How A Few Good Evangelical Men allowed Mark Driscoll to be called a Bully

Mark Driscoll Enabled

It is probably no coincidence that A Few Good Men is one of my favourite movies. I think the twin competing narratives of legal justice and moral choices make it somewhat compelling.

In the film two marines fulfil an order to enact a Code Red on a substandard colleague in order to provide him with discipline. The marine dies and so the two participants are taken through the court Marshall process.

It is important to note that Code Reds are not an official navy practice and had been discouraged by the highest offices. In practice though the base commander sees them as an important tool in keeping order.

Even though the film is over twenty years old I have no wish to spoil the end for anyone who has not watched it yet (what have you been doing with your life), needless to say that the story presents the complexity of both moral/ethical issues and the nature of community hierarchies.

The issues portrayed in the film are not just relevant to the armed forces but have the potential to be found in all organisations: including the church.

Related: Mark Driscoll’s Plagiarism Witch Hunt

The recent Mark Driscoll episode in which he has been accused of pastoral bullying by former members and leaders at Mars Hill reminded me somewhat of the storyline of the film. In essence the key leader is the culture maker and often rightly seen as the main protagonist but is supported by a whole cast of ‘enablers’.

I am not unsympathetic towards these people; I too have been part of church cultures where my support for leadership could be seen as enabling. I wonder whether the following categories might be helpful in determining whether we might be part of the problem:

1) The Enabling Leaders
As we have seen several ex-leaders of Mars Hill have offered apologies for the part they played in members being hurt. I am sure that it could be true that they themselves did not perpetrate the acts of bullying but they more than likely looked the other way when such incidents happened. Sometimes it is easier to believe the prevailing rhetoric than to take a stand.

We need to remember that bad leaders do not work in isolation. I wonder whether the often found kindness of the second in command acts as a smoothing device against the abrasiveness of the key leader, thus encouraging people to work through the hurt they feel for periods longer than would be healthy. It only takes a few good men to do nothing for a problematic leader to create an unhealthy culture.

2) The Enabling Staff
In larger churches not all staff are considered leaders in an ecclesiological sense. They may be technicians or have administrative functions. I am aware of churches where staff operate in a culture of fear: where they are reprimanded (even shouted at) for the smallest of errors.

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Part of the problem here is that so much is wrapped up together for someone employed by the church that it becomes almost impossible for them to take a stand. For these people there lively hood, friendships, spiritual life, and social standing can be so intertwined that it is difficult to see where one ends and another starts.

3) The Enabling Enthusiast
These people so want to believe in the vision, the church, and the senior leader, that they are willing to overlook all manner of issues. Often they have been vocal in their communities and families; inviting others to attend church. After such support it is very difficult for this group to accept that the church is unhealthy.

4) The Enabling Peer-group
Everybody has a constituency and church leaders are particularly susceptible to the need of remaining ‘in’ the prevailing group. It never ceases to amaze me how easy it seems for other church leaders to remain silent on some of these important issues. Their silence is their complicity in the unhealthy nature of such churches. It is all the more shocking when you consider that many of these same leaders are very vocal when it comes to critiquing those in other groups.

5) The Enabling Peace Proclaimers
These people seem to pop up in every debate I have had on issues worth engaging with. They often sound very spiritual as they call for unity rather than division. They use phrases like ‘it is more important to be for something than against something’. These conversation stopping statements sound like wisdom but are nothing more than out of context demands for people to support the status quo. Part of the problem is that the logic is flawed because the binary position they suggest does not exist. In fact as soon as you speak in favour of a particular position your are by implication standing against its opposite. In addition the gospel demands that we are to take a stand against some things. Where would we be if people had listened to such voices with issues of race and gender. They cry peace peace when there is no peace!

Also by Alan: The Emergent Conversation has failed…or has it?

Now having said all of that I warmly welcome the self reflection and apologies made by the former leaders of Mars Hill. My reason for writing is that the above categories are not confined to the very distinct cases of mega church bullying. This can happen in any community. It can happen anytime good people do nothing when they see bad things happen.

It might be that a few good men can allow for churches to become unhealthy but it only takes a few brave women and men to call people into account for their behaviour.

Can you handle the truth?




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About the Author

Alan Molineaux

Alan MolineauxAlan Molineaux is a church minister in Bingley, England. He has completed a master's degree through the Cambridge Theological Federation in Pastoral Theology. In addition to church planting for the past twenty years he runs his own management training company; 9 Rooted Training. He is due to publish his first book in February 2014 called Evangelical Morphodoxy. He and is wife Beverley have four daughters and two grandchildren.View all posts by Alan Molineaux →

  • 22044

    Thoughtful.

    • Alan Molineaux

      Thank you : )

  • Clive

    Struck a chord! For what it’s worth, there are parallels in many organizations, large an small. “inertia of silence”

    • Alan Molineaux

      Great point Clive – thank you.

  • Steve H

    (FWIW, court *martial)

    • Alan Molineaux

      Thank you – noted

  • M Brandon Lee

    It’s interesting how much the aspect of keeping a blind eye and what not looks similar to what Adam did in the garden. If anything, it should really humble us when we realize that we’re just like our first father, Adam, and are prone to not living up to the responsibility and integrity that we were created for. We’re sinners, failures, weak, passive, blame shifting and cowards.

    Even in a church that preaches what it means to be a real man has it’s issues, especially from the person preaching it.

    It also reminds me of Ted Haggard from New Life Church. He preached the most against homosexuality and it was the very thing he was in sin of. I don’t know why, maybe he was compensating for something. Perhaps we can make a similar comparison to Mark Driscoll on being a man as he doesn’t practice what he preaches outside of the pulpit.

  • Bobby Brown

    “Am I now trying to win the approval of men — or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men — I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10

    Religion in America is big business. Scads of money, powerful personalities, huge egos, and positions of prominence, influence, and recognition are at stake in the business of religion, just as they are in any other business. There was a time when the concern of churches and preachers in this country was the glory of God and the truth of God. Today, like any business, the concern is for success.

    Christianity today is market-driven. The goal of all marketing is to make both the buyer and the seller satisfied. Consequently, market-driven churches, in utter abandonment of God’s glory and God’s truth, in their insatiable quest for success and recognition — do whatever it takes to win customers and keep them.

    Be warned! False doctrine and worldliness always go hand in hand. Worldliness usually leads the way. The early modernists did not aim at destroying biblical Christianity. They simply tried to make Christianity palatable to an unbelieving world. It cannot be done. When Christianity becomes acceptable to unregenerate people — it has ceased to be Christianity!

    “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing!” 1 Corinthians 1:18

  • anonymous

    It is very distracting to read a piece riddled with so many grammatical errors. If you want your voice to be heard, you should consider an editor.

    • Alan Molineaux

      Sorry that it distracted you. We Northern English have a problem with grammar. Happy for you to email with your corrections/advice. ajmolineaux@hotmail.com

      • Greg Dill

        Gotta love the Grammar Police… says no one ever.

        • Alan Molineaux

          I was gonna say that but I couldn’t spell grammer and wanted to end the sentence with…….

    • Frank

      The editors here are terrible if you haven’t noticed. They just don’t care.

  • http://yaholo.net/ Yaholo

    In general, there are a lot of cultural issues which keep us blind to bad leadership. Anytime we find ourselves facing the faults of our leadership, we need to reflect on the culture which appointed them.

    • Alan Molineaux

      Good point

  • SamHamilton

    A good analysis Alan.

    An aside…I’ve always liked A Few Good Men too. Part of the reason why is that when I watch it I sympathize with Jack Nicholson’s character even though, in the end, I know he ultimately wrong. I think a good story will allow the viewer/reader to sympathize a bit with the antagonist. I also like stories that shown a little bit of the dark side of the protagonist, even if he or she is on a noble crusade. A little complexity is often a good thing.

    • Alan Molineaux

      That is a great point. And I would say that our ability to empathise with the main protagonist is useful in understanding both why things have happened and how we might not repeat this ourselves.

      I like the film because of its conclusion that we can be guilty by enabling the problem even though we are good people.

      Thanks for your thoughts

  • Nailoea

    A thoughtful article, thank you for writing it. As a former attendee of MH, I find there is one critical point missing in your argument. Driscoll changed the bylaws to consolidate power in the hands of a very small group, and his ‘Board of Accountability’ includes people who report to him, and others who profit financially by the relationship. In other words, members do not have structural, protected recourse to keep anyone in leadership accountable — other than to not attended, or not tithe (which are, in fact, two important points of leverage).

    MH really does feel like a church that has lost its way. They say they’re all about Jesus, but can you imagine the Apostles of the New Testament forcing “staff” to sign NDA’s; asking pastors and preachers to sign non-compete agreements; using tithes to increase their standing on secular popularity lists (NYT)? It’s just bizarre, and I find it hard to believe that they are all about Jesus when they devote so many resources to fiercely protecting one man’s personal power in the church, to the detriment, shame, shunning, and abuse of so many members.

    • Alan Molineaux

      Thank you – as I have mentioned elsewhere my point is not that the mechanisms haven’t changed and made MH essential worse but that the way human beings act is very similar.

      In evangelical churches we are conditioned to respect the leader and to keep the peace; therefore when problems come good people are likely to remain silent or leave or both. Even when we leave we often offer a soft version of our reasons so that we don’t sound bitter.

  • Jim

    To Alan and other RLC writers. It seems like there has been a witch hunt coming out of RLC over the past 2 years toward Mark. I have not kept track of the quantity, but somewhere between a few and several. Alan, would you and any of the other writers care to comment on that.

    Because of the frequency it feels like there is somewhere between a irritation to hatred of this man coming from the RLC camp.

    • Alan Molineaux

      Hi Jim. Thanks for the question. I cannot answer for others. I would say it isn’t a witch hunt because that would imply an organised/agreed campaign.

      I do think that there are plenty of people who feel that what Mark Driscoll has brought to the table is unhealthy and sometimes dangerous.

      I would add that Mark has purposefully placed himself in a position of significant influence. If this had been purely in a local church context then perhaps it would be more of a private matter. He has however used the system to get a disproportionate amount of influence in the wider church.

      As a local church pastor I am irritated by the harm he causes to women who have leadership gifts and to men who are taught that their ‘maleness’ is questionable.

      I think that it is part of my role as a local church shepherd to push back when I see this hurtful and damaging teaching. Others have suggested that it is non of my business.

      As I have put above – silence looks like the more holy response. I think there are times when someone’s theology and actions are worthy of critique.

      As fir the frequency I would suggest that too many people have been silent on the very many outrageous statements Mark has said.

      If I sound angry then it is probably because I have read or heard most of them and met people in the UK who tell me that they think that Mark says some great things.

      If you don’t feel as passionate as I do I suggest you read some of the things he has said or written.

      Does that help to give context.

  • Steve Johnson

    I’ve witnessed this in a small church, too. Sadly, the few enablers were able to shut down any who tried to hold the leader accountable. Thanks for this interesting perspective.

    • Alan Molineaux

      Yes Steve – it happens in human organisations of all sizes. Thanks for your comment.

  • Harrison

    This is a severe but gentle comment. When there is a cult of personality, left unchecked or tolerated, then narcissism and the inevitable destruction to the church, the members and the pastor happens. Then a retreat or apology sounds hollow to those outside the church. A few good men is an excellent analogy: at the end the marines come to the conclusion too late; they should have stood up for Santiago, persons should have stood up for Mars Hill, instead they worshiped idols rather than the “unknown” God

    • Alan Molineaux

      Hi Harrison. Yes that’s what struck me too about the film. They were caught between obeying orders and doing the right thing. The parallels with church are interesting. Thank you.

  • Jennifer A. Nolan

    Would this apply to for-profit group situations, or labor disputes? In our country, I think a few forms of enabling are wage suppression, union-busting, and mass-ignorance.

    • Alan Molineaux

      I think it applies to all human organisations. Anywhere people have the opportunity of abusing power. Thank you Jennifer

  • klhayes

    Excellent article! I think this can be applied to any institution.

    • Alan Molineaux

      Thank you. You are correct that it can happen anywhere. The church should always look to do better. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://livingliminal.blogspot.com.au/ Living Liminal

    You are right – it doesn’t take a mega-church to find bullying and abuse. It happens in the small ones too. And people in those churches seem just as willing to see their brothers and sisters driven out, battered and bleeding, and do nothing about it.

    In my own experience of this, someone said to me that being in church leadership can be brutal. If that’s the case, then I suggest we are doing something seriously wrong!

    • Alan Molineaux

      It can be hard to be in leadership but that means we have greater responsibility to get it right. Thank you for sharing.

  • RJ

    I think we also have an enabling culture. In times of high anxiety and cultural shifts there is a strong desire for leaders who can provide absolute certainty. It is a desire for a certainty that goes beyond certainty of the gospel, but includes certainty on issues that have been open for debate for the last 2000 years. Into this anxiety steps the narcissistic personality who is willing to speak with absolute certainty on every matter. When the narcissistic personality is threatened, those who provide the narcissistic supplies come to his defense rather than allowing the pain to challenge the system.

    I do not know enough about Driscoll to say for certain that he has a narcissistic personality, but the controversies surrounding Mars Hill certainly resemble a narcissistic system.

    • Alan Molineaux

      Great points RJ.

      It is true that certainty is easier to sell and this creates a more problematic culture.

  • Becky Rouzer Northcutt

    The headline should read “be a bully.” Saying “called a bully” implies that he was not.

  • MKulnir

    It is ironic that in the middle of your well-written observations is a link in bold, red-lettered type that says, “Related: Mark Driscoll’s Plagiarism Witch Hunt” which links to an article by Christian Piatt. Piatt is one of those very public “enablers” you write about – who makes it his mission to curry favor with the bullies while shaming victims. Hopefully, with all the evidence coming about about wrongdoing in the church, enablers like Piatt will find their voices confined to backwater ramblings, given no credence, and counted among the quisling enablers of spiritual abuse that they are.

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