In October, Mark Driscoll, the evangelical pastor and best-selling author, resigned from Mars Hill, his Seattle megachurch. Last month, Mars Hill announced that it was dissolving its network of 13 satellite churches.
In the aftermath of his fall, Driscoll, who was known for his autocratic management style, his quashing of dissent and his unusually frank talk about how Christian wives can please their husbands in bed, had himself to blame. In resigning, Driscoll admitted his failings, citing his “past pride, anger and a domineering spirit.”
But Driscoll cannot take all the credit for his own downfall. For one thing, any faithful Christian would give Satan his due for leading Driscoll astray. Then there is the role played by World, an evangelical Christian newsmagazine that broke one of the most damaging stories about Driscoll. In March, World reported that $210,000 in Mars Hill church funds had gone to a marketing firm that promised to get “Real Marriage,” a book written by Driscoll and his wife, on best-seller lists.
World was not the only outlet to take on Driscoll. Blogger Warren Throckmorton, in particular, persistently chronicled concerns about Mars Hill for the website Patheos. But the story about best-seller lists was also not the first scoop for World, and Driscoll was not the first conservative Christian leader that the magazine had taken on.
In October 2012, a World reporter, Warren Cole Smith, revealed that Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative author, filmmaker and activist, had attended a Christian conference with a woman not his wife — a woman he was introducing as his fiancée. Soon after, D’Souza resigned as president of King’s College in New York City.
Founded in 1986 and based in Asheville, North Carolina, the biweekly World is edited by Marvin Olasky, the Bush adviser who helped popularize the term “compassionate conservatism.” Under Olasky, who became editor in 1994, the religious magazine has become one of the few that do investigative reporting.
Jewish newspaper The Forward gleefully reports on the foibles of communal leaders, and Commonweal, run by lay Catholics, publishes work critical of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. But evangelical Protestant journalism is generally more public relations than reporting; World stands out as an exception.
“We’re a Christian publication but not a movement organ,” Olasky said. “So we can publicly criticize Christian leaders from other organizations. Other publications tend to be more within the camp” — published by a particular denomination, for example — “and they don’t want to engage in criticism.”
Olasky said the founder of World, Joel Belz, regretted that it had been the secular press — led by The Charlotte Observer — that helped bring down the evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, who were accused of misusing ministry funds in the late 1980s.
“Joel said, ‘Gee, I wish we had done that,’” Olasky recalled. “We don’t want to leave it to the secular press to expose wrongdoing within the church.”
Olasky said that there is no contradiction between Christian faith and reporting on the dark side of Christianity.
“We don’t have to cover up, because we do have faith that God forgives and saves the sinner,” he said.
Belz is no longer editor, but he still writes a column for World.
When asked whether other evangelicals have criticized World for its investigative reporting, Mindy Belz, Belz’s sister-in-law and a top editor, recalled the response to a series about sexual abuse at a missionary school in Senegal run by New Tribes Mission.
“We were accused of hurting New Tribes, the teachers, and the people who had already dealt with the past,” Mindy Belz said — in other words, it was over and done with, or so some believed, so why make news of it?
“People will say it’s not right for Christians to talk this way about other Christians,” she said. “We just think there’s a real truth-telling component to any journalistic enterprise.”