about the current implosion of Mars Hill. For those of you not currently aware, there is some serious turmoil at the church right now and many questions over the leadership of their pastor, Mark Driscoll. Over the last couple of years there has been a curiously high rate of employee turnover at Mars Hill. Some of their locations are on their third pastor in that span of time, which is a lot.
More recently, Mark Driscoll was accused of plagiarizing sections of his book Real Marriage. Then, it was discovered that he used Church money to buy a bunch of books in order to vault it to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers. Remember all those pastors who left the Church? Well, this issue brought many of them out of the woodwork publicly sharing a litany of bad – even abusive experiences. Many of these former employees are calling for Driscoll to step down.
The last two days have been by far the busiest days of DriscollWatch as far as traffic goes. The reason is that our site was linked in this story from alternet, which has since been reprinted at Salon and a few other blogs that provide commentary on abusive pastors. If you’ve found this site through any of these other sources I’d like to offer you the warmest of welcomes. My guess is that you’re unlikely to find any of our content that interesting, but if you’d like a good example of the type of thing we do I’d suggest reading this article we wrote about celibacy and the Catholic Church.
But while we’re here I’d like to make just a couple comments on this issue as seen from a Catholic perspective. (Warning: I’m Catholic to the core and love the Popes, even the bad ones)
- Protestants confuse me. The whole reformation started as a big rebellion from centralized Church authority, however Protestants nowadays willingly place themselves under much more authoritarian pastors than even the most oppressive of Popes. Protestant Pastors like Mark Driscoll have sought to control aspects of their congregants lives that no Pope I can think of ever has. So what’s the deal, Protestants? I don’t get it.
- Many people who have been involved with abusive pastors and congregations would probably think that Catholicism is the last place they’d ever want to go. Because, again, that Pope, man. He’s so oppressive! If that’s the way you think, let me point out that the Pope lives in Rome. He doesn’t know you and he isn’t going to try and coerce you into joining a community group so that his spies can report you and your sins to him so he can send you a letter explaining that you need to tithe more.
- It is also worth pointing out the way the Catholic Church is structured in terms of money. When a parishioner puts money into the collection plate at a Catholic parish, the money stays in that parish. We don’t send the money off to Rome to be counted by the Pope’s henchmen. In fact, it doesn’t even go to the local bishop! It stays at the parish and the pastor is responsible to make sure it is used well. Of course, there is a very real possibility that the local pastor of neighborhood Catholic Church is corrupt. Well, in these cases the parishioners can inform the bishop of this and he can investigate and actually do something about it – and the bishop has nothing to gain financially by allowing abuse to continue. If you want to complain about your bishop and the way he manages money given to the diocese, you can inform Rome and Rome also has nothing to gain from allowing abuse to continue. The fact that money given to the Church stays local can help parishioners to ensure that their money is spent well and allows the Church to be more transparent with its funds. (there is a tax that parishes have to pay to support the operations of the diocese, so not all funds stay in the parish, but the point is that the bishop doesn’t tough most of the funds that come into the parish)
- Don’t get me wrong. I’m aware that there are abusive pastors in the Catholic Church right now. I’m aware there have been horrifically sinful bishops and sinful Popes in the history of Catholicism. I’m aware that money has been abused by Catholic Clergy, is being abused by some Catholic clergy, and will be abused by some Catholic clergy in the future. But if modern evangelicalism has taught me anything, its taught me that church abuse can’t be cured through a changing of Church law and decentralizing power. Many Protestants have tried to avoid ecclesial sins by changing ecclesial structure. It hasn’t worked and I think its time to admit that. All of this is to say that the sins of priests, bishops, and Popes should no longer justify schism within the body of Christ. As long as the Church is run by humans, there will always be scandal or threat of scandal in the body of Christ.
- Finally, Protestants need to confront the reality that schism is a scandal and nowhere in the Bible does it say that breaking away from authority and starting your own Church is a legitimate way to address the sins of people in authority. Let that sink in. The way Protestants have dealt with sin in the Church has been to start other Churches, but this is not what the Bible tells us to do. The fruit of schism has not been fewer scandals.
- There are wonderful stories of reform in the Catholic Church that I think Protestants should know and reflect on. Take for example the story of St. Catherine of Sienna. St. Catherine was a talented young woman who loved the Lord and loved the Church, and she lived in perhaps one of the worst era’s as far as papal virtue goes. The Popes of her day basically abdicated their responsibility as shepherds of the Church and went off to France to live in a huge palace in the city of Avingon. St. Catherine convinced him to repent of his sins and move back to Rome to care for the people. The purpose of this is to show that reform is possible without schism. All schism weakens the body of Christ and, as history has shown, it has not done anything to protect good people from sins against clergy.
The Catholic Church is far from flawless, but history shows we are reform-able. We have reformed and we will reform again. We’ve made mistakes but, thankfully, we’ve also learned a lot of lessons from 2,000 years of mistakes. Crusades have happened, and we know not to do them again. Heretics were burned at the stake, and we learned not to do that again. Children were abused at the hands of our members, and we learned that we need to take steps to ensure their safety. Our Church is far from pure, but we are being purified.