Mark Driscoll and the importance of being uncomfortable in church

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

Laura Ziesel
July 22, 2011

"Rather than explain that Christianity is for manly men who kill people, he should have said it’s for everybody, even people who make us uncomfortable."

YES! Great and to the point exploration of the issue. I think we can call Driscoll out in many ways for his actions, but this one resonates deeply with me. What are we showing people the family of God is like if we adopt the sinful, worldly way of viewing others? In http://www.lauraziesel.com/201..., I wrote "Christians should be subverting the dominant (fallen) paradigm, not adopting it as our own." As a Christian, I have to love people I wouldn't normally like.

Alise Wright
July 22, 2011

Fantastic post! I too was disappointed with the response from Driscoll for precisely the same reasons. I don't want my son, who is not a "manly man" to feel like he doesn't belong in the church. He's going to have to deal with that elsewhere, and the church shouldn't be among those places.

Really, really good stuff here!

Geoff Osterberg
July 22, 2011

i think that in many ways gender roles and expressions is becoming a proxy war for the gay marriage/homosexuality debate.There seems to be many who either state or imply that to allow a broadening of our views on the former could lead the church to soften it's stance on the latter. while I personally would say that would be a positive effect, it seems unlikely.

Holly Boardman
July 22, 2011

Sometimes it looks like a hopeful, Spirit-filled 59 year old retired UMC  single heterosexual clergywoman and unemployed public school teacher. Jesus is still my Lord. Thanks for this post.

July 22, 2011

The pendulum in secular society has swung away from gender roles altogether. Everyone can be whatever they want; there are no boundaries. I think what Driscoll and other leaders are trying to emphasize is that God has defined roles for men and women. There may be some debate about what those roles are between denominations (can women be pastors, etc), but the emphasis on gender roles at all is admirable.

This is an important issue because how we view ourselves (and others) as men and women ties in to our relationships. If you're married, to be a "real man" also shows you how to be a "real husband." The same goes for women and wives. That doesn't mean that I have to be a burly, hairy, bearded man to be a "real man." But there are Spirit-led Christian brothers, and there are Spirit-led Christian sisters, and I really believe that God has defined different roles for them.

The question is, how many secular trends do we allow into our church? I'd assume skinny jeans are okay, but what if the teenage boys start wearing mascara, as some in the punk rock scene are apt to do? What if women started wearing suits? What if little boys wore dresses? Perhaps this is a comedic picture for some of you, but how we present ourselves on the outside shows how we think about ourselves on the inside. To the teenage boy wearing mascara, perhaps he isn't doing that to declare, "I feel feminine!" But somewhere, somehow a line has to be drawn, right?

Is there ever an instance where a church leader can say, "Men shouldn't do that," or "Women shouldn't do that," and have their statement apply only to the one gender?


To be honest, I didn't read the article this post linked to, but now that I have, I just want to say that I don't support Driscoll's misogynistic commentary. What I do support are attempts at more clearly defining the roles of men and women, and at least appreciating that they do, in fact, have different roles.

July 22, 2011

I thought the post above certainly raises a valid point, but your response, Laura, goes to the heart of the issue: Our sexuality and our gender roles currently spring from our fallen-ness. To adopt the prevailing worldview is only to invite a fallen narrative into the church--and is there only *one* "prevailing worldview, or are there more like competing (fallen) views of gender and sexual identity?

The shame of Mark Driscoll's ill-advised comments is that they obscure a vital mission of the Lord's church: discovering that we are, male and female, created in God's image. If it takes both "male" and "female" to fully reflect God's image, shouldn't the church be about discovering, proclaiming, and incorporating into our gospel the Creator's intent for male and female? In my view, that would be a worthy discussion in the church--for the sake of a fallen world. Peace!

July 22, 2011

If Driscoll thinks David was such a manly man then he should look more into the relationship he had with Jonathan, which is described both as "platonic love" and "homosociality." Not quite as "manly" as he might have hoped.

July 22, 2011

I think that fact of the matter that you touch on, but ultimately miss, though, is that the outward appearance of someone is not what is ultimately important. It is what is in the heart, and that is between that person and God. Whether or not a man can wear makeup or a dress, or the fact that women are expected to do both, is merely a cultural norm, not a law of God.

David Arnett
July 22, 2011

Well said Ray. Sinners should be welcome in the church, but the church should not be afraid to be the church for fear of offending them. Sinners already know they need Jesus, that's why they are there. Jesus loved them but never did he hold back the truth. He presented the truth in love and some accepted while others didn't.

July 22, 2011

Nilay Patel on This Week in Google (minute 1:08) reflected on throwing parties when he was at college. "I knew I was throwing a good party when there was someone there I didn't like or someone who didn't like me." 

God's missional challenge has always been the greatest gift he gave us which is our personhood. The gift is great enough (and God is humble/mature/differentiated enough) to afford a universe in which we (for whatever reason we want) stand apart from God with some sort of complaint. Only a person can wrestle with God and God will only wrestle with a person. Wind and waves simply submit. 

Church ought to be such a great party that it hits Nilay Patel's standard.

July 22, 2011

I think you're right Josh in understanding Driscoll's (and others) agenda in this. Is there something ontological about maleness and femaleness in terms of God's design for us? That is an explosive question. 

It quickly too becomes a subquestion of the larger discussion as to whether identity is primarily received or achieved and what does the interplay between those forces actually look like. It's the theological version of the nature/nurture discussion.

Frank Guter
July 22, 2011

We are gendered beings, that is reality. However, to have used the pulpit to define manliness is based in some kind of fear and defensiveness, I would say. There is a wide spectrum of how we act out our being male or female and there is no box here, let me guarantee you that. Let us seek to define who we are in the church by our giftedness granted by the Holy Spirit, who is not discriminatory. The construct of particular male and female gender roles is a man-made one, thus subject to fallenness, not a true biblical model.

July 22, 2011

I love my best friend Scott. I have known him for 20+ years. Would this be considered platonic or homosociality. Since when does having a close friend of the same sex not make you manly. Your train of thought is part of the reason this countries view on gender is as screwed up as it is.

July 22, 2011

No, my train of thought is technical and in reference to a trend in american culture. I am merely making the point that in American society, especially in the midwest, these types of relationships are not necessarily seen as manly, especially in how they are expressed.

I don't know how old you are (I assume a bit older than myself from your 20+yr friendship), but being 23 and living in Minnesota I have heard more times than I can count "no homo" from friends of mine towards me and towards others, as they felt that their expressions of feelings or emotions for each other, or compliments on how they looked, might be perceived as homosexual, not homosocial, and thus felt the need to add this phrase to the end of what they had said.

My real point was that our cultural definitions of manliness are pointless (any, not just mine or yours), the only definition of a man that truly counts is that which shows you are a man in God's eyes. I feel that you were offended by my comment, assuming it was saying you, and any others, are not manly, but I meant quite the opposite.And yes, I would say your relationship is both of those things, by definition. The wikipedia article on David and Jonathan is also very interesting to this point.

July 22, 2011

Two thoughts come to mind.

First, the question of gendered communication is not new.  More than a century ago there was the Muscular Christianity of the YMCA and Dwight Moody. The gendered role shows up in our immigrant churches, too. The new-immigrant CRC had far more men in leadership compared to the strong female leadership in the RCA (through the mission program). We can see the same outline in Scripture, with (Roman/Hellenistic) women being especially active, coupled with Pauline condemnations of effeminacy.

So we have the distinction between male/female on top of cultural considerations or constructions. We are certainly familiar with this in terms of social class, not only how genders have different expressions (see the working guy image, say), but how they can be misconstrued. And in a post-modern culture, we hit the social construction identity in full Mixmaster mode. That brings up the second point.

Gendered identity of whatever sort facilitates cultural communication. That's why Driscoll wants a clear Guy up there leading. It's little different than say making a web site that uses lots of red and black. It's a construct. Because it facilitates communication with some audiences, we can think of it as missiological in nature. Driscoll's is less ontological than pragmatic; he does what he does because it works. In our mission thinking we often lapse into this sort of pattern, where the style becomes seen as essential.

In short, gendered roles even hyper-gendered roles are perhaps best thought of as an aspect of enculturation.

July 22, 2011

I love your points Bill, thanks for them. Prompted two echoing thoughts:

1. Culturally we LOVE intentionality. Churches have gotten on this bandwagon. We want to highlight "people of diversity". My wife is taking a course with a Muslim woman wearing full gear. She's always getting pulled aside for "interviews" and photo ops because the program wants to send a cultural message. Driscoll is doing the same thing and it's not all culture war, it's also missiological. We've all got agendas in these fights.

2. As a culture we are also very excited about findings in brain science regarding mind/body connection. We're all aflutter about behaviors and their relationship with chemicals, processes and structures in the brain. Testosterone turns the early fetus into a boy and that testosterone also impacts brain development. On one hand we want to say "gender is a cultural construct" but on the other hand we want to identify biological brain connections to tons of other behaviors that also clearly have significant cultural connections. You really can't have it both ways. Gender will always be more than a social construct, we've just got to be a bit humble with some of the details. pvk

July 23, 2011

You can pick your friends but you can't pick your family. Church is a family.Helping one another along in the process of being reconciled into the image of Christ, bearing with one another on that journey is part of being family.
The work of restoration and reconciliation involves being changed into the image of Christ. Nobody starts out that way. The "new man" and "old man" continue to battle within each soul. While our "new men" meet one another we are likely to be open to the unity Jesus prayed for us in John 17, but when our "old men" meet we are likely to clash or lead one another off on tangents together. The whole process is going to be uncomfortable. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Comfortable people don't like to move.

July 24, 2011

Once again,go to the Bible.Who was there at the cross as Jesus was suffering? The women were out in full force.Most of the disciples were in hiding. Jesus treated women with respect during a time when they had none.
The Death and Resurrection account is dominated by women.
These facts should finalize a discussion like this.

July 25, 2011

This concept of "uncomfortable in church" has been on my mind a lot lately (http://tiny.cc/w7zjm). Jesus says He will bring us 'comfort', but not necessarily make us 'comfortable.'  We should embrace God's capacity to expand our souls and seek out spaces of holy uncomfort.

Paul Chaplin
July 25, 2011

Mark Driscoll's comments are hurtful, misguided, and embarrassing for the church, but this is not out of step with a great deal of what he says. 

I recently attended a gender training workshop required of all new employees, where there was space opened up for discussion of any thoughts, and one individual threw out (without, in fairness, any great conviction) the possibility that men had evolved such as to not see dirt as well as women. 

There are huge misconceptions about what "the science" shows about sex difference and Mark Driscoll is entirely ignorant of this. The vast, vast majority of males and females reflect an identical range of intensities among various personality/character traits (i.e. the most empathetic women will be fractionally more empathetic than the most empathetic men, but basically everyone else is all the same), and that's before you take into account the unmeasurable impact of social conditioning. 

If you believe that there are different appropriate gender roles in society, the family, or the church, so be it, but to point towards biology or "natural" gender psychology to justify such a conviction is misled.

I'd strong recommend the writing of Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, a psychology and philosophy professor at Eastern University.

Add your comment to join the discussion!