Jesus’ Stepford Wives: When God Ordains Sexism (… or people think he does…)

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I am mostly writing in response to this article put out by Jezebel which alleges that Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church is the “worst person ever.” I have a long and complicated relationship with Driscoll. I started listening to Mark Driscoll* in 2006 during my freshman-year-in-college church podcast binge. He always fascinated me. He is such an engaging speaker. I loved watching his Q+A videos, and he was formative in my theological development. What I’m trying to say is: I’m not trying to be a hater.

Most of my issues with Driscoll have been in relation to gender and sexuality. In Driscoll’s own words, I saw those differences to be open handed, issues that can be debated among the church, that aren’t prerequisites for salvation. Our issues were not close handed issues, like I am accusing him of heresy. We both affirmed the basic tenants of Christianity. I am knocking the fact that he is reaching people for God. That he is furthering the Body of Christ. That he is preaching the Bible. That he has good things to say. Even though I am not on board with the whole traditional gender roles, male headship, Biblical Manhood and Womanhood thing, I never saw a problem listening to the occasional Driscoll podcast…

…until after I took a leadership position at my seminary in 2011. I was walking around my apartment cleaning one day, listening to a Mark Driscoll sermon. My roommate, a fellow seminarian, was horrified and asked, “Are you listening to Mark Driscoll? Don’t you think that’s kind of hypocritical since you’re on student government working to fight gender issues?”

I had never thought about it like that. Prior to this time, I listened to Driscoll because I liked his theological sermons and in depth Bible study. As I was reflecting, though, I wondered: By listening to this person, how am I inadvertently supporting the kind of discrimination I am trying to eliminate? Am I being socialized to other aspects of his “culture” along with listening to his teachings?

Around that time, I visited Mars Hill for myself, and I noticed the strangest thing. In contrast to the pot and hippie-ish coffee drinkers I had seen in Seattle all weekend, at this church there were qualitative demographic differences. All the women at Mars Hill looked really similar. Many were blonde. And it felt like 60% of the women there were pregnant! I was like, What strange kind of land have I stepped into? I felt like I had been time-warped into the Stepford Wives with a Jesus twist.

I started noticing Driscoll’s objectification of women. One quote from his Song of Solomon series: “Ladies, your husbands appreciate oral sex. They do. So, serve them, love them well. It’s biblical. Right here. We have a verse.” Interesting exegesis…. He also made clear that women should be in the home, and men who were stay-at-home dads were subject to church discipline at Mars Hill.

The Jezebel article presented other eye-opening things that Driscoll has said about women. For example, saying that Ted Haggard’s wife “let herself go” and holds responsibility for not getting him out of his sexual predicament? Calling pastors’ wives who let themselves go “lazy”? That is classic blaming and abuse. Then there is the whole thing about women being the weaker vessel. It’s funny, because I just wrote a paper about why people wanted to deny women the right to vote in 1900, and Driscoll bears uncanny similarities to the arguments people who opposed the Suffrage Movement used. They said that women were too easily swayed and “hysterical.” Therefore, deny them privileges.

Driscoll would counter that argument with the fact that he cares about women, loves women, etc. … but they just have different roles, that they must be treated differently, more delicately. To which I would respond: That is still sexism. It’s more covert sexism, that has a benevolent tinge to it, but still sexism.

Mark Driscoll, I do not want to knock you down as a person. I have respect for you as a brother in Christ. However, there are some things I want to say about some of this teaching that do not sit well with me. Ultimately, my allegiance is to God, and I believe God has called us to the reconciliation of all things, shalom, and redemption. I think your opinions about women– yes, they are opinions– are wrong, destructive, and perpetuate oppression.

Please do not treat me as a weaker vessel because the internalized feeling of being a weaker vessel is what I have been facing my entire life. I have grown up learning that I shouldn’t “let myself go,” that I should please others and not myself. I have lived it, and it is killing me.

Now you are sitting here as a pastor saying “there’s a verse” for why I should oral sex to my (nonexistent) husband? That I shouldn’t let myself go? That I should wear my hair and dress the way you want it? That my husband is my gardener, and he should be pruning me? How dare you!

I am starving, floundering, to break free of exactly what you’re promoting femininity to be. I am fighting for my life to be free, to let Jesus into my life, to let these unrealistic, archaic expectations of femininity go. It is my personal struggle, but I believe that God is with me, his grace there at every step. And yet you are saying that God wants history to regress a century and we should just live in the Victorian times? No, I will not accept misogyny that is being marketed as “conservative evangelicalism.” I renounce that in the name of Jesus.

These repressive factions of evangelical culture sicken me. It sickens me that people are taking the bait. It sickens me that last year, my then-church chose to do a sermon series on Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage. And do you know what sickens me the most? That Driscoll articulates his opinions about gender roles in the name of God. The idea that, “It’s in the Bible… There’s a verse for that.”

I resent that. The last time I checked, Jesus did not command women to blow their husbands. He also didn’t say that women should stay at home in most or every situation. That is bad theology, it’s offensive, and it’s misogyny.

When I think of Driscoll’s growing church in Seattle, it makes me sad. I know that it is reaching people, and I should be happy about that, but I keep getting this haunting image of a female in Seattle who was educated, ambitious, and opinionated, only to start attending Mars Hill and change completely. I imagine her getting married and popping out babies immediately and quitting her job. I imagine her becoming indoctrinated to her “role” as a woman and losing her identity in the process. That grieves me. Yes, she is “saved.” Yes, she is in Christ. That is good. But… I don’t think it’s good enough for the church. I think that you should sell your soul to Jesus rather than Jesus-and-outdated-versions-of-femininity. Being abused and enslaved by restrictions and regulations… that is not redemption. That is tragedy.

Driscoll’s popularity saddens and illuminates me to the fact that we, as evangelicals, are so socially backwards. We have such a long ways to go in reconciling all things to God. It saddens me that his disgusting, vile comments about women are accepted as streamline. They are not challenged, and dissent is silenced. Mark Driscoll isn’t the worst person ever, as Jezebel ascertains, but his sexism should also not go unchecked. His view points necessitate us to discern and critically think about the role women have in evangelicalism and where we can go from here.

*Mark Driscoll is an interesting character, to those who don’t know him. He is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and he has written a lot of books. I don’t even want to count how many sermons he’s given. He’s got to be reaching John Piper status soon. He is also definitively reformed and complementarian. Google him.