Mark Driscoll and the Vicious Use of Social Media

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I rarely do this. Sometimes I do respond too quickly to things that I read or witness without thinking it through first. But tonight I saw a post from Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill, that troubled me. I am ready to stand corrected if I am wrong if his Facebook account got hacked. I did check on his Facebook page and the original posting was removed so I’m not sure what happened. But I also know that this seems to be a trend with Pastor Mark of making divisive or controversial statements. I felt compelled then not so much to lambast him but to offer some thoughts about what’s really bothering me. First, here’s the post as reported by the Huffington Post today…

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What troubles me about this is the use of social media by some evangelical Christians. To be fair, Pastor Mark is not the only one who does this. There are numerous pastors and other notable evangelical Christians who seem to use social media at times to post something incredibly divisive or controversial. I’m not speaking about posting articles that are well thought out and then engaging in an online conversation. The big problem with social media is there is no way to get any context when the message is limited to 140 characters or a quick status update. It creates a whirlwind of comments, mostly negative, leading to fruitless discussions as people take sides.

My biggest problem with this disturbing tendency is when the author stirs people’s emotions and then disappears from the conversation. It’s almost like they feed on stirring the pot by saying something controversial then letting people verbally duke it out with each other. My parents described this as instigating with the intent to manipulate. That is, a person knows full well that they are going to supercharge the conversation by dropping a “bomb” and then disengages from the ensuing conversation.

But this is not just a Pastor Mark problem. Others do it to draw attention to themselves, whether it is a negative comment toward the church, or Christianity, or certain styles or structures of the church the point is still the same. All it takes is to make some sort of slanted comment or quote from some controversial author to instigate a conversation that is not helpful. You know it’s not helpful, and I know it’s not helpful but for people, let’s say in this case, who aren’t Christian, what do you think their response will be? What would a person’s heart motives be that would move them to instigate an unhealthy dialogue by manipulating people’s emotions? In my limited experience in ministry (26 years in church and parachurch ministry) it has everything to do vice and not virtue. While they think they are doing something spiritually good, in reality it’s about wanting to be at the center of attention…

What if we stopped glorifying these individuals as our spokespeople and asked them to be more responsible with their communication? If I went up to one of your friends and said with zero relationship or context, “It’s only because I love you that I have to tell you you are going to hell”, what would you think? If you thought I was insensitive why then do we give public pastors a free pass? What if we actually called them out that it’s actually either pride (I like being the center of attention) or fear (I really want people to like me and think I’m for the truth) that’s the internal motivation? While dialogue is valuable, if there isn’t a good social context to have these discussions then the use of social media to vent or cause a stir turns out to be vicious rather than virtuous. It’s actually harmful to the body of Christ even if one appeals to, “Well, it’s true!” We might actually be in possession of truth, goodness, and beauty but in the end no one will listen to us or takes us seriously if we use twisted ways to communicate the message.

5 thoughts on “Mark Driscoll and the Vicious Use of Social Media

  1. Jon – this is a difficult, but important topic you raise… I appreciate that you are speaking truth with love. I hope we all can reflect on ways we speak to people who want – even need – to hear truth, and ask our selves if our motivation to speak truth is rooted in love. It is equally important to know our audience and discern their ability to receive the truth we share.

    In this case, I would not personally chose to post what he posted because I don’t believe the Spirit has called me to make deep statements of truth to broad audiences without the framework of context in a relationship. That said, his decision to post this was in the context of an open platform and ongoing dialogue he carries online, rather than directed to a specific person (like your example). I point that out only to make sure we are comparing apples to apples, since I completely agree with your example and yet don’t feel quite as bothered when I read his post.

    In the end, these kinds of polarizing posts will draw some into the dialogue with Mark and push many away. I pray that those who are lost sheep know their Shepherd’s voice (Jesus). I pray that your thoughtful response draws all of us to abide in Christ and know that if (or when) we are given a platform to speak so broadly that we are aware that to he who much has been given, much is required…

    Conclusion – great blog. Thank you for challenging me to thin, pray, and grow. Much love, brother.

    • jonnitta

      I’m thrilled for that you posted Michael! Let me explain why I used Pastor Mark’s tweet. First, it was a public statement for all to see. I suppose I could have referred to it and people could have Googled it and found other postings. But second, in many ways it wasn’t just to pick on him. His example was only to bring to our attention a more widespread problem with other Christian leaders stirring the pot and then “disappearing” from the discussion. Take again, Pastor Mark. I don’t know of any instance where he’s posted something that I would consider inflammatory and then stayed with the discussion with others who disagree with him. In fact I do know of someone (I don’t know him personally) who publicly posted a “Mark Driscoll has ministered to me but I have a hard time with ____ so please contact me to talk” letter and I don’t know of any resolution. I agree that I don’t know the context of why he tweeted what he did but that’s my point… social media doesn’t allow for any context. It just sort of there for all to read and from my perspective it was not intended to create dialogue . So to the larger problem, it does concern me when leaders stir the pot, create chaos to elicit a negative rise out of those who are already ambivalent toward Christianity and then disappear. But again, if it comes out that it really lead to some having a dialogue with him, I will be more than willing to say I’m wrong.

      For the sake of discussion, let me ask your thoughts on this Michael because I trust your opinion. What is the difference between a person who thinks of themselves as a direct truth teller and someone who is foolish by making inflammatory statements? As a pastor, I think I know there’s a line but from your perspective, what is that line? Great thoughts that I will think more about!

      • Before I address the question, let me confirm… I really have zero debate with your post or any defense for his – in fact, I personally find what we are doing right here to be WAY more valuable than anything I typically post or read on even my own social media! yes – guilty! 😉

        Now to your question… The Holy Spirit. There is only one Holy Spirit, and it dwells int he heart of every one who has been saved. So if the person who thinks of himself as a direct truth teller speaks truth with the clear direction of the Holy Spirit, then it does not matter whether that truth is controversial. The Bible gives us many examples of that – prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles all were viewed as making foolish, inflammatory statements. They were all direct truth tellers, and sometimes their audiences were large, and sometimes one-on-one. But in the power of the Spirit (like the disciples who Jesus sent out in Mathew 10, who were able to speak truth, heal, and drive our evil spirits), God allows some of us to be direct truth tellers, even at the risk of being killed for what we say.

        I sure wouldn’t want to take that risk unless I knew God had clearly chosen me as a messenger of direct truth. That is where even good people can sin and bring the focus on themselves (much as I think you pointed out earlier in your blog). That is dangerous, and I think that is why your discussion here is so valuable.

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