Marking the Day

January 30, 2013

Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll is used to stirring up controversy. He often upsets people with his harsh tone, blunt language, and judgmental attitude. I wrote an article about attacks on him for his theology and cussing, and in blog posts noted his apology for an inappropriate remark and even defended him from other criticism. Last week, he again sparked controversy and is rightly being criticized by many Christians. To mark the day of President Barack Obama's second inauguration, Driscoll tweeted:

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.
Driscoll's statement is highly problematic for multiple reasons. First, he claims to be "praying" but his tweet undermines that claim. If he was truly praying for the president, why defame the president? And especially why do it in a format like Twitter where the shortness of the message naturally makes it more blunt (if that is possible for Driscoll)? Second, he provides no evidence for his dramatic claims. In fact, Obama's words on the matter would directly refute Driscoll's claims about Obama's attitudes regarding the Bible and God. As I noted in my second book (Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics), Obama frequently and explicitly talks about his Christian beliefs. To make such a harsh, public accusation, Driscoll needs to provide more than just his opinion. Just because he believes something does not make it true. After all, Driscoll is not God. And that leads us to the third problem with the tweet: Driscoll is dethroning God and placing himself in the seat of judgment. It is one thing to disagree with specific policies or ideas of Obama. It is quite another to claim to know his motives, heart, and soul. This is a much too common problem in politics today; we demonize someone we disagree with instead of merely pointing out problems with their policies or ideas (a problem I noted in my first book, For God's Sake, Shut Up!). Since Driscoll has been criticized many times--and sometimes unfairly--it is a little surprising he is not willing to extend more grace in his rhetoric. Yet, by launching such an inappropriate attack, he gives more weight to the arguments of his critics in other cases. He is, after all, partially proving the general complaint against him that he is overly arrogant and judgment and says inappropriate things. Hopefully Driscoll will realize this, apologize for his remark, and work harder to watch his language in the future.

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