One of the many Mars Hill churches in the greater Seattle area located in the center of downtown on 5th avenue.
As senior pastor, founder and the face of the now-infamous Mars Hill Church, Mark Driscoll is well-known for his provocative preaching and his unusual interpretations of biblical scripture.
More recently, however, Driscoll has made headlines for charges of plagiarism, bullying and intimidating behavior. An investigation by 21 of Mars Hill’s former church elders determined that Driscoll exhibited “patterns of persistent sinful behavior.” Mars Hill’s Board of Elders informed churchgoers of these investigation results on Oct. 12.
Two days later, Driscoll formally resigned.
Founded 18 years ago in Seattle, Mars Hill Church quickly established itself as a religious force in the largely secular Pacific Northwest. At each of the fifteen locations, or “campuses,” members gather to watch podcasts of the weekend services and online videos of Driscoll’s preaching that gross an average of 260,000 hits per week. Driscoll appeared as a guest on day-time television shows like “The View” and “Dr. Drew” and was profiled in the New York Times Magazine.
In 2013, Mars Hill peaked in its growth when the average weekly attendance was more than 12,320 people.
Driscoll’s charismatic and charming personality was tainted by controversy. His passionate approach and often raw messages earned him a polarizing response from the larger Christian community. Liberals winced at his hellfire theology and perpetual preaching that women submit to their husbands. Conservatives were appalled by his use of profanity and his sexually explicit language. Driscoll is a self-proclaimed New Calvinist, and many of his ideas stem from that ideology.
Jimmy McCarthy, Seattle U’s campus minister for social justice said, “As someone who is not a Calvinist, I find (New) Calvinist theology problematic in a lot of ways. It’s interesting to me the ways that they are counter-cultural…The things that they are counter-cultural about are not the ways that Jesus would be counter-cultural.”
Driscoll’s online sermons are particularly known to have raised a few eyebrows. With titles like “Biblical Oral Sex” and “Pleasuring Your Spouse,” his clips were deemed too racy to be featured on GodTube, the evangelical Christian “family-friendly” video-posting site and an “Under 17 Requires Adult Permission” warning flashes before each video begins.
In an online posting on Christian Newswire’s website, radio talk show host Ingrid Schlueter described Driscoll as “a sad product of our times.” She added, “He is pornifying the church and only adding to the moral squalor of our culture.”
Many attendees, however, embraced the rawness and authenticity of his approach.
“I love the preaching… It’s very easy to relate to,” said Vlad Balun, a high school senior and regular attendee at Mars Hill’s location in Bellevue.
In 2012, Driscoll published his book “Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship and Life,” earning him national media attention. He dove deeply into questions about Christian sexuality and sexual practice by describing his own sex life in graphic detail.
Many readers and reviewers were concerned by Driscoll’s discussion of female sexuality in particular. He referred to women in highly patriarchal terms, encouraging the strict confines of marital sexual expression for women in subservient roles.
Denny Burk, a Biblical studies professor and popular blogger, wrote, “Chapter 10 has the potential to wreak havoc in such marriages where one spouse will feel a whole range of taboos to be ‘permissible’ if he can convince his spouse to participate. This to me seems like a recipe for marital disaster.”
But Driscoll’s lack of egalitarianism impacts more than cisgender heterosexual women. Driscoll is adamant in the re-writing of the American Protestantism’s depiction of Jesus as a gentle, patient pacifist. He wrote that this Jesus is a “Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” as well a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture.” Instead, Driscoll campaigns for the “Mixed Martial Arts Christ.”
Rachel Doll O’Mahoney, Seattle U’s Campus Minister for Faith Formation said Driscoll’s visions on women were problematic for other people as well.
“It’s really easy to look at Mark Driscoll and think he’s contributing to the oppression of women,” she said. “But if we’re contributing to the oppression of women, we’re contributing to the oppression of men, we’re contributing to the oppression of gender non-conforming individuals, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters… At the end of the day, it just feels holistically oppressive.”
Driscoll has been on leave since Aug. 24, when, according to church leaders, he voluntarily resigned until the investigations were finished.
“Today, also by God’s grace, and with the full support of my wife Grace, I resign my position as pastor and elder of Mars Hill,” Driscoll declared in his resignation letter, as printed by the Seattle Times. “I do so with profound sadness, but also with complete peace.”
Pastor Dave Bruskas currently serves as senior pastor in Driscoll’s place.
Darlene may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Darlene Graham is a sophomore Journalism major and a Film Studies minor. When she's not writing for The Spectator, Darlene enjoys watching interviews of her celebrity crush, Marilyn Manson and caring for her fern.