skills, it is likely Mark Driscoll will see this is an opportunity to convince a large group of Christians that he can be trusted again. It took Mark Driscoll years to build his own corrupt kingdom, any psychologist would tell you that is impossible to change in any meaningful way in six months especially if you don’t feel the weight of your decisions. Any person who gets to this level of notoriety through flawed behavior knows how to make every situation work in their favor. Being on a platform like Hillsong says, ‘we have a level of trust in you’.
2. Where are the women speaking out?
I am shocked at how little commentary there is out there from women in regards to Mark Driscoll’s sexist and derogatory comments. Women… you have a right to express a righteous anger that a man, who would have you submit to men in a subservient way, is celebrated in any context. You have a right to protest. This is where the church is significantly out of step with society. When our current Prime minister Tony Abbott paraded his masculinity to Julia Gillard and she reacted with her infamous misogyny speech, I celebrated that our society was finally showing signs of maturity by holding men and women to account. If Mark Driscoll was a politician and said the kinds of things he is known for, it would make the Prime Ministers so called misogynistic behavior look completely harmless. If Mark Driscoll was an Australian politician and made the same remarks, he would be laughed into obscurity. No one would be interested in what he had to say especially if there was no evidence of repentance.
3. How can we learn from Mark Driscoll’s behaviour?
HillSong’s response to the concerns of many has been reflected in a genuine hope that people (other Christian leaders) will learn from Mark Driscoll’s mistakes. Even with provocative interview questions, Mark Driscoll is clearly a master at drawing people towards his perspective. If Brian Houston and the team at Hillsong really want an opportunity for conference goers to learn, then I would suggest directly after Mark Driscoll’s interview, Brian Houston conduct a panel with several people who have suffered at the hands of spiritual abusers and explore their story in depth. There will be more to learn from the people who have been abused than the carefully selected words of a man that knows how to manipulate.
4. When are we going to stand up for women and say no?
I am sure if asked Brian Houston would quickly say he is flawed and capable of making mistakes despite the pedestal other Christians put him on – probably an appropriate posture of humility. In the minds of many, having Mark Driscoll at the conference may be seen as a mistake. If ever there was a time to say no to misogynistic behaviour, it is now. The little of Mark Driscoll’s sermons I have heard, his misogynistic view on women it is nothing short of breathtaking. If you are a father of daughters or a husband, you would fear anyone taking what Mark Driscoll says with any seriousness, because if they did, the Church would be stepping back in time and be seen as even more irrelevant than it is today. History shows us that some men will fall into abusive behavior if the environment allows. Our sons and daughters need people to look up to who celebrate equality, surely it would be better for Hillsong to find a world class speaker on spiritual abuse rather than listening to an unrepentant perpetrator if the purpose was to genuinely learn?
5. What does a disintegrated church say about today’s modern leadership?
One of the most alarming things about Mark Driscoll’s resignation is how quickly the implosion of his church ‘Mars Hills’ happened. Six months after his resignation the physical church property was sold and what was once an influential mega church now lies in ruins. Thousands of people woke up one morning and their church that they invested into financially and personally was gone. It says a lot about building a church on one personality and the danger it poses. It should raise alarm bells for many Christians around the world particularly with our attraction to superstars. I think this is what is meant by ‘building your house on sand’.
6. Last thoughts.
The last thing an egocentric person needs is the very same environment that encouraged the behaviour in the first place. The church has spent many years pointing the moral finger at everyone on the outside but doesn’t have the same voracity when it comes to their own representatives on the inside. Women deserve better than this – we all do. Many would hope that powerful people like Mark Driscoll would be subject to a journey of repentance with people around him who care about his soul and not his career. It is time for the church to protect and care for those who have been abused and chase after justice rather than give any voice to those who preach inequality.