In the Crosshairs of Conversion: Encounters with an Evangelical Driscollite

R: If you and your husband were asleep and a robber broke into your house who would go downstairs with the baseball bat?

Me: ….

These are the types of ludicrous questions you must answer on a regular basis if you should have the misfortune of being accosted by one of those die-hard Evangelicals. As I’ve written about before, I’ve had quite a bit of exposure to Evangelicals and Evangelical doctrine in my life, but the most frustrating experience by far involved a friend of mine who was an avid fan of Evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll. In fact, after several years of theological debate, the sexism, misogyny, and homophobia of R.’s doctrinal assertions became overwhelming and I decided to end our friendship.

The most frustrating aspect of trying to be friends with an Evangelical is the feeling of being constantly in the crosshairs of conversion; I was a lost soul in need of ‘saving.’ We had numerous lengthy, pushy conversations in which he insisted, eerily sure of himself, that his narrow interpretation of Christianity was the only valid one, all the while completely oblivious to his blind theological arrogance and the condescension inherent in his assumed position of superiority. Eventually I came to realize that his main interest in speaking with me was not to cultivate a friendship based on shared interests or goals. Rather, he saw me primarily as a potential ‘convert.’ I began to realize that he spoke constantly to me as a salesperson would while making their sales pitch. In the end I was left feeling like a cheap piece of soul-meat, whose only value was in adding a notch to R.’s ‘conversion belt.’

If I’m speaking in sexual metaphors, it is because Mark Driscoll and his followers are completely obsessed with sex and sexuality. It is at the core of his teachings, and the views on gender which have grown out of this obsession are precisely what make his ideas are so damaging and abhorrent. It is also why his ideas appeal so strongly to young, white men feeling insecure as a consequence of the rapidly shifting meanings attached to masculinity in our society. When I asked R. about his views on women, he was full of opinions. I cited a Bible verse famous within feminist circles as one of my main concerns with Evangelical views of women’s roles in society:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing (1 Timothy 2:11-15, NIV).

Contrary to my expectations, R. did not deny that women’s proper role was a submissive one. Rather, he embraced this idea with a certain unrepentant zeal. When prompted, he elaborated a whole philosophy revolving around this concept, revealing a central tenet of his Driscoll-infused faith. Since R. had recommended Mark Driscoll’s sermons and articles to me many times, I eventually caved to my curiosity and visited the website of Mars Hill Church where Driscoll preaches as head pastor. What I found there was mind boggling in its arrogant and blatant embrace of misogynistic theology.

Beyond the sleek design of the webpages, and the feel-good mumbo jumbo about “resurgence” and “leadership,” the most painfully apparent aspect of Driscoll’s teaching on gender is that women, as independent beings, cannot exist. Within the Mars Hill doctrine, women only “count” as they relate to men who hold some measure of authority over them (fathers, husbands, pastors, Jesus, God).

A particularly good example of this way of thinking discusses “options for godly single women.” Throughout Driscoll’s writing, being a single woman is assumed to be a horrible fate. He even goes so far as to say that if you are a single woman you will have feelings of “shame, isolation, and despair.” He compares singleness to “a club for Satan to beat you with over, and over, and over, and over…” In outlining his views on the “options” facing single women, Driscoll first assumes that you can only be a godly woman if you want a husband. He warns of the dire consequences of casually dating, “sleeping around” (translation: participating in any sexual activity that is not within the bounds of a heterosexual, legally and religiously sanctioned marriage) and moving in with a partner (all things that the vast majority of the population do and/or have no problem with). Driscoll screeches that in following this path of normalcy “you will eventually come to feel horrible for what you have done and miserable in the world you live.” (As you can see, encouraging healthy self-esteem in his congregation isn’t really Mark Driscoll’s ‘thing’ to put it nicely).

The solution according to Driscoll? Contradictorily, “worship a God who was single.” If you weren’t already terrified of Satan beating you with your singlehood, Driscoll completes his one-two punch by vaguely citing ‘some polls’ that suggest that “the odds are not in favour of godly single women.” Driscoll’s technique is to berate and beat the self-esteem out of his congregants himself, first by insisting that to be single is necessarily a state of despair and misery, then by swooping in with a dose of “only I can save you through my specific doctrine” propaganda.

Going further down the rabbit hole, I stumbled upon an article Driscoll had written on the topic of appropriate ways for the husband to “handle disagreements with his wife.” This gem of marital counselling discussed how a husband should “pray and discuss with your wife. Be patient. Wait for her to come around. Appeal to a higher authority (pastor/counselor). If the matter is pressing and/or a decision cannot be reached, the husband must decide. His wife should submit to the decision” (emphasis added). Notice here, the total absence of the word “compromise.” In Driscoll’s ideal marriage, there are no equal partners with valid concerns and needs, conducting themselves with mutual respect. The woman’s opinion simply doesn’t matter. Essentially, Driscoll’s technique boils down to waiting for the woman to “come around.” Besides the obviously insulting nature of this quote, it also demonstrates that in Mars Hill Church women are automatically wrong in every case, not to mention lacking the intelligence to contribute meaningfully to decision making processes, and having no important or valid needs themselves. If she does not “come around” Driscoll insists that the woman should be forced to comply with her husband’s will. If she resists, the husband has every right to bully her into submitting through capitalizing on his alliance with other powerful men. The woman is always wrong and the man is always right.

Far from being the “best kind of marriage,” Driscoll’s ideal of “Christian Complementarianism” in which wives submit to their husbands sounds more like glorified indentured servitude than anything resembling romantic love. In a hilariously entitled clip, “MARS HILL LOVES WOMEN” (excessive capitalization in original), Driscoll falls back on the old trope of insisting that women can only achieve through men (their husbands, male children or Jesus). She cannot achieve greatness, unless it is through her submission to God. This dynamic is taken as a template for marriage, implying that women can only be considered worthwhile humans in the act of submitting to God’s will through the proxy of her husband, and through her role as a mother. Driscoll’s angrily regressive views on gender roles shines through in a talk he gave with his wife in which they claim that being a stay at home father is “worse than being an unbeliever.” In case you had any doubts left as to the misogyny comprising the bedrock of Driscoll’s theology, there’s also some good old fat shaming thrown in.

After confronting R. with the material I found on the Mars Hill website he had enthusiastically recommended to me, I began to understand just how deep this worldview permeates. R. was evangelizing to me; he was fulfilling the central duty of an Evangelical’s life. For him and other Evangelicals, people are not potential friends, they are potential converts. As a result, non-Evangelical perspectives and opinions are not taken seriously, and are trampled in a rush of over-inflated confidence and intolerance.

Others have pointed out how powerful and dangerous a force Mark Driscoll is. His influence is spreading throughout Evangelical churches in North America. Many people have written publicly about their negative experiences within and while trying to leave Mars Hill Church. A substantial online community of people who have either chosen to leave Mars Hill or have been forced out are now sharing their stories of spiritual bullying, harassment, and campaigns of intimidation waged against them by church leadership. Many of them refer to Mars Hill as a cult.

In the end, I knew how to respond to R.’s alternating pandering and pushiness. And if any Evangelical attempts to draw me into their conversion snare again, I have an answer ready. I will insist that I am not chattel, to be passed from the ownership of one man (father) to another (husband) through the most archaic form of the institution of marriage. That I will not believe in a god that tells me to submit to a man because he is my superior by definition. I refuse to worship a being that silences me and tells me that I am an inferior creature by nature of my womanhood; I refuse to allow one person to usurp control of every aspect of my life, just because I am a woman.

And no woman should.

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