Saturday, May 27, 2017

That Hep C attempt at satire at Mere O is a reminder of the power of Poe's law, and that in other contexts Mere O is so earnest in its sweeping jeremiads that when it tries for satire it can clunk into self-parody.

For the most part Mere Orthodoxy is at its least entertaining when it attempts to run with satire.  The hits are more notable, by dint of their rarity, than the misses.  But sometimes a miss highlights a special opportunity.  Evangelicalism of a socially conservative stripe has a long history of alarmism as it is but this particular attempt at satire is special.


There is an urgent soul-cry from the culture. From our neighbors. This cry has been silenced by the church and ignored by the media.

Hepatitis C.

Oh, so would this be a Christian concerned about a literal epidemic of sickness rather than a metaphorical epidemic of otherwise marriageable age males not having sex?  Tell me more. 

The satire goes along.


I’ve never heard anyone talk about Hepatitis C in church. Have you? The silence is deafening. The stigma and shame are terrible. The people affected by Hepatitis C are not the people we’re trying to “attract” to our “cool” churches: Drug addicts, old people, and people who share the same dollar bill to snort cocaine. We’d only want people who have their own individual dollar bills to snort cocaine out of clapping along with us in the pew.

This is a gospel issue.

Maybe it's because one of the recent sermons at church was about Jesus' willingness to touch and heal lepers but I have my doubts about the effectiveness of writing a satire about Hep C.  A few decades ago the assumption that only the sorts of sinners already under God's judgment were getting AIDs led some American Christians to figure it's "not my problem".

Still, it's as someone who was once at Mars Hill and read some of the screeching from the Doug Wilson fanbase about epidemics of singleness that comes to mind. 

Not so far from the attempt at satire Mere Orthodoxy can feature fairly predictable laments about the dreadful incremental increase in the age of first marriage.


As reconstituted by Dewey and his disciples, schools have become more like a social laboratory than a location where individuals are equipped with the skills needed for self-reliant living. Because schools have replaced parents as our culture’s primary organ of child development, we have a culture of diploma-holding twenty-somethings who haven’t actually become adults in any meaningful way.

Sasse names eight markers of becoming an adult: moving out, finishing school (for good), holding a full-time job, becoming economically independent, losing one’s virginity, marrying, having children, and forming an independent household. On nearly every measure, the emerging adults that America has produced in the twenty-first century are doing less of these things and doing them later.

Ah, if only that ship of state education had not sailed centuries ago in the United States, right?  How powerfully Dabney's warnings have been vindicated.  If those kids had just been dumped into the labor market rather than kept in public school in accordance with some dumb old laws they could have already become married, functional adults at fifteen, right?

Of course, Mere Orthodoxy contributors have taken umbrage at the direct correlation between what's now known as the alt-right and racism with the Religious Right.

Now there's reason to argue that Ballmer's history of the Religious Right is skewed.

But the skew is more or less the same skew that the other side traffics in.  Whites on the American religious left have an incentive to scapegoat the religious right as the sole owners of a racist legacy.  When Mark Driscoll sold his spiel on how he was once a Malthusian he got into how the Malthusian approach could be really racist.

When Driscoll shared reasons to not marry someone who is pro-abortion he talked about how he once held to ideas associated with Malthus.

There's a version of this link available here:
She came from an evangelical home. I came from a Catholic home. Both of our homes were pro-life. But I was not only pro-choice, I was pro-abortion. I agreed with the underlying principles of Thomas Robert Malthus, which greatly influenced Nazi Germany, and Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood. I read up on the issue quite a bit, and won debates in high school and my freshman year of college defending population control and abortion.

We looked at this earlier but arguments in favor of population control in the West go back roughly a thousand years.

A History of Political Thought: The Middle Ages
Walter Ullman
Penguin Books
first published 1965
 ISBN-10: 0140207783
ISBN-13: 978-0140207781

The continuator of his commentaries on the Politics, his [Thomas Aquinas'] pupil at Paris and later Bishop of Claremont, Peter of Auvergne, struck up quite radical naturalist chords, particularly in connexion with social and economic questions and problems connected with marriage. For instance, he held that, since the State had to be self-sufficient, it was imperative to limit the number of citizens, otherwise poverty would follow. Hence he advocated limitations in the size of families. Aristotle's suggestion of abortion was not endorsed, but in order to avoid over-population he suggested restrictions of procreation between the ages of 37 and 55 with men and 18 to 37 with women, because then fewer children would be born. Beyond these age groups there should not be sexual intercourse with a view to procreation, but simply for the sake of health or some other valid reason.

Ah, but of course population control agendas can only be secular/Darwinin/left things and not come from Anglican or Catholic clerics.

At this point we don't need to expect a Mark Driscoll to bring up any Robert L Dabney examples of white guys having lower views of blacks without resorting to evolutionary theorems.

So Driscoll would have it that there was a weirdly direct line from an Anglican cleric who warned that if the underclasses bred too much they would exacerbate poverty to the Nazis.  When Warren Throckmorton blogged on Driscoll's claims of a Malthusian past he stressed that racist views do not evolve from evolutionary views.

But perhaps the thing that gets overlooked on the part of white guys making points about the racism-or-not of other white guys is that what we're seeing in the Ballmer narrative and the Driscoll narrative are attempts to scapegoat the history of racism on the part of whites against blacks for specific political ideologies in the present.  Red wants to blame blue and blue wants to blame red but neither side wants to concede that racism might be a thing right now for "our" team. 

There might be a benefit to a childhood in which it wasn't even possible to have a literally or figuratively purely white or black experience of American history. When I was a kid I asked some American Indian relatives about the Civil War and the answer I got was, minus a few salty words, that the white racist jerks in the North fought the white racist jerks in the South over how to treat black people and once that issues was temporarily settled (not that blacks got treated any better, really) whites could get back together to form a united front to kill Indians.  Unlike blacks, who whites tended to own as property to do work that were forced to breed, whites had this history of just wanting to massacre American Indians.  That said, plenty of American Indian tribes had slavery and some rigid caste systems so Dances with Wolves still has to be taken as white myth-making. When you grow up hearing that kind of account of the American Civil War it can be difficult to accept at face value that there were any "good" teams in the conflict, yet that is more or less what people try to do when they talk about the American Civil War or the war or northern aggression.  Whites who have already made up their minds that they were on the righteous side aren't interested in the possibility that they were all ultimately evil together on this matter of race. 

The degree to which contributors to Mere Orthodoxy take umbrage at the Religious Right being associated with the alt right or with a racist past makes it just a little bit tougher to take them seriously when they try for a satire about how the church doesn't speak out about Hep C as a satire of how people blame the church. Given the extent to which the guy who hasn't moved out of his parents' basement and gotten a real job and inserted himself into a woman because he's too busy playing video games or looking at porn is taken as emblematic of the wholesale collapse of Western civilization the satire that attempts to make fun of people blaming the church for Hep C falls flat.  A paranoid blanket indictment of an entire group of people as being symbolically responsible for the failure of contemporary society basically "is" American evangelical cultural polemic and often the scapegoat is the single guy who hasn't manned up and manfully gone out and given a girl a ring and started banging her to the glory of God.  I was at Mars Hill about a decade so it's not like I never, ever in my life heard a sermon whose applicational punchline went something like that.

Which lets us get back to the mention of Sasse and those eight checklist points of adulthood. Could Sasse or one of Sasse's readers point out where anyone in the Bible embodied the eight points?  Did Isaac "move out" of Abraham's home before he took a wife?  Part of the reason a Hep C satire falls flat is because it attempts to be funny when this other sort of thing is presented with such po-faced seriousness:
Sasse names eight markers of becoming an adult: moving out, finishing school (for good), holding a full-time job, becoming economically independent, losing one’s virginity, marrying, having children, and forming an independent household. On nearly every measure, the emerging adults that America has produced in the twenty-first century are doing less of these things and doing them later.

Ah, so losing one's virginity and getting married are presented as actually distinct?  So if fifteen year old guys and gals just lose their virginity they've already taken one of eight steps to becoming an adult?  Who wouldn't want to rush out and take that step as soon as possible!  How many decades did Jacob work for uncle Laban before he became economically independent enough to part ways? How old was Isaac when he married Rebekah?  Was it forty years old?  How dreadful it is to note that one of the patriarchs of the faith didn't pass the threshold of adulthood on marriage until he was forty! I mean, sure there were things like drought and famine but Isaac should not have dallied about and drug his feet on this becoming an adult thing.

There's been a fair amount written on the indicators of functional adulthood and the observation that in the span of human history a lot of these American evangelical benchmarks of adulthood are tethered to post-war prosperity that no longer holds is plentiful.
Over the course of his research on this, Jensen Arnett has zeroed in on what he calls “the Big Three” criteria for becoming an adult, the things people rank as what they most need to be a grown-up: taking responsibility for yourself, making independent decisions, and becoming financially independent. [emphasis added] These three criteria have been ranked highly not just in the U.S., but in many other countries as well, including China, Greece, Israel, India, and Argentina. But some cultures add their own values to the list. In China, for example, people highly valued being able to financially support their parents, and in India people valued the ability to keep their family physically safe.

Of the Big Three, two are internal, subjective markers. You can measure financial independence, but are you otherwise independent and responsible? That’s something you have to decide for yourself. When the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson outlined his influential stages of psychosocial development, each had its own central question to be (hopefully) answered during that time period. In adolescence, the question is one of identity—discovering the true self and where it fits into the world. In young adulthood, Erikson says, attention turns to intimacy and the development of friendships and romantic relationships.
Havighurst developed his theory during the ‘40s and ‘50s, and in his selection of these tasks, he was truly a product of his time. The economic boom that came after World War II made Leave It to Beaver adulthood more attainable than it had ever been. Even for very young adults. There were enough jobs available for young men, Mintz writes, that they sometimes didn’t need a high-school diploma to get a job that could support a family. And social mores of the time strongly favored marriage over unmarried cohabitation hence: job, spouse, house, kids.

But this was a historical anomaly. “Except for the brief period following World War II, it was unusual for the young to achieve the markers of full adult status before their mid- or late twenties,” Mintz writes. [emphasis added]

One of the striking times in which marriage rates dropped in America was the Great Depression.  For those who may have forgotten that 2008 was a bad financial crash, I used to work with this old guy who was born a few days after the 1929 stock market crash.  In his line of work he said he had not seen economic times so rough for people in 2008 since he was a kid during the Depression.  Take it or leave it, but the proposal here is that evangelical white guys tend to presume that the only reasons people don't get married is because they just don't want to. 

Well, perhaps Poe's law doesn't quite apply here, perhaps the Hep C attempt at satire merely lands with the thud of self-parody because the American Christian blame piece is so endemic to the Christian left and right in Anglo-American Christian blogging that you can't even really satirize it these days.

some more thoughts on what some call watchblogging--Brad Sargent on survivor blogs & discernment blogs; Jia Tolentino on peak personal narrative; and notes on how first person narratives are not (yet, or necessarily) journalism or historiography

Over the last few months Brad Sargent has blogged a bit about survivor blogs and trends in those online communities. While I respect the utility of the usage “survivor blog” I have reservations about the term.  These are simple, literal-minded reservations about how unless your life was in mortal peril in some way it’s difficult to avoid a possibly misleading hyperbole when you describe yourself as a “survivor” of anything whose primary and most persistent threat of harm to you has been social and sometimes economic. 


Still, terms come into use and they get used whether we wish them to have currency or not and the survivor blog, like the watchblog, is clearly a “thing” to be discussed.  Brad has some comments that I want to quote:


“Survivor blogs” are not the same as “discernment blogs.” I’ll be speaking here at the big-picture level, which means there are likely many individual exceptions to the generalizations. But, we’re at a crossroads moment of contentiousness where it seems particularly important to consider categories and patterns that we can compare and contrast.


That said, from what I’ve seen, survivor bloggers seek to provide a redemptive presence that gives victims of abuse an opportunity to share their experiences, be heard, and be validated about what happened to them. They seek to advocate for and protect those who have been harmed, and to activate abuse prevention in organizations so there are fewer victims in the future. While survivor bloggers often address theological issues, it is more from the perspective of identifying inherent tendencies of particular doctrines to end up in harmful practices. This often includes identifying teachers and practitioners of those doctrines, challenging them to see their destructive impact in the lives of real people, and calling out and resisting organizations that promote them.


This seems to be a reasonable observation about what survivor bloggers attempt to do, in general.  There’s nothing the least bit wrong with bloggers aspiring to provide a redemptive presence that lets victims of systemically abusive cultures have an opportunity to share their experiences, be heard, and given encouragement that they are not alone.


That said, a broad enough survey of survivor forums conveys a point which individuals and individual survivor bloggers or blogs may not necessarily fully appreciate or accept—if you make a point of observing or assigning abuse to particularly doctrines or dogmas then you’re endeavoring to do something that overlaps with another type of blogging, the watchdog blog or discernment blog.  The risk here is that it seems in the wake of Jerry Sandunsky’s conduct coming to light that there is not necessarily any inherently dogmatic explication of how and why power gets abused.  To put it another way, Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox will all have incentives and temptations to abuse power or seize power and if in the partisanship of this or that team people believe that they are precluded from the possibility of abuse of or seizure of power by dint of proper doctrine these people are deluded.  One of the criticisms members of the Frankfurt school had of the New Left was that some of them believed the New Left was threatening to embody the kinds of totalitarian tendencies observable in the fascists.  Now, sure, criticisms could be made of the Frankfurt school but the observation that any group can embrace totalitarian means regardless of formal professions of ideology is a worthy observation.


Now, on to what Brad Sargent wrote about watchdog blogs:

Meanwhile, discernment or “watchdog” bloggers typically promote a very specific set of doctrines and their applications as “THE (one-and-only) biblical truth.” Their form of orthodoxy is the standard by which all other bloggers, teachers/preachers, and theological systems get judged. There is often an expectation that all “true” Christians should have perfect doctrine. This doesn’t exactly allow for people to become followers of Christ from different backgrounds, or allow for our showing grace to them as they persevere in a life-long trajectory of transformation. Orthodoxy seems to be all-or-nothing, now-or-never.


If, at the risk of speaking in the broadest possible terms about watchdog blogs and survivor blogs and their respective places in what's colloquially called the Christian blogosphere, we can all agree that a survivor blog and a discernment blog aren't the same thing one of the often tacit criticisms of survivor blogs by institutional Christian groups could be that very often a survivor blog seems to traffic in a set of stories that overlap with the watchdog blog.  When a survivor blog provides checklists of what to watch out for that can be constructive in some settings but it can end up becoming the kind of checklist righteousness typical of the movements or scenes survivor blogs emerged to take a stand against.  Survivor blog communities and watchdog blog communities have plenty of opportunities to partake of the same vices, vices which are all the more bewildering because they are spurred by aspiration to virtue.


This next observation is a simple one but a necessary one, the survivor blog is still a blog, it’s still an iteration of mass media and people need to understand what defamation is.  Christians in Anglo-American contexts seem to have no clear or competent understanding of what “slander” is.  A good deal that is described as “slander” would be what some Christians mean to describe as libel or defamation.  Some of what is described as libel may well be libel. But among survivor blogs and watchblogs the accusation of “gossip” or “slander” can all too often seem to be a vote of distrust levied by those people whose loyalty to a set of beliefs or a person or institution is all too readily perceived.  Sometimes those who would rush to the defense of the pastor or celebrity they wish to defend against gossip traffic so readily in gossip themselves they embody the vice they would purport to condemn.  While Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll advocates come to mind it’s best to leave things general for the moment.


The salient observation about watchblogs and survivor blogs is that both can feature what might be called tell-all accounts. To borrow some terminology and discussion from the old Boar's Head Tavern, if there's going to be some form of muckraking journalism in the Christian blogosphere there's got to be some responsible way of going about that. 


With this in mind the survivor blog will have two problems that a watchdog or discernment blog will not necessarily (but may very often also) have. 


The first problem is in the nature of a question about method and substance.  When you set up a blog you can have one of two general approaches to the blog as a mass media platform.  This was something Mark Driscoll fielded back around 2013 in a media use address he gave where he described the distinction between content generation and content aggregation.  You can generate content yourself or you can aggregate existing content that may or may not be generated by you.  You can attempt to favor one while providing for the other but at some point the blog is going to be known chiefly for generation or aggregation. 


You are either generating content for consideration or you are providing a platform for the expression of stories.  At the risk of using examples from the rise and fall of Mars Hill, a blog like Wenatchee the Hatchet generated content about the history of Mars Hill that preserved and analyzed statements and events from the history of the church.  A blog like We Love Mars Hill or Mars Hill Was Us uses an aggregating approach; people get invited to send and share stories they feel comfortable sharing whether under their real name or an abbreviated name or a pseudonym. 


Attempts to split the difference between content generation and content aggregation will only go so far and in this a survivor blog will probably be most wisely used as a content-aggregation platform rather than a content generation platform.  Give people an opportunity to share their stories with some provisions regarding defamation and mass media, and then let people speak as they feel comfortable.  If you believe it is more important for what you’re doing to generate content, analysis and the like then you may find that open access comment marathons are harmful to your goals.  What I’ve done with Wenatchee the Hatchet is actually discourage comments in many cases. A great deal will depend on what issues you want to address and in what way.  If you want to give people a chance to share stories of stifling church discipline or alienation the aggregation method is best whereas if you want to document historical patterns in which it seems that dangerously unqualified men were given fast track promotions in a church leadership structure because of their role in real estate acquisitions a blog that provides commentaries from anyone will not work. 


The second problem is, in key respects, the more profound problem for both the survivor blog and the watchdog blog, but also for religious institutions and brands.  The problem is that if you choose to present a personal story, whether yours or another person’s, you must never forget that this is never necessarily the same thing as journalism.  This is not just a matter of the problems inherent in what’s been called “the first-person industrial complex”.  That’s a tip of the iceberg, the whole iceberg of which has to do with the inherently vague nature of “narrative”.  Narrative is not necessarily history nor is it necessarily journalism.  Yet emotionally compelling narratives have often been used as a synecdoche for theological argument, journalistic polemic, and as activism.


Listen to my story, if you will, and it will change your mind.  Listen to this story and you will take my side. Matthew Paul Turner played this card years ago when reporting on the discipline of Andrew Lamb.  There were odd spots in the narrative from the start. For instance, in a culture as obsessed with marriage and engagement as Mars Hill why was there never an observable engagement announcement?  That was puzzling and, to date, there has never been any confirmation that Andrew had ever proposed to his then-girlfriend.  Maybe he never did.  We don’t know, but Turner’s account was largely worded in a way that presupposed an engagement that, as we look back on the sea of internet activity, could not be established independently of the narrative Turner presented.  It was possible to establish exactly which parties at Mars Hill were connected to an Andrew at the Ballard campus in the 2011 period but that was not the same thing as a direct confirmation of an engagement.  Turner’s story was not really that vague and, in fact, it shared so many details about Andrew’s disciplinary case a few hundred people (at least!) worked out exactly who he was on reading the story at Turner’s blog.  If Turner had meant to keep Andrew Lamb anonymous he failed in so epic a fashion that there are hardly words to describe the failure.  I was able to reverse-engineer from Mars Hill attender participation on Twitter and blogs who the respective parties were and spent about 20,000 words documenting exactly how it was possible to discover who the parties were. 


But Mars Hill presented an exceptional case both in terms of its media-saturated culture and its tech-obsessive scene.  People were giving up large swaths of information without always realizing the implications of the information they were dumping on to LinkedIn profiles, Twitter feeds, blog posts, Facebook walls and so on.  To keep the 2012 headline stuff relatively brief, the case study of Andrew’s discipline may highlight a situation in which the draconian discipline of a church toward an attender was not necessarily any proof that the person who chose to break his story of church discipline had a story that was to be taken entirely at face value.  When Mars Hill members and attenders attempted to explain why they believed they had reason to not take Andrew’s story at face value, however, the reaction to side with Andrew set in.  The emotionally manipulative power of a first-person narrative is a double-edged sword.  The first-person industrial complex is a weapon of choice in propagandistic campaigns employed by every possible side.  It has value but its value should be seen as very limited. 


In the last year or so people have proposed we’ve seen a peak reached for the first-person narrative form.  Take Jia Tolentino’s recent entry:

There’s a certain kind of personal essay that, for a long time, everybody seemed to hate. These essays were mostly written by women. They came off as unseemly, the writer’s judgment as flawed. They were too personal: the topics seemed insignificant, or else too important to be aired for an audience of strangers. The essays that drew the most attention tended to fall within certain categories. There were the one-off body-horror pieces, such as “My Gynecologist Found a Ball of Cat Hair in My Vagina,” published by xoJane, or a notorious lost-tampon chronicle published by Jezebel. There were essays that incited outrage for the life styles they described, like the one about pretending to live in the Victorian era, or Cat Marnell’s oeuvre. There were those that incited outrage by giving voice to horrible, uncharitable thoughts, like “My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing” (xoJane again) and “I’m Not Going to Pretend I’m Poor to Be Accepted by You” (Thought Catalog). Finally, there were those essays that directed outrage at society by describing incidents of sexism, abuse, or rape.


These essays began to proliferate several years ago—precisely when is hard to say, but we can, I think, date the beginning of the boom to 2008, the year that Emily Gould wrote a first-person cover story, called “Exposed,” for the Times Magazine, which was about, as the tagline put it, what she gained and lost from writing about her intimate life on the Web. Blowback followed, and so did an endless supply of imitations. By September, 2015, online first-person writing was so abundant that Laura Bennett, at Slate, could refer to a “first-person industrial complex” in a takedown of the genre. “Every site seems to have a first person vertical and a first-person editor,” Bennett, who also cited Gould’s Times story as a turning point, wrote. One could “take a safari” through various personal-essay habitats—Gawker, Jezebel, xoJane, Salon, BuzzFeed Ideas—and conclude that they were more or less the same, she argued. While she granted that not all first-person writing on the Internet was undignified, there were far too many “solo acts of sensational disclosure” that read like “reverse-engineered headlines.” [emphases added]

It’s clear, in any case, that the personal-essay boom is over. If it had already peaked by the time Bennett wrote about it, in the fall of 2015, we can locate its hard endpoint about a year later, in November of last year. After the Presidential election, many favored personal-essay subjects—relationships, self-image, intimate struggle—seemed to hit a new low in broader social relevance. “I feel like the 2016 election was a reckoning for journalism,” Hepola wrote to me. “We missed the story. Part of why we missed it might have been this over-reliance on ‘how I feel about the day’s news’—and now the journalism world recognizes that we need to re-invest in reporting.” Killingsworth echoed this, talking about her work at the Awl and the Hairpin: “I want to encourage people to talk about mostly anything other than themselves.” [emphasis added]


There’s been a broader shift in attitudes about this sort of writing, which always endured plenty of vitriol. Put simply, the personal is no longer political in quite the same way that it was. [emphasis added] Many profiles of Trump voters positioned personal stories as explanations for a terrible collective act; meanwhile, Clinton’s purported reliance on identity politics has been heavily criticized. Individual perspectives do not, at the moment, seem like a trustworthy way to get to the bottom of a subject. …


The single most important thing to be said about the first-person narratives just described is that there really isn’t much of a serious case to be made that these personal narratives ever constituted what might be called traditional journalism.  Back when I was a journalism student twenty years ago my professor introduced the class to the New Journalism approach to writing.  So we got to read Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion and some others.  When she discussed the style and history of the new journalism, my professor made a point that I have never been able to forget, she said that for all the flash on the surface we should never forget that this was still journalism.  The personal narration was there because it established the entry point to how and why the reporter was investigating a particular story, whether as a matter of personal interest or as a matter of geographical contact.  A comparable warning she gave was about editorial writing.  I recall her saying “Nobody cares what you think. People want to know what the facts are.  Editorial writing must still be journalism. It must still give people enough information to make an informed decision about an issue they care about even if you are telling them what you believe the right decision is for them.”


The first-person industrial complex failed as a journalistic enterprise because it simply wasn’t journalism.  The vices of the survivor blog were the vices of the first-person industrial complex, reams of personal narrative presented as if it were the equivalent of journalistic enquiry or educational enterprise.  I don’t really believe that the personal is the political. It never has been in the last few generations and this is not because the personal isn’t capable of being political, it’s because there are too many people for any one person’s story to justifiably stand in for a political commentary unless that person is so immersed in the power brokers of a society his or her story can be construed as the story of someone who makes history.


The only reason the "personal is political" is because enough American writers decided it was so, so that they could transform their personal inconveniences or laments into emblems of social catastrophe.  Yet it’s frankly too easy to merely say that the election of Trump has cast a blistering and unflattering light on the fact that the majority of the first-person industrial complex probably doesn’t qualify as journalism. There’s a very simple problem, literally anybody can play this game.  It was, for those familiar with Mark Driscoll’s history of sob stories, one of the preferred plays in his role as a public figure and leader within Mars Hill.  The trouble that a survivor blog is going to face is that the weapon of choice, at least the weapon of the emotionally riveting first-person narrative that is meant to seize your heart and mind and command both loyalty and action, is the preferred weapon for just about any partisan side we can look to.


For years Mark Driscoll has winsome (or wince-inducing) stories about himself or his wife or kids as a way to frame any possible discussion of policy, governance, real estate acquisition, or leadership appointments.  Years and years of blogs and media attention to Driscoll’s views on gays or women not only accomplished nothing they positively fed Mark Driscoll’s brand.  It wasn’t until questions were posed about the integrity of Mark Driscoll’s intellectual property and the propriety of procedure in the promotion of his books or in the ways in which Mars Hill acquired real estate and who got what leadership positions after those acquisitions that began to change minds. 


But it seems necessary at this point to say that the worst thing survivor blogs or watchdog blogs could do is take a “follow the money” if by this they mean a Woodward and Bernstein approach as told in films made by Hollywood.  The Hollywood account of Watergate should largely be regarded as a self-aggrandizing lie fabricated by the entertainment industry.  It’s not that the journalism of the reports played no role; it’s that this kind of self-mythologizing myopia over the last thirty years helped produced an American journalistic culture that was capable of so spectacularly misdiagnosing the outcome of the most recent presidential election.  The kind of nation in which Trump can be elected is the kind of nation in which John Oliver or John Stewart or other entertainers can be taken seriously as policy experts, too.


I have made a habit of preventing commenting at the blog for a few simple reasons.  You can’t trust anonymous sources to be truthful.  Though it has been said in the past by some drive-by commenters that Wenatchee The Hatchet shouldn’t be anonymous those lazy people will probably still choose to not believe that, in fact, I’ve never been anonymous.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have known for quite some time who blogs at Wenatchee The Hatchet.  Plenty of people knew that when I wrote about Mars Hill I did so as someone who met all the co-founding elders of the church.  To borrow some terms from Walter McDougall, there are two broad approaches to American foreign policy, the promised land for all who would come and find welcome, and the crusader state that goes out to bring the gift of Americanism to the world.  There’s plenty of failure in American history to live up to the promised land open to all comers but that’s not the point here, the point is to say that when I began to make a long-form case that Mars Hill began with a “promised land” ideal and became a “crusader state” on behalf of Driscoll’s branding empire, the people of Mars Hill who knew who I was understood that I was around Mars Hill in the early days long enough to know what I was talking about when I began to make a case that Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll had betrayed what we all agreed were its founding ideals.  A lot of that work was documenting how Mark Driscoll could be shown to have become most of the things he used to preach against.  That was not the power of the first-person narrative, that was the work of journalism.


It would be too easy to keep everything about the flaws of the first-person industrial complex tethered to the election of Trump. This isn’t necessary.  It’s worth pointing out that one of the signal dangers of the powerful first-person narrative is that if you stake your presentation on the power of that narrative and that narrative withers under scrutiny it can cost you millions of dollars and the credibility of you and/or your publication.  Rolling Stone found out the hard way in the last couple of years.

As my journalism professor warned decades ago, you simply cannot be certain anonymous sources aren’t lying to you. The whistle-blower who is telling you about corruption in a department may have been fired with cause as the person who was one of the key sources of the corruption.  Vindictive, retaliatory scoops are not unknown.  A survivor blog and a watchdog blog alike must be alert to the dangers of being manipulated by narratives.  As we got to see in the rise and fall of Mars Hill Church and of Mark Driscoll’s reputation, the personal narratives were actually not particularly important by themselves.  Journalists noticed that there was no one smoking gun scandal that sunk Mark Driscoll’s reputation.  One person said stuff about death by a thousand cuts. 


I’m still beating the drum of the dangers of a Hollywood fantasy-land version of watchblogging and journalism so let me say this, it’s dangerous and misleading to buy a Spotlight idea about who is best positioned to look into things. You might be thinking of the scene where somebody says in the film that the outsider can see the things other people don’t see.   That’s not necessarily true.  Plenty of secular/left journalists attempted to “see” into Mars Hill and saw the dog and pony show of Driscoll’s public persona.  I think a more plausible account of what can happen in enquiry is that the outsider is often too outside to have insight.  The Nixon administration was taken down by the Nixon administration.  If there were no one like Felt history might have played out differently. 


So let’s float this idea that where watchdog blogs or survivor blogs are concerned the role of the outsider is not inherently important compared to the role of the marginal insider.  Not marginalized insider, the marginal insider.  This would be someone close enough to the power base, more or less, to accurately see what is going on but not necessarily someone whose bread and butter depends upon being in that inside track itself.  For as long as I tended to avoid letting people comment at the blog what I did offline was indicate that I was open to receiving whatever sources might volunteer as information they felt was important about the history of Mars Hill or recent changes in the culture. As I have seen things, the mistake of a survivor blog or a watchdog blog is operating under the illusion that what you write changes anything or even could change anything.  You can’t change anything directly.  You can give people opportunities to make the most informed decisions possible based on convictions they have but that’s as far as it goes. 


Now there are some matters about reception and perception that seem important to mention before I close.  One of the problems with survivor blogs and watchdog blogs that some guys have hammered away at is that they lack accountability.  Another way to put this is to say there are guys who blog who don’t think bloggers have credibility if the bloggers lack a clearly observable institutional affiliation.  The press, on the whole, has the same approach and in the end this may simply be another way of saying something a writer once told me, that the institutional press ultimately only takes itself seriously.  We’re witnessing some of the fall out of the problems with that this year, I suppose. 


There is a sense in which this criticism of survivor blogs and watchdog blogs is serious and legitimate. When I have blogged about Mars Hill there was not really a point at which advocates within Mars Hill could say I was somehow not accountable to anybody.  I’m a member of a church and have been for years.  I ended up at one of the two places people tended to go to in the wake of 2007, for that matter.  I’m a Presbyterian, I’m still a Calvinist.  I’m still the amillenial partial-preterist I said I was back when I was at Mars Hill but I’m more sympathetic to the historic pre-mil position now than I was because I think these two broad positions on eschatology are healthier than the paranoid dispensationalist futurism or the utopian postmillennialism I’ve seen permeating the left and right of American civic religion.  


What this meant at a practical level was that Mars Hill leadership couldn’t say I wasn’t a Christian, they couldn’t say I wasn’t accountable to a church, in fact they couldn’t even say I wasn’t able to accurately describe what their beliefs were because I wasn’t Reformed.  I could say that there were problems with Driscoll being Amyraldian that only Reformed people would likely understand but the take away here is that I’m trying to illustrate by example that a marginal insider can be better positioned to observe things than the often truly and even shamefully ignorant outsider who, in the fantasy of Hollywood “journalism” is supposedly able to see things insiders don’t notice.   If you were a beat reporter, so to speak, you’d go talk to the people responsible for handling all the unsexy boring scut work that keeps the institution running and on that matter Spotlight seemed more plausible, even if in the end I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was the media industry selling itself a mash note about its power to change and shape lives.


Which is to say, I don’t exactly want to discourage people from setting up survivor blogs or watchdog blogs if they feel obligated before God and by love of neighbor to document things as truthfully as they can.  I do want to discourage people from operating under any illusions about what is likely to happen.  It’s only in the power fantasies of Hollywood that somebody saying the right words in front of a camera while “the world watches” that “everything changes.”  Journalism is no more about the power of the first-person narrative than it is about characters scripted by Aaron Sorkin saying the right words in front of the rolling camera that supposedly sets the world right.  We might have better odds at making the world a better and safer place if we weren’t deluding ourselves as to the necessity and efficacy of our capacity to achieve that aim in mass media. 


Blogs as mass media confer upon us the illusory option of believing that what we write can somehow make history.  What seems so miserable about this observation is that it seems as true about those media stars that use mass media to refine their brands as it would be about those blogs and bloggers who believe that what they do in off hours can “speak truth to power”. Let me put this in the bluntest possible terms for Christians who would set up survivor blogs or watchblogs because they hope they can play a prophetic role in addressing injustices in the local church or the global Church—Yahweh sent prophet after prophet and ultimately Israel still went into exile after generations of sin and injustice.


There is a difference between playing a potentially prophetic role by speaking up about what you have seen and heard on the one hand and operating under delusions of grandeur on the other; the difference is not subtle, nor is the difference between these two poles something that can only happen on the celebrity or the blogger side of things. If in the pages of The New Yorker we see a grim observation that the personal narrative industry failed as journalism during the election year that gave us Trump, how much more should those who have watchdog or survivor blogs remember that simply sharing a personal story is not the same thing as uncovering failures or goodness in a leadership culture?


Particularly as a blogger who documented the life and times of Mars Hill I think I would be remiss to not mention that one of the things I kept in mind was that the branding and the empire was never the same as those people inside it.  Even Mark Driscoll himself used to say that in the worst churches there were still people who loved and served Christ and other believers.  There can be a distinction made between a corrupt church culture that needs judgment or death and those faithful Christians who feel obliged to serve in those churches. 


There is an Old Testament point of reference for this kind of thing I’ve written about before, an Obadiah who served in the court of King Ahab.  Daniel and the other young men were serving in a pagan empire.  Esther was one of many girls in a Persian harem.  There may be times in which the faithful don’t have a choice about whether or not they serve God and neighbor in a setting where there is, so to speak, blood shed by an empire on their hands. Naaman the Syrian general waged battle against Israelites and when he met Elisha and was healed by the Lord his role as a leader of combat against Israelites didn’t exactly change, did it?  There’s still a difference between shedding blood when the job requires it and volunteering to shed blood. While Naaman was healed, Elisha’s servant Gehazi revealed greed that spurred him to lie about what Yahweh did not say, and Gehazi ended up with leprosy. 


These were the kinds of stories from Scripture I couldn’t help thinking about as I blogged about Mars Hill.  How was I to know that someone inside Mars Hill wasn’t an Obadiah in the court of Ahab?  How was I to know that someone at Mars Hill who seemed honest and faithful enough wasn’t secretly a Gehazi corrupted by greed?  I couldn’t know for sure but I could be steeped enough in the Scriptures to know these were things to keep in mind.  The danger of the first-person industrial aesthetic ends up being much the same whether it’s on the celebrity side or the survivor blog side, we run the risk of wanting everything to conform to the narrative we have already settled upon as the narrative people have to adhere to; then we don’t listen to others and aren’t open to listening to someone who may have truth to tell that comes from an awkward or maybe even possibly compromised place. 


Now maybe the personal essay boom is over. Maybe what’s going on with Christians in mass media fretting about bloggers is just another case of Christians hopping on a bandwagon the world just got off over the last seven years. Just as the personal narrative piece presuming that the personal is the political failed to be journalism, perhaps personal narrative in the Christian media and the Christian blogosphere has failed to cohere as useful instruction.  Perhaps the failures of the Fourth Estate are pervasive enough that we should reconsider how seriously we take it. 


Maybe the hand-wringing by hugely or merely relatively famous Christians with book deals and publishing associations about bloggers is just the belated Christianese crisis of the personal essay boom.  How did these often not-fit-to-be-teaching-anybody people get a platform?  How did we get to the point where people take Jon Stewart or John Oliver or Stephen Colbert seriously as people sounding off on policy issues?  How did we get to the point where a reality TV star became Commander in Chief?  If the personal essay boom in what passes for mainstream secular journalism failed to account for the election of Trump then how worried should the Christian media companies and their associates be about the personal essay boom in the Christian scene? 


After all, for evangelicals, or people who say they are evangelical, this seems even more peculiar.  Don’t we say that we have the Scriptures?  Aren’t the Scriptures themselves, in addition to being the inspired word of God, also not gloriously public domain?  But are American evangelicals afraid that we’re going to discover that, beneath our formal fealty to the Scriptures, we’re really rife with sophistry and kitsch? Is the crisis of the winsome but manipulative personal narrative used by bloggers that they use this to promote teaching some institutional Christians find troubling? 


It can be that, too, but it could also be a crisis in the sense that the ability of the laity to do this at least as well as the clergy might be a warning to the clergy that their vocation is supposed to be founded on other things. A decade ago Mark Driscoll danced through a garbage sermon series on the book of Nehemiah.  He’d read a passage from the book, occasionally say “this is just like Mars Hill!” and then proceed to talk about whatever he saw fit to talk about.  It’s strange to think of how when I read a sermon by John Donne or Richard Sibbes or John Calvin or even a Charles Spurgeon or a David Martyn Lloyd-Jones I rarely come across the poignant domestic narrative about pets or kids or references to headlines. 


If anything the personal narrative industry is potentially more pernicious within Anglo-American evangelicalism than it might be at, say, Jezebel.  If the preaching and teaching is anchored in the Scriptures, wonderful, but I have begun to think that a lot of what gets passed off as substantial teaching in evangelicalism (and elsewhere) may really just be a Pavlovian, manipulative form of red state and blue state kitsch that passes itself off as “Jesus”. Our respective teams are so primed to see the manipulative self-congratulatory kitsch in the other team we don’t see how pervasive it is in our own team. The ascent of personalities like Mark Driscoll or Rachel Held Evans could have been a kind of wake-up call for us if we’d let that be but perhaps we did not want eyes to see or ears to hear.  The Christian star-making machinery was too busy cashing in to care. In a scene like that there’s still reason to worry that the survivor blog or the watchdog blog may have problems, but I’m at a point in my life where I suspect that the flaws of the mere blog are likely microcosmic iterations of problems in the whole.


I don’t want to discourage the creation of survivor blogs as such but having observed the rise and fall of Mars Hill over a twenty year period I can tell you two things. First, the survivor blogs (for want of a better term) only emerged in the death throes of Mars Hill as a corporate entity. The two that come to mind are here and here. Second, there is no evidence at hand that they accomplished anything at all in either catalyzing effective reform at Mars Hill. They can absolutely provide a valuable cultural cross-sectional history for those who would consult them but this is not the same as an institutional or procedural history.  I suppose another way to say it is that the survivor blog will have a role to play that can be valuable if there is an understanding that just as the personal essay boom did not constitute journalism in the mainstream the survivor blog is not necessarily journalism in the Christian blogosphere.  That Mark Driscoll has a corporation called a church in Arizona of which he is president and CEO should be warning enough to anyone who would start or curate a survivor blog that there’s absolutely no reason to imagine that simply setting up a survivor blog and giving people an opportunity to share their stories will change how things work for stars in the star system, whether the Christian one or the ostensibly not-Christian one.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

yet another incubation phase

Longtime readers of the blog may recall how I've written over the years about the ins and outs of contrapuntal music for solo guitar.  Some of you might even remember that somebody was working on a cycle of preludes and fugues for the guitar.

Technically more than one person.

Well, this year I was thinking I might finally get around to doing some blogging on contrapuntal cycles and not just those for the guitar.  Something like a general overview of the following cycles is what I've been considering:

Castelnuovo-Tedesco's cycle for two guitars
Nikolai Kapustin's preludes and fugues
Shostakovich cycle thoughts (though so much has been written about this cycle I might not directly blog about this cycle)
Henry Martin's 24 preludes and fugues
Rodion Shchedrin's cycle

But for the guitar I was thinking I'd want to tackle the aforementioned Tedesco cycle as a topic for blogging and throw in Igor Rekhin's set of 24 preludes and fugues.

But now, thanks to Editions Margaux, Nikita Koshkin's cycle has finally been published.  :)  This is exciting since I've been an admirer of Koshkin's music for decades, having been introduced to his work by another musician.  The fun part for me is that I heard of Koshkin's music not through another guitarist but through a drummer!  When a drummer suggests to a guitarist that Koshkin's music is worth checking out that is, I think, something on the order of what Matanya Ophee was talking about in his lecture "Repertoire Issues", where he said that it was important for guitarists to play and advocate for music that wins respect not from other guitarists or the usual guitar audiences but from other musicians who are not themselves guitarists.

So later this year the idea is to blog about Koshkin's cycle of preludes and fugues.  Of course, having rattled off no less than SEVEN cycles of preludes and fugues I hope nobody expects this to just bubble up quickly!    I might even have to throw in a few references to Reicha's 36 fugues here and there. 

There's always something or other incubating, really.  There's still those essays on the Justice Legue/Justice League Unlimited series I keep meaning to finish.  Green Lantern is next on the roster that I want to get to but John Stewart's actually one of the most complex characters on the series. I meant to write a lengthy screed about why Legend of Korra was such an artistic disaster but I haven't gotten around to doing that because I hate where the show went and yet to explain why it was such a trainwreck I'd have to get into Satoshi Kon and ... what can I say?  I hated where Korra went artistically but by now I'm not sure that it deserves to be treated as seriously as a long-form critical piece might require.  I might be more likely to just review the new Wonder Woman movie or even the inevitable My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic film.  The show is, considering its demographic target, actually a pretty well-executed show.  The two cartoons that have the most compelling visual sensibilities that rely entirely on Flash animation that I've seen are at wildly opposite poles, which would be My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and ... Archer.  I heard somewhere South Park uses flash now, though, so take all this with a grain of salt.

I ended up watching two seasons of Rick & Morty because people suggested the show. The end of season 2 should have been the end of the entire series but thanks to the American way of television being what it is, it looks like we're going to get a season 3 that tries to do a take-back of Rick turning himself in after realizing what an amoral thug he is.   I know that in a lot of ways there's probably an "Adult Swim" aesthetic or ethos that's been brewing since as far back as Space Ghost Coast to Coast.   In a way the sum of the Adult Swim vibe could be to take Cold War era icons and put a nihilistic spin on them.  Some shows do this more effectively than others. 

While I get that some people may think Rick & Morty is funny and perhaps even profound I never get that sense.  The reset button always gets slammed hard in American comedy.  American TV is always going for the reset button.  In anime, whether on television or even in film, when something breaks it doesn't get fixed.  But then anime has a long tradition of characters who choose the path of heroic self-annihilation over against American having-it-both-ways resolutions.  I read somewhere that Eureka was supposed to choose the path of heroic self-annihilation for the sake of the people she loves in the series Psalms of the Planets but audience protest led to a different, more upbeat ending.  Considering the whole of Eureka Seven (aka Psalms of the Planets) was riffing on cultures of child abuse the poor girl was put through enough stuff that giving her an actually happy Western-style ending seemed like a relief.  Eureka set out to repent of being a "military dog" who would just kill people because she was told to, though.  But I digress.

As Adult Swim brands go the one that has the most replay value for me is easily The Venture Brothers.  Yeah, it's got a lot of brutal humor but it's humor is, so to speak, at the expense of the hubris of the mid-20th century Cold War western optimism.  As one of the show creators put it, "Here we are half a century after the Kennedy years and where's my jetpack?"  If Rick & Morty were to believe in the generational condescension that looks down on stupid normal people and conformists in a post-Simpsons style, The Venture Brothers riffs on the possibility that the generation after Johnny Quest is a drug-addled unscrupulous band of failures who didn't live up to the idealism of the previous generation but may, perhaps, be just barely saved by not being able to have the egotism of that generation.   Rusty Venture is, very simply, a self-aggrandizing idiot who thinks he's a super-scientist but is a pale shadow of his father.  But that is paradoxically what keeps him from becoming what Killinger says his nature means him to be, a super-villain.  Killinger's offer to Rusty Venture could be a thematic riff on a little monologue Chris Eigeman gets at the end of The Last Days of Disco on how the axiom "to thine own self be true" presupposes that thine own true self must be pretty good ... but what if it's not so good?  What if your true self turns out to be bad?  Then wouldn't doing the right thing be acting in a way that does not make being true to yourself the highest good? 

So, uh, yeah, there's stuff I could write but sometimes (no, often) it's the deal that I think that thinking about things more before writing is a good idea, and sometimes I just find I don't feel like writing about stuff.  The people who have read this blog consistently over the last decade may recall that it took half a decade for me to finally get around to my blogging about early 19th century guitar sonatas.  There was all this stuff I wanted to tackle in 2011 but then all this stuff happened with this megachurch I used to attend and I felt obliged to document that stuff. 

I know I keep coming back to this but one of the complains that I think critics of watchblogs would have a legitimate concern about bloggers, if they went so far as to put it this directly, is that the watchblog can seem like a new variation of yellow journalistic scandal mongering.  There are, no doubt, responsible ways to engage in blogging that can be considered muckraking journalism and anyone who has read this blog over the course of a year knows I very obviously believe watchblogging can and should be done in a responsible way, and as a discipline of journalism.  But I also believe that to the extent that what attempts to be watchdog blogging can come across like A Current Affair in Christianese blogging terms, there's reason to be wary.  Or maybe I would say, that in my experience, much of what can drain the aura of credibility from a watchblog is not so much the blogging itself as the ramshackle nature of comments.  Eh, that should probably become it's own separate post, really.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

the Christian blogosphere, who "runs" it, where it's "authority" comes from, and whether there's really a crisis of unaccountable women or in the ethics of the star-making machinery of Christian media

So about a month ago there was this piece in Christianity Today about the question of who is in charge of the Christian blogosphere.  You may have read it.

For reasons that are only partly clear to me this fomented some controversy on the net.  It's not that controversy on the net is really anything new or surprising.  It inspired me to write a haiku a while back that goes like this--

the web glistens with
gnomic condescension and
spluttering fury

So anger on the internet is only the usual.  What may have made this dust up relatively unique seems to have something to do with what's called the Christian blogosphere, i.e. Christians with blogs and specifically women Christians with blogs.  Why, precisely, this has been an issue has something to do with someone named Hatmaker.  I am not entirely convinced that that concerns me.  I'm no stranger to people having questions about what bloggers do and to whom bloggers are accountable or what their respective agendas might be.

Now the blog post on women and blogging that stood out (but not in a good way) at first, was from an unexpected place.  Usually I expect better from Alastair Roberts.  But ...

the stuff about modes of authority and how these relate to a heuristic taxonomy of modes of authority and the extent to which these modes are imaged by whom or whomever, and more specifically how the second mode is overwhelmingly though not exclusively male, seemed like a waste of time.   Roberts seems more apt to think things out for the public record at his blog than Wenatchee The Hatchet.  At this blog things may incubate for months before something finally goes up in the for mof a post.

The other thing is that whatever Roberts' formal training, WtH has an educational background (undergraduate though it is) in journalism.  So theories of the press, concepts of the public and the media, legal concepts pertaining to what is and isn't considered responsible and legally defensible or prosecutable mass media use, these are things Wenatchee The Hatchet has thought about a little over ten years.

But, more specifically, this blog has for better or worse gotten a reputation as a watchdog blog.  I could write thousands more words about sonata forms in early 19th century guitar literature, or maybe write a few thousand more words about the genius of Stevie Wonder, or I could finally write about why Hollywood so utterly failed to adapt Ghost in the Shell.  It wouldn't matter.  The reputation of the blog got cemented through its role as a document of the life and times of what was once Mars Hill.  That probably stereotyped view of the blog won't be shaken.  That's just how people on the internet work.

I don't think that theories about males and females is really all that important compared to a more basic question of who even has access to mass media, of whcih social media is a part, and who is given a platform.  If Jen Hatmaker had not been given a platform and then promoted by the mainstream Christian publishing industry could there even have been any controversy about her changing views on things LGBT?  No, not really.  Nor would it have mattered.  Lay people change their minds about things all the time with no consequence to the publishing and media industries.  If you didn't like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (haven't seen it yet) does Hollywood care if you don't like it?  No.  As the song in the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie put it, if you don't like it, we still have your money.

That bloggers can publish whatever they want and have no accountability but to anyone they choose to be accountable to was the simple theme over at Phoenix Preacher a little while ago.

Wendy Alsup touched on the matter that as she blogged over the years she was under the authority of church leaders.  Of course, as we know here and there, those elders ten years ago were guys at Mars Hill.

And eventually Wendy Alsup's blogging for the record about Mark Driscoll's character and conduct and writing would be a catalyst for other people choosing to go public.  Wenatchee The Hatchet had been writing about Mars Hill for a year or so, off and on, prior to Wendy Alsup writing directly about things Driscoll.  The thing was Wendy Alsup ran the women's ministry at Mars Hill.  Driscoll said great stuff about her.  This was not someone who could be dismissed by Driscoll or his fans as some uppity power-hungry devil woman or a prestige-seeking guy who got kicked off the bus or thrown under the bus.  So Alsup's criticism was impossible to dismiss and also impossible to ignore.

This kind of gets to something the blogger Rachel Miller pointed out, the problem with asking who is in charge of the Christian blogosphere is how easy it is for those people who seem to be rhetorically asking this question to forget that many times these bloggers are already submitting formally to churches that are very happy to endorse their views.

The matter is particularly dicey for Anglicans since, for instance, Bishop John Shelby Spong managed to collected a paycheck from Episcopalian church, was it?  Granting that Warren and Roberts et al are not necessarily the same kinds of Anglican/Episcopal sort as Bishop Spong it does seem tough to see how merely being submitted to a formal church ensures anything by way of accountability for doctrinal purity.

If a blogger that frustrates you is a member of a church that says whatever he or she is writing is okay then aren't we just back at the same old thing?  Someone is wrong on the internet and you can't sleep until it's confronted?

But in the case of women bloggers and the Christian blogosphere I wonder if the people who have concerns are really soft pedaling the nature and scope of the concern.  Janet Mefferd confronted Mark Driscoll on air back in 2013 about what she regarded as evidence that he had plagiarized the work of others in his book.  She didn't stop there, of course.  She had a blog post in which she presented what she regarded as evidence that plagiarism had occurred.  She wasn't even the only blogger who fielded the issue of the integrity of Mark Driscoll's intellectual property.  But her being a woman in the rough and tumble new Calvinist scene may have added a special flavor to the awkward.

A few years down the road Rachel Miller would blog about problems in a book by Douglas Wilson and Randy Booth called A Justice Primer.  That book would get rescinded on account of evidence of plagiarism.  Lest this seem to be a matter merely of popular level (rather than scholarly) books published for Christian studies, Jim West has noted a couple of more academic cases.

So while some would like to make the topic of women blogging about things on the Christian blogosphere into a question about the doctrinal purity of what these women publish it seems that if we look back at the last few years of controversy we need to remember that bloggers don't end up having book deals out of thin air.  If bloggers end up writing traditional books some company has to decide to throw time, money and effort into promoting that author.  A Rachel Held Evans or a Jen Hatmaker can't become a sensation without that corporate investment.  The gatekeepers of the media industry have to either invite you to the party or you have to be enough a member of the gatekeeper set in mass media yourself to host your own party.

It's not that bloggers don't publish things I've found exasperating.  It happens often enough, though much of the time I opt to simply not read those bloggers.  If I regard Rachel Held Evans as a spotlight seeking hack comparable to Mark Driscoll that's something people can agree with or dissent from.  My larger point is that these sorts of hacks get promoted by the publishing industry before they can upset people like, say, Frank Turk when he debated the merits and demerits of Mark Driscoll back in 2009 at Internet Monk.

Funny thing was that iMonk pointed out that Mark Driscoll was not and could not be held accountable by anyone he didn't want to be held accountable to.  No bloggers, no matter how vociferous or prolix, were going to change anything about Mark Driscoll's role as a pastor in Mars Hill.  Now if there have since been those who might say that bloggers somehow "did" change things at Mars Hill there might be a useful point to make about this proposal, those bloggers or that blogger were pretty certainly not Frank Turk nor anyone in any way associated with Team Pyro.  Maybe those guys wanted to imagine their blogging spoke truth to power about the character issues of Mark Driscoll but ...

say ... wait a minute.

Why would guys feel like they should be able to do this but have issues with women doing it?  Did Deborah not serve as a prophet and judge in Israel?  Well, sure, it might be said by some guys that her being a prophet and judge was an implicity judgment on the men of Israel for failing to be godly leaders and ...

okay, so if women blog about men who have forsaken gentleness in church leadership by what alchemy have things changed to the point that women don't get to  blog?  Not quite seeing the connection there.

How about Huldah confirming the veracity and content of the book of the Law for the court of Josiah?  It seems that if men want to say that women having such potent roles of influence and/or authority are exceptional cases in light of system corruption and spiritual incompetence in leadership so disastrous God has to shame them through women it's not clear to me why we aren't at that point now.  This is just a matter of simply taking the axiomatic observation of some Christian guys about how if women are prominent leaders the men have failed and granting them that point to suggest this tells us more about their failure to lead properly than of the women whose influence the men are concerned about.

It does not seem to be for nothing at all that women bloggers have played roles in highlighting plagiarism egregious enough to bring down the books and at times the careers of men who have styled themselves as tough non-nonsense guys.  Driscoll talked like he was doing Mefferd a favor back in 2013 when she confronted him on air.  Now he's all about father wounds and the father heart of God as if he completely transformed into what he would have called "a pansy-ass therapist" back in 1998 when he was being interviewed for an article in Mother Jones.  He's even sharing tales about how while it may be his name on the title President or CEO of the new church it was really his kids' idea to just start a church.  Is there anything more manly than hiding behind stories of your children as the explanation for why you started a church of which you're president and CEO?

I suppose by now you've seen I'm a little bit skeptical about men who are skeptical about the influence of women bloggers.  if the industry of Christian publishing didn't let these women become celebrities to maybe half the level that male bloggers have celebrity then the pivots in public on stuff to do with sex wouldn't even be news.   It's hard not to get the sense that the bloggers that are worrisome have a bottom line somewhere.  You can only get disinvited from conferences if you've been invited and you seem to only get invited to conferences if you have a message or a product to sell.

Do women on the Christian blogosphere write stuff that's heretical?  Sure, I'm sure it happens.  It also happens with male bloggers on the Christian blogosphere.  But at their worst, the most heretical Christian bloggers are not likely to get visitors from the Internal Revenue Service like Hinn's HQ got in the last few weeks.  Bloggers would have to do something really unusual to become defendants in civil RICO suits.  Bloggers only have as much of a platform as the gatekeepers of the publishing industry decide they get to have.  more often than not the mainstream press and institutional media treats blogs like they don't even exist.  It's the flip side of the question as to who is in charge of the blogosphere, who actually takes bloggers to actually be writing stuff that's influenced the public?  is there even a way to measure the influence of blogs?

Perhaps a new way to ask this old question is to ask why the mainstream Christian popular publishing industry has been so quick to throw its money and influence behind promoting people who, as time goes on, say and do things that suggests that maybe they got promoted too quickly?  There may be such a thing as laying hands too quickly on the next monetizable thing.

After Mark Driscoll's years of having controversy swirling around plagiarism and the Result Source promotion of his book in the 2013-2014 news cycle, after Doug Wilson and Randy Booth had their plagiarism scandal, after any number of pastors had marriages fall apart only to have them sprint back up to the pulpit the idea that there's a crisis because women with blogs need to be held accountable when many of these women are probably already bloggign in contexts in which they are at churches that are okay with what they blog (per Rachel Miller's observation) seems to be missing the point.  The graft and venality of the pop Christian media industry seems to be more of the real problem.

We've seen mass media explode in unexpected ways ni the last thirty years.  Conventional media has withered in a lot of ways.  Traditional journalism has been supplanted by electronic journalism.  Social media has exploded and is a form of mass media so pervasive I doubt a majority of Anglo-American Christians have even successfully wrapped their heads around the idea that it's mass media, if a relatively recent form of mass media.  As I think Terry Teachout put it a few years ago, our popular level use of this new form of mass media has vastly outpaced our ability to think through the ethics and constraints of how to responsibly use it.  Teachout has been a professional critic and journalist for decades.  It's hardly a shock if those people with training in how to responsibly participate in the public sphere may have a clearer understanding of what is and isn't appropriate use of a mass media platform.  So, sure, journalists and pastors who decide to use social media such as blogs or twitter or Facebok will have a clearer understanding of what is and isn't likely to be responsible behavior.

I think we should be asking ourselves how a guy like Driscoll managed to publish "Pussified Nation" and successfully scrubbed it from pubic view within months f its publication while a Jen Hatmaker is somehow a new cause for alarm.  Nobody who is just a blogger becomes newsworthy. Its possible to publish material and then have other journalists or even other bloggers scoop it and get coverage in the press for running with a commentary on something you may have published first.  I've seen that happen, yes.  The fascinating thing is that it's possible to publish stuff for which the institutional press makes no nods at all, information that will get reported in the mainstream press as though the mainstream press had access to the information or documents, even if that content may have first been published for public consideration at a blog.

The star-making industry should reconsider who it decides to grant star status to before its participants at the blogging level or the op-ed level get too sure that the problem is which women bloggers have been allowed to become stars.  If there was no star-making machinery they couldn't even become the stars they've become, and that goes the same for male bloggers, too.  Let that blogger who won't parlay his or her blogging into a book deal themselves cast the first stone.

Monday, April 24, 2017

on the Walsh/Robison interview with Mark Driscoll, part 1: on whether or not Mark really "didn't know Jesus" in his youth, how and when and why he got saved, and on how Driscoll told CT he was a virgin when he met Grace in spite of saying otherwise in Real Marriage

As has become habit with these extended posts, these are published in reverse order to facilitate easier reading.

It might be difficult to find the interview Mark Driscoll had with Sheila Walsh and Randy Robison on Life Today. It would have been the April 6, 2017 interview, if it were currently up.  This transcript may only be up for so long.

[WtH 5-1-2017 

that video has been down at for a while, it turns out, without any clear explanation as to why, but the video remains up at ...

for those who want to read it]

However, as noted earlier at this blog, the narrative Mark Driscoll presented to Walsh and Robison about the history of Mars Hill was sufficiently different enough from what can be documented about Mars Hill over the last twenty some years that it has warranted a long-form analysis.  Let's assume for the sake of the record that Walsh and Robison acted in good faith, an assumption that not everyone in the blogosphere will necessarily embrace.  Even if people have doubts, the nature of the narrative Driscoll shared would still merit a detailed analysis.  So we'll be examining the statements in the interview and comparing them, at length, to the existing extent public record account of Mars Hill from Mark Driscoll's own writing and teaching, as well as from participants in the events connected to church governance crises and the bylaws documents themselves. 

PART ONE: On two preliminary points—“Didn’t know Jesus” and “At 19 got saved reading that Bible”
Week 15: Mission: Rescue Life
Randy Robison and Sheila Walsh
Mark Driscoll

Mark: I grew up in Seattle. My dad was a union drywaller; oldest of five kids. Didn't know Jesus. In high school, at 17, I met a really sweet adorable gal, a pastor's daughter; gave me a Bible. At 19 got saved reading that Bible; 21, married that girl. My rule is always: a gal buys you Bible, buy her a ring. Call it a deal. So I married her at 21.

Let’s start with the “Didn’t know Jesus” part. This account may need some nuances provided by Mark Driscoll’s earlier public statements which will also, by extension, touch on “At 19 got saved reading that Bible”.  For instance, take this sermon from 2002:

Part 4 of Galatians
Pastor Mark Driscoll
Galatians 3:1-14
June 02, 2002


And my misunderstanding was this: I thought that as long as you believed in God and you were a good person, then God would love you and you would go to Heaven. That’s what I thought. And if you would have asked me, you know, when I was up until the age of 18 or 19, “Are you a Christian?” I would’ve said, “Yes, and a Christian is someone who believes in God and is a good person.” And that’s what I thought. Until a drunken frat guy shattered my world with one decent question, and God uses anything. He used a drunken frat guy, who was like a seventh year sophomore to absolutely upset my theological worldview.

I did not drink because I made a list of rules to declare myself self-righteous. So, I said, “Why, I’m gonna be a good person.” I made this little list of things that I thought a good person should be. I won’t lie. I won’t steal. I won’t cheat. I won’t drink. I won’t smoke. I won’t, you know, beat anyone up who doesn’t deserve it. I won’t – I had this list of things that I would do and not do, and I would declare myself “good.” That is the essence of works and self-righteousness. That was basically my worldview. “I make my rules, and I live up to them. I’m a great guy.”

So, I had these rules, and one of my rules was I won’t drink because then God will look down and say, “Well, I’m going to pick Mark for my team because he’s such a great guy.” After all, I was.

So, what happened was I was at a frat party in college, which is not the typical place that God shows up in powerful, illuminating, theological acumen. But this drunken frat guy came up, and he said, “Here. Drink a beer.” And I said, “No, I don’t drink.” He said, “Why?” I said, “I’m a good person.” (Laughter)

And he said, “Well, why do you want to be a good person?” I said, “Because I believe in God, and I’m a good person.” He said, “Well, Jesus drank,” which is about the only part of the Bible he really knew. That and, “Thou shalt not judge.” He put those two verses together, and he’d come up with alcoholism. But anyway. (Laughter)

I said, “No, I’m a good person.” He said, “So, how do you know you’re gonna go to Heaven?” I said, “I know I’m gonna go to Heaven because I’m a good person.” And he asked this question that shattered my world. He was basically mocking me, trying to get me to drink. And he said, “Well, how good do you have to be to go to Heaven?” I thought, “I don’t know. That’s a good question. I don’t know.” And he said, “Do you have to be good all the time? And if you’re not good some days, does that cancel your bad days, and who makes the rules, and how do you know what’s good and bad?” He was just sort of in a drunken stupor rambling, but it was a really good question, I felt, particularly considering his condition. [emphasis added]

I said, “I don’t know,” and I started thinking about that. How good do I have to be? How moral do I have to be, and who determines the morality? Do my good days cancel my bad days, and did my sins cancel my obedience? And I started getting really muddy about where I was at. Up until this point I thought, “I’m a good guy. I’m a great guy.” And then I realized, “Well, maybe I’m not good enough.”


And so, what I decided was, “I’ll read the Bible to get all the rules, and then I’ll do them to make sure that I’m a good guy.” Okay. Now my wife, she was my girlfriend at the time. Moral of the story is if a woman gives you a Bible, give her a ring. She gave me this Bible as a graduation present from high school, and I started reading the Bible.


Perhaps Driscoll felt he had grounds to consider himself a Christian because, as he used to joke, he didn’t drink or smoke and he didn’t beat up anyone who didn’t deserve it. He never cheated on any of the girlfriends he was in relationships with.  Yet at this point we can see that the question of whether or not he “didn’t know Jesus” may depend on what a person means in asking this question.  After all, by his own account Mark Driscoll was an altar boy for a while.
September 30, 2013
An arty, jock, altar boy

I was raised Catholic and served for a few years as an altar boy while attending Catholic grade school.  I've got an artistic bent. I like architecture, interior design, music, visual arts, etc. Growing up I was an odd mix: a jock who played a lot of sports, a fighter who got in more than a few brawls, and an artist who liked to sketch, draw, and experiment in various mediums. I appreciated the artistry of the Catholic Church. Stained glass, paintings, colors, icons, statues, candles--it was all quite beautiful.

Some Catholics are born-again, Jesus-loving Christians. I was not one of them.  I was a spiritual religious guy until Jesus saved me at the age of 19.  ...

Maybe so, but servers (aka altar boys and girls and so on) are expected to have an understanding of the liturgical significance of the rites they assist in.  And yet when Mark Driscoll recounted his youth in a 1992 editorial he emphasized that he was not raised in a fundamentalist Christian home. It might be more precise to say Mark Driscoll grew up Catholic and grew up Catholic in a way that would be counted as “not really knowing or believing in Jesus” to a broad range of low church American Protestants. In an October 1992 editorial Driscoll recounted how he became a Christian trying to win an argument with a “Bible-thumper”.  Driscoll’s editorial is a “I tried to prove Christianity wrong and converted” narrative of a fairly pedestrian and predictable sort; what stands out in his The Evergreen editorial was what he left out, that he had a girlfriend who was a pastor’s daughter who was coming back to a point of taking her Christian faith seriously and had given him a Bible as a gift.


Something else that went unmentioned in the 1992 editorial that Driscoll has mentioned about his time in Catholic church life was that he had a negative impression of the role of the pastor or priest because Christians seemed feminine.

… The last thing I ever thought I would be was a pastor, because growing up Catholic, the pastor is a guy who lives at the church, is flat broke, is committed to never having sex, and walks around in a dress. So pretty much, that was a last career choice of all possible career choices. [emphasis added]


Joe: When he got into high school, he was always into student body president, journalist on a newspaper, redid the high school— somehow or another, he got involved in that. He was always into something.


Yeah, I was a nice—at least I thought—nice, moral Catholic guy. I had a pretty bad temper, did well in school and sports, was dating Grace as a high school student, sleeping with her. She was a pastor’s daughter. So definitely, life was put together wrong.

That was a statement from the 2011 series God’s Work, Our Witness, a decade earlier we see Driscoll said a bit more. The impression he had of the Catholic priest he remembers was not just that the guy was committed to never having sex and walking around in a dress, but that the priest was gay:
Part 5 of Proverbs
Pastor Mark Driscoll | October 28, 2001


You know why schools, Christian schools, Christian churches, Christian ministries are primarily female? Because the church is feminine, and masculine men don’t feel comfortable there. It’s true. The church has adopted, I would say, inordinately the bride metaphor from scripture. Women are very comfortable from that. Men don’t understand that. It’s very hard for a man to think of himself as a bride, wearing a white gown and walking down the aisle. If he’s very comfortable with that, he has significant issues. He has much to work through. And so, there are different metaphors in scripture that men and women will gravitate toward in regards to their relationship with God. For me, this is – this is a very important issue. I was raised in south Seattle, in the ghetto, behind the Déjà vu, next to the airport. Okay? If you’ve been there, you can repent and don’t go there anymore. [emphasis added] But, for the rest of you, if you don’t know where it’s at, that’s fine. It’s – it’s an interesting neighborhood. Gang-banging, drive-by’s, drugs, prostitution, the green river killer was there, the whole thing. One of the local elementary schools would have to go out on Monday and take the used condoms and the syringes off the playground before the kids came. And so, I was the oldest of five kids. And I grew-up in a blue-collar, hard-working, union family. My dad’s name is Joe, and he hangs drywall. Okay?

My dad’s a guy. My brothers are guys. I’m a guy. We love each other. Things are good. I come from a decent home. And one my biggest fears in high school was becoming a Christian, because I thought immediately I would have to become very feminine. ‘Cause all the guys I knew who were Christians were just very – very soft, very tender, very sort of weak guys. And I thought, “That’s just not gonna work.” So, I wouldn’t go to youth group. They tried to drag me to – I was in a Catholic church and our priest was gay, and I didn’t get this guy at all. He would wear silk shirts and silk pants, and he would wear low – basically, like, bathroom slippers all the time. [emphasis added] And he would tan all year. So, he had a nice bronze glow.

And I didn’t relate to this guy at all, not in the least. I don’t – I don’t – silk? Just – I don’t get that. And so, he – he was this very, very feminine guy. And they tried to – I tried to go to church with my family and I didn’t get it. So, they tried to take me into this youth thing, and it just didn’t work. So, I just left. I said, “That’s it. I’m gone. There’s no men here.” [emphasis added]  ‘Cause it was all older ladies, women and children. You couldn’t find a guy anywhere near it, and that’s not unusual. When I came to Christ in college, reading the Bible, and realized the gospel, and I went looking for a church; and a few of the first churches I went to were just completely uncomfortable. It was like walking into Victoria’s Secret. The décor, at first, it’s like fuchsia and baby blue, and there’s pink, and it’s just like, “What in the world has happened here?” And then the songs are very emotive, and it’s like love songs to Jesus, like we’re on a prom together or something. And I didn’t get that at all, ‘cause that made me feel real odd. And then – and then the guy preaches, and he’s crying and all this stuff, and trying to appeal to my emotions. And I was just like, “This didn’t work.” So, I kept looking for a church. So, I found a church where the guy got up and he said, “This week I was out bow-hunting.” He used that as an illustration. So, I became a member of that church. True story. I didn’t have any theological convictions, but if a guy killed things then I – he could be my pastor. [emphasis added]

So the young Driscoll’s impression of men in Christian ministry was that they seemed to be weepy gay guys wearing silk shirts who cried a lot while talking about their feelings.  As nominal a Christian as Driscoll claimed to have been, one possibility for how he could have gained such a vivid sense of why he didn’t want to be in ministry could have come from his time as an altar boy. 

There’s something else worth mentioning about Mark Driscoll meeting Grace Martin, which is that even though Real Marriage, the book published by Mark and Grace Driscoll in 2012, detailed how neither of them were virgins when they met each other, this did not stop Mark Driscoll from saying, for the record, that they were both virgins when they met in a Christianity Today interview in 2012.

Interview by Katelyn Beaty and Marlena Graves/ January 5, 2012


Is there tension in teaching sexual purity before marriage while encouraging frequent and wonderful sex within marriage?


M: No, and for us, we sinned, quite frankly. We were virgins when we met and were sleeping together as high-school boyfriend and girlfriend. Then Grace came back to Christ, and I came to Christ in college, so we had to stop sinning sexually. I'd say if we both could go back and rewrite history and change one thing, that would probably be the thing we would change. [emphasis added] But we did repent and met with our pastor. And then we did get married, between our junior and senior years of college

The statement that both Mark Driscoll and Grace Martin were both virgins when they met each other could not have been more flatly contradicted by the text of Real Marriage:

Real Marriage
Mark and Grace Driscoll
Copyright (c) 2012 by On Mission, LLC
Thomas Nelson
ISBN 978-1-4002-0383-3
ISBN 978-1-4041-8352-0 (IE)

Page 7

Neither Grace nor I was a virgin when we met, and before long we were dating and sleeping together, which continued even after she went off to college while I was finishing high school. [emphasis added]

page 9-10
To be honest, fornicating was fun. I liked fornicating. To stop fornicating was not fun. But eventually Grace and I stopped fornicating, got engaged, and were married between our junior and senior years of college.

I assumed that once we were married we would simply pick up where we left off sexually and make up for last time. After all, we were committed Christians with a relationship done God's way.
But God's way was a total bummer. My previously free and fun girlfriend was suddenly my frigid and fearful wife. She did not undress in front of me, required the lights to be off on the rare occasions we were intimate, checked out during sex, and experienced a lot of physical discomfort because she was tense. [emphasis added]

Before long I was bitter against God and Grace. It seemed to me as if they had conspired to trap me. I had always been the "good guy" who turned down women for sex. In my twisted logic, since I had only slept with a couple of women I was in relationships with, I had been holy enough, and God owed me. I felt God had conned me by telling me to marry Grace, and allowed Grace to rule over me since she was controlling our sex life. [emphasis added] I loved Grace, but in the bedroom I did not enjoy her and wondered how many years I could white-knuckle fidelity. ... We desperately needed help but didn't know where to turn. Bitterness and condemnation worsened.

page 13
... When I discovered her sin against me and that she had punished me with resulting years of sexual and emotional denial, I felt like a real fool, and my world crashed down around me. It seemed everything I had been striving for since I was a little boy was in vain. In idolizing marriage, I ended up demonizing Grace and doubting God.

page 14
I grew more chauvinistic. I had never cheated on a girlfriend, but I never had a girlfriend who did not cheat on me. And now I knew that included my own wife. So I started to distrust women in general, including Grace. [emphasis added] This affected my tone in preaching for a season, something I will always regret.

Given how thoroughly Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book stated otherwise it remains a mystery why Mark Driscoll would have told writers in an interview with Christianity Today that both he and Grace were virgins when they met.  To have done so was to paradoxically rewrite history while expressing the wish to go back and rewrite history in a different way by having chosen a different path.   That Mark Driscoll gave such drastically different answers as “yes” and “no” on the question of whether he and Grace were virgins when they first met each other invites a question as to why he could, or would, give such radically different answers on such a simple topic of inquiry.  As we’ve seen from different accounts Mark Driscoll has given about how and why he became a Christian there seemed to be room for contextual emphasis depending on the rhetorical or polemical aims of a specific sermon or interview.

 There might be room for debate and interpretation as to whether he really “knew Jesus” in the way a low church American Protestant would define knowing Jesus. There’s hardly any wiggle room on whether he was or wasn’t a virgin when he met Grace Martin. Either he was or he wasn’t, right?  Yet on such a basic question Driscoll demonstrated for the record he was capable of giving two very different answers depending on the context in which he was communicating.

If there’s room for questions as to how sincerely Driscoll was or wasn’t an observant Catholic there’s considerably less room to doubt the scope of his ambitions for Mars Hill when he co-founded it, a topic we shall now turn to.