Tuesday, September 19, 2006


There are about a half-dozen new books written by journalists, of varying degrees and types of faith, who are exploring the differing movements and institutions within American Evangelicalism. I am currently reading one titled Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement by Lauren Sadler, a self-avowed atheist, and the Life editor of Salon, who is baffled by what she finds and credits the failure of secularists to provide any sense of meaning and hope to younger generations for the degradation of Evangelical Christianity. As one who is comfortable sitting in the critic's chair when it comes to the state of the American Church, I am enjoying her observations but also wondering when in the history of the world have nonbelievers, as a collective whole, been dispensers of hope and meaning?

Of special interest to me are the chapters where she chronicles her time spent with Mars Hill church in Seattle and the Revolution church in Atlanta, pastored by Jay Bakker, son of none other than Jim and Tammy Faye. In both cases she is intrigued, and seemingly a little attracted, to the sense of community and acceptance she first finds in these places but is turned off by the interpretation of Christianity, especially in the case of Mars Hill.

I've never known much about Mars Hill in Seattle, other than that it's often been mentioned as a part of the "emergent conversation" going on for the past several years. I also was aware it had fundamentalist leanings, but I had no clue how far those went. Although the culture lived out amidst this community of faith is very alternative, reflecting the tastes and mores of the home of Cobain and Vedder, it's theology and church polity would make Falwell, Dobson, and Roberstson proud to the core.

Mars Hill takes seriously it's belief in the nonegalitarian roles of men and women as it pertains to both family and church life. But they take it even a step further by denying leadership roles not just to women, but also to men who are not yet married. In fact, single men in the community often rent basements or extra rooms from families in the church so they can be in a relationship mentoring program in which they have modeled for them how men should lead women and how women should submit.

I don't want this to be a Mars Hill bashing post. I know one person who is a part of the church who at least occasionally visits my blog. In many ways, everything I've heard about the community is a perfect picture of the church being Christ to the world surrounding it. But by reading about these restrictions in church leadership I have found myself being able to understand at least a little the plight of women who have been denied leadership positions in churches, because even I would not be an acceptable leader in this place (not that I would want to be.)

Of course I am making a moot point because I am not a part of this community. But I was just moved by Sandler's interviews with women who previously were very strong and independent but who have been conquered by their men and an ancient worldview that saw them as less than adequate. You can feel a sense of defeat in their voices, many of them saying how they don't like how things are but how they submit anyway because "It's what God wants."

You should check out the book. It's really similar to another book making it around the circles, Body Piercing Saved my Life, but isn't confined to the parameters of Contemporary Christian Music. Sandler does not try to hide her bias, but her skewed perspective is something all believers should pay attention to.


Anonymous said...

some of the sad-sounding women in the book responded to Sadler's article in Salon, and not only defend themselves but are very angry of the way they are portrayed. Read the "editor's picks" letters.

Craig said...

When I finished posting this I went to lunch and saw a guy with a shirt on that read "I have a dick, so I make the rules," which I thought was kind of funny, seeing how appropriate that is in many churches.

Craig said...


I just read several of the letters on the editor's picks and can now sympathize with some of these women. As I suggested at the end of my post, I have no illusions that Sandler isn't extremely. But she really makes no effort to hide her bias, so for that she should be commended.

At least one of the letters I read showed a bit of oversensitivity. One of the Mars Hill members seemed defensive that Sandler made the comment that she has no close friends who would build her a fence, suggesting that SHE was suggesting the church was somehow a cult. When I read that section I saw it a little differently. I saw someone on the outside actually being drawn to many of the wonderful Christlike aspects of community exhibited at Mars Hill, but who couldn't see herself in such a situation because of their view of women. I read and believe she was actually impressed with much of what she saw.

Craig said...

first paragraph, second sentence, last word should read "extremely biased."

amy said...

A pastor friend of mine recently preached on the passage of wives submitting to husbands, and he pointed out that it is to go hand & hand with husbands loving their wives--to the point of if the wife needs something she cannot get, the husband should (and I loved this image) get on his hands & knees so the wife could stand on his back to reach it. One of my most careful observations in scripture is to try to read the whole, and I think a lot is missed in places like Mars Hill if they only read the part.

Thanks for the interesting post.

jenA said...

i think it's important (for me) to let you know that being a journalist doesn't stamp out a fire of bias in someone.
A book written by a journalist should never be mistaken for a really really long article that wouldn't fit in a publication, and therefore should not be criticized for its lack of objectivity in reflection.
It's impossible to live up to a standard of objectivity in those parts of your life that you and God maintain are separate from your job description.
I would offer that Sadler used many of her job skills to complete a task - explore a topic and write about the result - but you can't call her a journalist while she's hammering out statements of obvious experiential truth. At this point, she's merely an author.
Non-fiction and journalism are not the same thing; I am, however, always interested in seeing to what degree writers display their personal reflections in articles published by self-declared journalistic publications. That is the litmus test.
Media and journalism, like fundamentalist and evangelical, are not interchangeable. They merely coexist in some communities.

Aaron said...

Mars Hill is not "emergent"; it is "emerging". Apparently, there is a difference. "Emergent" is a subset of "emerging," but it is the left-wing subset.

I am fascinated by Mark Driscoll and his ministry. At times he seems like a loose cannon. But he is reaching people with the gospel in Seattle of all places, and he is doing it from a conservative, Calvinistic, complementarian framework. I think he is living proof that we don't have to completely reformulate our theology in order to reach people in the 21st century (he reminds me of Tim Keller, whose ministry in New York City is well-known). Whereas I see "emergent" as a strategy of accomodation (and, therefore, compromise of the truth), Mars Hill's "emerging" flavor is everything a missional church should be only without all the fuzzy, post-everything nonsense.

Aaron said...

Mark Driscoll has responded to this and one other article on his blog. You can read it at:


It's the post entitled "It's Always Something At Mars Hill Church".

This is my favorite line:

"It pains me a great deal to see our great women leaders and deacons like Judy and Sarah take shots in the story, but it was inevitable. Poor Sarah, we are told, has essentially ruined her life by adopting two African-American kids to be their mom because now she has less time to read Gloria Steinem."