Screen capture of a Facebook post by Mark Driscoll, founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington.

By Patrick Scriven, Director of Communications, Young People’s Ministries

One pastor offered the nation’s gratitude.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, delivered words of thanks to President Obama during his sermon at the National Prayer Service, a part of the inaugural celebration this week. He extended this thanks to all those serving in the administration, noting that our leaders are more often the target of our criticism than out praise.

Rev. Adam Hamilton preaching at the Inaugural Prayer Service. Click for C-SPAN video of the event
Rev. Adam Hamilton preaching at the Inaugural Prayer Service. Click for C-SPAN video of the event

The rest of Hamilton’s sermon focused on three leadership principles he discerned from the life of Moses. He noted that Moses had humility and courageous compassion for the marginalized and oppressed, a vision that could compel the grumbling Israelites through the hard days of wandering, and a deep and compelling faith in God that could sustain him.

On this second principle of vision, Hamilton offered some words of challenge to the President, “we’re in need of a new common national vision”, suggesting that Americans struggled in part because of a lack of anything compelling and unifying.  He said, “God has given you a unique gift Mr. President. Unlike any other president we’ve ever had, you have the ability to cast a vision and inspire people, you should have been a preacher.”

A second pastor offered a divisive prayer.

Mark Driscoll, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, posted these words to his Facebook fan page:

Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.(1)”

As of this writing the post has been ‘liked’ 9,000+ times with over 3,000 comments ranging from support to strong disagreement.

While one might argue against making too much out of such a small quote, it would also be a mistake to assume the post was casually offered. Driscoll and the communications team at Mars Hill Church set the standard for social media savvy in the religious community, capitalizing on their founder’s preference for strong, often polarizing, positions on a variety of issues. For example, days after the tragedy at Newtown, Driscoll took to his blog to use the shooting as an opportunity to critique the President’s position on abortion (2).

Driscoll’s post is best understood as another example of the ‘Obama is not a real Christian meme’ that has circulated alongside the ‘Obama is not a real American meme’ since he first ran for office in 2008. Public comments by politicians like Rick Santorum and evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham have repeatedly suggested that the “President is not a Christian, not the right kind of Christian, or an outright Muslim (3).” Despite the well-chronicled personal and political failings of previous presidents, it is very interesting to ponder why these kind of attacks surface repeatedly from mouths like Driscoll’s.

Hamilton’s words and ministry truly offer an interesting contrast to those of Mark Driscoll’s. Both men have been incredibly successful in building their churches and have effectively extended their ministry to others through publishing, online engagement, and leadership seminars. But they really couldn’t be farther apart in temperament or in how they believe God works in people’s lives.

Though a convert to the tradition, in many ways Hamilton is the consummate United Methodist expressing a moderate Wesleyan theology. Because of this, when he speaks to the President he recognizes another person on the journey, even though they may live in very different worlds. This is why the first words out of his mouth are words of gratitude and it is also why he can challenge the President on the point of vision without words of fiery condemnation.

Driscoll, in a similar fashion, is representative of his theological tradition, taken to the extreme as he has a tendency. His understanding of Calvinism makes it much easier to see others with different stands (i.e., abortion, gay rights, etc.) and render a quick judgment as to whether that person might be within his tribe or not. We might notice this same tendency in some of the political rhetoric that is lobbed from both sides of the proverbial aisle. I certainly may be wrong about this, but frankly, this is one of the more generous explanations I could imagine for his caustic post deriding the beliefs of our President.

The moral of this story? Our theology matters.

Theology has the power to both limit and open up the way we see the world and engage with others. Theology is story. On this day, I’m thankful for one pastor who portrayed a different way of being a Christian while reminding us that God’s story is big enough for all.


  1. Emphasis on the “his [Driscoll’s] understanding” of Calvinism, please. Many of us in the Calvinst/Reformed family (including many of your friendly Presbyterian neighbors like me) are just as horrified by Driscoll’s tendency “to see others with different stands (i.e., abortion, gay rights, etc.) and render a quick judgment as to whether that person might be within his tribe or not.” In fact, Calvinists like me would find that very anti-Calvin. Driscoll’s statements may come from his theology and his reading of Calvin, but it’s not necessarily something we can “blame” on Calvin nor assume all Calvinists would profess.

    • Stephanie, thanks for the comment. I was trying not to paint with too big of a brush which was why I mentioned his (Driscoll’s) tendency to take things to extremes. Very few theologies or world views come across well when this happens, including Wesleyan ones.

      • I think your brush size was just right. 🙂 Just had to make sure the “his” understanding was underscored again. I definitely think his words come from his theology (don’t the words of all of, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously come from our theology?). Just had to say that not all Calvinists come to the same conclusion, so it’s not necessarily the Calvinist part of his theology that is the source. Or, again, it is his for him from Calvin’s theology, but not all of us come to the same theological conclusions.

        I’m definitely not arguing with you, just emphasizing a part that I think is important. Thanks!

  2. I’ll call him Driscoll as I don’t think he merits the
    salutation of reverend with his name. He chooses to judge in a harsh manner that, I believe, Jesus instructed us to avoid. How can Driscoll know what’s in Obama’s heart? Driscoll is the kind of pastor that chills my soul, not inspires me to love. He sounds as if he’s a self-righteous demagogue.

  3. I live in Western Washington where, unfortunately, reporters with a “moral” question too often call Rev. Driscoll, as if he speaks for people of all religions.
    He does not, of course. He is, if not a merchant of hate, at least the errand boy for those who profit from the hate message in these divisive times.
    I had the privilege several years ago of hearing the Rev. Adam Hamilton speak at the four-day annual conference of Washington state’s annual conference of the United Methodist Church. His was a message of love. When speaking of those with whom he did not agree, he spoke calmly and with compassion. What a shame that Driscoll is so often quoted in a state that is one of our nation’s most open-minded.

    • I also had the opportunity to hear him then and on a couple other occasions. Good speaking skills and use of media to share his message.

      I’ve also had the opportunity to hear Mark Driscoll speak at his church. He is a wonderfully gifted speaker and I appreciated his message that day. Sadly, I know there are others messages more troubling and hard to appreciate.

  4. I got up this morning to watch Adam deliver his sermon. His wisdom and compassion were evident throughout his message. I am thankful for colleagues like Adam who seek always to offer us a vision of God’s love, grace and compassion. I am also thankful for our president and pray for him to be guided by God’s wisdom and grace.

    • Due to the marvels of modern technology I was able to catch the sermon live on my iPhone during a workout. I was grateful as you are for his words but I did wish that organ could have provided a more upbeat pace. 🙂

  5. Thank you Mark Driscoll.
    Too many overly trusting people tend to
    believe politicians never lie.
    They always tell the 100% truth NOT !
    We do not live in a utopian world and too
    many people are too gullible and are taken advantage of for political gains.
    The truths are hidden by money every day, which is very sad commentary
    on todays society.

    • Thanks for your comment Don.

      I tend to believe politicians lie and I suspect our President is among them; I think this is a common belief. People in general tend to shade the truth in ways that favor them knowingly or unknowingly. Politicians perhaps a bit more.

      What I find interesting about Pastor Driscoll’s commentary isn’t that he suggests that a politician is lying, it’s that he does so by asserting truths that he can have no knowledge of as if they were fact. Sad actions for a pastor to take but I guess I did say we all do shade the truth…

  6. I just simply appreciated Adam Hamilton’s humility, his gratitude and his presence in the service at the Washington National Cathedral. No wonder his church is thriving in Kansas City. And no wonder his church is serving the “least of these” as commanded by Christ, because Hamilton seems to “get it.” Mark Driscoll, on the other hand, comes across as judging, arrogant and rude. On Inauguration Day, I always give the one being sworn in a wide berth of grace, no matter his political leanings. Hamilton did that; Driscoll did not. I’ll take graciousness over judgment any time. The judging religious right has done a great deal to divide our nation. We’ve gained NOTHING from their rantings except many have been turned off to religion by the hate speech we too often hear from the self righteous.

  7. i am only slightly aquainted with some of mr. driskoll’s theology and writings and do not feel i can adequately speak to his position on this or any other topic.
    on the other hand i am very well aquainted wtih adam hamilton…i’ve known adam since 1990 when we met to talk about the exiciting opportunity he had as pastor of a new church start up, and worked with him at church of the resurrection from 1997 until 2005 as one of his associate pastors. i’ve spent a lot of time with adam not just in his public life, but also in much more personal, private settings. besides being a gifted speaker, author, and pastor, i can tell you with certainty that he is the real deal. he’s not one person while preaching or speaking at conferences and another when you get him behind closed doors. his love for Jesus and all of God’s people is evident in everything he does. he is careful to listen for God’s voice speaking to him while preparing a sermon or debating controversial topics, and is genuinely concerned that people from all sides of the aisle and all stations of life have a voice in the conversation. i thought he did an excellent job of encouraging the leadership in the white house while challenging them to emulate the example set by moses all those centuries ago–something i believe took a lot of faith and courage.
    i’m not surprised…i’ve seen him do the same thing time after time over the years with his church family, his staff, and his colleagues. i am grateful God has given him the honor of speaking God’s word at such an important time in such an important place. i believe, as adam says when praising someone on his staff, that with this sermon, he “hit it out of the ballpark.”

  8. We need the “rads”…we’ve got our own (Rich Lang?). Driscoll is like a whetstone to our theological thinking (follow the analogy: the stone sharpens the blade by abrasive resistance). We are pretty dull when smooth-talking only to ourselves (Circuit Rider, Interpreter, bishops’ letters).

  9. I would quite agree that theology matters, but not to the extent of the author, who is taking two humans, out of their context, and, perhaps, even out of context, to make a pre-conceived point about them (I confess to knowing little of the two pastors). I would suggest that theology matters, yes. So, does anthropology which asks the question, “What is man (human)?”. I would suggest that these two fine men, disagree, fundamentally, on the question: Are humans foundationally good or evil? Both Calvin and Wesley, in my reading, were in agreement regarding this anthropological, even theological, question. These two pastors, I am only speculating, are not.

    I might also suggest that politics matter as well. In fact, my suspicion is that politics matter MORE than theology and anthropology. While I believe theology and anthropology provide the foundation for how political views are formed, it is probably their politics being voiced here. Perhaps even the author of this article could be making a political statement in pointing out the pastoral contrasts between Messrs. Hamilton and Driscoll. And what of all the commenters, including me? We all have our theological, anthropological, and political predilections, which should be treated with great care . . . as if we know a “truth” that someone, not sharing our predilections, does not know. I think both Calvin and Wesley would agree with the Apostle Paul that we all; President Obama, Pastors Hamilton and Driscoll, Author Scriven, and the rabble of commenters, to include myself, “see through a dark glass” as we peruse this world and make comments on it as if we really know what is going on in it.

    • Thanks for the comment David. I think you are right and fair in pointing to the question of context and also in mentioning the question of politics.

      Where I might differ is the inevitability of political viewpoints as the most important factor. Indeed, I suspect we have failed in faithfulness to some degree when we have allowed our party affiliation to dominate our kin(g)dom affiliation.

      Now I know it all isn’t as simple as that and that there are layers of interconnectedness but at the end of the day, Hamilton simply appeared more graceful and capable of seeing potential even in someone with whom I suspect he might still have some strong disagreement.

  10. Mr Sciven, I don’t disagree, but how could Rev Hamilton be anything but gracious as the officiate at the inaugural church service? I guess that’s what I mean by context. As you present these two side-by-side, how can anyone reasonably disagree with you on the question of who is more gracious? Hamilton, obviously. But, your seminal point was not about behavior, but the theology that underlies it. This, I gently propose, makes your observations political.

    For all we know, Hamilton might share Driscoll’s feelings toward the President, but he keeps these sentiments closely held. Is it possible to imagine Driscoll saying something equally gracious as the much esteemed officiate at George W Bush’s inauguration? These, too, are points of context and, dare I say, politics.

    I just remember how embarrassing it was to kearn that President Obama sat under a hate-filled preacher without flinching for a decade or more. Pastor Wright made Rev Driscoll seem downright friendly and the then Sen Obama seemed to care little about graciousness, in that context. I don’t defend Driscoll. It was a pretty petty thing to say, but I think it would have been more noble of you as well to praise the positive message of Rev. Hamilton without mentioning Mr. Driscoll at all. May I politely suggest that might have been the more Christ-like thing to do?

    By leading with Mr. Driscoll’s dreadful comments, and by further suggesting that theology explains the differences between the Reformed Driscoll and the Wesleyan Hamilton, you actually diminish the glory of Hamilton’s message by making a political statement about theology. It is as if you are saying, “Hurrah that we are Merhodists because our theology is best and it shows in the way the Calvinists behave.”. That is the politics to which I am referring when we compare ourselves to one another and conclude with the Pharisee, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.”

    • As I mentioned in a previous comment, I didn’t intend to paint all Calvinist or Reformed folks with the Driscoll brush. I know amazing people who would consider themselves within that tradition just as I know absolutely horrible people (from my limited earthly perspective) who are quite Wesleyan. But I do think, taking him at his word, that Driscoll is ‘man’ enough to take a little criticism and I suspect that he probably enjoys it to some degree. I’m far from Christ-like but I also don’t recall Jesus being a praise-giver.

      I have to admit some confusion about your insertion of Rev. Wright into the mix. Are you suggesting that two wrongs make a (w)right? 🙂 Your attack of Rev. Wright is interesting as well given your defense of someone with a similar track record of vitriol (though I’m not sure ‘hate’ is a fair word to ascribe to either). Perhaps it just gets to your point about politics to which I already submitted to some degree.

      Thanks for your viewpoint, I do mean that. It’s always interesting to encounter people who see the world differently. Blessings to you.

  11. Patrick, thanks for stimulating this conversation! I appreciated Adam Hamilton’s celebration of his congregation’s actions to make a difference in their community–working to eliminate poverty by caring for their area’s school kids. It’s not only the pastor’s words, but the congregation’s acts in behalf of their community which celebrate a gospel lived in the Wesleyan spirit. Adam Hamilton thanked our national leaders for their service amidst harsh realities, and he challenged them to sustain the vision of serving the least and the lost.

  12. David Sandritter,
    What do you know about Pres. Obama’s former pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright? Did you visit his church over the many years Dr. Wright served as pastor, and thereby were able to glean insight into his leadership? Or do you only know about him from the brief video excerpts spread and publicized during the 2008 campaign? If it’s the latter, then I believe you are making a judgment based on videos taken way out of context. Everything I’ve read about Dr. Wright is that he is a gracious man, a gifted preacher and leader, and that what was publicized about him in 2008 was unfair. May I politely suggest that the more Christ-like thing to do is to not judge someone based on what right-leaning media sources, such as Fox News, would have you see and believe?

  13. Well, I certainly stepped in it, didn’t I? In bringing Jeremiah Wright into the conversation, I committed the very error of which I accused the author . . . judging a man on the basis of some media snippet. No, two wrongs do not make a right, and I appreciate your admission of error as I admit mine. I have, inadvertently, made my point that it is unfair to judge someone on the basis of a media byte, be it from Fox News or FB. It is certainly unfair to judge Mr. Driscoll’s theology on the basis of it. I quite agree with Ms. Raines that the Rev. Wright is no doubt a wonderful man who had done many great things for Christ’s sake. Though I do not know of Rev Driscoll the way she knows of Rev Wright, I would suspect that a more thorough investigation of his background would elicit an equally praiseworthy account of Mr. Driscoll irrespective of his theology, politics, or bad Facebook judgement.

    So, I guess, to use Ms. Raines standard for making a comment about someone via FB, we should all make an effort to visit the congregation of leaders in whom we desire to make a judgement. Moreover, we should be suspect of the brief media excerpts that we see that violate our sensibilities and refrain from commenting on them. Finally, I think we can all agree, the more Christ-like thing to do is not judge someone based upon right-, or left-, or any-, leaning media sources for they are not trustworthy sources of information about a man or woman’s character. As impossible as this might seem, to refrain from making a public judgement of someone until we meet Ms. Raines’ standard, I think we would all be well served to follow our mother’s teaching to not say anything about someone unless we have something nice to say about them, or their theology, or their politics.

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