So Hillsong have folded to the typical media firestorm and revoked their invitation to Mark Driscoll to speak at their upcoming conference here in Sydney later this month. The Herald have the story…
The Australian visit of a controversial US pastor who once described women as “penis houses” has been cancelled after a public backlash.
Hillsong’s founder Brian Houston decided Mark Driscoll would no longer attend the church’s Sydney conference this month after a “personal interaction” on Sunday.
“It is my hope that Mark and I will be able to speak in person in the coming weeks to discuss some of the issues that have been raised, what – if anything – he has learned, and for me to understand better how he is progressing in both his personal and professional life,” Mr Houston said in a statement.
“The teachings of Christ are based on love and forgiveness, and I will not write off Mark as a person simply because of the things that people have said about him, a small minority of people signing a petition or statements he has made many years ago for which he has since repeatedly apologised.”
“However, I do not want unnecessary distractions during our conference, particularly as this 30 minute interview was only a small part of this five day event. It was clear to me that Mark’s attendance had the potential to divert attention from the real purpose of Hillsong Conference, which is to see people leave encouraged in their own spiritual journey.”
All true, and I particularly like “not writing Mark off”; none of us should. But the final paragraph is so horribly telling:
“Clearly Mark has held some views and made some statements that cannot be defended. One or two of the more outrageous things he is purported to have said, I have heard for the first time through the media exposure over the past week.”
“I have heard for the first time…”
For the first time.
Get your head around that. They invited Mark Driscoll, they kept the invitation in place after he stepped down from pastoral ministry, but Houston claims he had no real idea about these allegations. You have to ask, why not? How could you possibly not? It’s one thing to be a reader of the Sydney Morning Herald who wouldn’t know Mark Driscoll from Deepak Chopra, quite another to be a lead pastor in a major Christian church inviting your main platform speakers to what is Australia’s largest Christian conference. How can one move in evangelical circles and not be aware of the allegations and controversies surrounding Driscoll, even before he finally resigned? How can you invite someone to speak at that conference and not make sure that they’re not going to bring your organisation into disrepute?
Moreover, in this particular case, how could Hillsong so flagrantly undermine the disciplinary and pastoral process that Driscoll should still be under? He was asked to step down from ministry at Mars Hill and to go through a period of no public ministry while restoration was sought. Driscoll has, in recent months, chosen to decide for himself when this was over and Hillsong have placed themselves in a position that undermines the whole process; it’s a great disservice to those faithful church leaders in Seattle.
Mind you, this is the same Hillsong that has had false teachers lined up at the conference year after year; people who deny the Trinity and preach all sorts of prosperity gospel nonsense. Don’t they know? Don’t they care? How can one move in evangelical circles and not be aware of T.D. Jakes? How can one in any way breathe the air of American Christianity and not understand the criticisms levelled against Joseph Prince, who will preach from the Hillsong 2015 Conference stage? I think it’s the claimed naïvety that troubles me almost as much as the invitations themselves.
And yet there is a danger for all of us to do exactly this, to prize something else over and above simple Biblical faithfulness. Where have I thought that numbers was the main game in measuring success at church? Where do I fall prey to the temptation to make sure the music, above all things, is right? What else do I naïvely and without discernment accept something when actually I should know far better? We ought to take this latest round of foolishness from Hillsong as a somber warning for all of us.
And let me make something clear. I long for Hillsong Conference to be something I could confidently send people to. Long for it. But something will have to change.