Life on Mars (Hill)In the nation’s fastest-growing megachurch, faith and feminism don’t mix.

When Jess came to the University of Washington as a freshman, she was a feminist economics major whose postcollege goal was to land a position at an organization dedicated to social entrepreneurship. Now in her early 20s and just a few years out of college, she is married, looking forward to a life as a homemaker, and involved full-time at the Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, one of the hippest, fastest-growing, and most conservative evangelical churches in the nation.

Mars Hill might as well be named Mark's Hill, after its founder and leading pastor, Mark Driscoll. Its home campus is a 40,000-square-foot warehouse in Seattle's Ballard district, the neighborhood where hipsters go to raise families.

The church's blend of pop culture and strict Calvinist doctrine allows congregants to occupy a unique, rebellious niche between middle-aged conservative Christians and their secular liberal contemporaries. Mars Hill members talk about sex, drink alcohol, get tattoos, and swear. They listen to Fleet Foxes; they love Star Wars and graffiti art. They also believe homosexuality is a sin, men are meant to lead, and wives must submit to their husbands as the church submits to God.

Mars Hill is part of a movement of “emerging churches” struggling to keep Christian faith relevant in the postmodern world. They typically meet in nontraditional locations (coffee shops, concert venues, living rooms), sermonize through rock music, and connect to their congregants via Facebook and Twitter accounts. Lauren Sandler, author of the 2007 book Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement, calls them the “Disciple Generation…[an] ever-growing population of people ages 15 to 35 who are equally obsessed with Christ and with culture as a means to an evangelical end.” Cloaking the gospel in pop culture is a model most often associated with televangelists of the 1980s, like the Lakewood Church's Joel Osteen, who modeled churches after shopping malls, playing on capitalist culture to make God's message palatable. Mars Hill is not a commercial center, but an indie concert where the Kool-Aid comes with a PBR chaser.

A writer for the Christian blog called Driscoll, with his stocky frame, six o'clock shadow, and torn jeans, “the original cussing hipster pastor.” It's Driscoll's snarky straight talk about everything from oral sex to yoga to God's eternal wrath that has ignited passion in the hearts of his millennial disciples. After Driscoll and his wife, Grace, founded the church in 1996 in their Seattle home, it grew at a rate of about 60 percent a year—all the more notable when you consider that Seattle is one of the most left-leaning cities in a state that, according to a 2004 Gallup poll, ranked as the third least religious in the nation after Oregon and Idaho (Washington dropped to eighth in 2012). Mars Hill now has more than 5,000 members, with campuses in Portland, Orange County, and Albuquerque. In the late 1990s, Driscoll founded Acts 29, a “church planting” network that trains men who wish to open churches; this led to the creation of the Resurgence, an online training resource with links to sermons, blog posts, music, and forums—essentially, a Mars Hill starter kit. Affiliates of the church are now spread out all over the world, with disciples everywhere in between.

New converts often discover Mars Hill by stumbling upon Driscoll's sermon podcast. For evangelists, who essentially devote their lives to making Jesus go viral, social media has literally been a godsend, and it's what Mars Hill does best. In addition to Driscoll's podcast, the church has a presence on nearly every social media platform, from Facebook to Pinterest to Instagram, as well as a YouTube channel and an iPhone app that launched back in 2009. The church's website has an entire music section devoted to Mars Hill's indie worship bands; in May, Driscoll announced the church's plans to start a record label. A church with an online presence is nothing new, but Mars Hill's statistics would make a small media company jealous: as of May 2012, it had 43,245 “likes” on Facebook, more than 10 million views on YouTube, and 39,356 Twitter followers.

In the early 1990s, fresh out of college, Driscoll saw a problem with the state of Christianity: There were no men. In a 2006 interview with the organization Desiring God, Driscoll said, “Church today, it's just a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chickified church boys. Sixty percent of Christians are chicks, and the forty percent that are dudes are still sort of chicks.” The main reason Driscoll himself had a hard time accepting Christianity was that he couldn't bring himself to worship “a gay hippie in a dress.” But as he read about Jesus and Elijah and Paul, the gospels started to appeal to him—and he saw a way for them to appeal to other self-proclaimed macho men. “I've gotta think these guys were dudes. Heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes.” This revelation became the foundation for his narrative of a masculine, tough-love Christianity. “If you want to win a war, you have to get the men,” Driscoll preaches in a 2006 promotional film on church planting called A Good Soldier.

Driscoll is more general than soldier. Heavily influenced by both Martin Luther and John Calvin, he presents himself as telling the hard truth to a generation raised with the pick-and-choose, postmodern notion of Christianity in which “the God of the New Testament is nothing but hugs and muffins, and we're all going to go to heaven, except maybe Hitler, but it's a coin flip for him, too.” As Sandler puts it, Mars Hill offers overwhelmed millennials “liberation from liberation.” The church's success comes from the hyper-masculine way it brands itself not as Jesus's religion, but as Jesus's rebellion—not only against the stuffy Christianity of its members' parents, but also against the free-for-all liberal culture of their peers.

That men lead the movement is key according to Driscoll, who ties myriad modern spiritual and societal problems back to the failure of female leadership. Driscoll traces his theory all the way to Genesis—in a 2004 sermon, he said Eve's eating of the fruit of knowledge was “the first exercising of a woman's role in leadership in the home and in the church in the history of the world. It does not go well. It has not gone well since.” What's more, Driscoll describes Satan's encouragement of Eve as “the first invitation to an independent feminism…the first postmodern hermeneutic.” For Driscoll, then, feminism and postmodernism are not only demonic, they are inherently linked; two revelations in the bite that led to the fall of man.

Driscoll's views on gender roles, adulthood, marriage, and success in American society are almost identical to those in a flood of articles released between 2010 and 2011, like Newsweek's “The Boy Crisis,” the Atlantic's “The End of Men,” and Kay Hymowitz's 2011 book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys. In an interview with the Christian magazine Relevant, his theory of male twentysomethings' extended adolescence echoes Hymowitz's: “We're finding more women are getting better grades, more women are graduating high school, more women are graduating college, more women are buying homes, more women are doing things that are more adult and responsible.”

But unlike his counterparts in secular media, Driscoll believes that current gender discrepancies are not the result of the growing strength of women, but of the weakness of men. By abdicating their God-given role, men have allowed for the demise of the traditional family structure and the spawning of a generation of unsupervised, unmotivated, Internet porn– and World of Warcraft–addicted young adult males, melting into their parents' couches while women blow past them to lead the nation.

As Sandler points out, Driscoll identified the “man-boy crisis” as a spiritual problem nearly a decade before secular media came to see it as a societal one. His method for addressing it involves restoring male leadership, relieving women of all financial and critical decision-making responsibility, and placing high value on marriage and children.

At Mars Hill, as in most evangelical churches, notions of gender are founded on complementarianism—the idea that men and women are equal, but have distinct and complementary roles. Both leaders and members of Mars Hill reinforce gender stereotypes and assumptions with the gusto of a 1950s-era ad for laundry detergent. Men need respect, women need love. Men are messy, women are neat. One member describes her relationship using a driving analogy, in which she drives her hot-pink car alongside her husband's blue one, occasionally pulling behind to let him take the lead. Becoming a deacon is the highest leadership position available to women at Mars Hill, a role between congregant and pastor that exists mainly to offer support to the elders (and a word whose Greek origins literally translate to “servant”).

It's hard to see 21st-century women signing up for this, and many of them were surprised about it themselves. Jess, who was raised in a secular family, discovered Christianity when, in middle school, she attended church with a friend's family and found herself drawn to the warm atmosphere and sensitive discussion. When she came to UW as a freshman, hungry for community, she joined a religious group on campus but simultaneously, like many other freshmen, started going to parties and experimenting with alcohol and sex. After several months of feeling lost and unhappy, Jess tried attending a few services at Mars Hill, a church she heard about through friends. She hated the church's ideas about women and gender roles, she hated that they told her that Jesus was the only one who knew how best to live, but most of all, she hated that she couldn't stop thinking about it. Mars Hill challenged her and she wanted to prove them wrong, so she kept going back. Eventually, just as an experiment, she began to follow some of the church's advice. And as she changed her actions—stopped partying as much, started reading the Bible, became less promiscuous—Jess realized she felt happier. The pastors told her that at some point she would have to make a decision: believe in Jesus or don't. Jess looked at the community around her, weighed her skepticism against the risk of an eternity in hell, and decided to sign a covenant and become an official member of the church.

Mars Hill leaders are aware that complementarianism poses a problem for prospective female converts like Jess. A questionnaire handed out as part of a church seminar preparing couples for marriage asks women to consider the question “Does helper seem like a high calling or a diminished calling to you?”

“You'll hear this a million times: If you don't submit, you're prideful and rebellious,” says ex–Mars Hill member Kailea. Though she was raised in a strict evangelical household, many of Mars Hill's views—especially those regarding gender and homosexuality—never sat well with her. Nevertheless, Kailea started attending Mars Hill in high school, since it was the cool church to go to. “I liked that there were a lot of people smoking outside,” Kailea says. “The pastors were giving each other beer for Christmas.”

When she turned 18, Kailea became a member, along with her boyfriend, Jeff, whom she married shortly after, when she became pregnant. A year later, she became pregnant again (Kailea used birth control, despite the church's encouragement of the rhythm method, otherwise known as “Catholic roulette”). Mars Hill's emphasis on traditional gender roles began to strain their relationship. “[Jeff] felt like he was failing as a leader; I felt like I just couldn't submit enough.” At the time, Kailea was working as a manager at a coffee shop and Jeff was staying home to take care of the kids. “There was a lot of pressure to change that.” The couple started going to marriage counseling with one of the pastors, who continually suggested that all their marital problems were rooted in their denial of their God-given roles. “No matter what we told him, that became what our issue was,” Kailea says.

She eventually quit her job and Jeff started working as a manager at a hardware store. Their relationship continued to deteriorate, and when she confessed an infidelity to Jeff, the church leaders took action, drawing up a “spiritual discipline contract” for Kailea. It promised, among other things, that she and Jeff would move back in together immediately, and that she would stop seeing her therapist, who was unaffiliated with Mars Hill. When Kailea refused to sign, she was kicked out of the church. The leadership posted a letter on the church's member website asking her friends to stop contacting her, and she has not heard from a single one of them since.

Kailea's story echoes dozens of testimonies that have been released from former Mars Hill members in the past year. In January 2012, Seattle alternative weekly the Stranger published a front-page article (“Church or Cult?: The Control-Freaky Ways of Mars Hill Church”) featuring interviews with ex-members describing abusive treatment, as well as publicizing a network of blogs in which ex-members tell their stories, disclose disciplinary documents, and speak out against Mars Hill's practice of “spiritual abuse.” The stories repeatedly liken the church to a cult, revealing extreme manipulation and over-exercising of authority, as well as verbal assault and blackmail.

Kailea says it's no secret that one of the church's main draws for women is the men—what she calls “the Christian Prince Charming” and what Driscoll calls “real men.” A two-part series on the Mars Hill blog called “What Women Think of Mars Hill Men” acts as quality assurance, featuring testimonies from Mars Hill women on Mars Hill–produced males. Ashley, a single 23-year-old, says that when she heard Pastor Mark preaching to the men to grow up, get jobs, leave their homes, and then pursue women, she thought, “If the guys in this room take half of what he is saying, they're already better than the men I've known.”

The catch, though, is that if you want a Mars Hill man, you have to agree to a Mars Hill relationship. “When you're submitting yourself to God, you're submitting yourself to something that's in you; [but] women are submitting themselves to another person. They look at that as though it's equal submission. It's not,” says Kailea. Mars Hill members counter that secular culture gets their understanding of submission all wrong. In the evangelical world, submission has much more positive connotations—it is near synonymous with trust, respect, humility, and thinking the best of others. Mars Hill appeals to women to submit by first presenting this evangelical definition and then by emphasizing that submission is their independent choice; as Jen Smidt, a church deacon, puts it, “The strongest man on the planet cannot force an unsubmissive woman to be led.” By defining submission as a brave, independent choice in which women abdicate power despite their capabilities, Mars Hill gives women a new framework of female empowerment.

“There's a narrative within the church that the women are actually very strong because they have to deny the pressure of the outside world to be independent,” said Christine Marietta, a therapist who attended the Seattle School of Psychology and Theology (which used to be called Mars Hill Graduate School before changing its name to avoid association with the growing church). Marietta attended Mars Hill several times while an undergrad at UW and now blogs frequently about women, Christianity, and Mars Hill. When Marietta writes posts that critique Mars Hill's gender theology, she says the women react strongly, attacking her with variations of “How dare you think me weak!”

Irene is not your typical Mars Hill member. In her mid-30s, she is above the average age and she prefers traditional African-American spirituals to Mars Hill's brand of indie folk. Initially put off by the whiteness of Mars Hill (Irene is Chinese American), she reconsidered when they opened a location in Seattle's Rainier Beach, a neighborhood whose diversity was reflected in the congregation's demographics. Most surprising, Irene attended the all-women liberal arts college Wellesley, and moved to New York after graduation with a group of friends, including her girlfriend at the time. Similar to Jess, Irene's return to Christianity “was preceded by a huge kick of massive sexual liberation” during which she went out almost every night, sleeping with men and women. “I thought I had all the right ideas,” she recalls.

Also like Jess, Irene approached sex with a mentality she attributes to societal pressure from a culture of female empowerment. She talks about feeling somewhat alienated by the feminist sex-positive cultural attitude that boiled down to, as she puts it, “I'm more sex-positive than you.” For Irene and Jess, the failure of this approach in their own lives became, in their minds, the failure of postmodern feminist philosophy as a whole.

“I think a lot about how feminism has failed Christian women, or [hasn't] reached out to Christian women,” says Marietta. “That makes a place like Mars Hill appealing, because the message of their strict gender roles is a way to rebel against the values of the women of the previous generation.”

Both Irene and Jess describe unhappiness as being evidence of a failure of their initially “feminist” way of thinking. “What starts out looking like a good plan, if it's not God's idea, we deceive ourselves in thinking there is going to be any salvation,” says Irene. “Life is not going to get any better because of our ideas. Women aren't happier now.” This is submission in a nutshell—choosing to accept God's plan rather than your own. And while those at Mars Hill might call it brave or humble or beautiful or trusting, it's hard to see it as anything else but giving up. Because feminism has never really been about happiness, it's been about choice. And with choice inevitably comes judgment and self-doubt: Am I doing it right? Could I be doing it better? Can I do it at all?

Jess, Irene, and Kailea are hardly the only ones looking for answers to these questions. When Sandler met Mark Driscoll in 1999, she recalls that he took one look at her band t-shirt and Doc Martens and said, “You're one of us.”

“He was recognizing my style, but he was also recognizing my emotional searching,” says Sandler. “We're all looking for meaning, we're all looking for purpose, we're all looking for lives that feel fulfilling and challenging and engaged. There are women who have tried that in other secular places and that works for them, but it doesn't work for a lot of them,” says Sandler. “And so they look for something else.”

That's the thing that secular, liberal Americans don't want to recognize about Mars Hill, and other emerging churches: The line between us and them is incredibly blurry. “We have this understanding of women who make these choices as somehow just being dumb or inferior,” says Sandler. “But the reality is way more complicated and way more systemic. There is a reason this [mass-scale religious movement] does not happen in Europe.” Sandler points to the network of supportive services offered in many European countries—most notably childcare, a service the Mars Hill community offers to its members along with book clubs, communal dinners, support in decision making, and spiritual counseling. American women, by contrast, live in a cultural and political climate that is asking everything of them—successful careers, families, social lives—and giving them nothing.

 ”[Mars Hill] seemed to play right into my fear of becoming an adult woman,” wrote Kaelee Bates, a founder of the blog Mars Hill Refuge, in an e-mail. “It appeared to me as an easy way out. I didn't have to finish school or try to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I could stay home, clean, have babies, and ignore all of [the] things I was struggling with.”

Given that ambivalence like Bates's often leads women to join Mars Hill, it's worth questioning to what extent women ultimately integrate the church's doctrine into their lives. When Irene's religious beliefs changed, for instance, she lost almost all of her friends in the gay community. Her inability to reconcile her old liberal identity with her biblical beliefs has also proved challenging in the voting booth. In 2008, unwilling to vote for either Obama or McCain, Irene selected a random candidate who aligned with her religious ideals, but she knew it was a throwaway vote: “These women fought so hard to earn me this right, and here I am not voting. It [feels] wrong.”

There's also the question of how the choices these women have made for themselves will influence those they present to their children. For Kailea, this was what convinced her she made the right choice in leaving Mars Hill. “Your daughters and your sons, they're never going to go in and see a woman speaking, they're not going to see a woman leading worship,” she says. “That has to tell them something about who women are.”

And would women feel as comfortable submitting to Mars Hill if they no longer had a secular safety net to push back on? The larger cultural context continues to validate women's abilities and remind them that submission is, in the end, a reversible choice; if Mars Hill suddenly ruled the world, it would no longer be one. When I ask Jess what she imagines a Mars Hill world would be like, she is genuinely baffled—it's not something she's ever thought about. Kailea, however, has: “It takes about five minutes of reading through [ex-member blogs] to see what that world would be like. It would be a dictatorship.”

It's easy to shrug off the growing population in churches like Mars Hill and repeat the American mantra of religious freedom: “They have the right to believe whatever they want.” But that these movements are gaining momentum in conjunction with a secular discourse that inadvertently validates them is not a coincidence that can be ignored. The current social climate is pointing young people down a tunnel, and Mars Hill offers a light at the other end—and that light is blinding.

Mars Hill women are smart, strong, and in many ways pro-women, but they will most likely not be voting in favor of Washington's marriage-equality referendum, or for legislation supporting easy access to abortions, or, when the day comes, for a female president. And for that, they are also dangerous. I feel similarly to the way Sandler writes of an evangelical woman she interviewed: “She'd make a formidable feminist, and maybe would have…if only leftists had offered the promise of love articulated within a genuine expression of youth culture.” If only the current social climate offered more support to women managing the choices available to them, if only feminism had felt less divisive, if only they hadn't stopped trusting their own capacity to figure things out, if only they'd had faith that there would be other women—or, dare I suggest it, a government—there to support them. Not only is that a great awakening I could own and lead, it's the only one worth submitting to.

This article was published in Elemental Issue #56 | Fall 2012
by Alison Sargent
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Alison Sargent is a recent college graduate from Seattle, Washington. She would like to thank all of the women who gave their voices to this piece.

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38 Comments Have Been Posted

I went to a Mars Hill service

I went to a Mars Hill service when I was looking for a church in Seattle. I guess I was lucky that the pastor made it obvious he likes to walk all over women the first time I attended so I didn't waste any time going back. He went on and on about how if a women lets a guy buy dinner on a date and then they have sex, that is what he calls prostitution. He also called women "toilets" and "sperm receptacles". I looked around at the congregation with small children just sitting there as if this was perfectly normal in disbelief for a few minutes before I walked out.

I can guarantee you that the

I can guarantee you that the ""toilets" and "sperm receptacles"" was Driscoll quoting a radio shock jock and saying that it's terrible to think of women as ""toilets" and "sperm receptacles"". I remember that sermon and he was criticizing the bros that think like that.

There's no excuse despite the guarantee

<p>No matter the context, any reference to women (even if quoting another) from the pulpit to an audience including girls and boys is abusive misogyny. Just a clever Driscollian way to interject how he really feels. Jesus is not amused. &nbsp;Paul as an early pillar of the church is not too happy either: &nbsp;;</p>

That's just sickening. WTH

That's just sickening. WTH does he get off saying things like that? Please know that not all Christians are like this! In fact, most of the "real men" I know find him disgusting and rude.

I know I'm not perfect and can be hypocritical sometimes but, man, he sounds like an ass.

I think she eventually quit

I think she eventually quit her job and Jeff started working as a <a href="">sign making hardware</a> at a hardware store. Their relationship continued to deteriorate, and when she confessed an infidelity to Jeff, the church leaders took action, drawing up a “spiritual discipline contract” for Kailea.

"emerging churches"

Just to correct: Mark Driscoll (and his church along with him) are no longer part of the emergent church movement. They're nearly antithetical at this point. The movement is more than a [hipster] culture; it's a theological stance, and much more theologically liberal and loving than what Driscoll preaches.

Check out Brian McLaren or Tony Jones for more on the emergent movement.


Hi Kate,
You are absolutely right, Mars Hill is not an "emergent" church. Mark Driscoll chose to distance himself from the emergent movement in the late '90s and has since been openly critical of Brian McLaren—specifically his thoughts on homosexuality.

Mars Hill does, however, identify as an "emerging" church, which is a broader term used to describe almost any younger church focused on reaching the postmodern world, of which "emergent" is a more specific strain. Many people use the two terms interchangeably which understandably leads to confusion. I regret that I didn't have space to make this distinction clear in my article, so thank you for bringing it up.

For those of you who just can't get enough of Mark Driscoll, here is what he has to say on the subject:


Alison...thank you and well done!


This is Hillary who married Mike V. and used to live next door to you..

This is so well written - thank you for your time and effort on this article!

I am actually debuting a play, Organized Religion, Women Speak, in the U-district on Sept. 9th which has a whole lot to do with this topic. Let's talk further!

Check out: for deets.


President Obama became Lord and Messiah on October 21, 2012.

GOOD NEWS: Since president Obama became our personal Lord and Messiah on October 21, 2012 we started a church here in the nation's capitol called The Church Of Lord Obama and we have over 24,453 congregants and many people from other denominations soon converted to our church doctrine. The New American Bible says that Lord Obama is the only true gospel. John 3:16 says "Barack Obama so loved America that He became president". Matthew 6:33 says "Seek Lord Obama's spirit and the world will be made christian". Psalms 118:24 says "This is the day of Lord Obama and let us rejoice in the Obama gospels". Mark Driscoll says to the news media that he and his parishoners plan to convert to the Obama gospels since Obama is a descendant of Jesus Christ and His secretary, Joe Biden is a descendant of King David. Good genealogy! We want to thank you for your service! Al-Jazeera is a company that is working with us in making the world worship and praise Lord Obama by coming here to the US and celebrating on the National Mall here in Washington, D.C. which is good news.


Mars Hill makes me ill. As if the US needed a tougher, more "masculine" brand of christianity.

Reply to comment | Bitch Media

Hi, all the time i used to check weblog posts here early in the break
of day, as i like to gain knowledge of more and more.

From a female MH deacon

just wanted to raise my hand to say that i'm a female deacon at mars hill, late 20s, single. i'm working on a masters now, spent three years of my life living abroad, and am a bleeding-heart democrat. (we actually had some people gathering signatures against gay marriage in washington on the public sidewalk outside our building on one Sunday morning, and i went to tell them pretty insistently how much i disagreed with their being there—it seriously made my blood boil they were trying to bring politics into a Sunday morning worship service.) in terms of me and the church, i've been listening to the sermons for about 6–7 years, been back in seattle attending for about three years, a member for two, and i just became a deacon this winter.

i'm really grateful for my church for no other reason than i've been able to study and pursue Jesus more here than anywhere else. it means the world to me. the reason i became a deacon? one of the elders strongly encouraged me to become one so that i could lead and teach the women here. (and i love meeting with and leading the ladies just because i means a lot to me to be working with, walking with, and encouraging women, and i'm fiercely protective of women and my identity as a woman, and especially a daughter of Christ. i don't feel super inclined to try and teach men, whatever that would entail, but if i did, it'd be pretty easy to find another church where i could.) we have lots of women up in the bands leading worship, and they're big on the women's training days. [we had over 1,000 women at our church-wide one this spring: ] and especially as a single woman, i've only felt supported by all the men and women here, who i definitely consider my brothers and sisters in Christ. i would love to get married one day, and if i did, the only thing i'm really looking for in a husband isn't that he's from mars hill, but that he loves jesus. there are lot of men here who love jesus, and i really appreciate that. but again, that's not really the point. i may or may not get married one day, but that's not what defines me. i will always be a daughter of Christ. (i know that might look like a strange phrase to use, but it's language the BIble uses, and it's the most accurate way to describe how i identify myself.)

articles like this hone in on the societal/cultural aspects as the main thing, but those are really secondary. every woman i know who's here is here because she wants to grow in her faith and learn about jesus. (true, a lot of women—and men—initially come to meet members of the opposite sex, but they don't stay usually.) if we were actually just a church based on some skewed, antiquated cultural ideas, it'd be a church of maybe 82 people. i wouldn't be here if that's what the church were about. why i was first interested in the church was when my friend (a girl, also a student at UW), brought me, and Pastor Mark was preaching on Jesus on the cross, and i'd never heard anyone give so much historical info on crucifixion, and i thought it was really interesting. i like our sermon series because we go through whole books of the Bible and don't try and skirt around parts that aren't immediately obvious. (i'm a philosophy major, so i'm super skeptical of presentations that make an argument by cobbling together just the bits that support your argument. i need someone to examine the whole scope of an issue.) it's not the only Bible-teaching church in the world by any means, and i'd be surprised if i were in Seattle for the rest of my life, but i'm very content to be here in this city, learning about Jesus in this church for now.

we say it all the time, but in my experience at mars hill, it is always and only about jesus. again, i'm really grateful for my church.

thanks, ladies.

p.s. pastor mark definitely did not call women "toilets" and "sperm receptacles" —he was quoting a particularly lecherous radio host who did, as a way to illustrate how dangerously skewed some guys' perceptions of women are. here's the transcript:

"The most popular talk radio show host for young men in our country is a guy who says that basically all we are is highly evolved animals, you’re not an image-bearer of God, and when you have an urge, gentlemen, just go out and find a woman and meet that urge, because that’s what animals do. And literally, I heard him on his show, say, 'Men, if you got to get rid of urine, go to a toilet. If you’ve got to get rid of semen, go to a woman. It’s just another kind of toilet. That’s all they are.'

"We would say, 'No, women aren’t toilets. They’re image-bearers of God.' And that any culture that essentially says that women are like toilets, and that’s where you just get rid of a natural normal biological urge, that accounts for the kind of culture we have. A culture that dishonors, disrespects, and does not esteem, does not value, women."

>>>"articles like this hone

>>>"articles like this hone in on the societal/cultural aspects as the main thing"
How can you separate societal/cultural aspects from a discussion about a church? Is that not exactly what a church is?!

>>>"if we were actually just a church based on some skewed, antiquated cultural ideas, it'd be a church of maybe 82 people."
Not if that church used pop culture references and practices that younger people feel connected to and comforted by. It's essentially a spoonful of sugar to help the (prejudice) medicine go down.

>>>"i'm really grateful for my church for no other reason than i've been able to study and pursue Jesus more here than anywhere else."
I get that this place must feel like a very comfortable place for you to learn about Jesus and be around other young Christians, but you are lying to yourself if you think it's the only place you can do so. There are most definitely places to live with and learn about Jesus that don't ask women to suppress their power or positions—ones that even allow women to be at any and all the same positions allowed to men.

this might be a deal-breaker

<blockquote><em> this might be a deal-breaker for some women, and that's fine. i'd just hope they could find a church where they could serve in that way, and there definitely are those churches.</em></blockquote>

The trouble, from my perspective, is that MH leadership—and Mark in particular—decidedly and adamantly <em>do not</em> take your laissez faire approach to the existence of churches which fully affirm women. Those are the "chickified" churches, "homo-evangelicals", their ministers are "fluffy bunny rabbits", and they all sit around singing love songs to the "queer, hippie Jesus" led by "effeminate anatomically male worship leaders". From blaming the (perceived) downfall of mainline denominations and Western civilization on feminism & female leadership, to telling a woman's husband to "shut her up or I'll shut her up for you" (N.B., This is a woman I personally know.), to blaming a woman "letting herself go" for her husband cheating on her with a male prostitute, to shaming and guilting <em>his own wife</em> for being a victim of sexual assault, this church and this pastor have demonstrated enough of a longstanding pattern to put any doubt about the baggage carried there to rest.

It is amazing to me, but not

It is amazing to me, but not surprising, that most of Mark Driscoll's followers have not pieced all of these things together, that Adrenaline Tim mentions. It is called cognitive dissonance. And for the record, every woman is not there because the want to grow in their faith...many feel trapped and sneak off to counseling they are not "supposed" to be at without their husband's and/or church's permission.

I'm just curious as to how

I'm just curious as to how you'd explain things like this:

In response to your comment: yes, Mars Hill uses the bible. So do a lot of people. "

Let me clarify: I'm a Christian. I don't think feminism and Christianity are incompatable. I often get very frustrated at people saying that they are - in fact, I think God calls me to be strong, stand up, and think critically. I'm also a little appalled that you'd respond to an article describing people who felt misused and abused with your own experienc as if that could vidicate anything. It's a very, very modern concept to be concerned with "your experience" at church and I can't help but wonder why the dissonance between the (hundereds) of people speaking out online about how they feel abused and the wash of pop worship music doesn't concern you.

To me, this situation is very, very scary.

i led with my experience

i led with my experience because that's what i know, and so it's the only thing i feel qualified to speak to. i don't know kailea and i don't know her story or who's involved, so i'm not gonna comment. (i don't want to come in and disrespect or discredit some other woman's story who i don't know, or on the other hand take her side and discredit my church when i don't know the whole story.) i'm not trying to vindicate anything, i just wanted to counter the article's thesis by again raising my flag to say that i'm here, as a woman, to pursue jesus, not for some weak rag of easy, palatable answers.

stories like the one you link from above are horrific, as they are presented. (turner does not like our church, and he's put stories up before that were missing pretty critical context, so i tend not to believe i'm getting the full story of things he posts.) in any event, the stories are incredibly painful, for everyone involved, and there's clearly hurt and a need for repentance and reconciliation all around. (and the elders did put up a call for reconciliation this spring: ) my huge prayer with stories like that is that there could be reconciliation within the body of Christ, absolutely.

is it important to be discerning about where you go to church? hugely important, and i am for sure. am i concerned? no, and i'm not because i've seen and walked with so many women and men who've had Jesus completely change their lives here at this church. and that's why i'm here—it changes you just to see Jesus change someone's heart. i never get over baptisms, i never get over hearing people's testimonies. (stories like these, from some high school students, are my favorite: ) i see Jesus changing people's lives every week—and it's amazing to witness, and i'm really grateful. that's why i'm here.

The church did issue a call

The church did issue a call for reconciliation, and there were reasons people were unwilling to respond.

I am so, so glad that you feel empowered and that your experience has been positive. That is wonderful. The number of stories to the contrary are overwhelming. I hope as a woman, in a leadership position within Mars Hill, you will do whatever you can to bring change.

Multiple instances of stories like this!!!!!!

The church did issue a call for reconciliation, and there were reasons people were unwilling to respond.

I am so, so glad that you feel empowered and that your experience has been positive. That is wonderful. The number of stories to the contrary are overwhelming. I hope as a woman, in a leadership position within Mars Hill, you will do whatever you can to bring change.

So Many MORE stories

The church did issue a call for reconciliation, and there were reasons people were unwilling to respond.

I am so, so glad that you feel empowered and that your experience has been positive. That is wonderful. The number of stories to the contrary are overwhelming. I hope as a woman, in a leadership position within Mars Hill, you will do whatever you can to bring change.

oops sorry it wasn't posting!

oops sorry it wasn't posting!

Different phases, different experiences?

Thank you for sharing your perspective and your story. It would be a little weird if we were discussing Mars Hill and didn't hear from anybody currently there. I definitely think you can give your perspective without undermining others.
I'd like to give you mine: Maybe your experience of Mars Hill will change as your life circumstances change.
I say this not because I have personal experience with churches (I grew up in an extremely secular country), but because MY experience of sexism and gender inequality has changed immensely as I've gotten older and as I got married and had kids.

I imagine that it might be a very different experience in the church to be a single woman pursuing a life in christ in a big community, than being a married woman, being encouraged strongly by the same community to submit to your husband.
It sounds like now you have a lot of opportunities for growth and challenges at the Church, and I'm glad and I think it's true too - but ... I'm just saying that it might be a different dynamic when you are hashing out the most important decisions of your life with your husband.
I also don't think this is unique to your church, this change, it's just life - I remember being young and single and working hard and thinking I had a handle on sexism in the workplace. Then I got married and had a child, and lo and behold, society looked at me differently and I had a new terrain to learn to navigate. I'm sure things will change when I get older still, and stop being considered conventionally attractive, and what not.

I'm going to be so bold to say that right now, as a single woman in Mars Hill, I reckon that nobody can assert any influence over you that you rightly can't shake off. I mean, what can the restraints on your freedom possibly be, right? Nothing you don't want to give up already, probably nothing that even FEELS like giving anything up.

But if you listen to the stories of the survivors, what really bothered them was the intimate, difficult stuff between their partner and them - who got to work, who got to stay home, money, children - the blood and bones of it all. Urgent, important life choices where it will cost much, much more to submit if you truly disagree, to a very fallible, regular guy of a husband that you might really, really disagree with.
I'm glad you're happy in your church ad in your faith. But life is long and I just wanted to add this perspective, from someone from the other side of not only the Atlantic but from another phase of life (not better or more worthy, just different). Good luck and

A great deal of respect for Mars Hill

What a great response, Holly. I couldn't agree more. I have been attending Mars Hill for about six years, and I have never felt more respected in my entire life. One thing I really appreciate about Mars Hill is that they consistently teach men to respect and stand up against gender injustice and discrimination. Mars Hill started an organization to rescue women from sex trafficking and prostitution (REST), offers counseling groups to deal with cases of abuse, addiction, and suffering; and one of the Mars Hill pastors just recently posted this article on how men can prevent gender violence:

To me, complementarianism is something we believe, but to me, it pales in comparison to the issue of pornography in our society and what the degradation of women in the sex industry is doing to destroy relationships, and promote mentalities of abuse, sexual assault, and sexual addiction. I love that Mars Hill teaches men that this is wrong, and calls them to seek God and turn from the abuse of women. I've seen with my own eyes the absolute transformation that comes from trusting in Jesus Christ, and Mars Hill advocates for loving, trusting, and being faithful to Jesus which in turn overflows in the love, respect, and care for all people, especially women.

At the end of the day, Mars Hill is not about social issues, but cares about the things that Jesus cares about, and aims for the truth of his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Thank you for writing this article and asking good and hard questions; it's very important.

structure and belief....often bring benefits

I used to be in a scary group alot like mars hill. It was conservative evangelical. It screwed my head. But here is the deal. It still helped and helps some people. there are people there, whose lives were not as good as they are now in this super conservative "our way is the only way" group. the funny thing is, the group I was in was totally AGAINST complementarianism and calvinism and was super charismatic. But they were fundamentalist, inerrantist, etc. this group messed up my sister, myself, and many friends with their controlling ways.

but again, I had a good friend who was 15 when he joined. He is still in the group. He is now a businesman in his 30s. He is emotionally stable, he is a good person, he is very conservative politically and religiously. here is the rub. he and driscoll would have HUGE doctrinal differences and would probably come to blows over doctrine. both would say, "the reason the people in our group are blessed and whole is our wonderful beliefs are RIGHT!" I would argue that the truth of the matter is that the reason some people do ok in Mars hill and some do well at my old scary controlling charismatic church are a) lots of structure b) intense belief/meaning that gives...MEANING to life! c) strong relationships that are real and helpful.

when I read about the people who left, I had flashbacks to my own leaving of my old group.

Great Insight

<p>Thanks for the great article and the obvious research that went into informing your insights. As someone who is now in my 50's and came of age during similarly turbulent times, the allure of absolutes is appealing while being debilitating, even now there are times that I think about how nice it would be, how simple it would feel to have everything fit together in black and white absolute terms. If like were REALLY like that it would be perfect. I would expect to hear about the sexual abuse soon that is going on at Mars, just like every other absolute belief system that gives all the power to a few..</p>

A very different Mark Driscoll

Thank you for this well thought-through article.

I came to Mars Hill when Sunday attendance was less than 150 people. Back then the plan was to split into two congregations should the crowd grow so that we wouldn't become a mega church with a "rock star" pastor. As the church grew, the plans of splitting were silently abandoned.

During my year at Mars Hill I came to work closely with Mark Driscoll and got to know him and his family a bit. I was very impressed with Mark. I '

I loved his clear and passionate messages, but even more so, I encountered in Mark Driscoll a gentle and compassionate person. I thought he was not like macho men, much more feminine than most guys I had met. His interactions with people were marked by humility and a softness that I admired.

When I came back a few years later I found a very different Mark Driscoll, the one that everyone writes about now. I still remember the feminine, gentle, and humble leader that I admired back then. While I have found my own way, empowerment, and fulfillment on a different path, for the sake of all women at Mars Hill I hope that the former charismatic feminine Mark Driscoll emerges from within his new hard macho persona.


Only a troll would have a religion (which is supposed to be spiritual, peaceful, and bring people together) and find the angle to put down 50% of the population. I'm catholic and I thought we had enough nuts in our church.


Where are all
the good men dead?

Is it in the heart?
Or in the head?

There are great feminist theologians out there.

I appreciated this article. because I attended a small Christian college very near to Mars Hill Ballard and have talked myself hoarse about it in the past, I'm not commenting here to talk directly about MH.

I am commenting however to make sure it gets said in this conversation that feminist theology is alive and well inside of the Christian Church and Academy. Mars Hill is NOT representative of the greater Church's view on women. Secular feminism and Christian theology are not the oil and water combination they're so often treated as. If anyone has any desire to learn more, I recommend looking up:
And any of the following authors (I've starred my favorites for fun):
Serene Jones*
Amy Laura Hall*
Mary Fulkerson
Shawn Copeland*
Elizabeth Johnson
Rosemary Radford Ruether
Valerie Karras
Joan Martin
Priscilla Pope-Levison*
Jan Richardson*

In my study, our words about God are inextricably bound to God's choice for liberation and flourishing for all humans. I just wouldn't want anyone reading this article and thinking there is some fundamental discord between feminism and Christian theology.

the light at the end of the

the light at the end of the tunnel is the headlamp of an oncoming train

Inside Mars Hill: My Perspective as a Woman

If you don't agree with Mars Hill Church, don't go there. Go somewhere where your heart is compelled to love Christ and lead you on the path of holiness, but condemnation without biblical justification is straight up whack.
The bible tells us specifically not to argue with each other over such things.
Here's how I see it-Mar Hill loves women, edifies women, and encourages women. Please don't make us out to look like mindless, ninny -headed idiot's who just want a man to control us-I mean, what the what?! NO! This is not how it is at all.
This article talks about us women as "servants" (Deacons) well, whoop-dee-doo, guess what? Jesus was the greatest servant ever, so that's a title I appreciate, thanks! (Also, please don't leave out that men also hold that Deacon title.) Don't confuse the term "servants" with "slaves" as it is made to seem.
Women are held in high regard as sisters in Christ and are accountable to the teachings of Christ, just as the men, and our thoughts/opinions are sought after and appreciated in all things to do with the church.
We are all children of God, period, no one is better than anyone because of their body parts at MH, AND, we never, ever are to agree to anything our husbands want that is sinful, hurtful, or damaging-they are to love us all as daughters of the Most High and care for us just as Christ loves the church.
I went to churches for a very long time, which were pretty much run by women and believe me, we all talked about how we yearned for our husbands to be leaders and share some of the joys of ministry with us, yet few did, and our families suffered. It is not a bad thing to let our men lead, as long as they do it to glorify God- it's all good.
One other tidbit not mentioned-families are encouraged to stay together if at all there is a chance for healing and redemption to take place-there is no "control" going on. If people are ever asked to leave, they are ALSO encouraged to come back. If they do choose to leave, it's due to refusal to be accountable to God's word. Period.
No one ever wants anyone to leave the church without extreme amounts of prayer and counseling taking place first. Everything is done in love, but we don't want people in the congregation who are ok with hurting others or refusing to submit to scripture.
If there is proof that someone is being hurtful or harming others, then no, it's not ok to keep them around unless they are wanting to repent and serve the Lord.
Our church respects people, so the only side of the story you will hear is the person who was asked to leave. What you don't hear is that some of them were being sexual predators, or being verbally/emotionally abusive, or hitting their spouses and/or hurting kids, and refusing to stop. MH doesn't agree to anything that hurts/harms people.
Next. there are certainly some "whack a do's" who simply go to hear Pastor Mark, but whatever-he doesn't get off on that at all. He wants people to love Jesus. Argue all you want, but I have met him several times and he is a genuine, humble, Christ-loving teacher of the bible. He is not some kind of masculine neanderthal at all. He has always said that he is a sinner who loves Jesus and is doing the best he can to share that love--so why would you expect perfection, no one is perfect-except God!
Of course Pastor Mark is held to a higher standard of leadership accountability for sure, but He is accountable to someone much higher in authority than ourselves as well. He is not a wolf-he absolutely loves Jesus and is trying his best to preach the gospel-what we all should be doing, not sitting around condemning each other.
I don't follow Mark Driscoll, I follow Jesus-and I also listen to many other Pastor's who love Jesus as well, the people I If you are a believer, have you not given thought to the fact that we will all be in Heaven together one day? Show some grace and spend your efforts to further the kingdom, not attacking Christians. We are all sinful, pride-filled messes-including Pastor Mark!
Ultimately, we are all self-seeking hypocrites who forget the gospel and try to be our own god's over and over again. No one is perfect and if you are being condemning of me as a woman in Christ- then that is a huge sin, people-huge. And isn't that just as bad as what you are claiming to be against? Ummmm......yeah.
Pride, condemnation, self righteousness, ridicule- I mean, do you wonder what your own judgement will be when you sit before God?
Don't just take things out of context or snippets from You Tube and get all @#!*% off, listen to the whole sermon-then prayerfully come to a conclusion. Better yet, read what the scriptures say about it.
No one is out to control you, and if you feel that way-dude, it's time to take some stuff to the cross and figure out where your heart is. Go to another church or do a self study of the scriptures, but don't throw stones.
Another thing, people are free to get counseling outside of the church-my daughter does, and our church thinks it's a great idea and are in prayer that it will help her.
We live in a dark world, let's focus on shedding some light for Jesus, not just condemning one another. For crying out loud, this is straight up hate speech, religious harassment, and intolerance to the extreme. Most of us don't really want to see how bad the gospel exposes our dark hearts and we fight it continuously-God is in control-not us, and not Mars Hill, either.
Trust in His sovereignty and seek ways to glorify Him.
Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Read 2 Timothy 2, then see how ya'll feel, but please don't be hurting those of us who live this way. All we want to do is love Jesus and others in a Godly way-and that's the gospel truth..

jesus fucking

jesus fucking christ!
Bloviate much?

mars hill

its a mistake to think that left-leaning equals woman-friendly---the second wave of feminism was sparked by the overt misogyny of leftist men, who then as now, thought overt misogyny was hip, cool and edgy. reportedly the light bulb moment for the third wave feminists was when one of the leftist men quipped--"the only position for women in the (leftist) movement is prone"


Saw these idiots on the local news tonight. Why they give hatemongers free publicity is beyond me. Hopefully his God will strike him dead for ignoring the most basic tenets of the Bible. His wife and kids will need deprogramming.

I know this article is a bit

I know this article is a bit old, but I had to read it because I've heard Mark Driscoll's name mentioned a lot lately, and not in a complimentary way. I'm a Christian and I hate this blatant misogyny with Jesus' name slapped on it. That's all it is, after all. It's sickening. I love Jesus and I can't stand it when people do things like this that smear both His name and ours as Christians. No, I don't intend to preach but there is more than enough room in Christianity for women to be independent and I hate that men like him push against that. Jesus had *tons* more respect for women than Mark has...then again, so does my little finger. I wonder if he's doing all this posturing to compensate for something?

Most of the "real men" I know would find him a lot more offensive than "empowering".

Disciplinary documents? A

Disciplinary documents? A "Mars Hill Relationship?" What is this, a cult? It's one thing for a pastor to get involved in your marriage problems <i>if you've gone to them for guidance</i>, but this is stupid. Run, don't walk. No wonder people think all Christians are jerks.

After thinking a bit and

After thinking a bit and reading more-
If this (Mars Hill) is what these women want then, by all means, go. It just seems overly controlling and misogynistic to me. My husband is most certainly *not* a "chickified" person, but he would find all of this extremely offensive.

I have to ask...are the instructions given to *husbands* in Ephesians chapter 5 (where the "wives, submit to your own husbands" doctrine mostly comes from) emphasized? Because I've been around people (mostly when I was an evangelical Christian) who push for "wifely submission" but don't mention the husband at all. We hear a lot about how the *woman* is supposed to behave, but very little about the men. Ladies who've been to Mars Hill, what say you?

Marriage and Men

Check out the sermons (if you can find them somewhere on the internet) from the "Trial" series, called "Marriage and Men" and "Marriage and Women." He addresses this when talking about 1 Timothy 3. Also check out the Ephesians series from a Spring 2013 "Who Do You Think You Are?" series as he does address this as Mars Hill went through the book of Ephesians. I hope this helps.

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