You are the gardener

Speaking of Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll…That article in the Stranger is interesting.

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.

Patriarchal, in short. Like Quiverfull religion; like Mormonism and the FLDS; like Catholicism; like Islam; like all the monotheisms except the most liberal branches.

One guy, given the pseudonym “Lance” in the article, was an enthusiastic Mars Hill member until he disagreed with a pastor about a building safety issue

and the disagreement metastasized into a weeks-long debate—not about the safety issue, per se, but about whether Lance was being “insubordinate” and refusing to properly “submit.”

“I began to question their authority,” Lance says, “and their ability to make good decisions.”

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.

So he was thrown out – and then they started hounding him. Other people have had similar experiences. The phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” turns up and is clearly not altogether metaphoric.

At a service in January –

After the band played two indie-rock hymns, Pastor Driscoll appeared on a live video feed from his Ballard church. His “Men and Marriage” sermon was relatively tame: A husband should be the firm and responsible head of his household, the leader of a “little flock called home and family.” He should think of his wife as “a garden” and himself as “the gardener.” If you look at your garden and don’t like how it looks, Driscoll preaches, just remember: “You are the gardener.”

Tame? That’s tame? Saying a woman is a fucking garden and the man she’s married to is the gardener? That’s not tame! The reporter’s a guy, so maybe he didn’t think about it hard enough. That’s NOT tame. One, it makes the woman a thing and the man a person; two, it makes the woman a thing that has to be dug and otherwise battered and the man the person who does the digging and other battering; three, it makes the woman’s appearance something that it is the man’s job to alter to suit his liking; four, it’s basically permission for a man to use force and violence on “his” wife along with refusal of permission for the woman to refuse or resist. It’s not the least bit tame. It’s disgusting.

The thing his sermon didn’t address—the thing I came hoping to hear about—was when submission to human authority goes too far.

Well yes it did; the garden claim is decidedly a matter of when submission to human authority goes too far.

Meanwhile – why does the Washington Post include Mark Driscoll on its On Faith blog? I wonder if the Washington Post would include a cleric who talked about black people as gardens and white people as the gardeners. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t. Why is stark overt male dominationism more socially acceptable than stark racism? I would love to know.


  1. Jeremy Shaffer says

    That’s not tame! The reporter’s a guy, so maybe he didn’t think about it hard enough. That’s NOT tame.

    I’m not too familiar with Driscoll (don’t really want to be either given the article) but could the reporter have been saying it was tame in relation to what Driscoll usually says? Not that would make it any better.

  2. Musical Atheist says

    Ack, the implicit violence in that ‘gardener’ quote makes me feel sick. It seems to me that the entire approach to relationships and emotion is pathological. There’s a quote from a recent widower on Driscoll’s website from his marriage ministry sessions:

    What was that day like for you to bury your wife?

    Pastor Bill: I think it was really off-balance, because I had gotten too much identity from being a husband. You know, I wasn’t solidly locked into, “I am bulletproof in Jesus.”
    I was getting as much identity from being a husband as I was from being a Christ follower. And so when she died, I didn’t know who I was. I had probably a month of just real disequilibrium.

    I mean, this poor man is telling himself that the normal processes of grief from losing a long-term partner are a sign of spiritual weakness.

  3. Musical Atheist says

    On the same page, a woman talks about how in marriage a woman yields her body quickly, but it takes another 50-55 years to learn to yield the spirit. Because she’s a horrible sinner. The whole damn church involves committing to constantly inflicting and undergoing a sustained act of mental violence. I hate the underlying coercion in the rhetoric of ‘yielding’ so damn much it makes me feel ill.

  4. Ben Fullerton says

    For whatever it’s worth…

    I’m a Christian, and I find Mark Driscoll and his teachings to be a chauvinistic, egocentric, annoying, and downright offensive. Especially when he gets into one of tirades about “being a man”, going as far as outright mocking guys who decided to wear skinny jeans or have effeminate qualities. I’m sorry if it’s un-christian of me to think so, but the guy’s a total douche. Everything about him just says authoritarian complex to me. Even the way that he seems to insist on being called Pastor Mark, and if you go to his facebook page, every one of his adoring fans are loyally calling him Pastor Mark, Pastor Mark.

    I got to a church where, if you walk up to the teacher after a service and call him Pastor Jim, he’ll correct you and say, just Jim is fine; a church where there is no such thing as memberships, if it’s you first time, you’re no different than someone who’s been there for 5 years; a church where if you like what you see and want to support it financially, you can do that, but if you’ve never dropped a dime, no one is going to say anything (or even notice).

    The bottom line is that, whether you believe them to be true or not, the accounts of Jesus talk about a man who gave time, attention and value to women in a culture where they were viewed as little more than slaves or livestock; a man who elevated those around him, and never sought to make it all about himself; a man who would do miraculous things, then tell those he cured not to tell anyone, because he didn’t want people following him around thinking he was all that; a man who, while his disciples were in a room arguing about what was the greatest, got down on his knees and started washing their feet, even the one he knew was going to betray him to his death later that evening.

    When I was younger, living in a different place, going to a different church; that pastor at that church who is still a good friend of mine, accidentally taught me the biggest lesson I’ve learned about being a man. It was a saturday afternoon, and I came in an hour early for music practice to just play the drums an extra bit. The building was empty, and he wasn’t in his office, so I yelled out a ‘hello?’ to see if anyone was around. I heard a reply come from from down the hall, and I saw that the women’s bathroom door was propped open. I knocked anyways, realized he was in there and walked in there (way nicer than the men’s room, by the way!). There, at a time when no one should have been around to see him doing it, and get to say, “Oh my what a humble pastor we have!”; there I saw him, on his knees in the ladies’ room, cleaning the toilets. I thought it seemed like a job for a janitor or something, not the pastor of a church. But soon enough, I started to realize that real men are humble and not afraid to serve those around them.

  5. says

    Ben, it’s good that not all Christians are like the Mark Driscoll’s of the world. It helps with the whole having hope thing. And I don’t mind you letting us know so that we can be reminded of that (most of us realize that anyway, but reminders aren’t bad). But the people who really need to hear your objections to Driscoll are the members or wanna-be-members of his church. They may be more willing to listen to a Christian than they would be to us, a bunch of atheists (though I’m still happy to see us speaking out against it). After all, we disagree (vehemently) with the very foundations of Christian faith.

  6. says

    Yeah, I’ve read enough about Mars hill to know it isn’t the kind I could stand to be for very long: using contemporary, “edgy” music to whitewash the obsession with tired gender roles, the vast majority of which are not even Biblical, just whatever happened to be in with the misogynistic homophobes of say, the 1960s.

  7. smrnda says

    Mark Driscoll sounds borderline mentally ill; he’s probably a very insecure guy with a severe case of narcissism.

    I mean, with the dispute over a building safety issue, an issue like that should be settled by a rational discussion where people examine the merits of each point of view taking into account who is competent to have an opinion – you don’t settle issues where decisions ought to be made based on facts and evidence by appeals to authority. If we were placing obedience to authority over thinking in terms of decision making, we’d all be back in the dark ages.

    Driscoll is an authoritarian, and like most authoritarians a world of free and equal persons is terrifying for him. (I think I might have lifted part of that quote from Orwell.) In order for him to maintain his position on top of the hierarchy he has to make sure that nobody beneath him gets any idea that people lower in the hierarchy should be listened to instead of bossed around. I mean, what would happen if men in his church decided to have more egalitarian relationships with their wives and then went and told him to his face it was better than doing things Mark Driscoll’s way?

    It seems that trivializing women is the only way that Mark Driscoll can handle relationships. It’s all about the guy, all the time. I once read something about how he grilled his wife on some kind of sexual act she had committed (it might have even been sexual abuse) where he seemed extremely hostile towards her about not telling him, but it isn’t like he strikes me as a guy who really cares how a woman feels.

    Driscoll has the arrogance to believe that obedience and submission to him is equivalent to obedience to God – he’s pretty much doing the thing the Popes did when they declared themselves infallible. Regrettably, he seems more pathetic than menacing to me, though I don’t doubt he’s done a lot of damage.

  8. iknklast says

    Ben – while I’m glad that not all Christians are like this (and I know many who aren’t), it strikes me that when something like this comes up all the “nice” Christians head over to the atheist sites to defend Christianity. Maybe you need to go to the other sites, and stand up for your point of view. (If you have already done that, my apologies for assumptions).

    It strikes me that everytime something like this happens, all the “true” Christians descend on atheist sites to defend Christianity from us, rather than defending it from those who are using it for ends they don’t agree with.

  9. furtivezoog says

    My wife saw what I was reading and said, “Hey, Mars Hill? In Portland?” No, I said, I think it is Seattle. “There’s a Mars Hill here, too; that Facebook acquaintance who has the raw milk farm [yeah…] just posted about it.”

    Here’s the woman’s review of the Good Friday service at the Portland Mars Hill church:

    Who else went to this last night and what did you think? I am having a hard time coming up with words for it other than “indescribable”. My experience was right up there with watching The Passion for the first time. Tim Smith – the song selection, the band, your voice…all amazing!

    heres the link, too:

    Up until the word “amazing”, it sounded like a sarcastic/euphemistic review I might write. (The review was, BTW, posted on the publicly-visible church page.)

  10. mnb0 says

    As far as I’m concerned signing that membership contract is already “a matter of when submission to human authority goes too far”.
    You simply can predict that things will go wrong. Hail to the Leader!
    Yes, that’s a godwin. An appropriate one.

    “It strikes me…..”
    Same with me.

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