Well. I approach this post carefully. I haven’t been to church in a long time, and if this is how the big mega churches are evolving… woah.
According to this piece, Mars Hill, a “hipster megachurch,” draws members by drawing “separate spheres for women and men.” Ok. Sounds par for the course. But here’s where the incongruent elements start to clash.
The church’s blend of pop culture and strict Calvinist doctrine allows congregants to occupy a unique, rebellious niche between middle-aged conservative Christians and their secular liberal contemporaries. Mars Hill members talk about sex, drink alcohol, get tattoos, and swear. They listen to Fleet Foxes; they love Star Wars and graffiti art. They also believe homosexuality is a sin, men are meant to lead, and wives must submit to their husbands as the church submits to God.
Quite the hipster bunch, eh? Mars Hill is led by Pastor Mark Driscoll who is described as having a:
… stocky frame, six o’clock shadow, and torn jeans, “the original cussing hipster pastor.” It’s Driscoll’s snarky straight talk about everything from oral sex to yoga to God’s eternal wrath that has ignited passion in the hearts of his millennial disciples. After Driscoll and his wife, Grace, founded the church in 1996 in their Seattle home, it grew at a rate of about 60 percent a year—all the more notable when you consider that Seattle is one of the most left-leaning cities in a state that, according to a 2004 Gallup poll, ranked as the third least religious in the nation after Oregon and Idaho (Washington dropped to eighth in 2012). Mars Hill now has more than 5,000 members, with campuses in Portland, Orange County, and Albuquerque. In the late 1990s, Driscoll founded Acts 29, a “church planting” network that trains men who wish to open churches; this led to the creation of the Resurgence, an online training resource with links to sermons, blog posts, music, and forums—essentially, a Mars Hill starter kit. Affiliates of the church are now spread out all over the world, with disciples everywhere in between.
Most new members find the church via Driscoll’s podcasts, Facebook, Pintrest, and Instagram. These guys are marketers extraordinaire, garnering over 43k likes on Facebook, 10 million Youtube views, and nearly 40k Twitter followers.
Driscoll’s core message seems to be… well… I’ll let you check it out:
In the early 1990s, fresh out of college, Driscoll saw a problem with the state of Christianity: There were no men. In a 2006 interview with the organization Desiring God, Driscoll said, “Church today, it’s just a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chickified church boys. Sixty percent of Christians are chicks, and the forty percent that are dudes are still sort of chicks.” The main reason Driscoll himself had a hard time accepting Christianity was that he couldn’t bring himself to worship “a gay hippie in a dress.” But as he read about Jesus and Elijah and Paul, the gospels started to appeal to him—and he saw a way for them to appeal to other self-proclaimed macho men. “I’ve gotta think these guys were dudes. Heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes.” This revelation became the foundation for his narrative of a masculine, tough-love Christianity. “If you want to win a war, you have to get the men,” Driscoll preaches in a 2006 promotional film on church planting called A Good Soldier.
Chickified, that’s a new word for me. His views on gender rolls are also interesting:
But unlike his counterparts in secular media, Driscoll believes that current gender discrepancies are not the result of the growing strength of women, but of the weakness of men. By abdicating their God-given role, men have allowed for the demise of the traditional family structure and the spawning of a generation of unsupervised, unmotivated, Internet porn– and World of Warcraft–addicted young adult males, melting into their parents’ couches while women blow past them to lead the nation.
As Sandler points out, Driscoll identified the “man-boy crisis” as a spiritual problem nearly a decade before secular media came to see it as a societal one. His method for addressing it involves restoring male leadership, relieving women of all financial and critical decision-making responsibility, and placing high value on marriage and children.
Ah, and then we have the “S-Word” (submission). I’ve watched Christian women cringe, grit their teeth, and mumble when that word is uttered:
Mars Hill leaders are aware that complementarianism poses a problem for prospective female converts like Jess. A questionnaire handed out as part of a church seminar preparing couples for marriage asks women to consider the question “Does helper seem like a high calling or a diminished calling to you?”
“You’ll hear this a million times: If you don’t submit, you’re prideful and rebellious,” says ex–Mars Hill member Kailea. Though she was raised in a strict evangelical household, many of Mars Hill’s views—especially those regarding gender and homosexuality—never sat well with her.
Here’s a little more on the “S-Word.”
The catch, though, is that if you want a Mars Hill man, you have to agree to a Mars Hill relationship. “When you’re submitting yourself to God, you’re submitting yourself to something that’s in you; [but] women are submitting themselves to another person. They look at that as though it’s equal submission. It’s not,” says Kailea. Mars Hill members counter that secular culture gets their understanding of submission all wrong. In the evangelical world, submission has much more positive connotations—it is near synonymous with trust, respect, humility, and thinking the best of others. Mars Hill appeals to women to submit by first presenting this evangelical definition and then by emphasizing that submission is their independent choice; as Jen Smidt, a church deacon, puts it, “The strongest man on the planet cannot force an unsubmissive woman to be led.” By defining submission as a brave, independent choice in which women abdicate power despite their capabilities, Mars Hill gives women a new framework of female empowerment.
But it’s a scam. The women submit to the husbands, the husbands submit to their god, god is (basically) the church. So, in essence, the church winds up in control, while maintaining the illusion that each person is autonomous, free to make their own choices.
However, if you want to get to heaven, you better do what God wants.
The mental gymnastics eventually hurt enough that many members stop questioning and just behave in line with the current church edicts.
The article concludes with this note:
Mars Hill women are smart, strong, and in many ways pro-women, but they will most likely not be voting in favor of Washington’s marriage-equality referendum, or for legislation supporting easy access to abortions, or, when the day comes, for a female president. And for that, they are also dangerous. I feel similarly to the way Sandler writes of an evangelical woman she interviewed: “She’d make a formidable feminist, and maybe would have…if only leftists had offered the promise of love articulated within a genuine expression of youth culture.” If only the current social climate offered more support to women managing the choices available to them, if only feminism had felt less divisive, if only they hadn’t stopped trusting their own capacity to figure things out, if only they’d had faith that there would be other women—or, dare I suggest it, a government—there to support them. Not only is that a great awakening I could own and lead, it’s the only one worth submitting to.