Was I wrong to call Mark Driscoll a bully?

Mark DriscollAnthony Bradley writes in World magazine that Libel is not love, and therefore that bloggers like Rachel Held Evans and myself were wrong to call Mark Driscoll a bully. Here is part of Bradley’s article:

There is nothing loving about calling a pastor a “bully“—that is, “a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.” That is a serious charge. In her post, Evans describes why she believes Driscoll to be a bully, implying that he, his teachings, and the elders at his church are not functioning in ways consistent with Scripture. While it is more than reasonable to understand why someone would take issue with Driscoll’s post, Evans’ way of responding cannot and should not be encouraged. What was even more disturbing was the way in which many other believers jumped on the slander bandwagon to feed on the carnage once it went viral.

But why exactly is it wrong to make this kind of charge? The evidence is there, in public. At least, it was on Facebook which is not technically public but, as Pete Broadbent discovered last year, might as well be where public figures are concerned. And Bradley is not disputing the facts. But he is disputing whether it is right for Christians to comment negatively on such facts.

Bradley tries to present a biblical argument that what Rachel and I wrote counts as slander and so is wrong. In law a statement is neither slander nor libel if it is true, and no one is disputing the truth of what she and I have written. A true statement can be an accusation, but Bradley’s argument depends on it being wrong for a Christian to bring any kind of accusation against anyone else, whereas in 1 Timothy 5:19 such accusations are specifically permitted – where there is adequate evidence, as there is in this case. In Galatians 2:11-14 Paul writes of how he publicly accused Peter of wrongdoing. Bradley cannot support his argument that all accusations, or all public ones, are wrong, on the basis of a Greek word, diaballo, used only once in the New Testament.

Now that doesn’t make it right to make public accusations in this case. It would be better, although perhaps difficult in practice, to bring the matter to Driscoll in private first. No doubt some of the at least 610 comments made on Driscoll’s Facebook post, and which presumably went back to Driscoll, did point out to him how wrong what he wrote was. But although Driscoll deleted the post no one has claimed that he showed any regret for it.

Bradley makes a stronger argument in a tweet:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. (Prov 26:4) should govern how we disagree w/people.

Here Bradley implicitly calls Driscoll a fool, surely just as serious as calling him a bully. But indeed arguing with such a person can drag one into a vicious circle of folly. Nevertheless, as the very next verse teaches,

Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:5 (NIV)

Sometimes fools need to be shown their folly so that they do not continue in it. And that surely applies especially when the fool is in a position of leadership, whether in the church, in business, or in a nation.

But all of this needs to be done in love. And I would agree that it is does not show love to write negatively about another person’s character rather than their actions. So, while I would consider it quite justified to accuse Driscoll of bullying in his behaviour, it is not right to call him a bully, thereby impugning his character. So I was wrong.

Thanks to Brian Leport for the link to Bradley’s article, and for retweeting his tweet.

12 thoughts on “Was I wrong to call Mark Driscoll a bully?

  1. Peter
    Your honest approach here is an example for us all.

    I have not examined the specificsituation which has given rise to suggestions of bullying here so it would not be proper fro me to comment on any individual’s actions in any way. I am picking up on the general principle. I agree that as Christians we must approach situations of disagreement in love and with respect for each other’s character. The aim being to build up the Body.

    To draw an analogy from employment. What a manager might describe as necessary robust management – perhaps of performance or general conduct etc – the person managed might consider to be bullyinh/hectoring. To what extent does it become bullying when the recipient considers they are being bullied. Much as discrimination in its various forms often only has to be perceived as such by the “victim”., even if there was no direct intention to discriminate.

    Then while it is right to draw attention, in an appropriate way to bullying behaviour, does that not per se make the individual(s) engaging in such acts bullies?

  2. Since writing this I have come across Mark Driscoll’s new response to the recent criticisms, also linked to by Rachel Held Evans. In this response Driscoll writes:

    I then put a flippant comment on Facebook, and a raging debate on gender and related issues ensued. As a man under authority, my executive elders sat me down and said I need to do better by hitting real issues with real content in a real context. And, they’re right. Praise God I have elders who keep me accountable and that I am under authority. …

    In the past, I’ve not had a regular place to work out personal commentary on social issues, and so I’ve erred in sometimes doing so in places like Facebook, Twitter, and the media, where you can have a good fight but don’t have the room to make a good case.

    I am glad that Driscoll admits that he has erred in the way he has presented his comments, without the right context. I am glad that he has elders who genuinely keep him accountable. I look forward to seeing his new website, where I hope he can present his views in a way which does not come across as bullying, and where they can be debated in a proper way.

  3. Colin, thanks for your comment (which I didn’t see until I after I posted mine). The difference between accusing someone of bullying and calling them a bully is that the former refers to specific actions, without implying that they are habitual, whereas the latter implies both a habit and a character. The evidence here is of specific wrong actions, perhaps not enough to demonstrate a habit, and certainly not enough to prove a character.

  4. “… Driscoll of bullying in his behaviour, it is not right to call him a bully, thereby impugning his character. So I was wrong …”

    Nice. Thank you Peter. I just left another post here on your blog parroting your own meme. Calling Driscoll a bully. Thanks for the stop-check! Mea culpa! Character is an aggravate of behavior over time. And inner spirit. Character is thus the lowest form of evidence. And least relevant. A backwards way of thinking. But true. For example, if I get a court restraining order for a female client against a male stalker – many judges will call such men – stalkers! Post-judgment. A time for everything – including judgment. So the usage – bully – is well within proper limits. And good usage. I think Brittan has tougher libel/slander laws than the U.S. Here or there – the key is valid prior judgment. Bully – is as – bully does. Do not over-retract (yes, I’m a blowhard advising you)! Watch the behavior. Next, rehabilitation and restoration and reconciliation are parts of the gospel too. Post-judgment!

    Cheers,

    Jim

  5. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot of this kind of behavior going around in conservative American churches. Driscoll is rather extreme, but many, many, many churches have pastors who are effectively tyrants They push the members of their congregations around and berate them quite a bit — and they feel they have the right — even the God-enjoined obligation — to express the most strident opinions about whatever they don’t like. And there is no lack of American church-goers who think this is the way it should be.

    Nobody seems to notice that Jesus never yelled at the Romans, the Samaritans, the non-practicing Jews, or the average Jews in the pews, he only yelled at the leaders of the synagogues and temple. Pretty much the exact opposite of current American Christian practice.

    It’s a much bigger problem than just Driscoll.

  6. Peter, whilst I appreciate your humility, in this situation I feel that it was unnecessary and you didn’t have to apologise.

    Driscoll has exhibited a long-term pattern of bullying behaviour which indicates that it is habitual and part of his character. So it is correct to call him a bully and there’s no defamation involved.

  7. Jim, thank you.

    Rich, I understand. Driscoll is an easy target because he does this so publicly. But I am aware that he is by no means alone in this. Perhaps if he can be reined in others will follow his example.

    Sidefall, you may well be right, but I don’t have sufficient evidence to hand. But I am not actually going to delete my original post, so you will see that my apology is not very deep.

  8. “But I am not actually going to delete my original post, so you will see that my apology is not very deep.”

    I was going to leave this whole mess alone but then this. Are you sorry or not? Were you wrong to devote 2 (or was it 3?) blogs to bashing Driscoll and labelling him a bully.

    Either apologise, properly, or stand by your comments. Christians cannot have ‘not very deep apologies’.

  9. Joel, you are right, I need to clarify my position. I stand by the text of my post, in which I use the word “bully” only in reporting Rachel’s words. It is only the title I regret. I cannot change the title without breaking links to it. But I can add quotation marks to the title without breaking links, and so I have done so. I have also added quotation marks to my post about Terry Virgo’s tweet, where I quoted the title of the previous post.

  10. no, you are/were not.

    but in the future, remember that fundamentalists will allow *their* preacher to call *others* names, mock them, and incite gossip about them (because they see it as ‘doing the unpopular thing’ and ‘standing up to evil’), but when *you* call *their* preacher on his nonsense, they will immediately cry foul and call for all sides to ‘be nice’ (even when their preacher is on record as saying that jesus wasn’t always nice: http://t.co/bUYyyVb). so when criticizing a homophobic, chauvinistic, or sexist preacher, be sure to refer to him as something ‘biblical’, because fundamentalists can’t criticize something that is permitted in the bible, especially if jesus himself did it. for instance, criticize the behavior of the preacher’s words with like jesus did when he was criticizing the religious establishment, like ‘you fool’ (mt 23:17; lk 11:40; god even says it in lk 12:20) or call him a ‘snake’ or a ‘brood of vipers’ (mt/lk 3:7, 12:34, 23:33; ). you could call him a ‘dog’ like jesus did to a woman in mk 7:27/mt 15:26. then again, you could call him ‘satan’ like jesus called peter in mt 16:23, or a ‘devil’ like jesus did in jn 6:70.

    you might instead opt for the pauline route and say that their teaching is like ‘skubala’ (crap) like paul did in phil 3:8, or you might curse him to hell twice like paul did to those that opposed his version of the gospel in the opening 8 verses of galatians.

    remember, fundies will only complain when you do what they do to others to them. but they can’t complain if you act like jesus did ;-)

  11. Rod, all I can say is “hypocrite”.

    Bob, thanks for the useful advice. Yes, skubala sounds like a nice description of Driscoll’s teaching, and I’m sure its good old English equivalents are in Driscoll’s vocabulary.

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