"spiritual manipulation runs deep"

Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill church is splintering, and the problem seems to be a common one: a charismatic leader, a cult-like following, and the ego and weird psychological flaws of the leader gradually expand until they dominate the discourse. Everyone had to have known from the beginning that Mars Hill is peddling poison.

In Mars Hill theology, female members are viewed through the lens of complementarianism, a theological position that prescribes separate roles for women and men including male headship. A woman being advised to get down on her knees and give her husband a blow job represents just one of a spectrum of submissive behaviors touted for females, who are encouraged to find their meaning in the traditional roles of wife and mother. The virginity of women is prized, and by some reports Driscoll’s late discovery and fury that his wife had sex with another male as a teenager became bizarrely significant in their relationship and in the life of the church even though he himself was not a virgin when he married.

And now we’re finding out that he plagiarized chunks of his ‘bestseller’ book, and that one reason it was a bestseller is that he used church funds to buy up copies, and that many former church members are leaving in protest against Driscoll’s authoritarianism. It’s good to see. You can find more at Mars Hill Refuge, where former cult members share their stories.

A couple of years ago, some Mars Hill church members tried to recruit me to do a debate there — even then I got a creepy cult-like vibe from them, and turned them down flat.


  1. says

    The Stranger did a rather interesting expose of the church’s authoritarianism two years ago: Church or Cult?. At the bottom of the article are links to other items The Stranger has done on the church.

    (For those of you outside of Seattle: The Stranger is our alternative newspaper.)

  2. mikeyb says

    Should the name tell all, sounds like an episode out of the X-files where members wait for the next Hale-Bopp to arrive.

  3. Becca Stareyes says

    My deep sympathies for the people leaving. From what friends have said about leaving fundamentalist churches, it’s not an easy or pain-free process, even when you realize that you need to leave or you will be consumed by it. I’m glad the folks leaving have a community like Mars Hill Refuge so they can assist one another.

  4. anteprepro says

    Ugh. That quoted paragraph seems virtually indistinguishable from mainstream attitudes towards women, especially within the fundisphere. Interesting that it gets own peculiar “theological” label. Interesting even more that it is blatant newspeak. “Women and men are complementary” apparently is the same thing as saying “women must be virginal housewives who submit to male authority”.

  5. Kevin Kehres says

    The theology of a blow job?

    What in the world is he basing that bit of theological advice on? The fact that every man says “oh God!” at some point in the proceedings?

  6. Sastra says

    Spiritual manipulation runs deep indeed. The article says that the whistleblowers “accusations are, at least partially, obscured by the language of faith, by a hesitance to label problems with the frank terms that would be used if Mars Hill were, say, just another multi-level marketer.”

    Exactly right, because religion is supposed to require different rules from start to finish. Fundamentalism is partly defined by the firm conviction that there are obvious, clear truths which are available only to those who have been born into the right group or undergone a proper spiritual transformation … and that these truths cannot be questioned. Doubt leads to the other side, the group which is blind and wicked and incapable of understanding. At the heart of this idea is the idea that the heart is everything. The truly spiritual just “know.”

    Therefore an empirical case is always suspect. The pious critics have to scour their hearts for sin every time they make sense or find a reasonable objection. Faith isn’t supposed to work that way: critical thinking is a form of pride and it is anathema to those on the path to holy and sacred Truth. Frankness is not religion’s friend.

    It’s telling that the objections are not so much over the authoritarian doctrine as over how it was implemented. That pretty much explains why it got as bad as it did … and will probably continue to do so, over and over. Once you’re convinced that blurring where God leaves off and you begin requires humility — watch out.

  7. Azuma Hazuki says

    Wasn’t there something in the Bible about “sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind?” Serves him right. I hope he does hard jail time.

    Calvinism may very well be the third-worst idea the human race has ever had, with Islam in second place and what is arguably the idealogical founder of both, eternal torment in hell, in first by a huge margin.