Mark Driscoll and the Christian Cult of Toxic Masculinity

Sexism

I always try to welcome new colleagues here at Patheos, so say hello to Pastor Mark Driscoll! He’s the newest blogger over on the evangelical channel.

And since we all like getting to know our neighbors, here’s what you should know about Pastor Mark:

For those who ghoulishly delight in the reliable stream of church-scandal headlines, the story of Mars Hill Church in Seattle had a satisfying narrative arc. Founded in 1996, it became known for the preaching of its popular pastor, Mark Driscoll, who crossed conservative theology with a kind of bro-ish cool. But the past few years brought an onslaught of miniscandals: Driscoll was accused of plagiarism, “spiritual abuse,” online crassness and misogyny, buying his No. 1 slot on the New York Times best-seller list, and so on. He resigned in October [2014]. A few weeks later, the church announced it would dissolve on Jan. 1.

A NYT profile from 2009, before all the brouhaha, mentioned that Driscoll was known as “the cussing pastor” for his salty language and frank talk about sex, and that he disdained suit-and-tie formality in favor of “fashionably distressed jeans… a black skateboarder’s jacket and skull T-shirt”.

These are the usual accoutrements of a certain brand of modern religious leader who’s trying hard to seem cool. But the one thing about Driscoll that always seemed genuine was his homophobic, dudebro misogyny:

The mainstream church, Driscoll has written, has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy…”

Driscoll disdains the prohibitions of traditional evangelical Christianity. Taboos on alcohol, smoking, swearing and violent movies have done much to shape American Protestant culture — a culture that he has called the domain of “chicks and some chickified dudes with limp wrists.”

And on another occasion:

He has long spoken out against the supposed “feminization” of the church and argued in support of a more violent, macho-man Christianity, stating “I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” In 2011, he issued a call on Facebook for his followers to share stories about and ridicule “effeminate anatomically male worship leaders.”

And a third, this one posted by Driscoll under the pseudonym “William Wallace II” on his own church’s website in 2000 (allegedly Mars Hill has asked members to delete any copies of this that they possess):

We live in a completely pussified nation…

[The biblical Adam] was cursed for listening to his wife and every man since has been his pussified [sic] sit quietly by and watch a nation of men be raised by bitter penis envying burned feministed single mothers who make sure that Johnny grows up to be a very nice woman who sits down to pee.

Unsurprisingly given all this apish chest-beating, Driscoll and his Mars Hill megachurch were big proponents of “complementarianism”, the theology which claims that God has assigned people to strict and immutable gender roles. And surprise, surprise, those roles just happen to work out as men having all the power and making all the decisions, whereas women are meant to be homemakers and child-breeders. (Driscoll graciously allowed women to work outside the home as long as they submit to their husbands.)

Under Driscoll, Mars Hill was notorious for cultish, control-freak behavior, like ordering church members to break off romantic relationships and forcing current members to shun the excommunicated. People who wanted to join were required to affirm that the church leaders were “the authority” who had to be obeyed in all things.

In one infamous episode, after boasting about how Mars Hill’s governing-board structure made him accountable, Driscoll later changed the church bylaws to centralize power in himself and kicked out two church elders who objected with show trials. As the NYT profile describes this event:

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.

What else is there? Oh, yeah: Driscoll also plagiarized sections of his book and spent church money buying up copies to put himself on the bestseller list. He’s openly Calvinist – yes, the ones who believe that people go to hell because God decided in advance that they were the ones he would send to hell. He called women penis homes. He shamed his wife in print for having sex in high school, even though he wasn’t a virgin either when he married her.

When all these controversies came to a head in 2014, Mars Hill’s elders launched an investigation of Driscoll’s behavior and concluded there were “patterns of persistent sin”. Driscoll resigned rather than agree to their recommendations, and the church imploded soon afterward.

But hey, you can’t keep a good narcissist man down for long. Driscoll soon bounced back, founding a new church in Arizona last year – and from thence, to Patheos.

From what I gather, the reaction on the Patheos Christian side hasn’t been altogether enthusiastic. This is an especial slap in the face to liberal Christian bloggers like Warren Throckmorton, who’s spent a long time chronicling Driscoll’s misdeeds. Another Patheos Christian blogger, Kimberly Knight, quit in protest. (Surprise, Driscoll’s blog has no comment section.)

Yet at the same time, I can’t muster much outrage, and here’s why: Mark Driscoll isn’t the problem, he’s a symptom of the problem.

Driscoll’s puffed-up, steroidal theology isn’t a unique aberration. The only thing he’s done is make explicit the doctrines that evangelical Christianity prefers to leave implicit. As the pithy saying goes, he says the quiet parts loud.

Abusive, misogynist pastors and churches are a dime a dozen in the world of evangelicalism. Violent homophobia and moral panics over LGBT people are a regular occurrence. Demands for women to obey men are omnipresent. Strip away the cussing and the few other distinctive elements of his branding, and Driscoll is indistinguishable from any of these godly he-man women-haters.

And then there’s the ultimate proof: the fact that American white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, President Grab-‘Em-By-The-Pussy himself, at higher rates than any previous candidate garnered, including George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney. Clearly, as far as evangelical Christians are concerned, their leaders’ attitude toward gross misogyny has always been negotiable.

If anything, I think Mark Driscoll is the ideal standard-bearer for what Christianity is and has become. He demolishes the facade by which believers pretend their faith is something other than what it is. Modern-day evangelical religion is a cult of toxic masculinity and sexist aggression, and if that ever becomes unobvious, well, we have Mark Driscoll front and center as a perpetual reminder of it.

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