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.