There’s hardly a week that goes by without Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, saying something offensive and incendiary; whether it’s giving bad marital advice through his latest book, trashing his definition of “effeminate” worship leaders, or demonizing sex and sexuality by associating pornography with Ted Bundy, this guy tops my Official Douchecanoe List.
He delivered again this week, when an ex-member of Mars Hill tentatively shared the horrifying story of his brutal excommunication from the church. To be fair, Driscoll himself was not the perpetrator of this particular injustice, but I cry foul on the leader of any organization who would choose to represent itself by such principles.
Part of the reason that Christianity can be so divisive is the belief that, as a Christian, fellow church-goers are appropriate partners and friends, while you are to distance yourself from non-Christians so as to not “fall into temptation.” As I’ve written before, my own youth group (and my husband’s, too, in a completely separate church three hours away) illustrated this by having a kid stand on a chair and then seeing if it was easier to be pulled down from the chair or to pull another person up. This was supposed to show us the danger of consorting with non-believers, and the potential for us to be dragged downward into their life of sin. I wish I was joking.
For this reason, many sects of Christianity are incredibly insular, placing enormous pressure on the believers to stay within the church network, and punishing those who dare to stray. Of course, this also means that removing or being removed from that network can have devastating effects on human lives, as an individual may find themselves literally alone, abandoned by the very people they loved, respected, and spent years developing relationships with.
So it is with Andrew, who made a major mistake by physically fooling around on his fiancé. He felt awful about the situation, confessed to his fiancé (the daughter of one of the church’s elders), and when that failed to resolve the hurt, confessed to an acquaintance, part of a small group at Mars Hill in which he was involved.
They called him a “predator.” Why?
“Because Pastor Mark teaches that women are “weaker vessels,” and therefore, when a girl and boy engage in consensual sexual activity, it is always assumed that it’s the man’s fault because he failed to lead the woman (or “weaker vessel”) toward righteousness.”
The church began a grisly process of ostracizing the guy, forcing him to go to meeting after meeting with church leaders, forcing him to confess the minutiae of his “sexual sin” –- including any physical parts of his relationship with his fiancé –- and pressured him into signing a “Church Discipline Contract”:
Disciplinary procedures are quite common for church leaders –- pastors, elders, and deacons, but this is the first I’ve heard of such an extensive, invasive, and ugly method for church attendees.
And it just gets worse.
After being emotionally manipulated and abused by the very group members he was supposed to trust, Andrew came to the painful conclusion that he could no longer continue attending Mars Hill. He sent them this email, explaining why he would forego signing the disciplinary contract:
“After extensive prayer and careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that Mars Hill is not the place that God has for me to be right now. Therefore, I respectfully decline your help in this next stage of my life. I will not be returning to [name of community group leader’s] CG, and will not be attending Mars Hill anymore. Thank you for your continued prayers.”
In the most respectful way possible, Andrew removed himself from a destructive, abusive environment. In response, group leaders informed him that they would have to “escalate” the church’s disciplinary proceedings, in essence saying, “wait, we’re not through punishing you yet!” The email that Andrew received in response said this:
“If this is your final decision, you will also need to know this will not be our final communication as this is not an instance where you can walk away from the mess you have helped create and leave many issues unaddressed.”
In a disgusting turn, their apparent idea of further communication consisted of a back-biting document posted to The City — what Andrew describes as the “Facebook for Mars Hill members.” However, his login information had been blacklisted from The City, and he only discovered the letter after a friend from Mars Hill had informed him.
How’s that for Christian love? And you can probably just imagine, if believers and church members are treated with this sort of bullying and manipulation, what they think of us atheists.
Andrew, I’m glad you’re out of that toxic environment. You deserve much, much better. We all do.