On December 6, Lindy West of Jezebel published a series of quotes from Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll. Driscoll is known for talking about the demonic practice of yoga, for declaring that maybe Ted Haggard wouldn’t have strayed if his wife hadn’t let herself go, and for declaring that Jesus is a sword-wielding hero with a tattoo. He seems like the perfect stereotype of a “bro pastor.”
But he is far from an outlier in American Christianity. With an empire extending far beyond his churches in Seattle, Driscoll is, without a doubt, a major player within white conservative American evangelicalism. And that should scare people who are dedicated to the rights of women in the United States.
Driscoll is the head pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, a
large church comprising multiple congregations throughout the Northwest. He has written several books that are New York Times bestsellers, and asserts that millions of people download his sermons each week. He has nearly half a million Twitter followers. His Acts 29 church-planting network boasts of nearly 500 churches across America. He runs conferences and tours across the country , with attendees reportedly in the thousands. And Mars Hill recently announced, like Falwell’s Liberty University before them, that it is getting in the game of higher education, providing undergraduate and seminary Bible education.
Beyond this empire, Driscoll is endorsed and accepted by numerous popular pastors in evangelicalism. John Piper of the Twin Cities’ Bethlehem Baptist Church has proffered endorsement of Driscoll’s work. The popular Reformed blogging network the Gospel Coalition frequently speaks of Driscoll favorably and hosts writing by pastors from his churches. And Christian rapper Lecrae recently toured with Driscoll for his Act Like Men conferences this past year.
The reason for Driscoll’s acceptance, despite his indelicate proclamations about masculinity and femininity, is simple: He’s not actually extreme. Indeed, Driscoll’s views of men and women fit right alongside what many seminarians are being taught in the United States, and what many parishioners hear on Sunday morning.
According to Driscoll, a woman’s duty is to stay at home, to have and raise children, while a man’s duty is to protect and provide for the home—not only for his immediate wife and children, but for his children’s children. The two roles are distinct and separate, and any deviation from this norm is considered an abomination not only to Driscoll’s theology but, he believes, to Jesus himself. It’s worth noting that, like 1950s norms, Driscoll’s theology is mainly directed at white American Christians to the exclusion of racial minorities.
Driscoll is not alone in this strict transphobic and homophobic enforcement of gendered roles. Pastor John Piper writes in a blog post against women serving on the front lines,
Suppose, I said, a couple of your students, Jason and Sarah, were walking to McDonald’s after dark. And suppose a man with a knife jumped out of the bushes and threatened you. And suppose Jason knows that Sarah has a black belt in karate and could probably disarm the assailant better than he could. Should he step back and tell her to do it? No. He should step in front of her and be ready to lay down his life to protect her, irrespective of competency. It is written on his soul. That is what manhood does.
“Irrespective of competency,” evangelicalism tells us, men and women are set in their roles. A woman using her skill set to protect a man, in the evangelical world, is an affront to God and a subversion of her purpose. She is to submit to her husband in all things, because cisgender, heterosexual marriage is the central tenet of this gendered theology. Other pastors fall along these lines too. Kevin DeYoung, a pastor and a contributor at the Gospel Coalition, writes of divorce in cases of abuse:
Let me just add that I am sympathetic to and yet extremely cautious about finding other grounds for divorce. On the one hand, I think it’s possible that God did not mean to give us every possible grounds for divorce in the New Testament. Jesus gave one and Paul (admittedly, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), mentioned another one relevant to the Corinthian situation. So might there be one or two other grounds for divorce? Perhaps. And yet, if you say that you open up a Pandora’s box of trouble. People will argue that psychological abuse is a ground and emotional neglect is a ground and maybe terrible unhappiness is a ground for divorce. I think it is safer biblically to maintain that there are two acceptable grounds for divorce. But having said that, I could envision in extreme situations the elders might conclude: “This man (or woman) has not completely disappeared but his life is tantamount to desertion.” If a guy is strung out on drugs, gambling all their worldly possessions, and has repeatedly beaten his wife, might that count as desertion at some point?
Note all the qualifications that a husband must meet before he is considered “abusive.” He’s only considered as such most extreme of situations—when there are “repeated” beatings. And even then, divorce is only acceptable because the man is not really following God’s plan.
The reason for the contortionist reasoning for divorce is because, often, violence is a central facet of masculinity. As a self-professed fan of mixed martial arts, Driscoll talks of a Jesus who is not a “neutered, limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy” or a “Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” but a “prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand, and the commitment to make someone bleed.” Jesus himself is enlisted in the bloody battle, employing violence to get his way and to protect “his bride” (the church). Women, then, in perfect submission, must submit to their husbands in all, and hope that such violence does not turn on them.
This view of violent protective masculinity appears time and again in popular evangelical works about men and women. John and Stasi Eldredge, authors of the popular relationship books Wild at Heart and Captivating, write of men as knights, bloodied from battle, fighting sorcerers and dragons to rescue their fair maiden. The difference between men and women, it seems, is that of violent defense. Violence is an inherent feature of masculinity that serves an arbitrarily violent God. Conversely, demure submission is an identifying feature of womanhood—submitting themselves even while suffering bodily harm.
This view is naturally quite transphobic and heteronormative. Men and women are seen as separate, biologically defined categories, and any deviation from these norms is defiance against Jesus himself. The remarkable thing about Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church is that many of his congregants are young, 20-something men. He proclaims that his goal is to get men back into church, because godly men are the backbone of the family, which is, in turn, the backbone of America. He preaches against not only abortion, but against hormonal birth control, which he calls “potentially abortive.”
Much of mainstream media treats Driscoll as a fringe element, a sideshow curiosity. But he is far from it—Driscoll is quickly becoming the center of American evangelicalism. With the number of young people he is reaching, people outside the evangelical sphere should be worried.
He is making his views religiously sanctioned for an entire generation of young people—people who will teach their children the same things and vote in elections in large numbers. Driscoll’s influence is not something to be laughed at—rather, it should be feared.