Evangelical Christianity is a very authoritarian culture. There are many pastors who can rule in a authoritarian manner. I have experienced this in a couple of churches as well. This blog would like to ask a question, when you consider some of the evangelical personalities that exist from C.J. Mahaney, to Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald; have such pastors paved the way for people like Donald Trump? Is evangelical culture nothing but authoritarianism and abuse?
“I don’t care if they respect me so long as they fear me.”
“Let me clarify this very definitely. This is not an authoritarian organization.”
L Ron Hubbard
The Lord confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever on the Lord,
for only he will release my feet from the snare.
Psalm 25:14-15 NIV
Today’s post is going to explore the issue of authoritarianism inside evangelicalism. What are the consequences of it? Why is it a problem? Let’s first look at what authoritarianism means.
What is Authoritarianism? Plus Evangelicals and Authoritarianism
According to Merriam Webster authoritarianism is defined as relating to or favoring blind submission to others. It can also mean that one is placing power or concentrating power in a leader who is elite and above the rules. In authoritarianism people’s access to information is controlled. The authoritarian leader has control over key access of a country or organization. There is also an effort to suppress those who have different points of view or who raises concerns. The organization or authoritarian leader makes those people to be the problem. Rules are hazy and used in unjust ways, justice is warped and feeds corruption which can go along with authoritarianism as well. Authoritarian leaders seek out support from like minded individuals. Authoritarian leaders also promise simple solutions and often fail to deliver on their promises.
In evangelicalism authoritarianism is a part of the culture. In my own life I ran into authoritarianism at McLean Bible and Fairfax Community Church. At McLean Bible I had Justin Pearson yell at me when I raised concerns about small groups. At Fairfax Community Church, Andy Gingrich a pastor with roots in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church tried to control who I could speak to in the church. It shocked me, and in the process he came down like a hammer. Andy Gingrich is a controlling person. Authoritarians believe that the rules do not apply to them. Is that part of the reason why many authoritarians also have narcissism as well? As I type this post I can think of multiple examples of authoritarians in evangelicalism individuals such as Robert Jeffress, Jerry Falwell Jr, Robert Morris, James MacDonald, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever and more. This post would like to raise the issues with Mark Driscoll and use him to make my point about authoritarianism.
Recalling Mark Driscoll’s Authoritarianism
Mark Driscoll planted a church in Seattle that was called Mars Hill. Mars Hill grew to 15 locations with most of them being in the state of Washington. However, they also grew to Portland, Oregon as well as Southern California and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Driscoll was deeply authoritarian. He bullied regularly and engaged in questionable behavior. For example he was known for his anger and exploding at people. Driscoll regularly took out his anger on his staff and that led to a constant situation of regular turnover. One of the wives of a former Mars Hill elder, Joanna Petry wrote a blog that detailed abuse to her husband by Mark Driscoll and the leadership of Mars Hill. In her post Joanna wrote that if Mark Driscoll could murder her husband she believed he would have. Here is how she wrote it at her blog Joyful Exiles. “During this whole season since the firing and the months that followed, I was emotionally and spiritually devastated. I was often tormented by fear. I had nightmares and imaginations of someone trying to physically harm Paul, me, and the children. If Mark had had ecclesiastical power to burn Paul at the stake I believe he would have.”
Mark Driscoll like many other authoritarians also believed that the rules didn’t apply to him. He had engaged in plagiarism and twisted and bent the rules as they came along. Yet along the way he expected other people to abide by the rules and enforced him. Another example is how Mark Driscoll enforced church discipline as well. Mars Hill also worked at controlling information that people could access. Reading blogs like this one was considered “gossip” or engaging in “slander.” And as well Mark Driscoll profited handsomely from all this corruption. Many authoritarian regimes are often corrupt and the person at the top of the pyramid is the one who enforces the system is the one who benefits from it. Everything is designed to benefit the person up top.
Donald Trump calling people motherfuckers.
Did that Authoritarian Culture Lead Evangelicals to Follow Trump?
Here is a question that I would like to pose. Evangelical culture is deeply authoritarian. Did individuals like Mark Driscoll, who still remains popular with many evangelicals pave the way for evangelicals to embrace Donald Trump? Let’s look at some of the indicators of Donald Trump and consider them as well. In January of 2016 Trump boasted as to how he could stand on New York City’s Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and people would still support him. Trump has also been known for gas-lighting and bullying people as well. For example one of the low points in 2016 is when he mocked Serge Kovaleski, a New York Times reporter who had a disability that is a result of arthrogryposis. Arthrogryposis is a condition that leads to warped joints or a club foot. You can read more about this disease here. Then there was the coarse and crude behavior on Twitter or an Access Hollywood tape. Mark Driscoll gave a sermon in Scotland once where he boasted of how a blow job led someone to Jesus. You can read that post and listen to that sermon in, “Reflecting on a Controversial Mark Driscoll Sermon About how a Repentant Woman Gets on Her Knees and Performs Oral Sex.” Later on Driscoll talked about how women are penis homes. Then you had Donald Trump who boasted of grabbing someone’s pussy. Evangelicals have been involved in politics for the last couple of decades. Despite many of the scandals that have been happening with Trump, white evangelical Protestants remain his strongest supporters. They adore Donald Trump more then they liked George W Bush or even Ronald Reagan.
So how does that happen? Is evangelical Christian culture largely nothing but authoritarianism and abuse? And do evangelicals go from one authoritarian leader to another? I would argue that is the case and the issue of authoritarianism highlights how broken evangelicalism is and how it can’t be restored.