The protest didn't amount to much, but that hardly mattered. The point, in the case of Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, was made and it won't be let go.
Driscoll's church (he founded it a decade ago) is one of the largest in Seattle, with a congregation of about 5,000 at three campuses at Ballard, Shoreline and West Seattle - a megachurch. He is a speaker of national influence, and locally has been highly visible as a religion columnist in the Seattle Times. Combine that with the increasingly direct role religious organizations and leaders play in our culture and politics, and you have a figure highly influential in public affairs. What he says has effect beyond the religious instruction of a congregation; it ripples through the larger society.
That Driscoll would comment after the recent scandal involving fellow pastor Ted Haggard - who has ackowledged buying illegal drugs from a male prostitute - would be expected. His exact comments, posted in a blog but not delivered, apparently, in a sermon, set teeth on edge: "It is not uncommon to meet pastors' wives who really let themselves go . . . A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband ... is not responsible for her husband's sin, but she may not be helping him either." (You wonder what Driscoll's wife thought of that. )
(The roles of the sexes seem to bring out the controversial in Driscoll; in another blog, he remarked (after Episcopal church leaders chose a woman as bishop), "If Christian males do not man up soon, the Episcopalians may vote a fluffy baby bunny rabbit as their next bishop to lead God's men.")
In response, a protest was brought on Sunday by the group People Against Fundamentalism, which blasted him. Driscoll's quick response was an apology, a smart move letting air out of the balloon: “But I also learned that as my platform has grown, so has my responsibility to speak about my convictions in a way that invites other people to experience charity from me, which means inflammatory language and such need to be scaled back.” Also by then, the Times had decided to end Driscoll's religion column (the recent controversy not being the reason why, editors said).
All of which suggests a lower profile for Driscoll in the months ahead.
Maybe. The basic principles and ideas under dispute and debate here are the kind of kindling that need only a small match.