Thinking Out Loud

March 2, 2012

Seattle Local News Covers Mars Hill Church Discipline

At a book industry blog I write, I always tell retailers and publishers if you really want to get to know an author, find out what their hometown newspaper is saying about their book.

Well, if you really want a further look inside what’s going on with Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church in Seattle, you can’t do better than the city’s top station for local news. That station is KOMO, but the story has elements of KULT.

Tony Jones has the news clip.

Story transcript.

Want to delve deeper into the issue of church discipline and spiritual accountability of members?  This article at The Wartburg Watch goes into greater detail and also links you to a series of CT articles on the subject. 

  • Suffering from Link List withdrawal? Does the mere site of a bullet-point bullet here make you wish it was Wednesday again? Rachel Held Heavens will keep you going with her Sunday Superlatives. Here’s last week’s.

February 3, 2012

What The Shack and The Elephant Room Have in Common

I had a bit of an epiphany responding to Tom’s comment left at Tuesday’s Elephant Room piece here, but it was too good to leave buried in the meta.  You are welcome to read first read the comment that sparked what follows, or it can stand on its own.

Many of the people who are commenting on the whole ER2/Jakes thing are in ministry, but many are lay-leaders, or bloggers, or just people who have an opinion on the matter that they want to share.

One common thread unites those in ministry however, especially if they live in a small or medium sized city or town: They all attend monthly ministerial meetings. Unless you’ve been to one of these (and I’ve attended two of them in another city) you have no idea of the dynamics involved in bringing people together around a discussion table. These monthly get-togethers are awkward for all concerned, and none of the ministers I’ve spoken with on this subject are particularly enthusiastic about attending.

But attend they do. Catholic. Orthodox. Seventh-Day Adventist. Word-of-Faith. Independent Baptist. Evangelical. (And, in some places, Baha’i, Buddhist, Muslim, etc.) All of them sitting around the same table united by commonality that must seem rather elusive at times. And sometimes some actual work gets done for the benefit of the broader faith community, or the community as a whole.

And you know what: Each one of them gets up from the table with a better understanding and resolve as to who they, themselves are and what they represent.

If Jakes claims to be a Christ-follower, but his practice of that faith includes cutting the heads off chickens, I still think giving him a place at the table on a unique, singular, special occasion is a Jesus kind of thing to do.

That said, if you are organizing such an event, you want to invite audience members who buy into the agenda for that particular day and exclude people if the entire tenor of their ministry runs contrary to the spirit of conversation.

Furthermore, I don’t believe we need to build fortresses to, as someone put it, “protect the body of doctrine.” The body of doctrine is quite capable of protecting itself, just as easily as Jesus was able to deflect his critics; something He did mostly by asking questions, a format not dis-similar to the Elephant Room.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say I think that under more 21st Century circumstances, Jesus would attend something like ER2 — it’s not a stretch from his time as a 12-year-old asking the rabbis questions in the temple — nor a stretch to think He might have organized something like ER2 himself.

And frankly, you don’t want to think of who He might have invented.

But then, I got to thinking, this is all plain dumb.  I realized this whole debate is one giant deja vu of the whole debate over The Shack. And probably the same people are lined up on the same sides.  So I added this, responding to specific issue the blog post raised about the guy whose registration for the event was revoked:

I realized later that trying to get agreement here is like trying to get people to agree on The Shack. You either understand the mindset or you don’t get the book’s purpose and decide to condemn it.

For example, in the meta, “Anon” wrote:

Chris is very critical of these guys and comes off as self righteous. His coverage has been unfair. Does he ever reach out to these leaders for their side of the story? I doubt it. He couldnt be trusted to behave himself at ER2. That’s just my guess.

To which the blog replies:

Anon, that is too funny. C.R. [name shortened here to avoid web-spiders creating unnecessary links to this story] absolutely has reached out to these guys. They want no part of him. He has attended these guys conferences, at Nobles’ church for example. He is not disruptive in any fashion.

But then again, maybe they assume someone critical of a pastor is a “threat”.

So, we reduce the criteria to the fact that he hasn’t acted out yet at such a conference when really he “acts out” all the time on his radio show. His purpose in being there is not to attend with an open mind and see where the event leads.

You would do better to invite the secular media.

Some people can think in terms of abstraction, but for others everything has to be black and white.  “The Shack is a bad book because it portrayed God as a woman.” “James MacDonald should not have invited T. D. Jakes to the Elephant Room because Jakes is a prosperity preacher who doesn’t believe in the Trinity.” “Mark Driscoll’s Church was right to tell its members to shun Andrew, because Andrew sinned and would not subject himself to their church discipline.” (Yes, that story is totally related, because you’ve got the same mentalities lining up on either side.)

Black and white.  But not in a positive, ebony and ivory sense of the phrase.

So let me sum up the week with this:

  • The Shack wasn’t really written for us, nor does its author believe that God is a black woman with a southern accent.
  • The Elephant Room sought to bring together people with diverse takes on how to do ministry and T. D. J. was invited particularly because there have been questions about the orthodoxy of his beliefs, not as endorsement.
  • People unlikely to buy into the basic premise of ER2 should not see any problem with being asked to surrender their seat at the live event to people who do buy into its inter-denominational (not inter-faith) dialog.
  • Andrew was remorseful and repentant but felt, as did Matthew Paul Turner’s readers, that the manifestation of the authoritarian form of church government he had once been attractive to him, was clearly crossing a line in its attempts to administer correction and restoration.

But I’m not changing anyone’s mind by writing this, am I?

And that’s the way it was, last week of January, 2012.

February 2, 2012

My Letter to Andrew

Andrew is the central character in a story about church discipline at Mars Hill Seattle which has blown up in the Christian blogosphere since Matthew Paul Turner posted part one on January 23rd.  (Covered on this blog, here.)

Or at least he was the central character. More of the recent conversation concerns ecclesiology, and church discipline in general and opportunity for ad hominum remarks concerning Mark Driscoll.

So I’m wondering if anyone is really reaching out to Andrew in all this…

Dear Andrew,

It’s never a good idea to offer advice where it wasn’t asked for, nor is it a good practice to listen to unsolicited advice from people you don’t know.  I’m admittedly half a continent away, and equally separated by age; and there are those close to you who more suited to speak into your life.

I just wanted you to know that besides re-blogging what Matthew Paul Turner wrote, I also prayed for you. James 3:2 says, “We all stumble in many ways…” Welcome to the community of the broken.

In hindsight, you probably weren’t ready to get married. You know that now, and I know there is much remorse attached to your story. You are no doubt much wiser today than you were just a few months ago. Of all the fruit of the Spirit, self-control is the most needed when facing temptation that is being constantly fed by a 21st century worldview of sexuality.

One of the things about your story struck me very early on in MPT’s version of it: “Andrew was born and raised Independent Fundamental Baptist, so not only was Andrew accustomed to Mark’s anger-laced fiery style of sermon, he had a deep appreciation for it.”  It never really occurred to me that people could be attracted by an authoritarian leadership style, but if that’s what you grew up with, I can see that it might have been a comfortable fit, once you got past a few of the doctrinal differences.

But then — and at this point someone would normally write, ‘through no fault of your own,’ except that it was, after all through a fault of your own’ — you saw the other side of how this authority plays out when someone apparently crosses the line from “in” to “out.”  To be labeled a “wolf,” or called a “predator.”  That’s strong language. There are some who would say you had suffered enough at this point; you were repentant, remorseful and humbled (if not humiliated) and that it was time for restoration; time to move on to the next phase, of living and walking in the fullness of all God created you for, because if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We can know the feeling of being ‘washed clean’ of our sin and get back up on our feet standing in the righteousness of Christ.

Galatians 6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…

I don’t get the spirit of that verse playing out in the email you received when you felt changing churches was the option you wanted to pursue, and I certainly don’t get it from the letter that was sent to the membership.

But you know what?  It doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter what men do or even what church leaders do.  Your ultimate judge is God himself.  He is the one you answer to. Yes, under his sovereignty pastors and leaders are appointed, and we’re told to honor that office and pray for them, but they are fallible.

In the meantime, Andrew; hang on to God.  Keep praying.  Continue to read and study your Bible.  Find a place where you can engage in corporate worship with other believers who don’t know you or know this story.  Maybe find a Christian counselor or mentor who can continue to help you work all this out over time.  But don’t allow discouragement or disillusionment to take over your life.

And pray for the people at Mars Hill.  Not a prayer that comes from a smugness nor from bitterness, but simply pray that God will lead them to be both forthright in their application of the gospel, but agents of grace in how they allow that to play out. Pray for them to get better at it, to improve in their understanding of the mystery of grace.

Pray because there are going to be other Andrews.  There’s going to be a ‘next time’ involving someone else, and the next Andrew may not be able to handle it in the manner that you did.

And don’t write that church off, either.  Church congregations are like small cities, with as many stories taking place as there are people.  There are, to be sure, countless people there who are doing good, growing in faith, and deepening their understanding of the ways of God; because of the leadership there, and sometimes in spite of the leadership there. 

Nor should you be in distress when someone you meet follows the instructions given to them in the membership letter and shuns you.  It’s far easier for humans to believe something bad about someone, and people subject to authoritarian church leadership will, after all, do what they are told. 

In the meantime, church history is filled with people who experienced rejection for a variety of reasons, including rejection from the religious establishment so you’re actually in good company.

As you choose a permanent place of worship, and enter into future relationships, I know you’ll do both with a wisdom you have gained from this process.

Your brother in Christ,

Paul Wilkinson.

October 5, 2010

Absence of Compassion is Less Than Human

Even animals express some kind of sympathy, or grief, or compassion when there is a loss among their kind.

The family members associated with a small U.S. religious fringe group do not see it that way.   They see death as opportunity.   They argue their right to advance their agenda in the middle of a family’s sorrow is protected by free speech.

Free speech indeed; the men who drafted the U.S. Constitution would be horrified to learn what “free speech” is currently permitting.

The Westboro tribe claim they are using the attention to show how far down the road of moral decay American society has gone.   Instead, they are an example of it.    Their actions highlight the degree you can take the idea of one man’s inhumanity to another man.   And funeral after funeral, families simply have to let the voices of protest roll over them.

But not Albert Synder.   The father of a soldier killed in Iraq doesn’t want any other families to have to suffer as he did.   In what will certainly be a landmark case, the Supreme Court will rule on an argument for the privacy rights of grieving families.   The court faces the prospect of passing an “enough is enough” ruling, with the option of declaring a funeral to be a venue worthy of a greater amount of privacy, regardless of the public thoroughfares adjoining the church, funeral parlor or grave site.

CNN notes, “The Supreme Court has never addressed the specific issue of laws designed to protect the ‘sanctity and dignity of memorial and funeral services'”   Many of the Phelps family are trained in law.

Albert Snyder told the media outlet, “They are using the First Amendment as a sword and a shield. My son and thousands like him did not put their lives on the line so that someone could abuse the Constitution like this…”

Read the full story and watch the video at CNN.

Related Links:  Fred Phelps has turned up in this blog before; the first time in a piece about his son Nate;  the second time in a piece about is daughter Lauren.   One can’t help but hope the attrition continues.

Repeat of a personal notation in one of the above items: “…It was then that I observed a fundamental difference between Canada, where the Phelps phenomenon would never happen, and the U.S.: In the United States laws protecting freedom of religion trump any prohibitions against hate speech.  In Canada laws forbidding hate speech trump any protection of freedom of religion.”

June 8, 2010

The Westboro Children: Casualties in the Crusade of Hate

Much has been written about Fred Phelps, the man whose interpretation of scripture — the gospel of hate — represents about 0.000000001% of Christians, but somehow manages to garner an inordinate percentage of media publicity.

But what of the children that we see in the images of the Westboro protesters?   What absolutely warped upbringing are these kids experiencing?

ABC News decided to dig a little deeper and ended up at the home of Steve and Luci Drain and their three children.   After watching the nearly nine-minute segment, it was Lauren Drain who captured my interest; their estranged daughter, now in her mid 20s, who was voted out of the family:

  • “They sing lullabies about people going to hell,” she told Chris Cuomo in an exclusive interview.
  • “I saw some hypocrisy, and I mentioned them and they hated it,” she said. “You’re not supposed to question anything.”
  • Eventually, she said, when she was 21 the members voted her out of the church and out of her home, including her own parents… and the same night she was voted out she said her family sent her to stay at a hotel and cut off all communication.
  • A week later, Lauren Drain returned home to pick up her belongings and said she found that her youngest sister Faith already had been taught to hate her…”I raised her from the time she was born. I used to watch her every day. And a week later, she is happy I’m gone.”
  • As for the daughter they have lost, Steve and Luci Drain said they don’t miss her and don’t think they would ever allow her back.  “Why would I miss her?” Steve Drain asked.
  • Lauren Drain said she wishes she could speak to her younger brother and sisters, to tell them she loves them and that the hate they spread is not the true message of God.  “I miss them and I love them and I really care about them, and God doesn’t hate everyone. God has mercy on people, God forgives people,” Lauren Drain said she’d tell her siblings.

While much of the story focuses on her younger siblings, it is Lauren who gives the piece perspective.  Unlike Nate Phelps, about whom a lengthy post on this blog was published twice in 2009,  who has walked away from Christianity entirely, Lauren seems to have kept some core beliefs about God intact, or has worked to reconstruct belief, seperating truth from lies.

As I watched the parents totally “write off” their eldest daughter, I wondered how such people read the parable of the prodigal son; how do they reconcile the love that the boy’s father lavishes on him, even after the son rejected everything and squandered his father’s money?

I suspect that passage is never studied at Westboro.   Ditto the woman at the well in John 4, or the woman caught in sin in John 8.

You can read the ABC News report,  go directly to watch the video, or catch both, as I did yesterday at the N.I.F.T.Y. Christian blog.  (On the video, be sure not to miss the one child being hit by a car.  The authorities should remove these kids — the children are being put at adverse risk — and they should do it soon!)

And say a prayer tonight for Lauren, as she attempts to live a new life.

Lauren, if you’re somehow reading this, be strong in the Lord.

Create a free website or blog at