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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, and The Merchant of Venice

Posted by on Wed, Feb 1, 2012 at 2:09 PM

Confidential to Mark Driscoll: Your earthliness is showing.
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  • Confidential to Mark Driscoll: Your earthliness is showing.

I'd like to add a personal footnote to this story that I wrote in this week's paper about Pastor Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, and its troubling slide from benign faith community into authoritarian doctrine-factory.

First, a little about my religious orientation, if only because pretty much everyone I interviewed for this week's story immediately asked me about my faith and whether I had "found Jesus." Normally, I'd consider that an off-limits question to strangers, more deeply intimate than asking about the intricacies of my finances or my relationship with my wife. But I was asking them about their religious orientation, so I figured turnabout is fair play: I was raised Catholic and am now deeply agnostic.

(This story I wrote in 2009—about the systematic, institutionally protected child abuse of Alaskan Native children by Catholic clergy—stomped whatever lingering embers I had for the institution into cold ashes.)

I am not a strident Dawkins/Hitchens/Ditchens anti-Christianist, which Mars Hill people might find hard to believe since I work at The Stranger. But this is America, a free country where religion should be treated like sex—believe and do whatever freaky shit you like in private, as long as a) it's consensual and b) you leave children and animals out of it.

Second, from my study of Driscoll and his sermons, it's clear he's a verse-slinger who selectively culls from a big, complicated book that's been written and re-written over thousands of years and says all kinds of things. I'm well familiar with this legalistic strategy of grabbing the moral high ground—I spent a chunk of my childhood in the South among people who sling verses, sometimes for amusement and sometimes for their profession. According to the ex-members I interviewed, Driscoll and his people are particularly fond of Hebrews 13:17:

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

What a convenient, self-serving passage for a pastor to keep on the tip of his tongue. But whenever I hear verse-slinging, it brings to mind my favorite verse: The Merchant of Venice, act one, scene three, lines 96 to 103:

The devil can cite scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek, A goodly apple rotten at the heart. O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

Third, my fundamental problem with Mars Hill Church...

It's not Driscoll's enormously self-serving spin on theology—even though his cherry-picking the Bible to lean on women, gays, and anyone who would question the earthly authority of self-anointed pastors like himself is the kind of crap that gives Christianity a bad name.

It's his hypocrisy. Lance, one of the sources for this week's story, said he first fell in love with Mars Hill Church when he heard Driscoll preach a sermon on how religion won't save you. He preached that one's relationship with God, not one's relationship with a church, is what will save you. I can roll with that. If there was one thing I liked about those Bible-slinging Southerners, it was their deep understanding that church and faith communities are important, but no earthly power can come between a person and God. That's the principle saints and martyrs died for, wasn't it? It's what Christ (if we are to believe the Bible) died for—to demonstrate that the state (Rome) and the self-anointed religious class (the Pharisees) were not the ultimate arbiters between individuals and the divine.

But Mars Hill's increasingly legalistic practices, which privilege loyalty to the earthly church above all other things, works against that exact message. One of Mars Hill's own blog posts, by Pastor Tim Smith, called "How to Be a Pharisee," deals with this exact problem:

What happened? Their message could not be more familiar to us: “The Bible is the highest authority and you should live all of life to the glory of God!” How could something that started so right go so wrong as we know it did by Jesus’ time?

Somewhere along the way the Pharisees’ power and authority became an end in itself. Somewhere the leaders grew to love the sound of their own voices. Somewhere, at least in their own minds, their words became equal with God’s.

And there's the rub. As Driscoll preached in this YouTube sermon:

Some adults are just always questioning... these are people with critical spirits. These are people that if you answer their question, they've got 25 more questions, and they'll have questions forever. And it's not that they have questions, it's that they're sinning through questioning.

A pastor who says his words are above questioning is, in his own mind, making his words equal with God's—if you believe in that sort of thing. And even if you you do believe in that sort of thing, Mark Driscoll's arrogance should be deeply, deeply troubling.

This week's story is here.


Comments (48) RSS

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Sweeney Agonistes 1
Thank you, Brendan.
Posted by Sweeney Agonistes on February 1, 2012 at 2:27 PM · Report this
Ebert one a Pulitzer. Critics are useful unless you're a lemming.
Posted by AndyInChicago on February 1, 2012 at 2:28 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 3
The veneration-seeking cult leader's take on "haters gon' hate".
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 1, 2012 at 2:29 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 4
@2: "Critics are useful unless you're a lemming."

What is a "critic" to a religious prophet? Who are you pissants to argue with the word of God?
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 1, 2012 at 2:34 PM · Report this
seatackled 5
MLK, Jr. was a critic. There are monuments to him, and, I hear, some county even named itself after him.
Posted by seatackled on February 1, 2012 at 2:35 PM · Report this
Vince 6
"He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf..."

Posted by Vince on February 1, 2012 at 2:36 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 7
The prophets themselves were all critics. Elijah and Jerimiah and all those guys. Bitch bitch bitch, scold scold scold scold. Doom and gloom on you all. That's all the Biblical prophets right there in a nutshell. That plus drooling and hearing voices and running around buck naked in the streets howling.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on February 1, 2012 at 2:39 PM · Report this
" earthly power can come between a person and God. That's the principle saints and martyrs died for, wasn't it? It's what Christ (if we are to believe the Bible) died for—to demonstrate that the state (Rome) and the self-anointed religious class (the Pharisees) were not the ultimate arbiters between individuals and the divine."

Hmmm. You need take a little spin through the Reformation and see how high the bodies got buried over "justification."

Discoll is doing exactly what the early Catholic church did. I wonder if he realizes that.

Helluva story, Brendon.
Posted by Paddy Mac on February 1, 2012 at 2:42 PM · Report this
@5 And monuments to all sorts of other critics who took on hypocrisy and injustice. What is Driscoll saying? He's living life expecting monuments to him to appear in his wake?
Posted by carnivorous chicken on February 1, 2012 at 2:49 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 10
@9: He's developing monuments (through his real estate/church holdings) in his lifetime.
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 1, 2012 at 2:55 PM · Report this
skweetis 11
Didn't Dan's restrictions for private conduct include children, animals, and dead people. Oh. I guess that wouldn't work for christians.
Posted by skweetis on February 1, 2012 at 2:57 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 12
I mean, the Calvinism (predestination, specifically) Driscoll follows states that the rich are favored by God, and the poor, less so. If Driscoll is successful, he is Godly and his wealth justifies all his actions and beliefs.
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 1, 2012 at 2:58 PM · Report this
Hernandez 13
Between this, and your series on the cocaine trade, I'm becoming more and more convinced that you should write ALL of the feature articles in the Stranger, Brendan. Exceedingly well done.
Posted by Hernandez on February 1, 2012 at 2:59 PM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 14
You should nail your story to the church's door, Brendan.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on February 1, 2012 at 3:01 PM · Report this
kim in portland 15
Mark, Mark, Mark it is called critical thinking. I know it doesn't happen as often as is should. Still you should know your Bible well enough to remember that it says to take all thoughts captive to Christ not Mark or Mars Hill. Now that Jesus guy went and pissed off the temple authorities and religious leaders of his day by criticizing them.
Posted by kim in portland on February 1, 2012 at 3:07 PM · Report this
This cult vs. faith focus of the article misses the point. Mars Hill is popular PRECISELY because it has a rigid, documented code and hierarchy.

It attracts a very large group of people who WANT to be told what to do, how to live, and have their behavior monitored and measured by the group.

It's not a bug, it's a feature.
Posted by Westside forever on February 1, 2012 at 3:32 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 17
@16: Absolutely true, though one difference is that Mars Hill has all the "hip" counterculture accoutrements to confuse people who believe it's anything but an authoritarian sect.

"How could this guy hate gays and convince his wife to be submissive and pop out Christian soldiers? He listens to Against All Authority, wears sweet kicks and owns a tattoo shop!"
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 1, 2012 at 3:38 PM · Report this
Beetlecat 18
@17 and they have an awesome web site and do social media!
Posted by Beetlecat on February 1, 2012 at 3:44 PM · Report this
bleedingheartlibertarian 19
@14, FTW.
Posted by bleedingheartlibertarian on February 1, 2012 at 3:46 PM · Report this
Posted by butterw on February 1, 2012 at 3:50 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 21
I always thought Mars Hill was a silly church, designed for silly people who's idea of spirituality is to wave their hands in the air and sob to bad music, and take advice from a ridiculous man who's idea of theology is a combination of olde timey gospel and 21st century high camp.

But yesterday afternoon, while in Bellevue on business, I saw the Bellevue Mars Hill "Campus", adjacent to the old Safeway, and the world changed for me. Mars Hill is the perfect church for downtown Bellevue, which is as vapid and banal as anything you are going to find west of West Omaha.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on February 1, 2012 at 4:19 PM · Report this
seanmichaelhurley 22
Mark Twain was a critic. Martin Luther King was a preacher. This guy is a businessman.
Posted by seanmichaelhurley on February 1, 2012 at 4:34 PM · Report this
OuterCow 23
Brendan, since you didn't ask me about my religious preference I don't expect you to engage me when I question what exactly your deep agnosticism means, but here's hoping you don't mind too much my just putting this out there. It's been my experience that people that call themselves agnostics are generally a flavor of atheist that either doesn't realize, or doesn't want to admit it. If you don't know whether or not god exists, if you don't think it's a question we can ever answer with certainty, then it stands to reason you live your life not actively believing god exists, which makes you an atheist (specifically a weak or negative atheist depending on the term you prefer). You may certainly still entertain the possibility that god might exist, just like I do, but that doesn't stop one from being an atheist. An invisible dragon might be standing beside you, and you can allow for that possibility, but unless you live your life actually believing that invisible dragon exists, you are an a-invisible-dragon-ist, just like I think you may be an atheist, an agnostic atheist, like myself.
Posted by OuterCow on February 1, 2012 at 5:31 PM · Report this
Looking For a Better Read 24
"No one ever made a monument to a critic."

So, Pastor Mark, is that what you're doing this for? And here I thought Pride was one of them there deadly sins.
Posted by Looking For a Better Read on February 1, 2012 at 5:35 PM · Report this
Posted by Fred Casely on February 1, 2012 at 6:02 PM · Report this
bedipped 26
The Mencken Memorial Fountain is a testament to Mencken's great achievement and also associates Mencken with Baltimore. from
"To sum up:
1. The cosmos is a gigantic fly-wheel making 10,000 revolution a minute.
2. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it.
3. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him a ride."
from Prejudices: Third Series Vol. 3
Posted by bedipped on February 1, 2012 at 6:11 PM · Report this
curtisp 27
However Nepoleon had plenty of monuments.
Posted by curtisp on February 1, 2012 at 7:22 PM · Report this
@21 Because I boycott Bel/Lincoln Square it was months before I noticed that "church" had opened there, even tho I work 2 blocks away. They used to run services multiple times a day all week, but I think they only have services on Sunday now. Since most people in downtown Bellevue during the week are from Seattle, they probably weren't getting a lot of folks showing up for worship during lunch, weekends are a better option to draw in the white conservative Eastside crowd. I've thought about stopping in to see what they are up to and what types of people show up.

However, I don't know why you think that Bellevue is the perfect place for them. I thought their whole schtick was the hipster/alternative Christer vibe. That IS NOT Eastside.
Posted by sisyphusgal on February 1, 2012 at 7:25 PM · Report this
Knat 29
I was wondering what "deeply agnostic" meant too. That sounds about like "dazzlingly beige" to me.

Also, the notion of "sinning through questioning" might be the most preposterous thing I've ever heard. Not to mention cavalierly disrespectful to humanity in general and the questioner specifically.
Posted by Knat on February 1, 2012 at 7:39 PM · Report this
thatsnotright 30
Thomas Paine was critic, Guy fawkes was a critic, Martin Luther was a critic, to name only three. The list of world-changing critics who have monuments is quite large. Driscoll's lack of education is apparent.
Posted by thatsnotright on February 1, 2012 at 8:52 PM · Report this
thatsnotright 31
Come to think of it, Jesus was a critic.
Posted by thatsnotright on February 1, 2012 at 8:53 PM · Report this
stephaniedrury 32
Posted by stephaniedrury on February 1, 2012 at 9:43 PM · Report this
MacBastard 33
I saw a photo of Mark Driscoll wearing a Ramones t-shirt and the mental image that popped into my head was Joey, DeeDee, and Marky curbstomping his ass. Johnny would probably agree with half of his bullshit, though.
Posted by MacBastard on February 1, 2012 at 10:21 PM · Report this
Isn't a monument pretty much a graven image? I'm not sure godly people should be using those as an index of greatness...
Posted by lori, ohio on February 2, 2012 at 5:43 AM · Report this
CineStein 35
Well, Mark, critics aren't in it for the monuments.
Posted by CineStein on February 2, 2012 at 7:17 AM · Report this
mars hill STARTED as the punk/alt/indie stopping grounds for young christians who wanted to go somewhere they wouldn't be looked sideways at for their tattoos. but it's gotten far more mainstream/bro/yuppie, whatever you feel like calling it, as it's grown. much like many of the neighborhoods they have campuses in.

I attended a few times in the U-district and realized quickly the main reason I'd be attending would be to 1) be in a group of people nearly Exactly Like Me and 2) look! that guy from the local band plays in the worship team!

considering that a lot of the MH group from the beginning had ties to the sxe hardcore and party-line punk, it's not terribly surprising they were looking for a figurehead to tell them exactly what they were and weren't allowed to think and do.
Posted by gi on February 2, 2012 at 12:02 PM · Report this
Geni 37
@23 - personally, I describe myself as a member of The Church of the Militant Agnostic: "We Don't Know, and You Don't Either!"
Posted by Geni on February 2, 2012 at 3:17 PM · Report this
elissa 38
I'm browsing the Mars Hill: Downtown Seattle campus website. I recommend taking a look. It's very slick and hip. I'm trying to load the Mars Hill Church music player, but it's hung up, which is probably for the best, because who knows what might happen if some modern-day MxPx were to blast from my speakers. I might get sucked in. I'm pretty gullible.

On the "what to expect" page, I am told that at worship, there are earplugs in the back should I need them: "Mars Hill music is loud, mostly rock and roll, and always about Jesus."

I don't have any earplugs, and it's pretty late at night, so I guess it's a good thing that the music player doesn't work on the site if it's gonna rock that hard, but if anyone else wants to try, here it is:…
Posted by elissa on February 5, 2012 at 2:53 AM · Report this
Agnostics are persons without faith. You have to have faith to be an atheist. Deeply agnostic means you are quite sure you have no faith.
Posted by RT777 on February 5, 2012 at 2:06 PM · Report this
The Pastor's statement isn't even true. There's a monument to a critic of the Catholic Church in Rome. His name was Giordano Bruno, and he was a freethinker in the time when such people were burned at the stake (and he was in 1600). His statue even faces the Vatican, in defiance of the very people who killed him.
Posted by Canatheist on February 6, 2012 at 7:00 AM · Report this
I am a former Pastor, son of a Pastor, and Grandson of a Pastor in a fundamentalist church, a church which subscribes to many of the Misogynistic practices enjoyed by the “men” of Mars Hill.My former church, like Mars Hill, also practiced the art of destroying people in their congregations who don’t submit to the absolute authority of the church Elders by performing the public rituals of humiliation which serve to enhance the power the elders have over the lives of other people. The “works” based religiosity practiced by Mark Driscoll and his followers is not original and follows a trend started by weak men centuries ago who need control…control over women, and control over the people around them. I take a personal interest in watching Mr. Driscoll’s progression in his personal dynasty because I have seen the damage his cult has done to one family very close to me. His message to one young woman I know was to drop out of nursing school and care for her home and have lots of children. Though she completed school at the urging of her mother, she has chosen to pursue the Mars Hill ideal of having lots of children, not working and forcing her husband to be a “leader” and go make enough money to support the family without her income. We dont live in that culture anymore where one income can support large families. Mr. Driscoll has yet to explain how this part is supposed to work. He will certainly have an answer to all this and the other critiques of his cult. He always does. Mr. Driscoll also has a group of cult followers who are assigned to go on-line and respond to posts about his cult in very scripted answers. The extent of his organizational response is frightening. As a former theologian, and still a follower of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I see the Driscoll cult for what is is…”The People of the Lie”.. The majority of the members are certainly, well-intentioned Christians, but the leadership are representatives of a power we are to fear. Dont’ underestimate his power to harm and destroy families. Jim Jones, David Koresh and many others before them were dismissed as freaks and not addressed until it was too late for their cult followers. Mark Driscoll is not a man of God and does not represent Christianity.

Posted by HOBO on February 6, 2012 at 9:03 AM · Report this
How to women manage to sit through these services without puking until their intestines come out of their mouths?
Posted by on February 6, 2012 at 4:40 PM · Report this
So very glad to live in a city that has journalists that ask questions. And have 25 more questions ready. :) That's called learning.. not sinning.
Posted by westman2k on February 6, 2012 at 11:33 PM · Report this
If you enjoyed the Screwtape Letters with me, last weekend, you'd also appreciate Mars Hill.
Mark is not God/Jesus, and does not claim to be. Read the Bible for yourself!!

If you are looking for good, solid, bible based and Christ centered NON-DENOMINATIONAL Christian instruction and fellowship, and can sit thru at least 3 messages TO GET SOME PERSPECTIVE for yourself, you might appreciate what Mars Hill has to offer...
Posted by JennJan on March 12, 2012 at 9:54 PM · Report this
"Now the Bereans were of more noble character...for they examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." (or Mark Driscoll, as the case may be) re: Acts 17:11
Posted by Ann Chessman on April 30, 2012 at 6:35 PM · Report this
Can someone tell me what happened to Leif Moi, why he left Mars Hill or was he fired?
Posted by Hullenbeck on June 25, 2012 at 6:45 PM · Report this
Love your work. I am just getting around to reading your stuff since posted the article about child molestation and SGM...

As an ex-mormon, I can help but be surprised about how similar the mechanics of the 'Martians' is to the lds. Centralized control by an oligarchy. No questions allowed dogma. No criticism of the leadership, even if they are wrong. Taking 'misogyny' to new heights since 1830. Complete failure to recognize personal boundaries. Inappropriate authority and leadership positions given to young men (lds missionaries, called Elders, are supposed to 'counsel' other members, even though they are as young as 18), a megalomaniacal/charismatic founder, etc.

The only thing the Martians are missing is buried gold plates, an Urimm and Thummin, a seer stone in a hat and polygamy...

It sounds as though Mark Driscoll is beginning to consider himself as having a direct line to god, i.e.; that he is a 'prophet.' Thomas S. Monson, (the current 'prophet'/president of the lds), would be proud; except the lds would want to stomp the Martians as they think they are the one true church...

Cults, generally, die when their charismatic leaders die or people lose faith in the leader (see, Church Universal & Triumphant, shelter phase). So, we can be encouraged the Martians will go away when Driscoll is no longer involved.
Posted by Doc Holliday II on March 13, 2013 at 9:40 PM · Report this
Leif Moi-supposedly, he was fired for getting several vehicle tickets eg light not working, speeding etc. He did not report it to the management-the church thought he was in sin (surprise) and fired him. Really what was going on was he didn't fit into the new management agenda and he bumped a few heads-so they got rid of him. Corporate America-ya got to love it! NOT!
Posted by MARSHILL SUCKS!! on September 17, 2013 at 1:13 PM · Report this

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