Beware the Mark Driscoll Hasty Retweet

The controversial Seattle pastor called his shot in a recent Twitter message about President Obama. Perhaps he needs to consider the unintended consequences.

On President Obama’s second inauguration, noted pastoral iconoclast Mark Driscoll tweeted the following, to a reception of thousands of retweets: “Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.”

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church (Photo courtesy of MarsHill.com)

It may seem like a bit of an exaggeration to refer to Driscoll as an iconoclast, but I can’t think of a better descriptor for his brand of cultural engagement, particularly when aimed at those he sees as liberal.

See, the literal definition of iconoclast is, according to Professor Google, “a destroyer of images used in worship.” Which seems like an odd pastime for a pastor, really. When I ponder this definition, my mind conjures up a performance artist in the middle of church, swinging a sledgehammer at a bowl of communion grapes. Like the evangelical equivalent of Gallagher at a farmer’s market, he gleefully causes a tremendous spectacle, and seems to enjoy the mess he’s making in the process.

So when you think of someone who seems to derive enjoyment from tweaking the tenets of leftist Christian socially-acceptable orthodoxy, is there anyone else who comes to mind more than Mark Driscoll? Probably not.

After all, this is the same guy who used his bully pulpit to mock effeminate male worship leaders and decry the evil occult influence in Avatar and the Twilight films. And despite the respect I have for Driscoll for the latter, I can’t get over my palpable sense of disgust over the former. Being a worship leader by heart and by trade, I take special offense at the idea that being sensitive is the same thing as being effeminate. Hasn’t this guy read the Psalms?

Given his well-documented misdeeds on social media, perhaps “iconoclast” is no longer the best term to describe Mark Driscoll and his brash, in-your-face style. Maybe we should just call him what we would call anyone else on the internet who intentionally does this – a troll.

See, trolls are internet citizens who intentionally say outlandish things to provoke arguments because it delights them to see so many people upset by the things they say. I’m not in Driscoll’s head and I truly don’t know what motivates him to say the things he does, but with this latest tweet, Driscoll seems to be joining the ranks of political trolls like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter. And that distresses me greatly.

I’m distressed because it’s clear Driscoll didn’t consider the unintended consequences of the tweet before he sent it out.  It’s possible that this was his misguided attempt at trying to hold the President accountable for the theological implications of some of his policy decisions.  If so, Driscoll would probably be shocked to realize just how ignorant and racist his words appeared, and that by so openly casting doubt on the authenticity of our president’s Christianity, he unwittingly allied himself with birth certificate conspiracy theorists, 9/11 truthers, and the sign-waving congregants of Westboro Baptist. Part of the cost of restricting your argument to 140 characters is the way it can be open to interpretation. Even in the best light, that one didn’t do him any favors.

Even more so, actually, I’m distressed because of the partial truths therein. There are legitimate reasons to question President Obama’s theological beliefs. After all, none of his advanced degrees are in divinity. He’s the Commander-In-Chief, not the Theologian-In-Chief. He could be wrong about some things. His stances on abortion and/or gay marriage can be considered by some as antithetical to some of the Bible’s more relevant passages on those subjects.

But even if that’s true, it was still a bad idea to be so cavalier about it. By tweeting in such a blatantly antagonistic manner, Mark Driscoll unintentionally justified the prevalent atheist and agnostic liberal contempt with all things related to God and the church, because most liberals were taught by experience that being a Christian is synonymous with being a harsh, unloving, hypocritical blowhard. That lie, obviously false to anyone who’s had a life-altering salvation experience with Jesus in the context of authentic Christian community, receives another veneer of legitimacy with every time something like that is said.

And the thing is, Mark Driscoll should know that. He probably does know that, actually, and probably just let his emotions get the best of him. It happens to the best of us.

But what distresses me the most about all of this is that his tweet was retweeted over three thousand times, probably by people who feel the same way. How many of those people have non-Christians among their Twitter followers? How much damage was done to the credibility of the local church because of one celebrity pastor’s flippant judgment?

Such tweets tend to be less about engaging others who feel differently than they are about rallying people to your side who already agree. In politics, as in sport, few things are more effective at firing up your support base than thumbing your nose at the competition.

But the end result is a mess of unintended consequences. The people who need to see us at our best, end up seeing us at our worst. Our unsaved neighbors – or even worse, our brothers and sisters in Christ — become our enemies. This is how churches become beholden more political objectives than gospel objectives. This is how culture wars are waged.

So people, use more care when tweeting your political dissent. It’s important to take a stand on the issues that matter to you and your church, but bear in mind that recklessly upsetting people off is a poor way to transmit the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the ecumenical equivalent of throwing out the baby with the bath water, then bashing that baby against a rock.

I’m sorry, was that too strong a metaphor? I was just looking for a psalm reference that Mark Driscoll wouldn’t think was effeminate.

About the author, Jelani Greenidge

Jelani Greenidge is an UrbanFaith columnist based in Portland, Oregon. A writer and musician, he blogs at JelaniGreenidge.com.
  1. Out of the heart the mouth speaks …this business of saying things then walking it back is so dishonest … I say what I want .. then say I misspoke … it’s out there the intended damage is done….cowardly…

  2. HOOO RAH!!!

    Facebook and Twitter have caused more rifts between people than I can imagine, precisely because of these unintended consequences and the lack of ability – or desire – to hasten to judge. Regarding Driscoll’s comments, would we be hearing the same from him if this were Romney? Or are those critiquing Obama’s faith comfortable with Republican heterodoxy as long as it’s Republican?

  3. Mark Driscoll strikes me as an egomaniac. Agree with him or suffer the consequences. This is probably nitpicky, but I don’t put Glenn Beck in the same category as Coulter and Limbaugh. The latter two seem to be especially harsh on purpose, but Beck doesn’t seem to be the same way. I certainly don’t agree with a lot of what he says, but he’s not like the other two.

    I think people need to realize that just because you think something, it doesn’t mean you need to put it on social media, and if you’re a pastor then you don’t have the freedom to tweet things that others do that don’t hold the same position. But I think you’re right, Driscoll loves the attention, and he sees disagreement as confirmation that he’s right.

    • Judy, thanks for your distinction. You might be right about Beck… I have less experience reading/watching his statements than I do the other two.

  4. Someone already said this…but it bears repeating….”From the heart the mouth speaks.”

    He surely thinks more highly of himself than others. He thinks he represents Jesus…..shame on him.

  5. This newest incident would be comical if it weren’t for the fact that this pathetic litlle Doughboy has conned several thousand well meaning Christians into joining his cult. Any critical thinking Christian can see that he is a False Teacher. He is destroying families and preaching his American Taliban ideals to gullible young people. Pray for his Cult followers.

    • I don’t know about all that. It sounds like you may have the same problem, HOBO.

      • Jelani, Your comments about Driscoll are right on. ..and I do have a problem with him. I have seen the damage which his warped message can do to a young family. His personal charisma with the young Christians makes his as scary as David koresh or Jim Jones.

  6. Well written and considered blog. I have called and written to Mark and nothing but crickets. It infuriates me with every passing hour that nothing is said or done except (my speculation here) to mobilize the Mars Hill flock to carpet bomb Twitter and Facebook with contests and bible verses and stay the hell away from this toxic waste dumb. I’m a PR pro, they have a PR pro–who’s not commenting to anyone–who knows exactly what the strategy here is: Let reaction cycle thru, distract with contests, and then have Mark make some vague, passing mea cupa to the “friendlies” his flock this weekend. Kinda feels like Lance Armstrong all over again.

  7. Excellent post Jelani,
    I was shocked by Driscols gall in presuming to have knowledge of the president’s (or anyone’s) beliefs and relationship to God. Even more so when one realizes that in light of the President’s own words, it’s essentially calling him a liar. It takes more than a spoonful of self-importance to make those kind of judgements, so what ever happened to leading with humility?
    I checked up on the various links in your piece and was dismayed. If this guy is a leading face in evangelicalism what does that say to the world about evangelicalism?

  8. As Christians, we need to always check our own bias and pride and test what is true. Truth should be something we welcome and never try to shut down. Are you more insulted at the implication that it may be true our president doesn’t believe in God? To that I say, “so what if he doesn’t.” Driscoll is praying for our president as all of us should. Only God knows our hearts, but a man like Driscoll though I don’t always agree with him I’m sure he has learned a few things about scripture and people and discerning faith in action. I voted for Obama twice, but when it comes to his faith and salvation, I leave that to God, but would agree that many of our political leaders do not make decisions based on faith in Jesus Christ nor do they believe in the Bible. But that is not what they elected to do, so I pray for them, but recognize the authority of the Author of our faith and His rule over our governments – and in Him I place my hope and trust.

  9. Excellent post. Interesting that I have both Mark Driscoll and John Piper in my news feed on FB. I am amazed at how free they feel to share disparaging remarks about others in such a public venue. They wear the criticism as a badge of honor or a kind of right of passage. (E.g., Limbaugh, Beck, Franklin Graham, etc.) Driscoll’s words are far from pastoral and are more akin to what I would expect to hear from a pharisee.

  10. Personally, I think it’s easy to pile on the Driscoll-bashing bandwagon and typecast him as a troll. This is a lazy assertion. Particularly because those who decry him often do so with the same vitriol that they accuse him of, even resorting to playground schoolboy insults. Frankly, our view of the Presidents theological positions are important because he is a self-proclaimed believer and at times, has used his platform as the leader of the free world to attempt to redefine what Christians do and should believe. This is more important than a tweet that we’re afraid will offend some people. On another note, though I definitely disagree, the article was well-written. It just didn’t convince me

    • Lazy or obvious? If it had been another leader that didn’t have Driscoll’s track record of such public statements and behavior, I might not have been as pointed in my criticism.

      Also, I don’t disagree with you with the idea that the President’s theological positions are important — they are VERY important. It’s PRECISELY because they are so important that Driscoll shouldn’t be so dismissive and cavalier about it. I have no problem with someone who chooses to forcefully dissent with the president’s theological language, but to do so by implying that he doesn’t believe the Bible or know God is… well… even if you remove all of the emotion from the debate… it’s illogical. Mark Driscoll cannot with absolute certainty know what the President believes about God or the Bible or gain a 100% accurate read on the President’s relationship with God, good, bad, indifferent, nonexistent, or whatever. Only God can do that.

      MD could’ve said was something along the lines of, “Praying for the President, hoping that God leads him to the truth about [insert issue]” and achieved the same purpose of support mixed with caution and/or vague disapproval. But he didn’t.

      anyway, it’s clear we disagree, but I do appreciate the compliment at the end. :)

  11. I think he not only considered the consequences, I think he intended them…

  12. I don’t know if Obama is a part of the Elect or not, God does. I don’t know if Driscoll is a part of the Elect or not, God does. That said, what I do know is this, the Holy Bible states, “….out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh!” Well, Driscoll spoke “out of the abundance of (his) heart.” What else is left to be said?

  13. Pingback: Is Mark Driscoll Racist?

  14. Am I the only one that believes this article could cause more division than the division he claims the tweet caused?

    What I read is an ofended worship leader by one of Driscoll’s comment in the past, and someone willing to compromise his declarations in order to be pleasant to the left liberals.
    Yes there is a time and place (and a way= to say the truth, but I don’t disagree with Driscoll’s tweet.

    “Too often what passes for unity is really compromise. It is better to be divided by truth than united in error.” Dr. Bruce Bickel

    There is a balance between trying to be graceful in our speech and saying the truth. Truth and grace always together. But I say again, I don’t believe Driscoll’s tweet was inopportune.

  15. I happen to agree with Driscoll. I believe our president over his time in office has demonstrated that there is great reason to at least question the authenticity of his Christianity. But in this day and time it all depends on who is defining what Christianity is.