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The Mars Hill Church Cult

Brendan Kiley has an article about the extremely fundamentalist Mars Hill Church in Seattle, led by Pastor Mark Driscoll. The church is built on a foundation of pseudo-macho bluster, with an emphasis on “manliness” — defined primarily as anti-womanliness.

To become a “member” at Mars Hill Church requires more than attending church. Becoming a full-fledged member—a process highly encouraged, and sometimes thunderously demanded, in Pastor Mark Driscoll’s sermons—requires months of classes and a careful study of Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, Driscoll’s 463-page Mars Hill textbook. To seal the deal, the prospective member must formally agree to submit to the “authority” of the Mars Hill leadership.

Driscoll, the church’s cofounder and public face, has made a name for himself with his strutting, macho interpretation of Christianity, one in which men are unquestioned heads of their households and “chick-ified church boys,” as he calls them, need not apply. He rails against mainstream Christians who imagine a “Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ… a neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy.” Instead, he has molded a doctrine based on manliness, sexual purity, and submission to authority: wives to husbands, husbands to pastors, and everyone to God.

The article tells the story of a church member who found out just how long this submission to authority is taken in the church:

In the midst of this, Lance had begun a long-distance relationship with a young woman in Colorado. Lance says that his pastor instructed him to end the relationship, even though their relationship was not yet physical and nothing improper had happened. Lance balked, but his pastor insisted: “I’m the authority over you,” the pastor said, according to Lance. “You agreed when you became a member that I am your authority, and you have to obey us.” Lance was torn—on one hand, he had signed that membership contract.

On the other hand, this was ridiculous.

In a final, tense meeting, Lance got fed up with the leadership’s harping about submission and authority. “How is this not a Jim Jones theology?” Lance remembers asking. “We don’t even think you were a Christian to begin with,” the pastor retorted, according to Lance, and left the room. The church told him to move out and, if he wouldn’t submit to church demands, to cut off any communication with members of Mars Hill.

Lance quit the church.

But the church didn’t quit him. Not only was he barred from speaking with his now-former friends at the church, Lance says his pastor threatened to contact any future church that he might attend. And then Lance’s pastor took the extra step of calling the father of Lance’s girlfriend in Colorado. “They were warning him how dangerous I was,” Lance says. “That I was on a path of destruction that could result in the death of his daughter.”

Sounds like a cult to me.

Comments

  1. MikeMa says

    Fundies say the darndest things! Gotta love pastor mark’s god delusion. You’d think that would deter most sane humans from joining.

  2. jjgdenisrobert says

    Just as a sidenote: This is the same Mark Driscoll who goes on and on about “hating religion”. One of the Mars Hill members (Jefferson Bethke) recently put out a video called “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus” which went viral on YouTube.

    Yeah, sure. He “hates” religion. But only because he defines “religion” as “what those other people do”.

  3. says

    …and “chick-ified church boys,” as he calls them, need not apply.

    Yeah, right. Given the past history of self-isolating macho-authoritarian cults, I’m sure they’ll soon find themselves “chick-ifying” their own church boys by the dozen, ifyouknowwhatimean…

    Yet another bunch of clueless idiots mistaking their base animal urges for the voice of God.

  4. Chiroptera says

    …“manliness” — defined primarily as anti-womanliness.

    Is it ever defined any other way?

  5. Gregory says

    In the late 70s, scholar and leading neo-Pagan, Isaac Bonewits, created the Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Framework (“because evaluating cults should be as easy as ABCDEF”) to help evaluate whether or not a group was actually a cult or just a religion that was outside the mainstream. The framework is available here and is worth a look.

    The amount of internal and external control the church exercises over members, the leaders’ claims of unquestionable divine authority, the inflexibility of their dogma, the use of isolation as a control mechanism… on just about every metric, Mars Hill shows itself to have a high level of danger.

  6. raven says

    Let me guess. Driscoll’s hero is the Reverend Jim Jones and they hold mass suicide practice drills occasionally.

    These cults never end well. At a minimum, they do an Eddie Long and end up getting sued for child sexual abuse or stealing all the tithing money or beating up members that don’t follow the party line.

    Eddie Long has already crowned himself King of something or another. Driscoll is going to have to up the crazy to beat that. Jesus Christ the second is already taken by Reverend Moon. The incarnation of the holy ghost is still up for grabs as is “god”.

  7. Taz says

    If it didn’t seem scary enough already, check out this from the article:

    Whatever the controversies, Driscoll shows nothing but confidence in himself and in the future of Mars Hill, including a plan for the next generation called “Mars Hill Kids.” “I want to start preparing our children for ministry at age 2,” he said in a video last summer. He has proposed building a “Nickelodeon-type studio” to broadcast kids’ shows and indoor play structures at every Mars Hill property to attract kids, “especially the boys, the kinesthetic learners, so they can get a little activity.” (Imagine being the gay kid—or the kid everyone thinks is gay—at that playground.)

    There would be special child worship time conducted by adults and handpicked child apprentices. That cadre of children would grow up through the ranks, studying a children’s version of Doctrine, along with DVD classes and Doctrine-related homework to ensure, Driscoll says, “an integration between church and home.” Driscoll has also said he wants to commission a new illustrated children’s Bible. “Kinda cool, dark, a lot of the bloody Old Testament stories so the boys’ll like it, too,” he said on one video, winking. “We’re gonna do it Mars Hill–style.”

  8. Michael Heath says

    I think the more interesting aspect of this issue isn’t Driscoll’s cultish fantasies since that affects only his church and its sphere of influence, but instead how this church is approaching a very real demographic problem within Christianity. That is the relative and declining lack of participation by adult males relative to females, which shows up in the empirical data.

    Promise Keepers was one reaction to this issue. John Eldredge published a book, Wild at Heart, in 2001 that made big waves in the evangelical community because it promoted a more manly faith. He turned that into a nice cottage industry similar though more modest than Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. I read Wild at Heart because so many family members and other associates were and talking about it. Eldredge even enabled if not overtly encouraged it as being OK for guys to go out and drink together*. I do observe far more northern sects no longer condemning drinking.

    I wonder if one reason evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity has been transformed into a political-religious movement is because of the competitive nature of politics. It allows men to pick a side and debate with lots of clear winners and losers.

    *Eldredge is close to my age. From my perspective this change in behavior was enabled by a big increase in drinking establishments co-featuring food. Places middle-aged people hang out and drink now are very different, and less seedy, than pre-1980s bars where food was an after-thought.

  9. Tualha says

    I sure feel sorry for any women who’ve gotten caught in this hellhole. I wonder how many unreported, unrecognized rapes get added to the already-high total every week by these macho men asserting their authority?

  10. Jeremy Shaffer says

    It lloks like some people from MH are hitting the commments section for the article. This one scores so many points on the irony- bashing scale:

    All you can do is keep your faith in Jesus Christ. If it isn’t biblical then don’t even think about it. Membership or not, please make up your own mind and don’t become a puppet.

  11. says

    “Driscoll’s 463-page Mars Hill textbook.”

    463 pages? Jebus, just how many words does it take to get across the message that you should do as they’re told? The whole appeal of hardcore authoritarianism, for those who find it appealing, is supposed to be its simplicity.

  12. JustaTech says

    A number of other religious organizations in the Seattle area have re-named themselves rather than be accidentally associated with *that* Mars Hill.

    What really got me in that article was where the pastor said that “And it’s not that they have questions, it’s that they’re sinning through questioning.” When I was a kid the assistant rector at my church described “stages of faith”: the child-like stage where you just accept, the quesitoning phase (where some people leave), and the adult faith that was stronger for having been questioned. So for all that this guy talks about being “manly” what he really wants are submissive, child-like followers.

  13. says

    So for all that this guy talks about being “manly” what he really wants are submissive, child-like followers.

    Of course — that’s what manly men are supposed to want. If you want non-submissive followers, that’s weak and unmanly, and they’ll castrate you just like the feminazis.

  14. Sadie Morrison says

    Honestly I suspect that Mark Driscoll derives his entire sense of self-worth from the idea of being a macho badass who dominates others. His theology is all about power and keeping others down. There’s nothing remotely spiritual about his Christianity.

  15. Michael Heath says

    JustaTech:

    I was a kid the assistant rector at my church described “stages of faith”: the child-like stage where you just accept, the quesitoning phase (where some people leave), and the adult faith that was stronger for having been questioned.

    It’s my personal observation that the value of the set making the ‘adult faith’ stage while being a biblical inerrantist is a set of 0. Assuming the questions were sufficiently framed and directly confronted. I instead only observe avoidance.

  16. says

    Attitudes like Driscoll’s, that he hates religion, are what make me a bit skeptical about the supposed rise of the numbers of the non-religious in the US. How many people who call themselves that when surveyed are actually Christians, who believe that Christianity isn’t a religion?

  17. exdrone says

    [Driscoll] rails against mainstream Christians who imagine a “Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ… a neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy.” … Lance says that his pastor instructed him to end the relationship … Lance’s pastor took the extra step of calling the father of Lance’s girlfriend in Colorado. “They were warning him how dangerous I was,” Lance says.

    It seems like Pastor Mark wants to isolate all the cute ones for himself.

  18. carolw says

    Pastor Mark really gets going about how men should not sit down to pee like women, but should “pisseth against a wall.” There’s a video of him preaching this, with the accompanying pantomime. It’s so charming.

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