Celebrity pastors are needlessly divisive and cause great harm. I saw this first hand with Andrew White. Andrew loved Mark Driscoll as he got into him in a military deployment. In the course of time he made Mark Driscoll his idol. As an agnostic I watched this as Andrew tried to evangelize me and was baffled. When Paul and Jonna Petry launched Joyful Exiles in March of 2012 Andrew avoided the issue as his identity was wrapped up in Mark Driscoll. Today’s post is about how people make celebrity pastors idols. This is not a hatchet job on Andrew as I have made people idols in my life and reflect on that in this essay.
“Human beings are at their core defined by what they worship rather than primarily by what they think, know, or believe. That is bound up with the central Augustinian claim that we are what we love.”
“I’ve seen many friends make bad choices in their 20s. For some, regular partying quickly turned into alcoholism; for others, prescription drugs led them into dark places. For me, it was religion.”
Mike Anderson of the Resurgence
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[b]”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
1 Corinthians 1:10-17 NIV
The Final Reunion of the Doolittle Raiders
Today I am writing a delicate post and I am asking for any reader who comments to do so with sensitivity. I am trying to discuss how celebrity pastors become divisive. I am NOT writing a hatchet post or questioning Andrew White’s military service. So please no pot shots, and treat him with respect.
Before I get into today’s post I have written several articles already about Mark Driscoll or Mars Hill Seattle. In this post I write about Dan Kellogg of Gold Creek Community Church and how he failed as a pastor, Gold Creek, the greater Seattle area, and Mark Driscoll simultaneously. That post was in response to Dan Kellogg helping Mark re-launch his preaching career. In this post I explore the issues that took place at Mars Hill and implore Rob Smith and others to launch a RICO suit as a way to hold Mark Driscoll accountable and prevent him from launching another career. After all Mark Driscoll is an STD, or a “Spiritually Transmitted Disease.” Finally in this post I talk about how internal corruption poses the greatest threat to Christianity. I hope these posts generate some thought.
In the future I would like to write about how celebrity pastors for many people are modern idols. Eventually I would like to focus on idolatry in great detail and explore the issues with celebrity pastors. However in this post I would like to write about Mark Driscoll and how he became divisive in an ordinary context. I would like to discuss how he became Andrew White’s idol who was worshipped and an obstacle for an agnostic at the time. I think many Christians need to understand the harm that celebrity pastors are doing to the church. The harm that occurs is both internal and external. I want to explain all this in discussing the launch of Paul and Jonna Petry’s “Joyful Exiles.” I also have to speak about the Air Force and the Air Force Academy and give you some background for this to all come together. I hope this will make sense in the end, when its tied together. For those who have been involved in Mars Hill Seattle I hope this will help illustrate how the problems there migrated and affected people elsewhere in the United States. In the case of Andrew White I think it adversely affected him. In contrast at the time, I was an agnostic and it helped me argue against Christianity and talk about the harm that it poses to society. According to Distance-Cities.com Seattle is 2,325 miles away from Washington, D.C. But in cyber space it is seconds away. I hope that Rob Smith, Paul Petry, Bent Myer and the other 22 repentant pastors continue to work at removing Mark Driscoll’s influence from modern day evangelicalism.
One night back in 2012 or so Andrew and I walked to a sandwich shop near Union Station in Washington, D.C. It was the same sandwich shop his buyer agent or realtor took him and his wife to when they closed on a condo in the D.C. area. While we walked Andrew spoke about his life. He spoke about growing up in a military family, and always moving around. He explained how he met his wife Gillian, and how they were high school sweethearts in Colorado Springs. Andrew gave up sports to pursue his wife and worked a high school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. But there is something significant that he had his eyes on….he wanted to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Andrew’s family sponsored cadets and two lived with the family over the course of time. Andrew said that as he grew up he was deeply impressed by the character of these men at the Academy. He saw and deeply respected the Cadets that stayed in his family’s home and he wanted to be like them. I asked him as we were walking if he had a plan b, if he didn’t get into the Academy. Andrew laughed and said he didn’t as he was so focused on getting into the Academy that it was all he wanted to do. Andrew got in, and while he was at the Air Force Academy he got involved in the Navigators and he still was dating the person who would one day become his wife. He spoke about how they got engaged and how they hugged and cried. He graduated from the Academy in 2005 and shortly there after his Navigator Director who I believe he remains close to this very day married Andrew and Gillian. In the course of time Andrew slowly started to get into celebrity pastors. When he was stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey he had an hour commute and he listened to celebrity pastors as he drove to work. I don’t know when this happened but in the 2008-2010 timeframe Andrew deployed to Iraq. While in Iraq he read a Mark Driscoll book and it increased his desire to learn and read more from Mark. Now I don’t know how he got the book. I do know that Mars Hill Seattle had a military ministry, how much Mars Hill was pumping into the military I don’t know. We had two wars going on both in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time and I would be fascinated to find out how much material Mars Hill actually poured into differing combat theaters. The other possibility is that a friend gave Andrew White a Mark Driscoll book and he started to read it. The point I am making is that he got very much into Mark Driscoll and started to become infatuated with him.
During the time frame that Andrew got into Mark Driscoll I fell into a full fledged faith crisis. My drug of choice that impacted things was John Piper. In my life from 2002 until 2007 or so I read a lot of John Piper. I made career decisions based on “Don’t Waste Your Life.” I thought my life would be a waste unless I did something grand and spectacular. Remember with Kool-Aid all things are possible. I then moved to the D.C. area in 2005 convinced that I was doing God’s will and pursued a career. In the course of time it unraveled, life wasn’t as neat and orderly as John Piper had sold it. Then in 2007 or so I gave my Mom who felt guilty about surviving pancreatic cancer John Piper’s “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.” It hurt my mother deeply and she stewed on it for several years before finally confronting me tearfully and telling me that her pancreatic cancer is not a gift from God. I wrote about it here, it’s one of the most well read stories at this blog.
In the course of time Andrew gave me some Matt Chandler and Mark Driscoll to listen to. I still have all his stuff preserved and documented in light of the false accusation I would later endure from him. I knew who Mark Driscoll was at the time but I didn’t follow him like I did Piper years previously. The reason why I respected Mark Driscoll at the time in 2002 until 2007 is because John Piper endorsed and prompted him. My former accountability partner from Milwaukee who you can read in this post also liked Mars Hill Seattle and thought highly of it. He was influenced by Mark’s laid back and easy going demeanor. The informality of the jeans, and openness about alcohol appealed to someone who was raised in a legalistic Baptist family. As Zach and I were close at the time we both respected and listened to what John Piper said, because after all…when is John Piper ever wrong?
As Andrew evangelized me I looked at a few Mark Driscoll sermons on Youtube and I was far from impressed. I saw a man who was crass, lewd, and lacking sophistication. I watched some of Mark’s stuff and I was baffled. What do people see in this guy? Something wasn’t right. Keep in mind that during this time I was outside Christianity being torn apart by the problem of evil. Despite all that I was baffled by the allure. Why did people like Mark Driscoll? One time I took part of a sermon of Mark Driscoll and emailed it to Andrew. I asked him about the language and his presentation. Andrew emailed me back saying that I needed to look at Mark Driscoll’s sermon in context. Meaning I had to consider the entire sermon to appreciate it. Yes Mark could be coarse, or crude but I needed to consider the entire talk. I honestly didn’t get it, it made no sense to me. How does that justify Mark’s behavior I wondered? It was a point of contention on top of a stressful friendship as he was trying to get me involved in Sovereign Grace’s Redeemer Arlington at the time.
The Launch of Paul Petry’s and Jonna’s “Joyful Exiles”
Late in the morning on Tuesday March 20, 2012 a post went up at The Wartburg Watch called Former Mars Hill Pastor, Paul Petry, Starts Joyful Exiles – Startling Revelation. I was at work and I took a breather and went and checked the blog. I saw Dee Parson’s post and I read it. The post started out with Dee saying,
Late yesterday afternoon, my inbox started filling up with messages about a new blog Joyful Exiles. Although I was in a bit of a hurry, I visited it and almost choked on my ever-present Diet Coke. I quickly called my fellow glam blogger, and we both agreed we needed to address this topic immediately!
As many of our readers are aware, Mark Driscoll rather crudely and coldly fired two pastors a few years ago. “Why crudely?” you ask. Here is the link to a video in which he threatened to punch some guys in the nose. It cannot be embedded because some “coward” asked that embedding be disabled; furthermore, no comments are allowed. Bent Myer, who posted his story at TWW was one of those two pastors. His post generated the most visitors ever at TWW.
Yesterday, the other pastor, Paul Petry, along with his wife Jonna, posted a new blog, Joyful Exiles. Along with Jonna’s accounts of the events that transpired, the website features a number of emails and documents related to this sordid affair. Jonna is an excellent writer, and her story is riveting. After reading it, I paced around my house, deeply disturbed. Once again, in my opinion, Mark Driscoll continues to act like a monster truck with a broken steering column, careening about, crushing everything in his path.
With that post I read the story of Paul and Jonna Petry. I read how the Petrys got involved in Mars Hill. I read about how Jonna’s father started to attend and got involved in a church for the first time in almost 40 years. I read how Mark Driscoll asked Paul to be an Elder and how he went through the process. I read how Paul gave up a law practice to become the Pastor of Families and Member Care. I read about the firing of Karen Schaeffer. Then as the story progressed I read about the ominous changes in 2007, to include Leif Moi’s falling out with Mark Driscoll and Paul working on the new by-laws for Mars Hill. Deeply engaged in the story I read about the treatment of Paul Petry and Bent Myer and an illegitimate trial, Paul’s removal and what Jonna described as her “husband’s finest hour” as he stood up and resisted. Glued to my chair at work I read how the Petry’s left because they couldn’t support the new bylaws, and how the Elders voted to discipline Paul and shun him. When I read that Mars Hill sent shunning letters from Seattle to as far away as Colorado my jaw dropped. As sad and distressing as the entire story is this next paragraph blew my mind as I read it. It is about the shunning of Jonna’s father.
My dear father and stepmother belonged to a Mars Hill community group that met in Poulsbo. Joining the group had been a huge step for them. Not having been in church for almost 40 years, my dad (a Vietnam Veteran and retired Colonel with 24 years in the United States Air Force) was moving toward trusting Jesus and Christians again. They even hosted the community group for a time in their home and were enjoying small group fellowship for the first time in their marriage. After the shunning letter was posted, Brad House called my dad and said that if they could not support the elders’ decisions regarding Paul, then they would have to leave their community group. So ended my father’s (a man I had earnestly prayed for almost my whole adult life to know the Lord) beautiful re-entrance to the church. They never went again. And no one from their group remained in friendship with them. They were shunned, too.
At my cube in work I felt like I was going to vomit. I left, and walked out of the office building I was in. I used my lunch to stroll around outside and process what I read about the Petry’s, Mark Driscoll and what Dee Parsons wrote on The Wartburg Watch. I had a lot of emotions going through me as I paced around outside. I was angry, I felt sick, I was confused and I was baffled. I knew several people who thought the world of Mark Driscoll. Andrew White who was evangelizing me at the time was one of them as he loved Mark Driscoll. As I walked around outside I just seethed. The questions that I had were the following:
- Why was someone like Mark Driscoll a pastor?
- Why would Christians follow this man?
- I was not surprised by some of this as I had seen a number of red flags that I had previously raised to Andrew White. Why could an agnostic discern these problems about Mark Driscoll and see these issues from afar, yet many Christians could not?
- Is this what Christianity is about?
- Why would I want to go back to Christianity in light of stories like this?
- How could Jonna’s father be treated the way he was? After all he was also a retired military officer?
I walked around the office building outside processing everything and then a thought popped in my mind. What would Andrew White say about the trial of Paul Petry and Bent Myer? Would he care as a Christian? What would an Air Force Captain who came from one of the most prestigious military academies in the world think about a Air Force Colonel who was shunned? Would he be bothered by it? But before I get into trying to talk with Andrew about the situation there is another thing I have to share, and its related to history, tradition and the Air Force Academy itself.
Doolittle Raiders and the Air Force Academy
One of the most heroic acts of World War II has ties to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 the United States retaliated by air bombing Tokyo on April 18, 1942. Members of what has been called the greatest generation in history piloted and launched 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. The raid was a success and struck deep into the heart of Japan. All bombers were lost when the crews bailed out or crashed into China. The raid was conceived, and led by Jimmy Doolittle of the US Army Air Force at the time. In December of 1946 the members of the Doolittle Raiders gathered to celebrate Col Doolittle’s birthday and they agreed to turn the meeting into an annual reunion. In 1959 the city of Tucson, Arizona donated 80 silver goblets to the group. Each goblet had a name of a Doolittle Raider inscribed on it. Then during a US Air Force Academy football game Doolittle himself turned over the 80 goblets to the Air Force Academy in a presentation. The Air Force Academy displayed these goblets in between Doolittle reunions. Each year when the Raiders would get together they would have a toast and if someone passed away their goblet is turned upside down to honor their memory. The final toast occurred on November 9, 2013. In 2005 the surviving Raiders donated the goblets to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright Paterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Tradition is important in the Air Force, and all aspects of the United States military overall. History and a respect for veterans of past conflicts is acknowledged and honored. That is part of the reason why there is comradery amongst military members and veterans. Their bond is their service and shared experiences together draws many close and keeps many together like family.
Andrew White’s Reaction to the Petry Story
After I was done walking around I returned back inside and I eventually printed out the story from Joyful Exiles and highlighted the part about Jonna Petry’s father. I honestly thought that as a Christian and an Air Force Officer, that Andrew would be disturbed and bothered. I left the print out on his desk and asked him to read it. Some time later I asked Andrew if he read the story and he became evasive. I pressed him and said you need to read what Mark Driscoll did and the way a Vietnam Veteran and Air Force Colonel were treated. Andrew wouldn’t go there and he avoided it completely. I began to realize that Andrew didn’t care and that Mark Driscoll was too important to him. When this hit me I was stunned for two reasons. The first one is that I couldn’t understand why a Christian would be indifferent to a man who would come to a church for the first time in 40 years only to be shunned. As an agnostic I wondered…what is the purpose of the church? What is the Christian faith about? That doesn’t make sense, wouldn’t Christians be upset about that? The second thing that stunned me is that as an Air Force Captain Andrew didn’t care how a Vietnam veteran was treated. I was baffled because in the military people are taught to respect and honor their chain of command. I’ve even witnessed retried military honor other retired military. The Air Force Academy should have taught this, and indeed with legends like the goblets from the Doolittle raiders this was important to both the academy and Air Force history.
Despite all that I realized that Andrew didn’t care about the Petry’s or Jonna’s father. As someone outside of Christianity at the time I realized that Mark Driscoll is who Andrew worshipped. Mark Driscoll is Andrew White’s God. Mark Driscoll is the brand that had to be protected at all costs.
As an agnostic I was baffled, confused and stunned. Furthermore I wondered…why did I care so much as a skeptic and the person who talked about his faith so much was indifferent? It made no sense and is one of the saddest things in my life that I witnessed. As an idol that became central to Andrew’s faith Mark Driscoll must be protected at all costs. Despite the news hemorrhaging out of Mars Hill Seattle Andrew still thought the world of Mark Driscoll. On May 8, 2013 this Air Force officer gave birth to a false accusation that took aim at my name, reputation and threatened my employment. I was thrust into the darkest season of my life. While I managed that false accusation which was deeply traumatic Andrew still thought the world of Mark Driscoll. When Andrew had shifted his recruitment efforts to another fellow co-worker to Redeemer Arlington he talked about how neat Mars Hill Seattle was, how he liked Mark Driscoll, and how he wished he could get involved. I had no way to communicate with Andrew as the news from Mars Hill got worse. When it broke about the plagiarism that Mark Driscoll engaged in, I wondered what would Andrew White think? Would he have excused the plagiarism like he excused Mark Driscoll’s other behavior? I often wondered in light of all that Warren Throckmorton reported and exposed what would have happened if Andrew or any other Cadet at the Air Force Academy engaged in plagiarism? What would the Academy have done? Would the Air Force Academy tolerate cheating like that?
Personal Reflection on Myself
This is one of the hardest posts to write because of the questions that I ask. I also don’t want it to come across that I am unfairly targeting Andrew or doing a hatchet post. While Andrew made Mark Driscoll his God I have to be brutally blunt in saying. He is not the only one. I have done the same thing. Let me repeat that again. I have done the same thing in my life in my own way. In my case when I was involved with Mormonism in college in Montana I made Joseph Smith and the Mormon faith my God. In some ways I acted like Andrew and I blew when people said I was getting involved in a cult. So in writing those difficult words about Andrew up above let me also state that I have made the same mistake when I looked into converting into Mormonism. When I was in my faith crisis I realized at the Reason Rally that I traded the likes of someone such as John Piper for the personality of someone like Richard Dawkins. I imitated Christopher Hitchens in many ways because he called for conflict to be created. You do that for the sake of the other person. I did that and did it well in cyber space and with individuals like Andrew White. So I have to be brutally honest and say that I have done the exact same thing. I have worshipped other people. I love Dee Parsons deeply as a friend. She sent me a number of texts after work. I sometimes have wondered if I have done or will do the same thing like I have in the past, and make Dee an idol as I encourage her work. So I want to be crystal clear that even today this remains in my mind. What I am trying to stress and emphasize is that I am not above making someone an idol however the one difference is that I have also had to confess and repent of it.
Was it Worth It? Honestly….?
In July of 2014 Mike Anderson who ran the Resurgence website wrote one of the rawest posts I ever read. He talked about how religion can be as destructive, just as harmful as alcoholism or drugs. He talked about becoming a True Believer and the harm that comes from mass movement. He also talked about dealing with PTSD as he tried to detox from it all. In response Dee Parson’s wrote an insightful analysis on what Mike Anderson said. I spent some time the other day reflecting on this as I was planning on writing this part of the post. I can relate to what Mike Anderson says, especially when he talks about how destructive religion can be. I’ve seen it with Mormonism, I saw it with parts of atheism, and I saw it with Andrew White. Due to the false accusation I endured I have had times where I’ve been out and about and had a situation where I heard the word I was falsely accused of and I would come unglued. It could happen in the most unlikely of situations….the grocery store, the gym, or a restaurant. Early on Dee Parsons told me to call her if I needed to talk and there were times that happened. So while Mike Anderson talked about withdrawal and dealing with PTSD symptoms I know what that is like as Andrew White taught that to me in the false accusation that was made.
Here’s a question I have for the Neo-Calvinist crowd. Was it worth it? Was it worth promoting and making Mark Driscoll into a deity for the sake of “precious doctrine?” Is it worth having this kind of conflict? Have you considered, I mean for one iota, how all this plays out on those outside of Christianity? When I was dealing with all this I was outside the faith. I was an agnostic, or an atheist who was quite militant. I watched this stuff play from the outside, circling the wagons mentality and the refusal to deal with the issues at hand. What I saw with Andrew White was cognitive dissonance that I last saw in Mormonism. It was a refusal to face the facts and deal with the situation. The more you ignore it the more of a problem it becomes. There are so many tragedies in these situations its like a classic Greek drama. What are some of those tragedies?
- It’s a tragedy that Andrew White was infatuated with this stuff as he only hurt himself and others in the end. I think Andrew had and still has – if he repents of all this – the potential to be a great individual in the church. (Big C not little c)
- It was a tragedy that Mark Driscoll became Andrew’s God. A tragedy that he couldn’t deal with the situation at hand.
- It’s a tragedy that the church stayed silent and refused to speak up or intervene in the Mars Hill situation. How could so many churches or Christians be silent about such situations? Why do they enable these problems and men like Mark Driscoll? Don’t they realize that silence equals approval in the end?
- One tragedy that grew out of all this conflict is that Andrew walked away from leading a person to the Christian faith. I wrote about that here, and wrote about what Dee Parsons and others did right in this post here.
- There is much needless division coming about due to situations like this. Isn’t the church divided enough? Have evangelicals stopped to consider how this division is sinful and a waste of resources, money and time?
- Why hasn’t the church stopped to consider how these problems play out in the long run? The harm that fads create in evangelicalism is deep, searing and painful.
- Do members of the church realize that Christians are living in such a way as to promote atheism, and encourage people to leave the faith? Is that at all being considered?
- Its a tragedy that this is leading to the division of families, friendships relationships, family members, etc… Why does there have to be division in that context? Are many evangelical Christians really that shallow?
- It’s a tragedy that celebrity pastors can’t be discerned by many Christians. People can’t spot the wolves and realize the harm that exists.
- It’s a tragedy that religion can be as destructive as drugs, alcohol or pornography. It’s a tragedy that there can be many atheists who are far healthier and more whole than many Neo-Calvinists or those in the church. That should give people pause. I ask myself why do I prefer hanging out or getting to know those outside the Christian faith than those within? It shouldn’t be like that but the reality is that it is like that in today’s religious landscape.
So I must ask…in the end is it worth it? No… absolutely not. I don’t think the Christian faith as modeled and lived by Jesus is designed to be so legalistic and leave so much carnage in one’s wake. I know Andrew reads this blog from time to time, let me just say that this post was not written in spite. It was written to show how one man’s idol becomes another person’s obstacle to God. That is the lesson in this post. When I knew Andrew I was profoundly lost, confused and in deep pain. Andrew’s behavior and reverence of Mark Driscoll didn’t help. The wolves needed to be kept away from the sheep not embraced and recommended. Mark Driscoll was a wolf, that is all he is today. In closing let me say Andrew, I love you and I hope you will be like Mike Anderson one day and come clean about some of this activity. In my life I have had to come clean. There’s no shame in doing that, after all we have all made mistakes. I wrote up above about some of mine so that this would not be viewed as a hatchet piece. But if you actually took some responsibility for your action, and showed deep remorse for the pain you caused…I’d weep and hug you. I would respect your courage having known what it is like. Remember Andrew I also have had to come clean. With that I’ll close with some Chris Tomlin.