She’s done the impossible

Pastor_Mark_Driscoll

This weekend, Mark Driscoll broke the Internet in half. Again.

It wasn’t because he put his foot in his mouth (this time)—but because of a rather heated interview on The Janet Mefferd Show where the host spent the better part of 15 minutes accusing him of plagiarism due to insufficiently crediting Dr. Peter Jones for his considerable influence on portions of A Call to Resurgence (reviewed here).

And then things got a bit crazy online. Some Driscoll defenders declared Mefferd a liar. Some of his critics seemed ready to form a lynch mob. (Incidentally, probably the most balanced piece of coverage has come from Jonathan Merritt.) I found myself in a weird place listening to the interview. Here’s what I mean:

1. I was glad to hear someone willing to ask a high-profile Christian author challenging questions. Too many interviews I’ve read (and even conducted) have been full of softball questions. They don’t really get to the heart of a concern, but come across as the sanitized questions of someone hoping to start a bromance. Or maybe the questions you’d ask on a first date.

As interviewers, we need to do better—and a big part of that is asking meaningful questions. Let’s stop with the silly platitudes and actually deal with concerns. The benefit is you may give the interviewee an opportunity to correct himself if he’s said something in error, or you might receive beneficial clarification.

There also appears to be a disturbing lack of accountability for some pastors and authors, which desperately needs to change, something Carl Trueman points out well. Regardless of whether or not there’s an issue in their churches (and in some cases I wouldn’t be surprised if there were), those of us on the outside must be careful not to treat high-profile people as untouchable, if for no other reason than it reveals we may have a nasty case of idolatry on our hands.

2. I was surprised Driscoll lasted as long as he did on the call. Mefferd says he hung up. Driscoll says he was still there. Regardless of who is right, if it were me—and I say this as someone who has appeared on Janet’s show and had a very positive experience—I likely wouldn’t have stayed on the call as long as he did. While I get, and even agree to some degree, with Mefferd’s concern in addressing the citation (I think he could have been far more clear than a single footnote), he did something pretty unexpected: he said he’d look into it and correct the error if one was made. In fact, he said he’d do it four times.

After the first time, you’d think they could’ve moved on. Instead, it went on far longer than it should have—and I don’t believe either side will come out looking better as a result.

3. Sometimes it’s just easier to think the worst of Driscoll. This is the thing that was most troubling to me—there are a lot of people out there who, no matter what he did, no matter how sincere his apology, nothing Driscoll could say on anything would ever be enough. Some people just want to see him as the villain.

Driscoll’s done himself no favors in this area. He’s said and done, and continues to say and do, some pretty bone-headed things, even in this book (I noted some of my more significant concerns in my review). But you know what I found myself struggling with listening to this interview? The temptation to write off his comments as mere platitudes, instead of taking his statements as genuine. And that’s not okay. If Driscoll is a brother in the Lord, shouldn’t we be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt?1

At the same time, it’s clear not everyone has this reaction. In fact, I’ve been surprised to see a number of folks, not exactly rush to his defense, but show sympathy toward him. I think Joe Carter summed it up well in one of the many debates I saw (and the only one I engaged in), when he said Janet Mefferd “has done what many people would have thought was impossible: She makes people feel sorry for Driscoll.”2

In the end, I’m not entirely certain the “did he or didn’t he” question is even the right question to be asking in the whole Driscoll/Mefferd dust-up. Instead, maybe our question should really be: how do we fix the problem of “celebrity-ism” that’s seeped into the church?

Show 2 footnotes

  1. By giving the benefit of the doubt, I don’t mean succumbing to a naïve Pollyanna-ish optimism. Be discerning, but don’t immediately rush to crucify.
  2. This was part of a public Facebook discussion including Paul Edwards, a former radio host on the Salem Network (which also runs Mefferd’s show), Joe, Frank Turk (of Team Pyro), and me, among others.

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  • Kim Shay

    Thanks for this, Aaron. I listened to both parts of the interview, and while I am no fan of Mr. Driscoll, I did wish Mefferd had moved on to engage with the content of the book.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Definitely. I really struggle to understand why she kept hammering the one point when there’s so much more she could have addressed.

  • Ben Thorp

    I kinda missed this initially. I’ve been a bit of Driscoll apologist for a while, and while he has definitely said and done some stupid things, he has also become a big target for people to throw things at. But this interview is unbelievable. I don’t understand what her motivation is here at all. Sad.

  • Jake Klassen

    I myself am not a Driscoll advocate due to some of his antics and certain aspects of theology. However, as I listened to the interview (and the raw data released afterwards in which you can hear Driscoll exclaim that he was still there after he supposedly hung up) it seemed to me that this was not about concern for truth, honesty and plagiarism (as Mefferd suggested) but rather about being “the person” who knocked Driscoll down a few pegs as though it’s some sort of feather in her cap. I’m certain God will use this for Driscoll’s good and it wasn’t necessarily bad for him to experience. However, (I could be wrong) it seemed to me that Mefferd wasn’t perfectly honest about her agenda either. I also believe that by her actions she empowered Driscoll’s point on tribalism. You bring up a very valid point, strangely I found myself feeling sorry for Driscoll, but I was also disappointed by Mefferd. Certainly not one of her greater moments.

    Grateful for your always engaging blogs.

  • Craig P. Hurst

    If Driscoll is wrong then he is wrong but Mefferd was wrong in how she handled the interview. He went on thinking he was discussing the content of his book and it ended up being about who was right about how he referenced his source. Mefferd should have dropped it after a few minutes. Driscoll handled it very well.

  • Michelle Dacus Lesley

    I had a similar reaction to yours, Aaron. I listened to the interview twice, and, while I’m about as far from a Driscoll fan as someone can get, I felt that when he apologized more than once and said he’d do what he could to correct things, that should have been the end of it. Mefferd continued to press him to the point that she sounded more like a nagging wife than a professional interviewer.

    Additionally, no one will be able to convince me that she chose that line of questioning without an eye to audience-building. All of us who are authors, media personalities, etc., know that controversies and hot topics are a cheap way to draw a quick crowd, and Mark Driscoll is both.

    I’d also like to throw out there (as a published author myself) that I find it VERY credible that the citation problem may have occurred during the editorial process and may not have been Driscoll’s fault directly. There are some extremely good editors out there, but, by and large, the editorial process itself has declined to an abysmal state over the last few decades. (I’m currently reading a book that I can’t believe got past a computer’s spell check and grammar check, never mind the eyeballs of a competent editor.) This should be a lesson to all of us who write to become experts in the tools of our trade (namely spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and proper composition/citation format), to read our galleys diligently OURSELVES, and not to depend on others (editors or assistants) to make sure our final product is correct and of fine quality.

    I don’t feel sorry for Mark Driscoll, but I do feel slightly annoyed that I have to defend him :0)

  • Enrique Salazar

    My impression is that Mefford was prepared to end that part of the interview earlier, but Driscoll complicated things by going on the attack against her. His tone was condescending and patriarchal… enough to make any woman with self-respect get her dander up. “It sounds like you’re having a bad day.” “I want you to grow through this.” Seriously?? She’s not a six-year-old to be talked down to. The humble approach would have been to be very embarrassed for having stolen from his “friend,” thank her for pointing it out, promise to fix it immediately, and then vow to grow through the experience himself. His ad hominem attacks on her resulted in her becoming defensive and pushing back, making this part of the interview more heated and lengthy than it would have been otherwise. And that’s the shame of it all…. this situation is bad enough; it just became worse because a “Christian leader” was unable to hear criticism without attacking.

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  • http://daniellyle.com/ Daniel Lyle

    I used to be a Driscoll fan but I’ve grown weary of his pride and boasting. Especially the boasting. His Facebook posts are nauseating. He needs to read the story of Uzziah.

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  • Hannah_Thomas

    I listened to the interview a couple of times myself. When she first was asking about this? He got all ‘pollyanna’ about it. Then says something to clue her in to stop – maybe I should have taken notes during dinner so I could ‘footnote’ them. He knew darn well that wasn’t point that was brought up. So she asks again – because he was attempting to get around it – and he got all nasty. She wasn’t’ asking about his friendship, and how much he loves and admires the author. She was pointing out he made a publisher error, and then he gets upset. It was the way he said he was sorry, and tried to move around – more than anything. The author being your friend, and all that jazz? That’s not the point, and it wouldn’t really hold up in court (which it won’t go that far anyway) was truth. He didn’t like being corrected over his ‘his my friend’ response. It’s suppose to work, and he shouldn’t be ‘pushed’ for a response with more substance. It was nothing more than platitudes, and she called him on it.

    • Dave

      God has blessed Driscoll’s ministry in spite of him, which to some degree is true of all of our ministries. I am not certain he started this way, but the arrogance will sink him, if it has not already. Samson come to mind?

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