Mars Hill Church, a 15-location megachurch headed by Pastor Mark Driscoll (who infamously referred to women as “penis homes”) has, in the past few weeks, been facing a growing controversy over its power structure, bullying of attendees and staff, and Driscoll’s inflammatory online (and in-pulpit) statements regarding (among other things), the status of women within the church, and marriage. Attendance is way down; Mars Hill is firing staff and closing branches, and Driscoll is taking a six-week hiatus.
Hey, have you heard the one about Seattle’s Mars Hill megachurch system slowly and publicly collapsing? The reasons have been covered by everyone from the New York Times to blogs devoted to ex-members sharing their experiences attending (any one of 13) Mars Hill locations.
So, what’s funny about lead pastor and spiritual leader, Mark Driscoll, misusing church funds and hiring a marketing firm to manage bulk purchasing of his book Real Marriage, in order to send it up the bestseller charts? What’s humorous about the way he’s shamed or fired any church leadership who disagree with or challenge him? The beliefs he espoused in the recently uncovered “William Wallace II” chats calling today’s American church system a “Pussified Nation,” and denouncing the weak men and angry feminists who are peeing in his Worship-Os breakfast cereal are kind of funny, if you’re into laugh-crying. Looked at one way, Driscoll’s insistence that part of being a good Christian wife is providing on-demand blowjobs, or that he’s called the Jesus many Christians worship a “Richard Simmons hippie queer Christ,” is kind of funny—isn’t it? Some of the million tweets launched by his referring to women as “penis homes” were definitely funny. But what’s really funny about an evangelical culture that casts women in a second-class role?
Stephanie Drury is what’s funny about it. Since 2008, she’s run Stuff Christian Culture Likes, a page devoted to shining a hilarious, snarky, and always-insightful light on the rules and dogmas that make up evangelical culture. The site’s Facebook page is a meeting place for those who are working through spiritual abuse they’ve suffered at Mars Hill and other churches. And since 2009, she’s been tweeting as @fakedriscoll, a parody account calling attention to some of the more ridiculous beliefs Mark Driscoll espouses.
“I visited the church around 2000,” says Stephanie. “A lot of my friends were going there and saying how great it was and I was thinking, wait, isn’t that guy a total misogynist? During the sermon I heard, he said a couple of things that stood out to me. One was that he wanked on and on about wine for awhile and how we have freedom in Christ to drink 'good wine.' Yeah, okay, that's true I suppose, but the 'good wine' stuff felt really self-referential. The other thing I remember him saying in that sermon was that the wife should have sex with the lights on if that's what the husband wants. And I remember thinking, ‘How many dozens of abuse survivors are listening to this right now? And how will his saying this from the pulpit affect them and counteract their healing?’"
"The draw seemed to be that they made church 'cool.' The music was really loud and they spent an ass-ton on production and Mark Driscoll wore ‘Jesus Is My Homeboy’ shirts. Edgy! But they had this really conservative doctrine underneath what appeared to be progressive. They believe in 'complementarian' marriage, which means the wife is supposed to submit to the husband. And they cloak all of this in language like, ‘But the husband loves the wife like Christ loved the church.’ But when women are encouraged by a church to get married in short order and quit their jobs and stay home and have a lot of kids, that doesn't seem to speak to a lot of freedom and respect for women. So that was when I officially became anti-Mars Hill.”
Spiritual abuse, what Stephanie defines as “a form of manipulation in which someone uses threats about what God will either do to you or think about you in order to get you to behave the way they want,” is the reason she started her blog and the parody Twitter account—and it’s something she’s intimately familiar with. As the child of an ordained southern Baptist pastor—both parents were employed by a missionary organization—Stephanie was immersed in evangelical culture from an early age. “I wasn't allowed to listen to secular music, there were ‘purity pledges,’ church all the time, Republicans were God's chosen party, etc. I remember learning about Jesus in church and thinking he seemed so lovely and I felt like most of the people who represented Christianity that I knew were a bunch of hostile jerks. So early on, I separated who Jesus was from who his followers were. I always had this image of him going ‘Yeah, I know, but I love them. They'll get it together one day.’”
Much of what Stephanie tweets as @fakedriscoll focuses on the abuse of power that has gone on at Mars Hill, and the hypocrisy it’s intended to cover up, much of which is informed by the Mars Hill members and ex-members—especially women—she’s in contact with regularly. “I was doing group therapy the year I started @fakedriscoll, and there were women in my sessions who went to Mars Hill. They would start off with disclaimers, saying ‘I'm not supposed to be here because I'm a member of Mars Hill and I signed a statement saying I wouldn't get therapy from counselors who aren't sanctioned by MH. But their counselors just tell me to pray harder and submit to my husband more.’ These women had all been working when they started at MH, and then were encouraged (I say encouraged, it was like super high-pressure encouragement) by the church to get married and quit their jobs and have several kids. Not just one or two kids, several. MH believes that's a great way to perpetuate the kingdom. And all of these women would be shaking when they came to group, they were so afraid of being found out that they were there.”
I asked Stephanie if it felt like a leap, to go from hearing intense and powerful stories from women who were mistreated by Mark Driscoll’s church and its doctrine to a parody Twitter account. “Something I learned in therapy was that humor was how I coped growing up and it's still a major coping mechanism. And with SCCL I saw that if you were funny about stuff, people would pay attention, even unlikely people,” said Stephanie. “And they aren’t likely to dismiss you completely out of hand, because you're showing them how ridiculous the reality we just abide with has gotten. You have to wrap the antibiotic in the dog treat. That's @fakedriscoll in a jelly pill, right there.”
The Twitter account, the Stuff Christian Culture Likes site and associated Facebook page—they’re all conduits through which people reach out to Stephanie, looking for resources or support or sometimes just confirmation that what they’ve experienced is real. “Some of these are people who believe that there is a God that is punitive and malicious and how that image of them runs their lives and has worn their self-image down to nothing, and they have no rest and they're constantly scrambling to try to make this angry God happy somehow but they can never measure up, and it makes me angry,” Stephanie says.
I asked Stephanie if she does what she does out of anger or love. “Both,” she replied. “And I feel like I'm in good company because Jesus fucking tore up the temple when the moneychangers were profiting from it. I think anger is a natural response to injustice. Anger shows us where our boundaries have been violated. We have to be wily and playful in order to deal with it, but we're only human and sometimes we just get really pissed. And that's beautiful too.”
Right now, Mark Driscoll is in the middle of a six-week “break” from his ministry. He’s retreated behind the gates of his million-dollar home like some aging silent-film star, to lick his wounds and confer with the PR firm he recently hired to help him put a Godly spin on his situation—that’s in addition to his existing PR team. “He's had a PR team for years. And a stylist. And they keep lawyers on retainer. A whole Mars Hill legal team. If Jesus came back, he would never stop throwing up,” says Stephanie.
What will happen next with the Mars Hill church system is anybody’s guess. It’s likely that they, and Mark Driscoll, will continue in some form. Charismatic leaders collecting followers and subjugating the weak and abusing their status is a story that’s as old as—hey, the Bible itself.
Luckily, there are always people like Stephanie Drury, too. Luckily, they’ll always be there to remind us that sometimes? Sometimes you just have to laugh.