I first encountered Mark Driscoll in November of 2010 when he took a trip to preach in Belfast in Northern Ireland. Back then, he was just another American Evangelical hipster preacher who sported faux-hawks and muscle tees while preaching about how Jesus is totally a bro’s bro. I was vaguely amused by his Facebook pictures celebrating his ‘Irish heritage’ along with pictures of Oliver Cromwell quotes about crushing the Catholic Church. He left, Ireland went on, and so did I.
But once I became aware of Driscoll’s existence, I began noticing his name popping up everywhere. Driscoll is the ‘controversial’ head pastor of Mars Hill Church, a megachurch franchise based in Seattle WA. Known for his hyper-masculine, misogynistic homophobic diatribes, Driscoll is either the modern salvation of American Christianity, or the physical embodiment of all that is wrong with the modern Christian Church, depending on whom you ask. Driscoll has created waves through his mocking of ‘effeminate pastors,‘ claiming Ted Haggard had a gay affair because his wife let herself get too fat and ugly, constantly mocking and diminishing femininity and women, and attacking everything from Episcopalians to yoga.
I really haven’t ever had the desire to do a post criticising Mark Driscoll. I have no stake in this fight besides enjoying how his efforts drag Christianity’s name through the mud and occasionally expressing my disgust on Twitter. I prefer to let his Christian brothers and sisters hold him accountable for his words, and many of them do. Most prominently is the blog “We Love Mars Hill,” which chronicles stories from people who were spiritually abused by Driscoll and his fellow clergyman.
Recently, Driscoll has been at the center of the long, slow collapse of the Mars Hill Empire. He was caught plagiarising portions of his best selling books. In addition, it was revealed that he used church funds to self-boost his books to the top of the bestseller lists. Driscoll has responded with apologies and withdrawn from social media. He has also issued apologies for the tone he took in his ‘young, angry prophet days,’ although he has never issued apologies for the actual homophobic, misogynistic content.
Most recently, Matthew Paul Turner has publicised a series of internet forum diatribes that Driscoll wrote under the pseudonym ‘William Wallace II’ at the age of 31. In more than 140 pages he calls America a ‘pussified nation,’ calls gay people ‘damn freaks,’ tells women that he won’t listen or respond to them because they are women, and goes on to tell them to leave their husbands if they’re not masculine enough.
Driscoll has again issued an apology for the tone of his diatribes, if not the content. Once again, this does not affect me as I have no stake in this fight beyond sympathy for those who have suffered abuse at Driscoll’s hands.
But now, with the background information about Driscoll out of the way, I want to focus and comment on the response to Driscoll’s apology from various Christian writers who would identify themselves as ‘progressive.’ The responses have been varied, but you’ll see a common theme running through out.
Jonathan Merritt says that Christians should accept Driscoll’s apology and forgive him, noting that Jesus’ command to forgive one’s enemy isn’t optional. He says, “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.”
Rachel Held Evans emphasises that forgiveness is crucial, but writes that forgiveness does not mean allowing an abuser to continue his abuse or negate the consequences of his actions. She says, “Christians are indeed called to forgive, even when it is costly and undeserved, and Christians are indeed called to work toward healing and reconciliation even when it is hard,” but also, “These teachings should never be invoked to protect abusers, shame survivors, or coerce reconciliation.”
Ben Corey calls for Driscoll’s resignation, while Elizabeth Esther cautions against doing just that, saying it may not help people who are trapped in an abusive environment that is not the product solely of one man’s efforts.
Through many the responses, but most prominently Merritt’s, the theme of forgiveness is emphasised. Christians are called to forgive one another as Christ forgave them. And even if Driscoll’s apology isn’t sincere, the forgiveness of Christians must be, because Jesus commanded it.
So, for any Christians who are reading this, especially those who have been abused themselves, I’m going to tell you something completely different.
This. Is. Wrong.
I have nothing against forgiveness. I have everything against teaching that forgiveness is something that should or must be done.
If Christian forgiveness is something that is mandated, something that is not optional rather than being a free and open gift, then it is not something worth giving or having.
Forgiveness is an intimate part of yourself. It is not something that is given lightly, only freely. Your abuser does not have a right to your forgiveness. No one has the right to demand that you give up part of yourself and give it to your abuser. It does not matter whether the abuser is going to be held accountable anyway, whether you see him or her again or not. Nothing matters except that forgiveness is your choice, and yours alone.
And you don’t have to give it if you don’t want to.
I get that Merritt and RHE and the rest emphasise forgiveness in order to help victims heal, because for many people it genuinely does. I understand that the motives behind this sort of talking are nothing but good, and do not suggest that Driscoll and people like him should not be held accountable for their actions. I get it. I want to get behind it, I really do. But I can’t because for so many people it’s not helpful. It’s damaging.
Christians often say that they are ‘called to forgive others.’ It does not matter if an individual has the desire or ability to forgive their abuser, they remain ‘called’ to try anyway. Well, I could call every Christian to train as an elite gymnast. And guess what? Some of them are going to make it. And then they’re going to tell everyone how liberating and amazing their success was. But for all those who succeed, there are going to be those who fail. Those for whom their ‘calling’ was nothing but a waste of energy and the source of a lot of pain. Those who wonder what’s wrong with them, that others could do it and not them, oblivious to the truth that not everyone is capable of training to be an elite gymanst.
And in the same way, not everyone is capable of forgiveness. And compelling or calling these people to do so, to try, to give it the best effort, isn’t going to help them release their pain or find peace. Its only going to continue the spiritual abuse, and hurt them even more.
Throughout my life, I have been the survivor of spiritual, physical, sexual, and religious abuse. I do not forgive my abusers. I never will. They don’t deserve to have that part of me. I refuse to entertain them by making an effort towards ‘forgiveness.’ This does not mean that I am controlled by my anger or resentment. This does not mean that my anger and resentment are somehow ‘sins.’ It does not mean I don’t have peace.
When my anger surfaces, I can choose whether to use it or release it. I can find peace and meaning and hope, but more importantly I can maintain my dignity by refusing to give more to the people who took so much from me.
Some people have the ability to forgive their abusers. And some people have the ability to become elite gymnasts. I have nothing but admiration for these people.
But Christians and everyone else, you do not need to feel ‘called’ to give a part of yourself you cannot or do not desire to give. No one has the right to demand it. Not Jonathan Merritt. Not your pastor. Not your saviour, and not your god.
It is your choice.
Embrace the choice, even if you do not embrace forgiveness.
And be free.