why bullies don't exist

When I google-search "mark driscoll is..." the first autocomplete option I get is "a bully." When I push "enter," google directs me first to the blog post: "Mark Driscoll is a bully, Stand up to him," written by Rachel Held Evans, which elaborates in great detail the ways in which Mr. Driscoll's behavior proves that he is not a godly man. Readers are then encouraged to contact Driscoll's church to express their distaste for his rotten, bullying ways, and - if they know him - to "approach him as a friend and request that he get the counseling he needs."

The first time I saw this post, I shared it on Facebook. First, because I agree with Mrs. Evans that Mark Driscoll needs to stop his obnoxious gum-flapping, and second because I have the sort of build that the more generous among us might refer to as "slight," "slim," or "wiry." This means, naturally, that I have a pretty visceral reaction when people use their strength/power/size to dominate and/or intimidate those who, by genetics or inclination, tend to lean toward choosing gentleness, sensitivity and kindness, over brute force.

Nonetheless, as I got to thinking about her post, I began to see a big, gaping problem in it. That is, her characterization of Mark Driscoll as a "bully." The reason I think this is a problem is that I don't think bullies exist.

For most people, that will sound like insanity. "Of course bullies exist!" they'll say, "They're everywhere! Didn't I hear an hour-long special on bullies on NPR just the other day; and didn't Barack Obama just speak out against them from the White House?"

It's true, too: Bullies are everywhere. Anti-bullying is a major, major trend right now, and most people who talk about bullying do not bother to make the distinction between the action and the person.

I would even go so far as to guess that this (in addition to the fact that Mark Driscoll behaves like a dink) largely accounts for Rachel Held Evan's choice to use that word four times in her blog post, and why her blog post returns so high on searches about Mark Driscoll. It is probably this very zeitgeist that has made this post her third-most popular (prompting 513 comments at this writing), and has helped her build a career out of her writing.

More power to her, I say - ride that zeitgeist. Except...

Except, I don't think bullies really exist, because I think for them to exist, you've gotta first take a whole big, complicated person and cram them down into one, tiny little word, a word that fails to empathize, or to account for all the greatness that goes hand in hand with the stupidity that, yes, Mark Driscoll evidences in spades.

Words matter. It matters when we take people and violate them in this way. It matters when we see them not as whole, wonderful humans, but as ugly catchphrases that simplify them down so small that they become things.

That, I think, is sin. It doesn't matter who does it, or how justified they might be. It still sucks.

Now, you might think that by attacking her post, I'm trying to grab a little of that internet thunder, myself. I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't welcome it. I have serious doubts, however, that any post trying to nuance the discussion toward empathy and compassion for those with whose behavior you disagree is ever going to generate the same kind of interest as one that crams another person into a word-sized box.

I've written about this sort of thing before (most recently in my post: Jesus the Magician), and I understand why people are drawn to that. It's easier. It's quicker. And it allows me to "other" myself from the dirtiness - to create something of a scapegoat for the iniquities I'd much rather ignore in myself.

I know it's hard, but I really do think that people are worth the time it takes to understand that they are not one thing that they do, or even all the things that they do. They are image-bearers of the Divine, and they are worth not just our time, but our love.

I will close by once again quoting from Granny Weatherwax, that amazing old witch from Terry Pratchett's wonderful discworld series, on the nature of sin:

"...And that's what your holy men discuss, is it?" [asked Granny Weatherwax.]
"Not usually. There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment on the nature of sin. for example." [answered Mightily Oats.]
"And what do they think? Against it, are they?"
"It's not as simple as that. It's not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray."
"There's no grays, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things. Including yourself. That's what sin is."
"It's a lot more complicated than that--"
"No. It ain't. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they're getting worried that they won't like the truth. People as things, that's where it starts."
"Oh, I'm sure there are worse crimes--"
"But they starts with thinking about people as things..."


  1. Thanks. That's basically what I was thinking, except I was too constipated to get the words out.

    I especially agree with this: "I know it's hard, but I really do think that people are worth the time it takes to understand that they are not one thing that they do, or even all the things that they do. They are image-bearers of the Divine, and they are worth not just our time, but our love."

  2. I recommend eating a lot of fruit. You wanna stay away from the chemical stuff, cuz the dosage is too hard to nail just right :)

  3. Probably you can guess who I am, and I'm sure you could anticipate this coming from me...

    "...the ways in which Mr. Driscoll's behavior proves that he is not a godly man..." I would have to take exception with that statement and make exactly the opposite claim: that he is godly. After all, if you take the definition of bullying as "using your position of power to get your way, when you wouldn't (or couldn't) do if you didn't possess that power", then who perfected that art better than dear old God?

    Also, when I Google "Mark Driscoll is " I get autocompleted as "Mark Driscoll is a douche". Maybe that solves the definition problem right there?


  4. I guess that would make sense, Senor Anonymo, if you were taking your understanding of God from the way God is portrayed/wielded by those who sit on their high horses presenting the God-in-their-pockets to the rest of us.

    As a side note: I am also very suspicious of anyone who purports to be able to define other humans as "godly" or "not-godly." It presumes knowledge on a few too many levels.

    Personally, I believe more and more in the following dictum: "shut up and live (and also, love)."

    Of course, you wouldn't know it from how much I write :)

  5. Mark who? First, I looked up Rachel, then Driscoll. Annoying narcissistic bores, both of them.

  6. I think the same principle holds true for some other words too - criminal, illegal ....

  7. Yeah, E. I think it holds true for most words. In fact, I think this is one of the primary moral questions of human existence. The way I see it, there are two kinds of people: Those who divide people into little groups, and those who don't.

    Which is to say, there is one kind of people, and we are it.

    I don't think this is a war we win - it's a battle we fight forever, if we want to live in love.

  8. I had a post about Driscoll a few years ago trying to tread this needle, trying to approach him charitably in locations where he makes some good points but offering a sharp critique on topics where I felt he was in error.

    Your point is well taken. How do we walk the line between prophetic critique and love? Can we call people a "brood of vipers" and be Christ-like? What do we have to monitor in our spirits when we start calling people out? I think it's more than word choice. Something in the soul needs to be properly tuned. But what that is precisely is hard to discern.

  9. Firstly, not sure I understand where the concept of being on a "high horse" comes from just because one has an opinion about the character of God, especially when it is based on the literature that claims to explain the character of God.

    Secondly, are you seriously (in your subsequent comment) suggesting that there is no such thing as a narcissist but only people who behave narcissistically? I know a few psychologists who would disagree strongly.

    Thirdly, why does classifying somone with certain characteristics fall outside the realm of "love"?

  10. I agree with you, Dr. Beck. Words only matter inasmuch as they are indicators of the intentions of our souls. And I think calling people on their scheize is a process that ought to demand endless self-vigilance: pride is too pervasive and humility too rare.

    Still, I find it interesting that even Jesus, who perhaps could have gotten away with it, still often used metaphors such as "white-washed sepulcher" and "brood of vipers" rather than to out and out say, "you are an evil hypocrite." This use of metaphor I think necessitates a consideration of attributes, first.

    I think our approach to those with whom we disagree is almost more useful for revealing our own soul-issues than it is for transforming them in theirs (which, let's face it, is not only not ultimately our job, but also has about zero chance of succeeding once they have understood that we view them as sub-human).

  11. In answer to your questions, Senor(a) Anonymo Numero Dos:

    First, it comes from a frustration with itty bitty people pretending they know the first, second and third things about a God in whose presence they have lots of answers but very little humility.

    Second, I do not doubt that there are a great many psychologists, sociologists, phrenologists and entomologists who would disagree with me on a great number of things. Whenever you buck conventional wisdom, you can expect the conventional to buck back.

    Third, I'm not sure we're reading the same blog post. I wrote it, and I can't see where you found that particular interpretation of my words. I'll just be over here, now, scratching my head.

  12. In the honest spirit of trying to understand one another rather than trying to prove that I’m right, I’ll respond again.

    I still don’t understand where the frustration comes from in the case of someone having a (negative) opinion of God’s character. I called him a bully and your response is to think that I’m on a high horse and the insinuation is that people like me pretend they know everything about God. Would that have been your response if I had characterized him in a positive light and called him a loving father?

    Bucking the trends is great. Questioning things is important. Going against the conventional wisdom is a good exercise. Except…there is a limit to that. If I “buck the conventional wisdom” and point out that we actually live on a flat earth, then I shouldn’t expect my opinion on that matter to be well respected. My point is that I think it is pretty well established that there is such a person as a narcissist rather than just people who behave narcissistically. It might not be very nice to have to refer to someone as a narcissist. It might seem judgmental, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes it’s just a fact of life.

    My interpretation of your post is basically that we should view a person’s behaviors (bullying etc.) rather than fitting them into a box (such as being a bully). Am I wrong? Perhaps I totally misunderstood the point of your post. If I’m not wrong, then I am asking why it is considered negative (or un-loving) to classify someone (e.g. as a bully, a narcissist, a racist, etc.)? Whether you agree with doing that or not, I don’t see how doing so is less loving of that person.

    It’s Friday evening. On that note…cheers.

  13. Oh, I get it(ish). I thought it was a different Anonymous poster. I wasn't referring to you has being on a high horse, because I know that as an atheist you are neither claiming some special knowledge of God, nor actually even discussing the topic from the same frame of reference. I was referring more to those more of my own ilk.

    Yep. You're understanding my post pretty well. For a more in-depth explanation of why I see it as less-loving to name, see this post: http://joshbarkey.blogspot.com/2011/09/drawing-101-how-to-fall-in-love-with.html

    Also, I think there's a bit of a difference between the flat earth society and the "soft" sciences.


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