Wednesday, November 2, 2011

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."
"Nope."
"Pardon?"
"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..."

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