Controversial uber-Reformed pastor Mark Driscoll is temporarily stepping down from his leadership post at the Seattle-based Mars Hill Church. Following a great deal of controversy about his public and private behavior, he has agreed to a leave of absence to assess his ministry and allow time for the church to investigate a long list of charges against him. I cannot say I am always above the popular schadenfreude that enjoys gloating over the misfortunes of those I dislike. (See Proverbs 24:7 for more on why this is a problem.) It is unfortunate how easily we all, with the aid of social media and the concomitant self-obsession with our own thoughts, turn to outrage in the face of dysfunction and pain. In the light of Driscoll’s temporary resignation and the reaction following, I think there are some lessons for the current strife in the UMC. Part of last Sunday’s message from Driscoll included this:
“God is not honored by conflict, strife, disunity, arguing, slander, gossip, or anything else that is inconsistent with the fruit of the spirit, and I am deeply sorry, genuinely sorry, for the times I have not lived peaceably with all men,” Driscoll said.
Driscoll has, for years, been on the giving and receiving end of social media (and regular media) criticism. Few other Christians in the public sphere have received as much sustained ire as he. And so it is refreshing to see such a humble response from someone not usually known for them. That gives me hope for my own tribe.
As Florida Bishop Ken Carter has written, we must “do the work of Jesus in the way of Jesus.” We may or may not agree with where the UMC is regarding some matters or where it may be heading. In a big tent denomination, there will be differences among us. That should be a strength, and I believe it is – but that strength becomes a weakness if we approach difference the way the world does: with conflict, slander, strife, and disunity.
Surely if Mark Driscoll can take a step back and reevaluate his own ministry and behavior, we in the UMC can as well. 2016 is just around the corner. Will we contribute more resentment and strife to the world and to the church, or will we find a way to do the work of Jesus in the way of Jesus?