Friday, January 25, 2013

Being Better Than A Bully: Mark Driscoll and Righteous Indignation

Mark Driscoll, pastor, author, shock jock

by Ben Howard

Yesterday at work I found myself on the phone with a kind older gentleman who needed my assistance. We talked for a bit, I answered his questions, he thanked me and we went on with our days. Sounds like a fairly normal phone call from a fairly normal day at work, right?

However, I left out one bit of information. In the background, I could clearly make out the voice of Rush Limbaugh yelling on the radio. And when I heard that voice in the background, I didn’t like the man on the phone. The feeling only lasted for a moment, a split-second of “Oh brother, who is this guy?” before I came back to my senses, but it stuck with me yesterday.

This kind of feeling, this kind of automatic revulsion that I’ve picked up regarding right-wing fundamentalism, both politically and religiously, has been at the front of my mind lately for a lot of reasons. If you missed it on Monday, mega-church pastor/author/shock-jock Mark Driscoll took to Twitter with his passive-aggressive about Barack Obama’s inauguration saying, “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.”

Uh huh.

Now, I have no intention of making this piece about Barack Obama’s faith. I’ll tell you up front that I find him to be a genuine person of faith, though it may look different than the faith Driscoll and many of his conservative cohorts respect. This isn’t about the President.

It’s about Driscoll. Well, actually it’s about those of us who disagree with Driscoll and what that disagreement should look like.

Barack Obama taking the oath of office on
January 21st, 2013
I’ve seen a lot of reactions to Driscoll, both in response to this tweet and response to many other irresponsible and incendiary statements. They typically express indignation, exasperation, and question how someone could possible think these things and still have such a large following. They accuse him of hate speech, sexism, racism, homophobia and I can’t help but agree. I have friends who follow Mark Driscoll on Twitter non-ironically and it confuses me to no end.

But righteous indignation can’t be the only response. It’s too reactive. It’s too empowering of the bully in question. It assumes that we should care.

However, we must respond to these bullies both to protect their victims and in order to confront them with their own pain, for the oppressor is also a victim of the hate they wield.

This doesn’t just extend to Driscoll. It extends to everyone who uses their pulpit, their platform, or their voice to bully, ostracize, obfuscate, and belittle those who are different from them. It extends to every voice that sets our teeth on edge and sends our pulses soaring. And yes, that means liberal bullies as well as conservative ones.

So how then should we respond?

We cannot ignore their acts, but reactive indignation simply reinforces the self-importance and control of the bully in question.

I’m not sure what to do, but I think we can get instruction from a child’s toy. I’m sure you’ve seen this before. It’s a little wooden case cut into a circle. There’s a plastic top and inside are three or four tiny metal balls. Etched into the wood are three or four divots and the object of the game is to tilt the wooden circle and catch the balls in the divots.

If you’ve ever seen a little kid in their first encounter with this contraption, you’ll notice that they just shake it from side to side and don’t come anywhere close to success. That’s what I think is happening when we react with righteous indignation and nothing else. We’re just shaking the toy back and forth and expecting a miracle.

Antique Metal Ball Toy
However, eventually the child learns that you need a delicate touch to slide the balls into the divots without the other balls falling out. They learn to gently tip the toy back and forth, and side to side and eventually all the balls fall into place.

This is what happens when we balance allow our response to mature. We are still righteously indignant, but we know better than to let it control us. We balance our response towards the victims of bullying while at the same time realizing that we need not engage the bully on his own terms. We allow ourselves and those with us to move forward without dragging along the baggage of those who have harmed us in the past.

We must find the tension between our righteous indignation and others refusal to act. Only when we live in the tension between these two extremes will we find peace, wholeness, and a better world.


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