“Muscular Christianity” Not to Blame For Driscoll: A Response

marshill

When I began attending Mars Hill Church in 2006, its main facility in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood was headquarters and clubhouse—a 20,000 square foot renovated hardware warehouse seating over a thousand where young guys loitered in the parking lot and rock music from worship band practices thundered outside after gospel class.

On Sundays, the sight of security guards monitoring the entryway with the impassive self-importance of club bouncers was routine. The church’s foreboding black box exterior contrasted with the soft contours of its cream-colored lobby; further inside, the sanctuary’s dim lighting and vast stage loaded with high end sound equipment and beat up guitars affected the atmosphere of a nightclub. Large screens surrounding the amphitheater issued pronouncements concerning service opportunities, including the need for male volunteers to ‘protect the body.’

What media reports and distant bloggers often miss when they attribute Driscoll’s preaching on gender and sex to a “system” of “male headship” or an “ethos” such as “muscular Christianity,” is how such a system or ethos is circulated and travels well beyond the church’s facilities. Placing blame on “particular beliefs” or a “ministry that grounds itself in inequality” is just as limiting as pinning the blame for prolonged abuses of power on a single man or his “moral and spiritual failings,” as Hollis Phelps argues in his recent piece for RD.

I appreciate Phelps’ overall point that the tragic events surrounding Mars Hill need to be examined beyond Driscoll and entail a closer critical engagement with the church’s culture, but as a cultural anthropologist I’m also sensitive to discussions that view a ‘culture’ as containable, bound, or self-regulating within a given institution.

Additionally, as a feminist who teaches courses on gender and sexuality, I appreciate that Phelps draws attention to the inequalities perpetuated by a doctrinal reinforcement of “male headship” expressed in “overtly misogynistic and homophobic terms.” But this ‘culture’ isn’t relegated to evangelical churches where the doctrine of male headship is preached from the pulpit. The degree and depth of control leveraged at and beyond Mars Hill’s facilities is too complex to be “blamed” on a given doctrine or particular religious ethos, whether it be “muscular Christianity” or the doctrine of male headship.

Instead, I suggest we turn a critical lens back onto ourselves; that we look to a culture writ large in the United States that is misogynistic, fearful of risk, and calibrated to ensure we shirk the vulnerability and empathy necessary to listen to and learn from others who do not share our worldview.

I have no desire to defend “muscular Christianity” or the doctrine of male headship; nor do I consider myself a hater or follower of Driscoll’s. However, as a non-believing researcher who attended Mars Hill Ballard from 2006-2008, and has continued to gather empirical, audio-visual, and textual evidence since, I do want to mention that I have been inspired by the testimonies of ex-leaders online. As these men confess to their roles as abusers and abused within the church’s administration, there’s hope in their willingness to publicly repent and live the gospel as a perpetually transformative process.

In recent months, I have sat with some of these men (and women), who still believe in male headship within the church, but do not subscribe to the doctrine as preached or publicized by Driscoll. The courage of ex-elders to step forward, challenge authority, and openly admit they sinned and were sinned against is humbling. While I may not see eye to eye with them on some political issues deemed those of the ‘culture wars,’ I am glad to have had the chance to look them in the eye as they spoke the gospel, perhaps in ways they did not realize at the time.

The misogynistic and fearful broader culture is a detriment whatever our gender or beliefs—religious, secular, or otherwise. We have a lot more common ground and spiritual affinity than we may think, and exploring that potential may just be the best way forward.

trystero@u.washington.edu'

Jessica Johnson is a Lecturer at the University of Washington in the Departments of Anthropology and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. She has a chapter forthcoming in the two-volume collection New Views on Pornography: Sexuality, Politics, and Law (January 2015) and is writing a book based on eight years of gathering empirical, audio-visual, and textual evidence at and about Mars Hill Church entitled—Biblical Porn: The Affective Labor of Popularizing Evangelical Culture.

  • Eric

    “Instead, I suggest we turn a critical lens back onto ourselves; that we look to a culture writ large in the United States that is misogynistic, fearful of risk, and calibrated to ensure we shirk the vulnerability and empathy necessary to listen to and learn from others who do not share our worldview.”

    I appreciate, and to a point agree with, this insight. Yet I don’t see the distinction you are trying to make between “Muscular Christianity” and a “misogynistic culture writ large.” Or rather, how the latter helped make the behavior of Driscoll, and others like him, possible in a way the former did not.

    Likewise, this makes sense:

    “The degree and depth of control leveraged at and beyond Mars Hill’s facilities is too complex to be “blamed” on a given doctrine or particular religious ethos, whether it be “muscular Christianity” or the doctrine of male headship.”

    Yet surely that control *was* presented and justified by a variant of “muscular Christian” discourse, no? I take the point that “culture” is too messy and complex to be a monolithic cause, but I still left wondering what the cause(s) might have been.

  • jfigdor

    Additionally, I cannot see how you can avoid indicting Muscular Christianity for a significant share of misogyny and abuse of women (I know as a former domestic violence/sexual assault shelter worker), as well as a significant portion of homophobia. When people quote, “it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” and start proclaiming how women ought to defer to male headship, it would absurd NOT to indict that as a problematic and dangerous philosophy.

  • Jim Reed

    The problem is larger than Driscoll. It is a part of our overall problem in America, all the trouble being caused by conservative beliefs on political or monetary or moral issues.

  • JMartinMul

    How many times should a non believing feminist gender studies person get to use the word mysogenistic in one article before eyes roll?

    Now that’s worthy of study. That’s something substantial to write about. But I am sure merely drawing attention to such overuse is itself a sure sign of mysogenism!

    This is how emptied the academy has become of substantial and consequential thought.

  • JMartinMul

    Using one “church” as a platform to make sweeping, generalizing, worn out complaints and observations (instead of actually doing rigorous data collection and analysis) is how it works in the Academy today. And then to disgorge books from a set of anecdotes is how to boost a CV.

    Tried and true tactics from today’s superficial academics.

  • Robert Burke

    This poem speaks a) to the confusion at Mars Hill and b) the confusion self-proclaimed feminists radiate… hey, she critiques, so turn about is fair play, isn’t it? Of course, it is!

    I would ask the author, are you dedicated to self-correction? No? Well, Western thought is!

    Drowning Prophetic Church Loathes its Rescue
    By Robert Winkler Burke
    Book #7 of In That Day Teachings
    4/22/11 http://www.inthatdayteachings.com

    The Prophetic Church is near dead, drowning!
    Isn’t it sad?
    Because it calls each great, God-sent rescue,
    Horrid bad!

    Several thousand boats called Higher Teachings,
    Pass by with oar, line and warm blanket,
    Shivering prophet leader man says, No!
    This stinks more than Lazarus stanketh!

    A navy armada called Western Enlightenment,
    Passes by with submarine, ship and aircraft carrier,
    Drowning prophetic leader says, I see: this isn’t help!
    Saying no to the Devil, makes me always merrier!

    Finally, a gigantic Enterprise-class space ship,
    Called Christ-in-You hovers perfectly overhead,
    ‘Tis a pity, we could have beamed prophet man aboard,
    But he flipped us off! was all its Captain said.

    Slowly, excruciatingly,
    The prophetic man drowned,
    He died with a lie on his lips,
    He said, My soul is sound!

    The Prophetic Church knows all and sees all,
    And that, friends, is the problem!
    It knows nothing but pride and hates rebuke,
    Inside it lives a goblin!

    The terrible goblin of pride,
    Destroys other churches as well,
    This goblin is tough as nails,
    For its hosts think rebuke: hell!

    Higher Teachings, Western Enlightenment,
    Corrections and Christ-in-You bring remedy!
    Oh prideful church leaders get demons out,
    In That Day will test You: Got humility?

  • Christopher

    The problems in America are caused by Socialist Democrats and Fascist Republicans that force, through taxation, people that want to follow Christ to follow Satanic theft of the unconstitutional establishment of the civic religion of Socialism/Marxism.

    I don’t want to pay for your “Sacred trust” at least as much as you don’t want to pay for my religious agenda. But I don’t force my religion on you while you get the government to try to force you religion on me.

  • Christopher

    Well stated.

  • Christopher

    What I continue to fail to understand is if women don’t want men in charge why don’t they start their own churches?

  • Robert Burke

    Ha Ha! Only humor cuts through feminist sub-taught brain-scramble!

  • Robert Burke

    Yup. To attend an “Emergent-Gobbledygook” is grist for the mill of critique. Easy doing!

  • Macy

    Apparently not enough times to inspire you to spell it correctly.

    Is three times really overuse? Especially if the first instance is merely quoting the article to which she is responding? And the second – the first time she used it herself – is referring back to the quote?

  • JMartinMul

    Pointing out spelling errors is another superficial practice of wannabe intellects. Surface forms.

  • Eric

    Spend much time in “The Academy” do you? The author made it clear that her piece is in fact based on “rigorous data collection and analysis” as an anthropologist. And to say she offer “worn out complaints” is basically to admit you didn’t comprehend a word she said. If anything, she was being too objective and understanding of the failings of patriarchal culture, as when she applauds some ex-members of that culture for their confession and repentance. I don’t agree with everything she said here, but at least I understood what I was reading.

  • Macy

    As is ignoring points that contradict or complicate your own. ;)

  • Eric

    As many times as it take for you to get the point. Which is to say it’s gonna be a while. Maybe if you stop whining about feminism and drop your groundless sense of superiority you wouldn’t have to hear about misogyny so often.

  • Eric

    I suspect you continue to fail to understand a great many things about women.

  • Christopher

    What man does not? What woman does not?

    “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

    That is why I asked the question and did not make a statement. Do you have an answer?

  • Eric

    Not to a stupid question, no.

  • Christopher

    So women have started their own churches?

  • Jim Reed

    You can see the flaw in the system embedded in this line from the poem,

    This stinks more than Lazarus stanketh!

    This was Jesus’ greatest miracle, Lazarus was a stinking corpse dead and buried for 3 days. But Jesus was so great his voice could command Lazarus to come back to life. Very impressive, except this is from the gospel of John, the last one written, and written a few decades later than Mark. The author of Mark didn’t know about this most impressive miracle, and Matthew and Luke didn’t either. To them Lazarus was a methaphorical character in heaven. Going back a little further in time, Paul didn’t know anything about this story either, or in fact any of the stories in any of the gospels. When you think about it, it seems whoever wrote the gospel of John just made this up to make the Jesus character sound more impressive. I don’t think you can trust that it is real. That opens up the possibility that none of it is real, which makes sense when you think about it. If you want to find an answer in religion you should check somewhere else besides the Jesus stories. They’re just not believable.

  • Andre M

    Yeah, you were really expounding some deep truths there, JMartinMul. Blowing academics away with your brilliant knee-jerk reactions there.

  • Andre M

    Just so you know who you’re dealing with here, Eric. Christopher is a Mormon extremist weirdo who dislikes being called a Mormon and is beyond reasonable discourse and, when prodded enough, will say some pretty disgusting things about women.

  • JMartinMul

    You proved my initial point. Dunk.

  • JMartinMul

    Nothing contradictory or complicating presented so far by you.

  • Andre M

    False. Dunk!

  • JMartinMul

    When was the last time you had real data and rigorous analysis presented to you by a gender studies “prof”? Have you glanced at any “gender studies” journal lately? Most anthropologists exist because they find math too hard.

    If she had data that could withstand a light breeze she would have presented it.

  • Eric

    Please see above.

  • Andre M

    uh-oh! look out folks! a stemmer!

  • Eric

    I see you went to the “I’m Rubber, You’re Glue” school of debate.

  • Eric

    So that’s a big “No,” then. You know jack squat about academic discourse, and if possible even less about gender studies. Most internet trolls exist because they find thinking too hard.

  • JMartinMul

    I am afraid I know too much. I publish in engineering journals. Gender studies people are some of the most vague and “Chip on their shoulder” people on the face of earth. Most have serious anxiety problems.

  • JMartinMul

    Rest easy. There are no “folks” reading your posts.

  • Eric

    Your fears are unfounded, truly. Not sure what chip you are projecting onto the shoulders of gender studies scholars, but it must weigh a ton. Your lack of respect for disciplinary expertise is enough to dismiss you from serious conversation on the topic. Which I suspect is why you are whinging on about feminism on a religion blog.

  • JMartinMul

    For fun, several of my peers actually tried to diagram a handful of randomly selected published “gender studies”, explicating the premises, published support provided for the studies premises, and the logic of the method (how the study triangulated on the hypothesis), and the studies’ conclusions from the “data” generated by the study. The diagrams looked like a set of unconnected planets.

    Most of the support provided were the professors own previous “studies” (this inflates their own citation indices…which helps during promotion time in the university). The Scopus Ratings for these journals are so low anyway among peer scientists that it makes the exercise moot, but it was fun.

    There was just no compelling scientific coherence in them. No data or actual analysis linking the parts.

    Jabberwocky. Day dreams.

  • Eric

    Meh. So you say. Why should I listen to what a patently hostile engineer and his pals have to say about a multidisciplinary field outside of their expertise?

  • JMartinMul

    Lol. Don’t counter with contrary facts just dismiss with words. Just like a gender studies journal. You have a future.

  • Allen Bourque

    I have to agree with Eric. You are throwing around generalizations that convey you were either very early in the article or perhaps even before you read it. So, I have no sense that you actually comprehended anything that she actually wrote.

  • JMartinMul

    I’m confident that is the norm.

  • Bill Harnist

    As a feminist who teaches courses on gender and sexuality, Jessica johnson sure likes to use quotation marks!

  • Allen Bourque

    Well, I guess so the blogosphere…it’s not the norm in the circles I normally engage with. I only occasionally dip into this world.

  • cranefly

    In this whole thread you haven’t presented a single thought on the actual article or subject at hand. Your rigorous fact-based argument is that “gender studies” (all of it, I suppose) is unscientific, because your unspecified peers “diagrammed” a handful of unspecified “studies” and you can use a bunch of high school vocabulary words to vaguely describe the shape of their chart? Good story. I have made a note of it.

    I’ll read you my note: “Unknown guy on the internet calls unspecified studies into question for unspecified reasons. Uses anecdotes about the academy to trash the credibility of a non-academic article about how misogyny is bad.”

    Help me out. What’s your point? Misogyny… good?

  • Eric

    I did counter with contrary facts. It is a fact that you are an engineer. It is a fact that you are patently hostile, among other things. It is a fact you and your pals were commenting on a filed outside of their expertise. Add those things together, and the conclusion you reached about gender studies is contrary to what people who know the field would reach.

  • JMartinMul

    Yawn

  • Eric

    Wait, where are your contrary facts? your scientific rigor? Just admit it: you are a bitter little man who can’t stand the fact that the world is beyond the control of your petty mind.

    Anyone wanna place bets on how many times JMartin has bee accused of sexual harassment?

  • JMartinMul

    Sharpness of analysis, sure. Never harassment. But the hint you clumsily drop is typical of underpowered posters use to try to besmirch and distract.

  • Eric

    What the hell does “underpowered posters” even mean? Are there such things as “adequately powered posters” and “overpowered posters”? Sure hope you aren’t that sloppy at the work you get paid to do.

  • Andre M

    Wow, what a quick wit you have! You stemmers sure do have knack for nuance! ;)

  • JMartinMul

    Underpowered, lukewarm, tepid. Less than100 degrees. Need some more synonyms?

  • cranefly

    Lol. Is analysis that sharp even legal?

  • Christopher

    And again you are unable to answer and so you answer like a Feminist. :-)

    How can you type with your nose in the air?

  • Bex

    Your comment makes no sense. What is “Satanic theft of the unconstitutional establishment of the civic religion of Socialism/Marxism?” That’s word salad worthy of Sarah Palin. How is the government, whatever you mean by that, forcing someone else’s religion on you?

  • Jessica Johnson

    To be fair, the quotation marks are due to the fact this piece is a response to a prior article, which is why there are quotation marks, to signify the direct quotes I used to develop my argument and reference the previous author’s. Hope that clarifies!

  • Jessica Johnson

    Hahaha! That’s funny. Well, thankfully, your nasty comments are making me laugh rather than causing anxiety. If you read the article, there is far from any evidence of a “chip on my shoulder.” In fact, that is the very guarded sensibility I am speaking against (and that you are performing here). And numbers do not equal data. Nor do they equal legitimacy, validity, or truth. Mars Hill Church has done a very good job of obfuscating peoples’ understanding of its power, and dubiously legitimizing its authority, by exploiting metrics and marketing strategies to promote itself erroneous stats, like Driscoll’s “Number One Bestselling Author Status” for Real Marriage.

  • Jessica Johnson

    Great questions, Eric. And thank you for your genuinely engaged response to the piece (as well as periodic comments in defense of it throughout that I have no stomach for beyond a couple). First: the structures of violence generated by misogyny are not relegated to evangelical churches, nor their damaging effect to women. And Driscoll’s voice and the authority it carries beyond MH cannot be possible without complicity beyond the church’s facilities. That is why I wanted to de-emphasize “Muscular Christianity” insofar as “blame” is concerned. The second part of my answer is a bit in depth but concerns how control can register beyond our cognition, through emotional and visceral responses that we cannot ourselves control or even register as experience because they can pass by too quickly…rather than doctrine or ideology, I am interested in how such forms of power can be suggested, manipulated, and circulated. Hope that makes sense and clarifies a bit!

  • Jessica Johnson

    I just don’t want to “blame” “Muscular Christianity” completely (which is what the piece I was responding to was arguing)…I do say that I have no interest in defending it as an ethos. But, I would also offer that when we use a term such as “Muscular Christianity” we need to contextualize it historically, culturally, and in this case doctrinally…which is also the reason I wanted to suggest an alternative way of thinking on the term by opening it up a bit so that we take cultural, social, and economic factors into consideration. I couldn’t do all of that work in a short piece, but that was my intent.

  • JMartinMul

    It’s easy to pick on a church, but to propup a book with anecdotes…well that takes hutzpah. And to call it research, well that takes gender studies skills.

  • Eric

    Thanks for the response. This does clarify things a good bit. I’m looking forward to see how you develop this understanding of power, using affect theory it seems?, when the book is out.

  • Jessica Johnson

    Yes, affect theory will come into play. Thanks for the interest!

  • Jim Reed

    He means taxes. In his religion you don’t have to pay taxes to the government.

  • Jim Reed

    “I am glad to have had the chance to look them in the eye as they spoke the gospel, perhaps in ways they did not realize at the time.”

    “We have a lot more common ground and spiritual affinity than we may think, and exploring that potential may just be the best way forward.”

    Jessica, I get the feeling you have a lot to say, but for journalistic reasons you are writing to not expose them. Why were you glad to have the chance to look them in the eye as they spoke the gospel? What was that gospel, and what did they not realize? So many issues and so little time, I guess I just think we shouldn’t get bogged down in things like Driscoll’s masculinity.

  • JMartinMul

    Don’t attribute to nasty what should be taken as bare bone truth. I spent last night reading some “gender studies” journals, taking advantage of some publisher web access I have.

    Truly deplorable state of a field of study. Pure speculation, jargon ladened field. Most professors cite themselves more than others! Funded all by various Us govt grants..oh the pain to the taxpayers. And most of it is just rewound complaints put in fancy professor talk. Net it out..and it’s just goss.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    I suspect that you *do* force us to pay for your religion.

    1. I’m sure your church is tax exempt, right? That means that everyone is paying for your church.

    2. I suspect you are pro-life and politically active. That’s you trying to force your religious morality on us, via the law.

    3. I suspect that you are anti-gay-marriage and politically active. That means you are trying to force your religious morality on gay and lesbian citizens.

    There’s more, but I’m sure you get the drift.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    There are plenty of churches with female ministers. My own synagogue has a female rabbi.

    Not sure what you’re talking about.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    As I said, there are many churches, where women make up the ecclesiastical leadership.

    Next question?

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Hey! He publishes in engineering journals!

  • Jessica Johnson

    Hmmmm. Well, I don’t know what you mean by “Driscoll’s masculinity.” Wouldn’t our understanding of how he preaches on what it means to be masculine need to be considered in relation to other cultural, social, economic, and political factors besides a doctrine such as male headship? Such as how that doctrine is embedded in the structural organization of Mars Hill specifically (beyond the exclusion of women as pastors)? And wouldn’t the audio, visual, and digital media used to communicate and circulate said preaching be important to consider in that regard? Or the inflection of Driscoll’s voice, his body gestures? I wish to contextualize the way he preaches on masculinity in order to understand its power and capacity to globally circulate, mobilize people, etc. But it can’t be considered in a vacuum. So, considerations such as military engagement, the outsourcing of industry, etc…in addition to the church’s cultural milieu are necessary pieces of a complex puzzle. And yes, I do have a lot to say, that is why I am writing a book. But no, I am not going to ‘expose’ anyone or anything…sorry, I’m just not clear as to your point. Or your question concerning the gospel. I think my discussion on that is explained when I speak of transformative process…that’s my best attempt to address your questions above. Hope my thoughts respond to some extent!

  • Jim Reed

    What if he cleaned up his act and did nothing sexist, but was a perfect model of how someone should act in that way? Would you join his church and attend as a believer instead of as an observer? It’s not really a valid question. If he did

  • Jim Reed

    I think he will disagree with you on most of that. His religion is kind of him by himself, just believing what his wife says, and not influenced by anyone else other than some Mormonism. He doesn’t want the government funding him, and he doesn’t want to fund the government. Also he has a gay relative. (Plus he and his family have a long list of miracles from God and visits from Jesus, but I don’t think that applies one way or the other)

  • Jessica Johnson

    Ah, I see. Ok, thanks for clarifying. I can’t say I’m ‘against’ Christianity, no. That’s the equivalent of picking ‘teams,’ and that is one of Driscoll’s rally cries that I’d rather not feed or mimic. And now I think I understand your earlier question about my discussion of the gospel…so, I wanted to ground the media reports I’ve been reading to offer a different point of view other than the believer/non-believer polarizations used and policed…I wanted to situate myself in the scene to demonstrate that such dichotomies are not so cut and dry in life as we live it…which, as an argument, is far more contra the pernicious spirit of Driscoll’s preaching than simply calling a given doctrine or religion ‘wrong.’ For me, self-righteousness is counterproductive to empathy and transformation (personal and political) regardless of the viewpoint you are adopting.

  • Jim Reed

    So is the problem the pernicious spirit of Driscoll’s preaching, or is that just the nature of the religion itself? We might have to agree to disagree on this one.

  • Jessica Johnson

    Never one to be either/or in my answers, as I think is apparent by now. But, no, I don’t think there’s a ‘nature’ of Christianity (writ large??) that is ‘the problem.’ And pernicious spirits abound.

  • Jim Reed

    Christianity is about dedicating your life to believing in a myth, and trying to convince the rest of the world to believe the same. It has to be supported by a system of apologetics that can help the smart ones ignore any concerns about believing contradictions. All great stuff except when it goes too far and gets involved in crusades or inquisitions.

  • Mandy R-G

    Excellent response. When I read Phelps’ article, I found it highly simplistic in its argumentation: doctrine of male headship, therefore Mark Driscoll. Thank you for pointing out the wider cultural and social misogyny at work, and for offering perspective on those from Mars Hill who have repented.

  • Joseph Arechavala

    It’s not just Christianity – conservative religions all over the world subjugate women. What I don’t understand is why in an advanced country like the US is supposed to be why women would tolerate it.

  • Jim Reed

    If you want to be religious, you have to be willing to put up with a little insanity.

  • Louise

    Perhaps if you learned to spell misogyny correctly, we could have a dialogue?

  • Andre M

    What, do you stare at the keys when you type?