Mars Hill is the largest church in Seattle, and one of the largest and fastest growing in the United States. It is also one of the most controversial churches in Seattle. Tomorrow I shall visit this seed of controversy.
Admittedly, Seattle's more on the liberal side, as cities go. But Mars Hill would find Iowa a bit too liberal. Mark Driscoll, the pastor, advocates that women should not be in leadership, that we should not refer to God as female, and that women should please their husbands. He teaches his church that the Bible should be read literally in most cases. So far, it's not that different from many churches in America, and on some of these issues, the majority of churches.
But it's the approach of Mars Hill that's different. For they are cutting edge, appealing to post-modern life, with "metachurch". Right now, you can decide what the pastor's sermons will be on in January. As you enter the foyer, you see hip art and popular music like rockabilly and Indie Rock. They're high-tech, with live feed to various satellite campuses around the Seattle area. The pastor uses modern language and speaks in a relaxed style. So far, it's all the kinds of things I like- it's the kinds of things I think every church should be, in its own culture, and sadly things far too few churches in America follow.
But it's the combination of these two elements that is concerning. For to silence critics, the church's website describes themselves as moderate "complimentarians" - they are not like those liberal egalitarians who just try to please the culture, or those conservatives that say a woman shouldn't lead. For Mars Hill believes that women should lead, but just not as elders or pastors. In this, they use language that certainly deceives. Moderate sounds great; but the complimentarian approach is not viewed as moderate. It is seen as a subsection of the traditional approach, and not much of a subsection at that. Indeed, the term is often used synonymously with traditionalism. The view that Mars Hill advocates is actually the majority view of conservative Christians, who for a long time have described themselves as following the "traditional" approach, rather than the "complimentarian". But by reframing their position as moderate, Mars Hill sounds better.
But Mark goes on. For his upbeat, post-modern approach leads to old beliefs in more attractive packaging. Women should put the needs of the home before their work. The Mars Hill website highlights the percentages of men and women, since a big goal in coming to the church should be finding your mate, and specifically, the woman finding her place in life. Since a quarter of Seattle Pacific University now attends Mars Hill (yes, a quarter!), many women at that Christian college are slowly switching majors to more traditional female majors. They are encouraged to remember their role in finding a good man to settle down with. Their role is to be a good wife first, caring for the home, and the career is optional. A married man might stray if the woman "lets herself go", as might have happened with Ted Haggard. So a woman should work to make herself attractive, to get the guy, and to keep the guy. That's her responsibility. Feminist guys are by implication gay, and are against the masculinity of God. (Let me stress, I am reducing the wording here, as a verbatim quote would be really too offensive for this blog. Remember Mark's desire for updated language.)
Mark derides other churches for having female leaders. His style is often very combative against those he disagrees with- it's part of the post-modern image. Mars Hill even attacks Bible translations, like the NRSV, for its feminist and pro-homosexual language. Inaccurately attacks them, it turns out, and I'd suggest it couldn't be anything else than purposely misleading. For the church website declares that the NRSV has "wrongly translated male and female in Genesis 1.27 as the androgynous humankind". This is an attempt, Mars Hill states, to remove the idea that there are differences in gender, and make us all the same, denying the actions of our Creator.
The only problem is that the NRSV doesn't say that. The NRSV is a great book for not only using gender neutral language, but using it when it is appropriate, for the commitment to the original Hebrew. So the NRSV translates Genesis 1.26 & 27 as "26 Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.' 27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." The word adamah there refers to both a man, and humanity. The context lends weight to the idea of humanity. The word is not seen as androgynous, but inclusive. The NRSV at no point replaces "male and female", but rather continues to include it when it occurs in the Hebrew, as you can see in verse 27. That male and female are referenced only lends support to the translation of the word as humanity earlier, rather than man. Yet the Mars Hill site very clearly gives the impression that humankind is used here in place of male and female. As you can see, it is quite clear that the NRSV continues to use the words male and female.
Finally, I recently suddenly realized that Mars Hill is named after a foreign deity. Oh, I know the intention, to refer to the famous speech by Paul in Athens. Yet still, there's something unsettling about this. It's like having a Christian church named First Church of Venus, or Apollo Community Church. It doesn't help matters that Mars is the god of war, and the pastor of this particular church tends to be so contentious and attacking of other Christian groups.
With all of this research, and admittedly biased viewpoint, I decided to brave the experience, gird my loins, beard the lion, visit the den, and exhaust my cliches. Come tomorrow to find out what happened.