Recapping the Mars Hill Documentary: Love of money

Trigger warning: classist and racist language, misogyny, cissexism, spiritual abuse/cults.

Part 1 // Storify of my live-tweets // Mars Hill Documentary

I’ve noticed for some time that Mark Driscoll is at least as obsessed with money as he is with sex and gender roles – and further, his obsession with money is directly connected to his preoccupations with sex and proper gender roles. So it was interesting to see the considerable degree to which money is a major theme, if not the single dominant theme, in the Mars Hill documentary. Driscoll talks about money literally from the first minute of the film right through to the very last minute.

The douchey beginning: It takes less than a minute for Driscoll to make a nasty remark about “men in dresses.” Not one minute. The full comment reflects how how class and wealth are integral aspects of what Driscoll believes separates “manly” men from “girly” ones:

The last thing I ever thought I would be was a pastor, ’cause growing up Catholic, the pastor is a guy who lives at the church, is flat broke, is committed to never having sex, and walks around in a dress. So pretty much that was [the] last career choice of all possible career choices. – Driscoll, ~ 00:50-1:05 in the film.

Driscoll, of course, is not this kind of pastor. He owns a home. He’s not broke. He has lots of sex. He dresses in an appropriately virile fashion. And apparently, part of his job as a pastor is to make sure that everyone is informed of these facts. Repeatedly.

The vast middle: Driscoll repeatedly regales viewers, accompanied by sad womp-womp music in the background, with tales of the days when Mars Hill was “broke” and “homeless.” Homeless,” apparently, means “renting out someone else’s building for services rather than owning our own property” and “broke” means “not having as much money as other churches.”

Bonus: the use of “ghetto” (though not by Driscoll) to describe the temporary housing of the Mars Hill offices and three male church staff in the Driscoll home. Staff who, by the way, despite being grown and capable adults, left Driscoll’s wife Grace to do their dishes and clean up after them. Real manliness, y’all!

Driscoll talks about Mars Hill like it’s a business (to be fair, like most megachurches, it is one). In fact, he seems to see churches in general in business terms. He describes established denominations starting new churches as equivalent to a big business opening a new branch – denominations simply “write a fat check” as seed money and they’re good to go.

So it’s not surprising that Driscoll also casts Mars Hill as a brash and cutting-edge startup that “innovates” and bucks church traditions out of necessity (read: being “broke”). Traditional churches simply use their oodles of money to try to “buy cool” instead of innovating themselves.

The “absolute gamechanger” in Mars Hill’s history: receiving gigantic sums of money from wealthy donors. The first large donors to Mars Hill – a couple who single-handedly donated $200,000 – are described as “the first ones to believe in the possibility of what we were doing.” Because, as my husband says, you can tell who’s the first to believe in you by who gives you a large amount of cash.

The real kicker, though, is that Driscoll immediately follows this rhapsodizing about rich benefactors whose generosity saved Mars Hill from imminent demise with the sage conclusion that these donations came in because “God showed up….There’s another Trinity behind Larry, Curly, and Moe [Driscoll and his fellow pastors] actually putting this thing together.” In case that’s not clear, he equates people donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mars Hill so that they could renovate a run down church building with divine intervention and favor.

Why doesn’t God “show up” and help actual poor people? This remains a mystery we don’t really need to question. But we can rest assured that God takes time out of the divine plan to make sure people like Mark Driscoll have awesome renovated church buildings so their churches can grow. And we can tell who God really favors by who has big churches with lots of money, obviously.

The shocking conclusion: Let’s start with some context.

    • In fiscal year 2010, Mars Hill received about $13 million dollars in general giving, and is on track for $14-15 million dollars in giving for FY 2011.
    • Mars Hill owns over $16 million in total net assets
    • Between FY 2008 and 2010, their “excess revenue over expenses” – ahem, that is to say, their annual profit – has ballooned from $15,000 to $2.1 million dollars.
      [all numbers from the Mars Hill annual report, thanks WeenatcheetheHatchet for pointing me to this]

Keep these numbers in mind as I tell you how this shining record of Mars Hill’s history, this testament of “God’s work” and Mars Hill’s witness, ends. Given these numbers and what’s come before, you might think Driscoll would conclude by talking some more about how God has showed Mars Hill with money favor. Or perhaps with one more nostalgic anecdote about how “poor” the church used to be, but no longer. You might think that, but you’d be so very wrong.

Long story short? The documentary ends with Driscoll complaining at some length that Mars Hill “has often, quite frankly, really stunk at giving,” then trying to guilt people into giving more money to the church.

No, really. In Driscoll’s mind, “most of the people in the church need to be giving a whole lot more.”

[Partial transcript] Mars Hill has often really just, quite frankly, stunk at giving, and I think the last thing to be saved is a person’s wallet. And so I’m just going to tell you that most of the people in the church need to be giving a whole lot more.

Some of you are being generous. I’m not talking to you. For those people, we’ll have a separate conference for you in a phone booth.

For everybody else, the sad, cold, hard truth is about 24 percent of people at Mars Hill this year have given nothing. In addition, another 41 percent have given $500 or less. So that’s 65-ish percent of Mars Hill, two-thirds of Mars Hill’s twelve thousand people who are giving nothing or nearly nothing….

And I want you to ask this question of yourself. At the end of the year, how much do you anticipate that God wants you to give? We’re at that place now where it is going to take everyone being very generous to open up an opportunity to welcome nine thousand more people, all the new churches, seats, opportunities.

So is it about the money? Yes, it’s about spending the money to reach people for Jesus. Everything costs something. And we think that if you love Jesus and you believe people are going to hell, you should give at least as much money to that as toilet paper, and many of you aren’t.

Bottom line: you can do better. We love you and we trust in the grace of God. You will be more generous.

People are getting saved more than ever. Churches are getting planted more than ever. Leaders are rising up more than ever. Opportunities are surfacing more than ever. And this is the best possible time to get onboard, to pray, give, serve, because I promise you, what comes next is the kind of thing that you’re going to tell your grandkids about.

As I said while live-tweeting, you could land yourself into a coma if you had to drink every time Driscoll mentions money. But it wasn’t until these final minutes that I realized that money isn’t simply a recurring motif in the film, but rather what it’s about. The final note of a film like this is the take-away message – not necessarily the consciously intended message, but a moment that sticks in the viewer’s memory, precisely because of its finality, because it’s the last message you hear.

And this is the message Driscoll chooses to leave viewers with: God wants you do give us more money. You can show you love Jesus by how much of your money you give to me (note: not to charity, not even to Christian causes, but to Driscoll’s church specifically). If you don’t give us money, Jesus is going to send people to hell. Please ignore the fact that we believe in predestination, and no amount of money or time you spend on church will change supposedly preordained divine decisions about who ends up in heaven and hell. Don’t sweat the details! Just do better with the whole giving us money thing.

I mean – you can’t even call this an ‘appeal’ for more money. It’s blatant money grubbing, privileged and entitled grumbling from the pastor of what’s undoubtedly one of the wealthiest independent churches in the country, if not the world, and unashamed emotional and spiritual manipulation.

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Recapping the Mars Hill Documentary: gender, race, sex, and cults of personality

Trigger warning: racism, misogyny, cissexism, spiritual abuse/cults. 

So Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church made a documentary… about themselves. Specifically, about the history of the church and how it came to be where it is today. The full documentary is online: God’s Work, Our Witness. Quite the title.

I watched the documentary over the weekend and tweeted my reactions while watching it. You can read the round-up of my live-tweeting on Storify. I can’t embed or post the full text of my reactions to the documentary here; it’s pretty long. But I can sum up a few things that struck me after watching it.

Predictably, much of it consists either of Mark Driscoll talking about himself, or other leaders from Mars Hill talking about Mark Driscoll. Also predictably, there’s a lot of talk about manliness, sex, and money, from the typically boorish and self-obsessed “Pastor Mark” perspective. Let’s break it down.

Gender: The documentary is slightly over an hour long. In that time, only two women appear on screen without their husbands, one of whom is Grace Driscoll. The other women who are featured barely speak in comparison to their husbands. They seem to mostly be there to look supportive, smile, and hold their husbands’ hands. So it doesn’t really come as a surprise when one of the pastors’ wives, recalling the challenges the church staff faced during a period of sudden growth, says the following (emphasis mine):

It was just really intense, really busy…it was trying to [pauses, looks at her husband], the guys were just trying to keep up with what God was doing. And so I think all of us wives were just holding on for the ride. With our kids in tow. [looks at her husband, smiles].

Well. Sigh. The church belongs to the men, you see. The women and children are just along for the ride.

Then there are the lovely bits where he talks about how he decided to start doing a church-wide men’s meeting because he simply didn’t have the time to yell at all the men individually, poor thing, so he just had to gather all the men in one place so he could yell at them at the same time!

This is real innovative leadership, y’all. You should take notes.

Naturally what one does when one has a captive audience of men is to tell them to “sit down and shut up until I’m ready to yell at you,” and then in fact proceed to yell at them for 2-3 hours about about “all of [their] perversion… laziness…lack of drive and ambition…ungodly living.” Oooh, also, hand them stones with Bible verses written on them, with instructions that the men hang on to them “until they get [their] own stones.”

Like I said: real cutting edge stuff. What a memorable and classy way to “lead” men!

Not only is Driscoll communicating to the men he leads that they are “inadequate” men (they have no stones), he’s communicating to them that he is in a different, higher position than they are. Not only does he have “stones,” he’s in a position to judge their lack of “stones.” This is all part of Driscoll’s whole shtick, which is not only about putting women in their place, but actually about putting everyone, including and perhaps especially other men in their place – namely, beneath him. Eeeeveryone is inferior to him. No man is as manly as he.

And this manipulative, toxic behavior is part of a long-established pattern. From the discussion of the documentary the Stuff Christian Culture Likes FB page, we learn that in the earlier days of Mars Hill, the church had a message board on which Driscoll had two accounts: one that was known to other church members as be his account, and another, “anonymous” sock puppet named “William Wallace II” (oh, the evangelical male obsession with Braveheart. A post topic of its own). Driscoll used this fake account to rant about how the U.S. is a “pussified nation” and to angrily challenge other men in the church to “man up.”

Let’s be real about what Driscoll is passing off as “leading men” here. Questioning someone’s gender is an attack on their identity and very personhood – I’m not talking about intent, but content and effect. Driscoll goes way beyond that. He deliberately tries to undermine people’s security and confidence in their gender identity. He deliberately tries to induce a feeling in men – and people of all genders – that their gender is actually or potentially not “real.” That? Is abuse. Period. It’s a deliberate attempt to degrade people and make them *feel* the degradation, make them feel ashamed, and it’s not leadership. It’s abuse.

It’s also cissexist as hell – i.e., treating people whose bodies, appearance, or behavior don’t conform to arbitrary norms of the gender they are, or are assumed to be, as lesser than people who do conform to gender expectations. It’s bigoted behavior that literally kills people. That is the “bold” leadership Mark Driscoll is selling.

Race: There are also precisely ZERO visible people of color in the entire documentary (I say visible because some of the people in the documentary may have nonwhite ancestry that’s not immediately obvious). This is a documentary about a twelve thousand member church, in a huge city, with one of the biggest Asian-American populations in the country. And there appear to be no black people in it. Nor any Asians or Asian Americans. Nor any Latin@s. Zero.

A quick browse through Mars Hill’s various staff pages on line shows that this stark absence of people of color in the documentary is in fact reflective of the leadership of Mars Hill as a whole. Just taking men who are explicitly labeled as pastors, there’s only one visible man of color (Asian or Asian American) among the various Mars Hill’s total staff of 31 pastors.

Put it differently: Mars Hill’s pastorate is 97% white in a city that’s 14% Asian/Asian American and has a 30% minority population.

Add in the nasty “joke” about a worship pastor whose poor singing, according to Driscoll, “sounded like he got captured by Al Qaeda,” Driscoll’s complaints about a church building Mars Hill wanted being given to a Chinese church, and appropriating other people’s culture by using a digeridoo in worship, and the lack of people of color in the documentary becomes a glaring problem.

Narcissistic leadership/Cult of personality: I’d say the people in the documentary, Driscoll included, talk at least as much about “Pastor Mark” as they do about Jesus. Probably more. Which is kind of telling in a documentary that’s supposedly about their witness to “God’s work.”

There’s also quite a bit of approving/enabling commentary about Driscoll’s long-established penchant for yelling and screaming at his congregation. This vitriolic sermon style (if it can be called that) is at turns portrayed by people in the documentary as “awesome” or hilarious. Emotionally abusing and manipulating a congregation that looks to you for guidance is so cute!

I had to laugh at the moment where Driscoll introduces the documentary as “one big roadtrip” through the history of Mars Hill, “with Jesus as the driver”…while he was sitting in the driver’s seat of a car. I mean. I know the man has a Jesus complex, but that’s a bit much. On top of that, a good portion of the documentary is narrated while Driscoll is driving, or, bizarrely, parked in such a way that his hands are on the steering wheel in every shot. Which…again, is just a somewhat telling bit of visual and verbal rhetoric. He’s in charge. He’s in the driver’s seat.

More narcissism on display: Driscoll talks about trying “make [people] into Christians,” and also disparages some musicians who left Mars Hill in the early days “over theological issues,” which he sums up as “basically, they decided not to be Christian.” Because disagreeing with Mark Driscoll on theology is exactly the same as not being a Christian. This would make sense if, y’know, Mark Driscoll were Christ. Which he’s not.

Sex: Of course, it wouldn’t be a Driscoll production if he didn’t manage to throw in some kind of gratuitous or vulgar reference to sex. The winner in this regard is clearly Driscoll’s random mention of a member of Mars Hill who, as a new Christian, didn’t want to get rid of his “enormous p@rn collection”  because it was “vintage p@rn [that] cost a lot of money.” Some of it, as Driscoll helpfully and totally necessarily adds, was Nazi p@rn.*

I’m still struggling to understand what would lead someone to think this is an appropriate or enlightening anecdote to include in a film documenting the history of a church. Really?

Not one minute into the documentary, Driscoll states that he never considered his Catholic upbringing meant that he never considered becoming a pastor as a kid, in part because  Catholic pastors are “committed to never having sex.” Let’s just say I have a bit of trouble imagining that a young boy would really be thinking about priestly celibacy in quite those terms.

There’s a lot of talk about how various members of the church used to be goth fetishists, or strippers, and so on – all done in a way that makes it clear that they think this is some sort of badge of honor or bragging right. It confuses me that a church claiming to follow a man openly reviled in his day for consorting publicly with sex workers and people who had committed adultery would pat themselves on the back so vigorously just for being so “radical” as to, gasp, not completely shun social interaction with people outside our society’s sexual norms.

It’s particularly strange to see Driscoll congratulating himself for having former strippers and fetishists in his church. Like…given how sinful he clearly thinks such things are, isn’t it preferable for them to be going to church rather than not? Wouldn’t he rather they be coming to his church rather than not? So why should he get an award for “taking in” the very people who most need church, at least in his conception of it? I am baffled.

But even after having written all the above, the biggest story to me in the Mars Hill documentary was not about gender, race, cult of personality, or sex. No, in fact, the most significant recurring theme in the documentary is money. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s really what the documentary is about. More on that in the next post.

*[redacted to avoid spammers, not out of prudery!]