Evangelicals have always dreamed of a big-C Church full of unity and free of what they call divisiveness. But it will never happen. Even their totally-for-real omnipotent god has never been able to help them achieve that dream! Today, let’s examine this concept, learn why it’s so important to Christians in general, and finally see exactly why they’re completely stuck with their dysfunctional circus of disunity.

(From introduction: The new black hole simulation; List of the biggest black holes.)

(This post appeared on Patreon on 5/7/2024. Its audio ‘cast lives there too and is publicly available!)

A powerful show of divisiveness at a recent evangelical men’s conference

Earlier in April, a big evangelical megachurch held a men’s conference. We talked about it last time we met up. To say the least, this event offered attendees every single toxic-masculinity trope ever concocted, then turned up to 11. To illustrate that point, they posted the following photo of the event on their Facebook page (local archive with URL):

Not shown: A Messiah preaching humility, charity, gentleness, modesty, and lovingkindness.

If someone told me to draw a picture of an “evangelical men’s conference” and instructed me to be as uncharitable and snarky as I possibly could, I could not possibly create a better one than that.

But that picture omits an important detail: The sword-swallowing, bare-chested muscular guy hired to climb a pole and then slide down it headfirst.

Out of everyone at that conference, only one man spoke out against it: Mark Driscoll, the disgraced former megapastor and God-Emperor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He was an official featured speaker who went on right after that act.

Very likely, he leaped onto the opportunity to make that conference all about himself. Dude craves attention like a person lost in the desert aches for a drink of cool water.

He sorta got his wish, if so, when he declared that not only was the conference itself infested with “the Jezebel spirit,” but that the organizers were as well. That earned him a public chewing-out by the sponsoring church’s lead pastor, John Lindell.

But I noticed how Lindell yelled at Driscoll.

He cared a lot more about how Mark Driscoll had raised his objections than about any of the objections themselves.

How John Lindell specifically called out Mark Driscoll using divisiveness as his unspoken sword and shield

Christian Post published a story about the event (archive). As well, we have some short videos taken by an unnamed attendee and published by an evangelical group called Protestia on Twitter. For your convenience, I’ve saved ’em all and set them up locally:

  1. First: Driscoll calls out the conference and organizers.
  2. Second: The yelling gets Driscoll’s attention. He stops talking, gets his stuff, and leaves the stage. Lindell takes the stage, where he utterly and hilariously fails to regain control of the crowd.
  3. Third: An 8ish-minute video where Lindell and Driscoll talk extensively together onstage.
  4. Fourth: A 3ish-minute cut from the 3rd video featuring Driscoll’s complete capitulation to Lindell’s authority.

In the second video, Lindell preaches from the stage:

“Let me just say this. If Mark wanted to say that he should have said it to me first. He didn’t. Matthew 18. Matthew 18. If your brother offends you, go to him privately. [. . .] You may not agree with me. You may not agree with him. But we are brothers in Christ, and there’s a right way to handle disagreement.”

With that “Matthew 18” reference, Lindell yanked on the attendees’ leashes. It’s how evangelical abusers keep victims silent and powerless. Obviously, he expected it to work on this conference crowd. When it didn’t, Lindell realized that he’d need a more powerful weapon: the public humiliation and subjugation of his critic.

OH I wish I’d been a fly on the wall for that convo

That’s when John Lindell went backstage and convinced Mark Driscoll to bend the knee to him. I have no idea what Lindell said to get Driscoll to do it, but he obviously succeeded—at least right at that moment.

Unity matters a lot to evangelicals, or at least they talk about it as if it matters. What happened here wasn’t just a “disagreement,” as Lindell put it. It was a powerful show of division. Driscoll had accused him of being demon-infested. That challenged not only the legitimacy of the conference, but also Lindell’s leadership. And with a powderkeg like Driscoll sparking the flames, Lindell needed to act decisively before that division got out of anybody’s control.

The problem, as Lindell clearly perceived it, wasn’t Mark Driscoll saying that Lindell was demon-possessed and running a demon-possessed conference.

No, it was Mark Driscoll publicly opposing and embarrassing Lindell at a time and in a venue where Lindell felt completely secure in his power and mastery.

Christianese 201: When divisiveness matters more than the criticisms raised

Divisiveness is mid-level Christianese heard mostly in evangelical circles. It means causing a ruckus that divides one part of a group from other parts of it.

You don’t generally hear “division,” but evangelicals might criticize”disunity.” As well, they describe the person causing divisiveness as “divisive.”

Generally speaking, the judging Christian only calls a situation divisive if they disagree with the ruckus. If they agree with it, then it’s called speaking truth to power or speaking with a prophetic voice or something like that. In that case, the judging Christian refers to the other side of that ruckus as divisive.

At all times, the judging Christian wants the side they oppose to give up, admit defeat, and bend the knee to whoever leads the side they like.

Since Jesus super-wanted Christians to be united, divisiveness makes him upset. It’s not just disagreement. No, it’s downright sinful.

Divisiveness: How to silence critics

If you’ve ever wondered why evangelicals’ go-to response to all criticism is to first try tone-policing the critic, this is why.

For decades, the more abusive, power-hungry members of their group have known that this tactic effectively silences their enemies. It gets evangelical critics tied up in knots, especially women. In evangelicalism, women are bound about thrice by smoking chains of simpering deference to male power.

Out in the real world, of course, tone policing doesn’t work so well. Normies are generally much more concerned with the actual subject of the criticism than with how the criticism was delivered, by whom, where, and under what exact circumstances. But evangelicals know that if they can get their critics tangled up in tone policing, they will never need to deal with the criticism itself.

There is no way to overstate the power of accusations of divisiveness to those who’ve never been close to evangelicals. The more abusive and power-hungry evangelicals wield those accusations as a bludgeon.

Jesus dreamed of perfect unity for his followers: HAHA NOOOOOOPE

In the Bible, Jesus expressed a hope for unity for his followers. The New Testament contains a number of exhortations regarding unity as well:

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” [Jesus speaking in John 13:34-35]

“I have given them [his followers] the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one— I in them and You in Me—that they may be perfectly united, so that the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have loved Me.” [Jesus speaking in John 17:22-23]

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. [Acts 4:32]

Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you harmony with one another in Christ Jesus, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Romans 15:5-6]

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. [1 Corinthians 1:10]

As a prisoner in the Lord, then, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have received: with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, and with diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. [Ephesians 4:1-3]

Nevertheless, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending side by side for the faith of the gospel, without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. [Philippians 1:27-28]

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with one another and forgive any complaint you may have against someone else. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which is the bond of perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, for to this you were called as members of one body. [Colossians 3:12-15]

It’s clear that Christians struggled a lot with unity and treating each other with compassion. And they still do. Unity remains the impossible dream, as it has always been from the very earliest beginnings of Christianity.

The Doctrinal Yardstick has entered the divisiveness chat

If I had to name a single reason why Christians have never achieved unity, I’d have to offer what I call the Doctrinal Yardstick:

Every Christian operates with this subjective idea of what the ideal Christian’s practices and doctrinal stances are. Using that subjective definition, they judge everything they encounter within their religion.

So to the pre-fundagelical-fusion evangelicals around me in college, Pentecostals were legalistic. That means Pentecostals’ practices and doctrinal stances were way, way more strict than the judging evangelicals thought was proper. Being too legalistic, they thought, can exhaust a Christian and cause them to backslide out of the faith.

By the same token, however, we Pentecostals considered evangelicals to be lukewarm. That means we thought they were way too relaxed and worldly. Something worldly isn’t focused 24/7 on Jesus. Without sufficient focus on Jesus, we were certain that they’d be the ones to backslide.

One Christian’s tongue-talking revival is another Christian’s terrifying demon-possessed outburst. One denomination’s emphasis on miracles and wowie-zowie oogly-boogly special effects is another’s sadly-misled ministry that’s missed the entire point of the religion. And, of course, one Christian’s oh-so-important gospel issue is another’s no-big-deal disagreement.

Not one of these beliefs or doctrinal stances tether to reality. There’s no objective marker to tell who’s right and who’s wrong—and they can’t both be right. So when it comes to religious differences, nobody can claim any more correctness than anybody else.

And that’s how, in almost 2000 years as a religion, Christians still haven’t managed to come up with an actual objective definition of what Christians should believe and practice.

It’s all self-ID, all the way down.

A short history of divisiveness as a term

Historically, journalists and writers reached for the terms divisive and divisiveness to describe the splintering of conservative Christians along doctrinal lines. In 1864, William Landels in The New View of Baptism Examined got extremely squiffy over the “contemptuous language” of James Guthrie (d. 1878), a firebrand who wanted Scottish Baptists to make some major changes to how—and who—they baptized:

Our rendering of the word, we are told, “tends to engender a divisive and ritual spirit” [. . .] Meanwhile we beg the reader to notice that it has nothing to do whatever with the question in dispute. The narrowness and divisiveness of Baptists can have nothing to do with the proper meaning of the word “baptize.” [. . .]

Verily, if our “rigid demand for a bare ‘Thus saith the Lord’ has tended to divide us, the latitudinarianism of infant sprinklers has done little to unite them! [pp 1-2]

Really, Scottish Baptists have a rowdy history in general. Here’s a writeup about it.

In 1899, a Baptist minister flung this accusation at someone who’d left his group:

I said to him, “Dr. So and So, why is it that you and R- and M- and B- should take it upon yourselves to jump the Baptist fence in the eyes of all our young men and so introduce disorder into our circles?” [. . .] Others went over that fence, but it has not seemed wise to us yet to take the fence down. I believe there are still left many barriers to divisiveness and false enlargement in the Baptist denomination, and none of us is quite ready to take away all these barriers. [p. 223]

However, we may be certain that “Dr. So and So” left because he felt that some other group handled Jesusing better than his former group! But the accuser clearly felt that the “disorder” introduced by this fellow’s defection mattered more than any religious differences might have been in play.

More recent divisiveness accusations

Notice how Christians assess divisiveness:

In 1993, the Chicago Tribune published an opinion post about the growing trend of conservative evangelicals calling less-conservative ones “anti-Christian” and “unbiblical” (archive):

Perhaps one of the reasons Billy Graham has been so highly respected is that he can walk a middle course without the polemics of calling things, or people, “anti-Christian” and “unbiblical.” Disagreement about these matters is inevitable; it is, however, unfortunate when some must resort to such divisive tactics in order to defend their own personal convictions.

Then, in 2007, a Florida newspaper cautiously hoped (archive) that maybe Jimmy Falwell’s death marked the end of evangelicals’ “divisiveness in politics.” Of course, it only got worse.

In 2009, an evangelical noted “the ongoing divisiveness of women’s ordination” (archive) since 1992. He wasn’t a fan at all of female pastors.

In 2011, Brett McCracken jotted down six sources of divisiveness in Christians (archive). You might remember him from Before You Lose Your Faith. He’s one of the leaders of TGC, too. His list very clearly accuses less-conservative, more science-embracing Christians of causing this division. What he doesn’t touch upon at all is how ultra-politicized, hyper-conservative evangelicals like the TGC lads picked all of those fights and turned them into culture wars.

We can see echoes of that process in an indignant 2021 comment on Julie Roys’ blog:

One has to wonder what some Christians are thinking voting for the Democratic Party. [. . .] [Democrats will enact] free access to abortion, removing tax exemptions for charitable -read: church – giving, censoring free speech and by that censorship individual freedom, promoting heretical and divisive rhetoric against us as believers [. . .]

Obviously, he does not approve of whatever he thinks Democrats are saying about TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like himself. That’s why he sneers that it’s “divisive.”

But we hadn’t seen nothin’ yet

In 2019, we can see some rumbles of opposition against the more conservative Southern Baptists fighting for supremacy in the denomination. Naturally, enemies of those conservatives called them “divisive.”

By 2022, less extremist Southern Baptists openly called various ultraconservatives in the denomination divisive. We see similar sentiments in a very political fight over one of the Southern Baptists’ major committees, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). The people who wanted it demolished said its leaders kept “causing needless division among Baptists.”

Also in 2022, a writer for Juicy Ecumenism (archive) summarized an interesting post on First Things (archive) with a word that never appears in it:

In a recent edition of First Things, Aaron Renn wrote about the divisiveness afflicting the evangelical world. While in times past, American society had a positive and (later) neutral view of Christianity, it now holds an overall negative view of the faith. [. . .]

Divisiveness arises as some evangelicals embrace strategies that only work effectively in a positive world or neutral world context [. . .]

Mostly, that summary focused on evangelicals’ ongoing inability to deal with their new normal in American society as an annoying, power-grabby bunch of moral scolds and virtue-signaling hypocrites. Evangelicals often claim, that writer thinks, that if everyone in America became a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, that’d make America perfect. However, he disapproves of such magical thinking. He thinks it introduces the divisiveness that marks modern-day evangelical society.

Maybe so. The further right we wander in the Christ-o-sphere, the more division we observe in evangelicals’ ranks. Not only do many of these evangelicals consider those of differing opinions fakey-fake fake Christians, but they often have a whole bunch of slurs and accusations to sling at their enemies.

Jesus would be so very proud of them! So united, such oneness of purpose, so much love for each other!

By this all people will know them.

But there’s a more practical problem going on here. It involves how Christians resolve differences of opinion—and moreover, how it cannot be done.

Segue: Arguments in Christianity can only be solved subjectively

When two Christians disagree, they often argue about it. These arguments can be good-natured or acrimonious. But Christians almost never be resolve them through objective means. Instead, Christians win or lose arguments based on a few subjective factors:

  • How many Bible verses they can fling
  • The amount of original Greek and Hebrew they know
  • Sheer charisma
  • Verbal debate/argument skills
  • Accusations of sinfulness and rebelliousness
  • Pulling rank based on church roles, age, time since conversion, etc.
  • References to apologetics books or routines
  • Prayers made during the argument

Neither side allows anyone to mention that the Bible can be used to defend literally any position. Nor that nobody really knows that much about the original languages used in the Bible.

In most arguments, the two sides walk away from the table without anyone having won or lost.

When I was Christian, it bothered me a lot that nobody could win these arguments. I knew that the people having them were sincere, fervent Christians—even if they were evangelicals! So I knew both sides wanted to believe only what was true and most Jesusy. We all wanted that.

And yet, we could not resolve anything between us.

This is why I love gently teasing evangelicals about being heretical Trinitarians. It’s done in love, of course, because Trinitarianism illustrates the Doctrinal Yardstick like nothing else. Pentecostals are Oneness, meaning they reject the Trinity as a formal construct. They think it was invented by demon-led Catholics in the Dark Ages to make it easier for pagans to convert. Trinitarians tend to think Oneness Christians are heretics, a sentiment that Oneness Christians return in full.

Out of all the arguments we had in college, the Trinitarian/Oneness argument occurred the most often. (Second place: Speaking in tongues, probably.)

Where arguments become divisiveness

When a difference of opinion starts getting wider attention and sides begin forming up, Christians accuse whoever they don’t agree with of being divisive. That means they want the people on that side—and particularly whoever leads them—to shut up and sit down.

Once the D-card’s in play, it can only be resolved through the pulling of authority and rank. But this strategy disguises itself very well, as we can see in a 2012 post from Scotty Smith for The Gospel Coalition (TGC; archive):

[R]ight now I’m watching “sharp disagreements” divide good friends, old marriages and a few churches. Being “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-6) doesn’t seem to be as high of a priority as being determined to win. Have mercy, Jesus, have mercy and reveal your might. May the gospel trump divisiveness and pettiness.

I don’t know what these “sharp disagreements” involved. But we do know that “the gospel” is a purely subjective opinion. Thus, the Doctrinal Yardstick handles it just as it does divisiveness itself: It’s just Christianese for whatever the judging Christian thinks Christianity’s all about. But Smith is 100% certain that by Jesusing correctly, he’ll be able to respond to his fellow Christians’ squabbles in a gentle, loving way that not even the Apostle Paul could manage without some cooling-off time.

All they want is a way to win their arguments

So now that we have all of this under our belts, let’s revisit Mark Driscoll’s recent drama at the men’s conference again.

Mark Driscoll accused John Lindell and his lackeys of being infested with “the Jezebel spirit,” which had in turn corrupted the conference. That’s why the organizers had seen no problems whatsoever with having a shirtless sword-swallower shimmying up and down a pole at their oh so Jesusy shindig.

We’ll talk more about “the Jezebel spirit” next time, but the important thing to know now is that it’s imaginary. It is a product of evangelicals’ imagination. Hell, it’s not even original to Driscoll.

In turn, Lindell felt that Driscoll had challenged his authority and fitness for leadership. At the conference itself, he somehow got Driscoll to apologize and bend the knee to him.

But later, as we learned from watchdog site Ministry Watch, Driscoll acted out yet again (archive). This time, he targeted Lindell’s power over his own family. He encouraged one of Lindell’s sons to rise up and take over his dad’s church.

(It’s a mark of Driscoll’s misogyny that he apparently forgot that Lindell’s wife Debbie is co-pastor of the church with her husband. As far as I can tell, Driscoll has always assumed that only the husband and one son needed to be cut out of the picture.)

And that attempt to stir up drama led to an even more powerful condemnation from John Lindell. He publicly condemned Driscoll in a sermon later that week:

Lindell continued to call Driscoll to repent for “sowing disunity in the body of Christ” and “covertly trying to divide brothers and making false and slanderous accusations” against Brandon Lindell.

“Mark, we’re calling you to publicly repent for trying to create division in the Lindell family all the while saying you love us,” he said. “Mark, we’re calling you to publicly repent for trying to destroy the James River Church by attacking its leadership.”

Driscoll’s attempt to foment rebellion didn’t just upset and anger John Lindell. In Lindell’s view, it rose to the level of a sin. That’s why he twice exhorts Driscoll to make a psychic apology to Jesus himself.

But what happens when the divisive person is right?

I hope I’ve shown that evangelicals sling accusations of divisiveness when someone challenges their own opinion. It’s a call for silence and for submission to the opinion-holder’s side.

But as I’ve also shown, there’s no real way to tell who’s actually right or wrong in any Christian argument. Both sides brandish tons of Bible verses, original Greek and Hebrew, apologetics soft-shoe routines, zingers, and general manipulation skills to support their take on the topic.

As a result, all that divides a prophetic voice crying in the wilderness from a rebellious sheep bringing sinful divisiveness to an otherwise serene flock is the viewpoint of the person judging the situation.

Worse, though, is this: Just as Christians cannot tell if someone’s a bad-faith actor before they start wreaking damage, they cannot tell when a criticism is something they really need to take to heart or if it’s wrong. And in both situations, no gods lift a finger to help clue them in.

Forget the big, flashy miracles Christians falsely claim to experience all the time. In fact, forget about miracles, period. If Christians ever actually figured out how to be completely united without resorting to coercive power, that would impress me way more. It wouldn’t be PROOF YES PROOF that they worship a real god, no. But it’d present an impressive testimony in terms of their social systems and relationship rules at least!

I’ll never have to worry about it, though. Evangelicals in particular act exactly as I’d expect them to act if they had no real gods in their religion at all, and instead were just dysfunctional authoritarians flailing for a way to force others to submit to them. Despite their claims, its beyond obvious that no god is telling them anything at all—not even what beliefs and practices they should embrace or reject.

As Christians have known for many centuries, it’s a lot easier to fake miracles than it is to fulfill Jesus’ grandest hope for his followers: For them to be known to everyone on Earth by their preternatural unity and kindness toward each other.

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Captain Cassidy

Captain Cassidy is a Gen-X ex-Christian and writer. She writes about how people engage with science, religion, art, and each other. She lives in Idaho with her husband, Mr. Captain, and their squawky orange tabby cat, Princess Bother Pretty Toes. And at any given time, she is running out of bookcase space.

1 Comment

Evangelicals love to hate the Jezebel spirit - Roll to Disbelieve · 05/13/2024 at 4:01 AM

[…] as we saw the last time we met up, Mark Driscoll has just published one as well: New Days, Old Demons. This time around, the Jezebel […]

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