The following captures what really got the ball rolling regarding why I began to think I needed to get this info “out there.” It was a previous post, Freedom From Mars Hill, Prior to Bondage, parts 1 & 2, and was initially an email written on Feb 8, 2009 to some close, prayerful friends of mine. I have tried to tone down some of the “self-indulgence” (in letting myself rant) and “blanket statements” (unless they were verifiable) per a comment (see Highlights) which contained some helpful critique.
For a little more history (as if this isn’t enough!) feel free to read additional posts: Our Experience of an MHC Community Group, and, What We First Discovered.
“People who have misused their spiritual power have disrespected or beaten down your boundaries. They have shamed you out of your ‘no,’ clouded your will and intruded into your life with religious agendas. They have violated your spirituality by playing ‘Holy Spirit.’ Having an opinion has come to equal lack of submissiveness. Having a right to not be abused is selfish.”
(1991, David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church, p. 47).
From a NY Times article, Jan 6, 2009, Who Would Jesus Smack Down, by Worthen, and from readings of Driscoll’s book, Vintage Church, and listening to various of Mark’s sermons (especially part 2 on Spiritual Warfare, see notes of this in another blog), I get the impression that at Mars Hill Church (MHC) and particularly by Mark Driscoll (pastor), women are viewed and treated—despite words to the contrary—as second class citizens. As the NY Times Article states, there is a feel of chauvinism in Mark and in MHC, and perhaps even misogyny (hatred of women). The priest who abused me, possessed a fair amount of misogyny himself, and it can be quite subtle, until it lashes out at you, the unsuspecting female. But I now know more fully what it looks like and feels like to be in conversation with a man or to be in a system that secretly despises, dislikes, or is threatened by women and wishes only to subjugate them out of his or its own insecurity.
In his Spiritual Warfare series Mark states that when he counsels couples “Invariably one feels their sex life is fine and the other is not satisfied.” He says this is a wedge between them and “it is Satanic,” that is, demonically influenced. He goes on to say, “It is like Satan is sleeping in bed between the two of you.” He implies the wife should not hold out on her husband, that if both parties are not getting all the sex they want and if it is not “fun and exciting” there is “Satanic” involvement. Nothing is said about the woman’s possible if not probable prior sexual abuse.
After three years of grad study to earn my masters to be a psychotherapist and 2 years of doing therapy with deeply traumatized women, those statements and implications of Mark’s are absolutely abhorrent to me. Many studies report that 1/3 to 1/4 of women have been sexually abused (e.g., childhood incest, rape, etc). This kind of trauma often causes severe, complex PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which includes terrifying, panic stimulating flash backs, dissociation, avoidance, and hypervigilance. This has very little if anything to do with one’s cognitions (thoughts) and very much to do with one’s emotional brain (the amygdala) taking over due to various cues in ones environment or unwanted, unelicited flashbacks. Therefore, it is not under one’s conscious control or one’s will power or one’s spiritual beliefs and memorization of Scripture.
Mark is not a therapist, to my knowledge, and certainly not a Traumatologist, and he is therefore treading on waters he knows absolutely nothing about… he seems to think a few short Scriptures and some counseling where he convinces this poor woman that she needs to, according to him, “repent of believing lies” will cure her and the sex “problems” in her marriage. This feels to me completely disrespectful and astronomically damaging to women. He says, “I can’t tell you how many women I’ve counseled who have been victims.” Oh Lord, have mercy. How many of these has he further traumatized and injured?
A quote from the NY Times article delineates the kind of therapy Mark dictates that his church counselors use, “Marianne Esterly, a women’s counselor at Mars Hill, says she tries to help women resist the desperation that can come with forgetting that man’s chief end is to glorify God, not to obsess over earthly problems. “They worship the trauma, or the anorexia, and that’s not what they’re designed to worship,” she says. “Christian self-help doesn’t work. We can’t do anything. It’s all the work of Christ.”
So, “worshipping trauma” is the issue? I am a multiple complex trauma survivor, trust me, I do not “worship” the trauma.
Trauma can feel like it owns you through biological, psychological, socialogical and spiritual reactions and ramifications until you process it and clear it out of your biopsychosocial and spiritual systems. Scripture can certainly help in this process, but usually it does not accomplish complete healing of multi-faceted complex disorders. This naïve reductionism is most dangerous to a person who is seeking ‘counseling’ to deal with trauma or eating disorders or depression, etc. And I most heartily disagree with her statement, “we can’t do anything.” This feels preposterous to me. God calls us to work along side him. He is not magically going to remove all our past abuse and baggage—we need to be responsible and work along with him in the healing process. Would a person say any of these ridiculous statements about a patient who needs a heart transplant? “Oh, they’re just ‘worshipping’ their illness and if they’d just worship God instead, their heart would be fine”? Or “we can’t do anything,” including finding a good surgeon? In my thinking, this is revictimizing the victim, “You’re hurting because you’re worshipping your trauma” or eating disorder or depression, etc.
From my understanding of the Membership Covenant and instructions to members, MHC Members are commanded not to take their grievances to other members, only to the leadership or elders. But what if the elders are the very ones who are in sin, who have oppressed and done unjustly? So you go to them, and you are ousted as a trouble maker. Various former MHC members seemed to have found a safe place at prayingheart.wordpress.com to vent about their wounds and what actually took place in the unjust firing of two “beloved elders” in the fall of 2007. It looks like it was a kangaroo court and the two were actually dismissed because they dared to question Mark on his new re-org and re-structuring of MHC leadership and By-Laws. Purportedly, one of these guys was a lawyer who gave up his practice to serve full time at MHC and had served faithfully for 7 years, and he knew the new set up of going from 22ish elders to 5, and the new By-Laws would give Mark way too much power and even less accountability. This rightly concerned him enough so that he went to MHC’s lawyer to question some things, to make sure what the implications of these changes might be.
The other terminated elder had, completely independent of the former elder, conferred with a mature Christian to get godly counsel. But Noooo, the expectation, nay, even the demand, appears to be that one only go to Mark or to one of his hand picked Yes Men. The stories about their dismissals allegedly changed at least 5 times over as many months as more and more members began asking questions. Many of these members who were “overly inquisitive” were shown the door and stripped of their membership as well. According to prayingheart, one female attorney and MHC member at the time asked Mark some of the questions the rest of the church body had been asking amongst themselves or even posing to Mark, and he spoke condescendingly to her and told her to pay especial attention to the sermon that night. In that sermon he mocked her publicly by saying, “When people have too many questions, it’s the sin of questioning and grumbling that Philippians talks about. It’s like having a little 4 year old kid, a little attorney, going, ‘But why?… and how come?’ all day long.” The sin of questioning??? This is sounding more and more like mind-control and somewhat cultish.
According to Dr. Enroth you can have a very Evangelical, Word based church and it can still be a cult in its spiritual abuse and control. What I ran into at MHC is very sad to me because in many ways Mark seems to be really preaching the truth and thousands of young people are getting saved; BUT I can never, ever condone any kind of abuse and control which strips people of their God given autonomy and their God given dignity and which therefore demeans and confuses them making them slaves to another person.
During the season of firing these two guys and dealing with the aftermath well into 2008, from the pulpit Mark told stories stressing the importance of “submission to your leaders” and not being “rebellious and divisive.” He gave an illustration that he would be like a Martial Arts instructor in how he deals with difficult subordinates, “I take them into the ring and I break their nose.” Nice. Jesus is the one who tells us that leaders in the world “lord it over those under them, but not so with you.” Jesus came to be a servant; how much more his leaders. I’ve also heard it said that the more a husband needs to claim Eph 5, “my wife HAS to submit to me!” the more he, not she, has the problem. A loving husband, laying his life down for his wife, does NOT need to demand submission.
Likewise, according to Jeff VanVonderen in his book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, the more a leader teaches on submission and rebellion, and the more controlling he is, the more he actually disqualifies himself from being a leader. Mark appears to spend a lot of his preaching on insubordinate members, former members, often using as examples those who displeased him, questioned him, “were divisive,” those who are sinful, prideful believers who ruin churches. The message is apparent, “If you want to survive here, you’d better not do any of the things they did or you too will be cast out!” A Psychologist told me recently that people have a “visceral response to being cast out. It threatens at the core our sense of belonging. If you are cast out of the family group, you become tiger food.”
Jesus’ little “s” shepherds are not to control and manipulate His sheep, they are to be compassionate and humble and serve the sheep and take care of them, not demand complete and total submission. I was reading Dr. Enroth’s book, Churches that Abuse, and the issue of control, control, control came up over and over again as the NUMBER ONE INDICATOR of abusive churches. What I see in Driscoll is a lot of demand for a lot of control, and as the NY Times article stated, “Driscoll has little patience for dissent.” Here’s the full quote (it also contains some of the context I’ve discussed already):
“Nowhere is the connection between Driscoll’s hypermasculinity and his Calvinist theology clearer than in his refusal to tolerate opposition at Mars Hill. The Reformed tradition’s resistance to compromise and emphasis on the purity of the worshipping community has always contained the seeds of authoritarianism: John Calvin had heretics burned at the stake… Driscoll has little patience for dissent. Driscoll has little patience for dissent. In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that, according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “His answer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached. John Calvin couldn’t have said it better himself.”
And as to Driscoll’s staunch Calvinistic doctrine, it appears one cannot be a member of that church unless one agrees with that doctrine as if that is the only biblical view. The following is from Worthen’s article:
“While John Calvin’s 16th-century doctrines have deep roots in Christian tradition, they strike many modern evangelicals as nonsensical and even un-Christian. If predestination is true, they argue, then there is no point in missions to the unsaved or in leading a godly life. And some babies who die in infancy — if God placed them among the reprobate — go straight to hell with the rest of the damned, to “glorify his name by their own destruction,” as Calvin wrote. Since the early 19th century, most evangelicals have preferred a theology that stresses the believer’s free decision to accept God’s grace. To be born again is a choice God wants you to make; if you so choose, Jesus will be your personal friend.
“Yet Driscoll is not an isolated eccentric. Over the past two decades, preachers in places as far-flung as Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., in denominations ranging from Baptist to Pentecostal, are pushing “this new, aggressive, mission-minded Calvinism that really believes Calvinism is a transcript of the Gospel,” according to Roger Olson, a professor of theology at Baylor University. They have harnessed the Internet to recruit new believers, especially young people.”
In the Spiritual warfare series Mark goes on and on about how satanically influenced women apparently often become, and he calls them “busy bodies” and “the weaker vessels” in regards to their character and their susceptibility to temptation. Not all women are “busybodies,” Mr. Driscoll, despite Paul having addressed some as having been so, and men can also be gossipy little busy bodies. And as to “weaker vessels” many theologians state this was regarding our physiology. There’s really no indication it’s about our character.
What I am seeing thus far are plenty of red flags, sometimes flaming red flags.
I did not find Driscoll to be a disagreeable man to meet, not at all. He can come across (when he’s not yelling from the pulpit) as sensitive, caring, and humble. But he seems to have this other side that often shows up which is dogmatic on doctrines in Scripture which are not clear (such as Calvinism as the only way to view God’s Sovereignty and His work in redeeming hearts, and the Complimentarian view).
According to my understanding of Mark’s book, Vintage Church, besides agreeing to Mark’s doctrines, per the Membership Covenant, a prospective member must agree to “not be divisive” and to “sign a pledge” that you will give regularly financially and of your time in volunteer work. MC states they will send you quarterly reminders. If you slack off in giving, I’ve read that your core group will “hold you accountable,” or something to that effect. Signing a covenant with a church and signing a pledge to give one’s money and time are unbiblical, legalistic and very controlling. They are abuses of church authority.
Mark does not seem to allow anyone to question him. He has created By- Laws wherein he and the other four hand picked elders make up the group of elders, and from what I read it would be next to impossible to fire him. So now he has tenure.
From his statements in his Spiritual Warfare Series, part 2, he seems to demand quiet submission from women, and he appears to demean women who have opinions and speak about what they want, such as, “I want to be married to a pastor.” Mark says to single men, “Run. She’s satanic. She wants to be in the middle of things and have power and be a drama queen.” Well who says? How do you know her heart, Mark? That may or may not be true. But see, she is a strong woman who knows what she wants which, according to former members, is a big “no, no” at MHC. Mark goes on to say that the woman who really wants to be a leader of women’s ministries is the one to avoid for the same reasons. Then his voice becomes soft and gentle as he says that the woman who is quiet and non-assertive, who wouldn’t even ask for that position, she is the one that would be best in that position. Well, that kind of temperament certainly wouldn’t cause Mark many problems and would be more easily controlled.
He said he protects his wife, “You bet I do! I’ve put up a 12’ high wall, with machine gunned armed guards. Women will say to her, ‘oh let’s do coffee.’ Uh uh! Those are busy bodies! That’s Satanic. A couple will say, ‘oh let’s have you for dinner,’ uh uh!” Whoa! This sounds extremely paranoid and controlling to me. He seems really concerned that people are trying to get the dirt on him through his wife, and maybe this has been his experience, but man. Does your wife have NO SAY re: with whom she might like to have coffee? Does she need your permission? So apparently he lords it over his wife and his people in his church, and he teaches men in the church to likewise lord it over their women.
In several clips of his sermons it was clearly shown that he would preach one thing about pride, but then in the mess with the unjust firing of the two elders, I sense arrogance in his actions and words. He preached on humility when the thing was coming down, and it seemed manipulative, like, “You must act this way, not question, and you must submit to leadership… that is humility.” But then he often does not act humble. He will admit this, humbly, and then behave with pride. What’s with that?
There was one clip of his appearing to humbly repent of pride, but he manipulatively slides right into saying that he also recognizes the same kind of pride in many in the church and he said he had himself to blame, and then he goes into what felt to me like a verbal pounding on those who dare to challenge and question him, those who do not just submit, you see, all of that must be pride. So, to me, his “public confession of pride,” felt more like a masterful act of manipulation. Others have commented on their perceiving this as well.
What concerns me is Mark’s apparent manipulation and control are very similar to how the abusive Priest behaved toward me. He was educated, a good speaker, eloquent, powerful, but, unlike Mark, he actually came across as humble (false humility), that is, unless he was psychologically manipulating you into a vice and pressing you so tightly with his version of mind control you just couldn’t think clearly anymore, and unless he was telling you how pathological you are because you’re questioning him and doubting his motives. There appear to be a lot of similarities between that abusive spiritual leader and Driscoll in their abusive styles, even though one is extremely dogmatic and conservative and the other is extremely liberal. Abusers come in all stripes.
Mark has also preached about “being able to see into people’s hearts, and read their mail” (as in their personal business/issues). Now I believe in the prophetic, but this is downright scary. Here we have a man without any apparent checks and balances on his power, arbitrarily firing those whom many have proclaimed to be formerly faithful elders and on very suspicious claims (which changed monthly), who excommunicated members willy-nilly for merely questioning him re this decision, and he claims to see into hearts! So if he doesn’t like you, if you challenge him, guess what, he’s going to “see into your heart” that you have pride, arrogance, a divisive spirit, that you are resisting the Lord, that you have sin in your life… He’s described things like this in his sermons, I am not merely speculating here. He has said, “Their hearts aren’t right…” when describing those who question him. If that is the case, there would be no protection from such a one as Mark and no way to get justice within that system ruled by Mark. One of the former elders whom he pressed to repent, refused. Good for him! The other, caved under the pressure. I weep for them both.
The experience of ‘worship’ at MHC felt stifled to me. The music was grunge… well, okay, I’m all right with alternative, but this was a bit weird, but although the words were heavy-handed gospel, there wasn’t much if anything about entering into deep worship of our loving, awesome Lord. The thousands of young people around us were not getting into freely worshiping either. I thought of Hillsong United in contrast. Wow, what a contrast! There they are free and exuberant and praising the God who saved them from their sins and from hell and who loves them with an unending love and who rescues them and heals them and provides for them. The feel with Hillsong is light and airy and liberating. The “worship” at MHC felt heavy to me; there was no celebration, no feeling of liberation, no adoration of the One who loved us enough to die for us.
Today my husband and I went to what feels like a healthy balanced truth with grace church, and the worship was truly beautiful and free. Sure, this is very subjective; I’m just giving you my take. It doesn’t surprise me, though, having learned what I have learned about MHC. With that much control and what sounds like bondage and autocratic ruling, how could there possibly be freedom in worship? “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” From my vantage point and the testimony of many, many former MHC members, Mark has stolen much freedom from Christ’s disciples. Mark has made them Mark’s disciples and he seems to rule with an iron fist.
I do not think I would have ever been welcomed at MHC unless I would have ditched my entire personality. I get the impression that in order to please men (Mark and the other male leaders at MHC), I would have had to submit to what I can only describe as soul-murder, the death of who God really created me to be. I am an outgoing, very verbal female, who knows some stuff and likes to share it, AND I am a therapist (Psychology seems to be frowned on at MHC). The worst thing you can do to me is try to shut me down, to steal my voice. I am a questioner, an analyzer, this is how I learn and process. I think that what that church would have done to me, what Mark would have done to me, would only be a crazy-making, cruel retake of past abuse in my life. God, I thank you for sparing me! I pray you would release others as well. Bring Mark humbly to his knees and remove from him any false power not from you. Rescue these young people who are so impressionable and who are new converts and know no better. Set them all free to obey YOU out of a heart of love, not dictatorial fear. Amen.