Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Dealing with Bullies

Mark Driscoll is a bully.

I'm not unaware that to call someone a "bully" (and I'm not the first person to do so) is to resort to name-calling, and I'm not really a fan of conscious name-calling (not that I advocate for doing it unconsciously, so much as I recognize that—being human—I don't always realize when I've failed to uphold my own ideals). But I find that the only other word I can come up with to describe the man, based on what I've read of his own words and his interactions with other Christian leaders, is "thuggish," and that amounts to much the same thing.

This is not simply a matter of our disagreement on what constitutes proper gender roles within Christianity. There are a great many complementarians out there who I would never even think to call "bullies." One is not a "bully" simply for advocating that women should not be allowed to become pastors, for example, or for suggesting that men should step up to assume (what that person believes are) abdicated roles of God-given authority in the church.

But Driscoll crosses a line. I'm tempted to post the evidence here, rather than make my readers do the research by clicking on outside links (such as the list in Rachel Held Evans' post, linked above, or perhaps to check out this interview with Justin Brierley). But, honestly, I want to talk about how one should deal with a bully, which requires that I not spend as much time defending the assertion that Driscoll is one as such an assertion requires. Just one or two quotes just won't cut it. I'm referring to a pattern of behavior demonstrated over time, whereby Driscoll doesn't just argue for clear-cut gender roles, but does so by advocating for some of the worst stereotypes of "maleness" imaginable, and by insulting those who do not buy into his definitions. I truly believe that complementarians should be embarrassed that Driscoll is among their number.

When I was growing up, my mom would often suggest that the best way to deal with a bully is by ignoring him. The idea is that bullies crave attention, and derive their sense of power from the reactions they get from those they are bullying. I am increasingly convinced that Driscoll holds influence in the evangelical world in large measure because of the free publicity generated by those of us who oppose him, and to the extent that this is true, we are being counter-productive. We would do better to simply ignore him.

Up until now, I've tried to avoid giving Driscoll's particular brand of anti-women rhetoric any serious attention (this is the first time I've even so much as mentioned him on this blog, and I hope it to be the last), even as I've tried to consistently present the case for full inclusion of women in all forms of ministry where and when I can. I fully expect to continue to do so in the future.

But, I've gotta be honest, I never felt like ignoring bullies worked especially well when I was a child, either. Despite promises from adults that bullies would eventually get bored and leave me alone, the bullies demonstrated remarkable persistence when I didn't give them the reaction they wanted at first, and that just meant additional suffering for me in the meantime.

The other day, I was reading this blog entry on the effects of decrying "effeminate Christianity." Notably, Driscoll is not mentioned by name in the entire article. At one point, the author mentions "You-Know-Who," and notes that she's been "trying to fast from You-Know-Who for the sake of (her) own health and sanity." Besides being convinced that Driscoll is the "You-Know-Who" intended, this reference reminded me of Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter novels.

Even while the author of that blog was trying to ignore Driscoll, she raised in my mind an important counter-point. Sometimes, bullies simply can't be ignored, lest they be allowed to cause all kinds of damage and destruction without opposition. If Harry Potter had simply ignored Voldemort (as he indicated that he would really prefer to do on more than one occasion), the world in which he lived would no doubt have been overrun by Voldemort's evil.

So, when should we ignore bullies, and when should we stand up to them and fight back? I'm afraid I don't have a clear-cut response, but at least part of the answer seems to be in how much power the bully has on his or her own. Voldemort had to be fought because Voldemort had the power to continue to spread evil over his world in ways that would have been devastating if he were not stopped. If Driscoll indeed has the power and influence to cause the kind of damage that many fear he can, I can certainly agree in opposing him. But if he actually doesn't have so much influence, or if his influence is actually growing because of the publicity his opponents provide, then pushing back might actually cause the very harm we would seek to avoid!

Frankly, I'm just not sure how much influence Driscoll has, or will continue to have, apart from the attention given to him by his detractors. It seems to me that he thrives on controversy, saying intentionally provocative statements in a bid to get attention, and I would seek to deny him that attention. Although I will mostly attempt to ignore Driscoll's bullying for now, I don't have any real expectation that he's going to go away any time soon, and so I will definitely stand ready to reevaluate that position in the future, because I certainly don't want his brand of Christianity to succeed, especially not for want of opposition from those of us who believe that God requires something better out of us.

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