When Religion is as Destructive as Alcoholism or Drug Addiction

This is an article that reflects on an older post from Mike Anderson who led The Resurgence at Mars Hill in Seattle. What do you do when religion leads you to places that are dark and to behaviors just as destructive as alcoholism or drug addiction? This also reflects on what I have seen in my own life. 

“Now is not a time for retreat but rather resurgence. Resurgence Leadership is a weekly program that includes interviews, sermons, lectures, and other content created or selected by host Pastor Mark Driscoll, to equip leaders who are on mission with Jesus. For more resources, visit the Resurgence.com.”

From the old Resurgence website

“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

Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Luke 2:28-32 NIV 

Are each one of these individuals leading people to burn out and places just as dark as alcoholism and drug addiction?

Let’s take a minute and review a key ministry and person in the Mars Hill saga. This old post from Mike Anderson has been on my mind a lot lately. 

Reflecting on The Resurgence from Mars Hill

It can’t be denied that Mark Driscoll made a dent on Seattle even if it was dark and caused pain. In Mars Hill one of the more effective programs was a ministry called The Resurgence. The Resurgence offered resources for Christian leaders. Those resources included books, events, classes, multimedia and a blog that was read by 7 million visits annually.  In 2008 The Resurgence even began publishing a line of books called Re:Lit (Resurgence Literature) through Crossway. The Resurgence described itself as, “We provide tools that are specifically designed to communicate essential pieces of theology, ecclesiology, doxology, and the like. We want to train the current and next generation of church planters, deacons, elders, and missionaries.” The Resurgence was led by Mike Anderson who was close to Mark Driscoll. When Mars Hill imploded because of Driscoll’s abuse and his drunk quest for power The Resurgence ceased operation in January of 2015. 

After the collapse of Mars Hill, the former director of The Resurgence wrote a blog post that was largely a confession of his time at Mars Hill. Mike Anderson’s post is called, “Hello, My Name Is Mike, I’m a Recovering True Believer.” Mike’s post was raw and a frank sharing of the flaws of his theology and time at Mars Hill. He opens up by talking about how some people go into dark situations because of alcohol and drugs. For him it was church and his quest for doctrine that led him into a period of life that is just as dark. In his post he opens up with how he is fried. How being amongst “Christian celebrities” and having a quest to change the world. In the post he talks about shattered dreams, and how because of complementarianism he discouraged his wife from attending law school. And as a result she had to give up many of her own dreams. Mike spoke about how he was part of “a movement.” Amidst all this he had challenges of life and watched how Mars Hill became a machine. In a conversation with Dad Mike was encouraged to read Eric Hoffer’s “True Believer.” In that book Hoffer looks at how people fall behind a leader and how mass movements are created. This book was actually President Eisenhower’s favorite book and he gave it out as gifts. Mike also shared the psychological problems that led to a “PTSD affect” and how that changed him in many ways. Among people who used to be involved in Mars Hill there was a belief that many dealt with “Mars Hill PTSD.” This post by Mike Anderson was him coming clean and getting off his chest all the pain from Mars Hill. 

When Religion is As Destructive as Alcoholism or Drug Addiction

Its something that I keep seeing frequently. The burned out and destroyed life by someone “trying to give it all for Jesus”. This comes about because one is told that “its all about Jesus” The movements and the names differ. They are Acts 29, Mars Hill, Sovereign Grace Ministries, 9 Marks, Harvest Bible Chapel, Antioch church movement, ministries like the Navigators or Campus Crusade for Christ and parts of the EFCA, and the SBC and more. The results are similar. Burn out, being fried, developing a PTSD effect, people trying to numb the pain, and frozen in fear. Just as an alcoholic can destroy his life there are many people who destroy theirs by going to church and drinking the Kool Aid. Families can be split and torn, and it can also affect people’s jobs and more. Think of the people who walk away from their job to relocate and do a church plant and get fried in another part of the country.  You  can go from an engineer to a bellhop trying to make ends meet because you are “all about Jesus.”

Then you also have another situation as well. Church that criminalizes mental health issues or disorders. Its not bi-polar, depression, or more. Its because you are in sin. All you have to do is commit to memorizing scripture. Its not Zoloft and Paxil you have to take, you need to study John or Colossians.  Then you have people who are so obsessed with sexual purity and sin, that the by-product is people not dating because they fear they are going to be sexual. People who remain single or in trying to “cure” being gay marry someone with the hope that they will be set “straight.” This of course happens while many of these churches or ministries cover up sex crimes, sexual abuse, child pornography, domestic abuse and more. But remember its all about Jesus.  

What I Have Witnessed in My Own Life 

The list of what I am seeing is troubling for me. And the pile of destructive experiences continues to grow. Not long ago someone that I am close to visited Washington, D.C. He was involved in a church for a while and found himself in the middle of a scandal. I went to the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue and just hung out and talked outside. He told me that he was on the edge due to the experiences he had seen. Stress and burnout from the evangelical culture. He committed to the system and worked hard in it. Then he experienced a deep betrayal by someone he knew. This individual spoke about how evangelicals have a warped view of things. He turned to me and said, “You can not have an affair or do something sexual but then you can hit the circuit, publish books, and feed the beast while forgetting your family or being a terrible father. And yet many evangelicals accept that perspective.” As this guy was in the process of withdrawing his kids from this one church because of all the burnout that comes with scandal he is tired and fried. 

Mike Anderson wrote about his own burnout and I guess this post is about mine. At 43 I can’t believe what I have witnessed or been a part of. I was involved in four churches or had a brush with a couple that dealt with child sex abuse or sexual offenders. I came to Elmbrook after the Daniel Varga scandal. Then came Wooded Hills Bible with having a member on the Wisconsin sex offender registry and processing that mess. I was unsuccessfully recruited to Redeemer Arlington as the SGM lawsuit played out. Then I got involved in Rod Stafford’s Fairfax Community Church that employed a violent sex offender, that of Eric Nickle and misled the church. That is a lot to have processed through.

Then I have the burnout from Cru and differing thoughts about a movement that I consider to be more of “fast food evangelism” than anything else. Did accountability and destroyed a close friendship which I deeply regret. I dealt with a Third Wave charismatic church, that of Wooded Hills Church in Wisconsin. That was where Trish Stern sent the youth group to drive a demon out of an aisle in a convenience store.   I also dealt with the John Piper fads before getting burned by that mess. I have also seen politics play out at church as well which as I type this leaves me sick. Then I have the mess from someone who tried to get me involved in a former Sovereign Grace church called Redeemer Arlington. There was this false accusation, the threat to my livelihood, and the pain it caused my family. I had the situation drag out and thus pop up into a hospital room shortly before Mom’s death. Is that the “Gospel” to Eric Simmons and Jordan Kauflin? To interfere with what would be a terminal illness?

I remember when I got back into evangelical Christianity I approached 140 people and asked for forgiveness. I did something that Mark Driscoll, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever, David Platt and so many more can’t do. And yet I see those same people speaking, teaching and writing when they don’t even met the qualification for elder. And yet some people would have the nerve to say someone on the edge wasn’t a Christian because of where his doubts are taking him. Yet the person who spoke about manhood  and what it means to be a man (Mark Driscoll) can’t actually do the right thing. He can just run. The person who publishes about “humility” (C.J. Mahaney) can’t show any humility at all. Then you also have the likes of Dave Harvey. He can publish about pastoral ministry after all the sexual abuse cover up that took place at his former SGM church in Pennsylvania, and yet people still think he is worthwhile to read and consume. I don’t understand any of this at all. None of this makes sense to me.

What could help myself is if that  mess from Redeemer Arlington was resolved but honestly it won’t. I find it sad and ironic that neither Eric Simmons, Jordan Kauflin, or an Air Force Captain can do the right thing. I would be a total fool to expect any of them to do the right thing. Imagine if any of the “celebrity pastors” cam clean and admitted their mistake or error. What is Mark Driscoll, C.J. Mahaney, James MacDonald or Dave Harvey could actually do the right thing and admit their error. What if that happened and you realize that “wow Christianity does indeed work!” But lets be honest that won’t  occur either. 

I seem to go from church to church and encounter nothing but problems, scandal and issues. Now I am no longer involved in one and see no reason to get involved in one at this time. Maybe this is why I think the atheist at times can show the Gospel better even by not believing in it, but through their honesty. Their honesty and face value should be commended. But as I process all this it leaves to ask, why is it like this? Evangelical Christianity today lacks love. Or what I should say is that love has been redefined entirely. Now love means that you are loved as long as you get involved in this church  and stay committed.  Or love means questionable church discipline or something off in left field that really makes no sense. As the doors close I see nothing really to do. Disengaging from some of these organizations is hard. Trying to move forward is also hard. I can understand how after being in fundamentalism a person can go on a spree of drinking or more to numb the pain for a decade or longer. You have all this energy built inside of you. Good aspects of your life were taught to you as bad, and more. That is the problem that can exist. But when following Jesus leads to a path that is just as destructive as alcohol or drugs its a major issue. 

4 thoughts on “When Religion is as Destructive as Alcoholism or Drug Addiction

  1. I am sympathetic to the thoughts you have expressed here. The hurtful experiences we had at our previous church were difficult and shook up our world. I have difficulty imagining what it would be like to have encountered such issues multiple times. While I was able to come through our situation and transition with my faith intact, I also now hold church at a distance and am reluctant to get involved at our new church at any level beyond that of casual attender. Whereas at our previous church I was extremely active and involved, I now intentionally hang back on the fringe as more of an observer and less of a participant.

    I have been able to draw a distinction between what I see as my faith itself versus what actions and attitudes are sometimes displayed by people and churches. When I see people and churches doing and saying things I find problematic, I see those things as a departure from the faith and not an accurate reflection of that faith.

    Still, it is disconcerting and discouraging to have to continually draw that distinction, as one would really want church and other Christians to regularly encourage and edify one’s faith rather than so often putting it to the test.

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  2. Evangelical Christianity today lacks love. Or what I should say is that love has been redefined entirely.

    Into its “diabolical meaning”, eh, My Dear Wormwood?
    Nowhere do we corrupt so effectively as at the foot of the Enemy’s altar!

    You have all this energy built inside of you. Good aspects of your life were taught to you as bad, and more.

    “Woe to those who call good evil, and call evil good!”
    — one of the Jewish prophets

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