We’ve just concluded another week in American evangelicalism. Which is to say, we’ve witnessed another Mark Driscoll blunder.
This has been a rough year for the Seattle-based megachurch preacher. He was accused of plagiarizing in multiple books, which resulted in a tepid but public apology. He embarrassed himself by crashing a conference hosted by another pastor, John MacArthur. And former staff and church members spoke out about the oppressive environment at Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church. These gaffes join a legion of others. After the flood of criticism he received, Driscoll quit social media and has retreated from the public eye.
But another shoe dropped last week when Christian author Matthew Paul Turner posted a series of discussion board comments by Driscoll under the alias “William Wallace II” in 2000. Driscoll’s opinions, though 14 years old, were nothing short of vile. In addition to being expletive-laden, they were misogynistic and homophobic (and I do not use either term lightly).
In response to the furor his comments created, Driscoll apologized yet again, saying his statements were “plain wrong” and he “remains embarrassed” by them. His apology was predictably rejected by the growing gaggle of Driscoll critics, a group that has become evermore vampirical in its thirst for Driscoll’s blood.
But I accept Driscoll’s apology and other Christians should too. Here’s why.
I’m reminded of an occasion where the the saltiest and stubbornest disciple, Peter, asked Jesus a most pointed question: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered Peter, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”
Any New Testament scholar can tell you that Jesus was not merely upping the limit of times one must accept the apologies of a repeat offender. He was not saying that on the 491st offense, we are free to toss our brother or sister overboard and pray for a shark attack. No, Jesus was obliterating the ceiling on Christian forgiveness.
The way of Jesus is not the most practical, desired or cathartic path. But it is an endlessly forgiving one.
Some might be flabbergasted that I would accept the apology of a serial abuser like Mark Driscoll. After all, I have more than a dozen articles reporting and commenting on the deplorable actions of Mark Driscoll in the last year alone.
Yet when Christians have grown so bitter toward someone that we can’t even accept his apologies, something has gone seriously wrong. If Driscoll had ignored these comments, his critics would have excoriated him for his silence. But when he says he is sorry, they criticize him still. We must refuse to create lose-lose situations for each other where people are damned if they apologize and damned if they don’t.
Let me be clear: Accepting Driscoll’s apology does not mean we excuse his reprehensible actions in the past, fail to call him to better behavior in the present, or ignore future abuses if (or when) they occur.
I hope Driscoll is genuinely trying to carve a different path — one that is isn’t so angry and arrogant, sex-obsessed and sexist, dishonest and defensive. I hope that his recent actions signal a change in course. A change, that is, because I don’t expect a total and immediate about-face. Sanctification is, after all, a slow chipping away.
Some have said that he needs to be publicly shamed. Driscoll has heaped shame on many, and now his critics apparently want to return the favor. Apparently, that whole “do not repay evil with evil” thing doesn’t apply to us and that “love your enemies” bit was just Jesus being cheeky.
Others claim Driscoll must resign as pastor of Mars Hill Church. I agree this is probably best. Not because he needs to pay for past sins, but rather because his pattern of behavior indicates to me that he should spend time with some wise counselors who can help him sort through whatever he’s spent his life inappropriately processing.
But demanding accountability and reconciliation is a far cry from rejecting one’s apology.
Oh, how I wish we could conjure the spirit of the late author and priest Brennan Manning. We need him now more than ever. As Manning reminded us in his final book, grace is for ...
“The inmate who promised the parole board he’d be good, but he wasn’t ...
The dim-eyed who showed the path to others but kept losing his way ...
The liar, the tramp, the thief; otherwise known as the priest, speaker, and author ...
The disciple whose cheese slid off the cracker so many times he said ‘to hell with cheese ‘n’ crackers’ ...
The younger and elder prodigals who’ve come to their senses again, and again, and again, and again.”
This means that there must be grace for the abused and the abuser, for the oppressed and the oppressor, for Mark Driscoll and for all those he has hurt. If we Christians have now arrived at a point where grace has run dry or is only available to some, let us abandon this whole Jesus way and join those who have no hope.
I’m a tough critic — perhaps too tough on occasion. But this situation has reminded me that the Christian community must be as generous with the salve of forgiveness as we are with the acid of criticism. If we can learn this, we will take a step closer to walking as Jesus did. And maybe then we can, with the dearly departed Manning, dare to whisper the Ragamuffin’s rumor: ALL. IS. GRACE.
(Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and is the author of the recent book “Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined.”)
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