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What follows is an illustration of a controlling pastor.

This video shows Mark Driscoll, lead pastor of Mars Hill Church (MHC) in Seattle, Washington, which could probably be best described as an Evangelical Calvinist church. Here Mr Driscoll apologises for his absence of humility in an artful way, with helpful notes from the video maker to show the degree of control and manipulation going on. In other words, what appears to be an act of humility and a request for forgiveness by the congregation is a disguised warning to the congregation to not pry too closely into church affairs:

The person who uploaded the video says:

He is saying “I have not been humble, I am proud. Therefore because I have been proud many of you members are also proud. So we will not listen to you and your concerns, even if valid, because of your pride. I repent of my pride and will now teach you to be humble.” In fact, he talks about how the church will humble you or exalt you. In fact that is not the church’s role at all.

Freedom For Captives is a blog for those who have attended Driscoll’s church and left confused or angry. One of the posts discusses the aforementioned video. Excerpts follow, emphases in bold mine:

“People who have misused their spiritual power have disrespected or beaten down your boundaries. They have shamed you out of your ‘no,’ clouded your will and intruded into your life with religious agendas. They have violated your spirituality by playing ‘Holy Spirit.’ Having an opinion has come to equal lack of submissiveness. Having a right to not be abused is selfish.”

(1991, David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church, p. 47).

From a NY Times article, Jan 6, 2009, Who Would Jesus Smack Down, by Worthen, and from readings of Driscoll’s book, Vintage Church, and listening to various of Mark’s sermons (especially part 2 on Spiritual Warfare, see notes of this in another blog), I get the impression that at Mars Hill Church (MHC) and particularly by Mark Driscoll (pastor), women are viewed and treated—despite words to the contrary—as second class citizens

From my understanding of the Membership Covenant and instructions to members, MHC Members are commanded not to take their grievances to other members, only to the leadership or elders. But what if the elders are the very ones who are in sin, who have oppressed and done unjustly? So you go to them, and you are ousted as a trouble maker …

According to Dr. Enroth [Ronald M Enroth, author of  Churches That Abuse] you can have a very Evangelical, Word based church and it can still be a cult in its spiritual abuse and control. What I ran into at MHC is very sad to me because in many ways Mark seems to be really preaching the truth and thousands of young people are getting saved; BUT I can never, ever condone any kind of abuse and control which strips people of their God given autonomy and their God given dignity and which therefore demeans and confuses them making them slaves to another person …

Mark told stories stressing the importance of “submission to your leaders” and not being “rebellious and divisive.” He gave an illustration that he would be like a Martial Arts instructor in how he deals with difficult subordinates, “I take them into the ring and I break their nose.” Nice. Jesus is the one who tells us that leaders in the world “lord it over those under them, but not so with you.” Jesus came to be a servant; how much more his leaders. I’ve also heard it said that the more a husband needs to claim Eph 5, “my wife HAS to submit to me!” the more he, not she, has the problem. A loving husband, laying his life down for his wife, does NOT need to demand submission.

Likewise, according to Jeff VanVonderen in his book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, the more a leader teaches on submission and rebellion, and the more controlling he is, the more he actually disqualifies himself from being a leader. Mark appears to spend a lot of his preaching on insubordinate members, former members, often using as examples those who displeased him, questioned him, “were divisive,” those who are sinful, prideful believers who ruin churches. The message is apparent, “If you want to survive here, you’d better not do any of the things they did or you too will be cast out!” A psychologist told me recently that people have a “visceral response to being cast out. It threatens at the core our sense of belonging. If you are cast out of the family group, you become tiger food.”

Jesus’ little “s” shepherds are not to control and manipulate His sheep, they are to be compassionate and humble and serve the sheep and take care of them, not demand complete and total submission. I was reading Dr. Enroth’s book, Churches that Abuse, and the issue of control, control, control came up over and over again as the NUMBER ONE INDICATOR of abusive churches. What I see in Driscoll is a lot of demand for a lot of control, and as the NY Times article stated, “Driscoll has little patience for dissent”…

” … When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached …”

In the Spiritual warfare series Mark goes on and on about how satanically influenced women apparently often become, and he calls them “busy bodies” and “the weaker vessels” in regards to their character and their susceptibility to temptation. Not all women are “busybodies,” Mr. Driscoll, despite Paul having addressed some as having been so, and men can also be gossipy little busy bodies. And as to “weaker vessels” many theologians state this was regarding our physiology. There’s really no indication it’s about our character.

What I am seeing thus far are plenty of red flags, sometimes flaming red flags.

I did not find Driscoll to be a disagreeable man to meet, not at all. He can come across (when he’s not yelling from the pulpit) as sensitive, caring, and humble. But he seems to have this other side that often shows up which is dogmatic on doctrines in Scripture which are not clear (such as Calvinism as the only way to view God’s Sovereignty and His work in redeeming hearts, and the Complimentarian view).

According to my understanding of Mark’s book, Vintage Church, besides agreeing to Mark’s doctrines, per the Membership Covenant, a prospective member must agree to “not be divisive” and to “sign a pledge” that you will give regularly financially and of your time in volunteer work. MC states they will send you quarterly reminders. If you slack off in giving, I’ve read that your core group will “hold you accountable,” or something to that effect. Signing a covenant with a church and signing a pledge to give one’s money and time are unbiblical, legalistic and very controlling. They are abuses of church authority.

Mark does not seem to allow anyone to question him. He has created By- Laws wherein he and the other four hand picked elders make up the group of elders, and from what I read it would be next to impossible to fire him. So now he has tenure.

From his statements in his Spiritual Warfare Series, part 2, he seems to demand quiet submission from women, and he appears to demean women who have opinions and speak about what they want, such as, “I want to be married to a pastor.” Mark says to single men, “Run. She’s satanic. She wants to be in the middle of things and have power and be a drama queen.” Well who says? How do you know her heart, Mark? That may or may not be true. But see, she is a strong woman who knows what she wants which, according to former members, is a big “no, no” at MHC. Mark goes on to say that the woman who really wants to be a leader of women’s ministries is the one to avoid for the same reasons. Then his voice becomes soft and gentle as he says that the woman who is quiet and non-assertive, who wouldn’t even ask for that position, she is the one that would be best in that position. Well, that kind of temperament certainly wouldn’t cause Mark many problems and would be more easily controlled.

He said he protects his wife, “You bet I do! I’ve put up a 12’ high wall, with machine gunned armed guards. Women will say to her, ‘oh let’s do coffee.’ Uh uh! Those are busy bodies! That’s Satanic. A couple will say, ‘oh let’s have you for dinner,’ uh uh!” Whoa! This sounds extremely paranoid and controlling to me. He seems really concerned that people are trying to get the dirt on him through his wife, and maybe this has been his experience, but man. Does your wife have NO SAY re: with whom she might like to have coffee? Does she need your permission? So apparently he lords it over his wife and his people in his church, and he teaches men in the church to likewise lord it over their women

Mark has also preached about “being able to see into people’s hearts, and read their mail” (as in their personal business/issues) … He has said, “Their hearts aren’t right…” when describing those who question him. If that is the case, there would be no protection from such a one as Mark and no way to get justice within that system ruled by Mark …

The experience of ‘worship’ at MHC felt stifled to me. The music was grunge… well, okay, I’m all right with alternative, but this was a bit weird, but although the words were heavy-handed gospel, there wasn’t much if anything about entering into deep worship of our loving, awesome Lord. The thousands of young people around us were not getting into freely worshiping either … there was no celebration, no feeling of liberation, no adoration of the One who loved us enough to die for us.

I do not think I would have ever been welcomed at MHC unless I would have ditched my entire personality. I get the impression that in order to please men (Mark and the other male leaders at MHC), I would have had to submit to what I can only describe as soul-murder, the death of who God really created me to be. I am an outgoing, very verbal female, who knows some stuff and likes to share it, AND I am a therapist (Psychology seems to be frowned on at MHC). The worst thing you can do to me is try to shut me down, to steal my voice. I am a questioner, an analyzer, this is how I learn and process. I think that what that church would have done to me, what Mark would have done to me, would only be a crazy-making, cruel retake of past abuse in my life. God, I thank you for sparing me! I pray you would release others as well. Bring Mark humbly to his knees and remove from him any false power not from you. Rescue these young people who are so impressionable and who are new converts and know no better. Set them all free to obey YOU out of a heart of love, not dictatorial fear. Amen.

The blogger cautions Christians — women, in particular — against a more subtle pastoral manipulation, which she experienced elsewhere years before:

He was educated, a good speaker, eloquent, powerful, but, unlike Mark, he actually came across as humble (false humility), that is, unless he was psychologically manipulating you into a vice and pressing you so tightly with his version of mind control you just couldn’t think clearly anymore, and unless he was telling you how pathological you are because you’re questioning him and doubting his motives. There appear to be a lot of similarities between that abusive spiritual leader and Driscoll in their abusive styles, even though one is extremely dogmatic and conservative and the other is extremely liberal. Abusers come in all stripes.

That’s the sort I know — and only one, thankfully. Couple that with faulty theology — very much the opposite of Driscoll’s, yet equally flawed — and this type of pastoral leadership is equally suspect. I’ve read on Catholic blogs of similar episodes. An older woman quietly pointed out to a pastor that he omitted the creed during Mass; the priest whispered, ‘Don’t you dare criticise me,’ by way of reply.  However, married couples — with the husband opposing pastors and elders — with regard to liturgical or doctrinal ‘innovations’ can end up in a disciplinary situation. Therefore, this is not necessarily a woman-only scenario.

One of Freedom For Captives‘s readers wrote in:

My former pastor did this too!
Crazy thing was, he didn’t read their hearts as much as project his own sins upon them.
No where was that more clear than in his attitude toward the youth.
Because he was a wild, uncontrolable helli[o]n, that was motivation he projected on the youth. He bashed them frequently.

NOW, a couple of these youth he bashed…
One is a brilliant Doctor and Mayo Clinic.
Another is an F-16 pilot in the Air Force.
While this pastor has had to dis[s]olve his church, is separated from his wife, and it looks like there may be a divorce.

He didn’t see into their hearts.
He didn’t read their mail.
He created an idea in his heart about their hearts that matched his heart when he was a teen, not based in any prophetic ability.
But based on the same thing he does to God.
He projects onto God his own desires and thinkings and intentions (at least the ones he considers good). And he projects on those who have dared to question him his own desires and thinkings and intentions and labeled them bad.

Freedom For Captives offers this checklist of controlling churches which should ring warning bells. Whilst these are specifically about Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill, they are also pertinent to other congregations around the world:

Controlling Pastor with “Yes Men” Elders;

– No Talk Rule;

No Dissent;

Emphasis on Submission and Obedience;

– Shunning of “Unrepentant” Former Members;

Dis-fellowshipping “Questioners” and Critical Thinkers;

– By-Laws Removing Accountability of Pastor/Elders;

Mind and Thought Control;

Membership Covenant and Financial Giving Pledge Required;

“Biblical” Counseling Only, if Referred Out, Must Sign Release Form (no confidentiality allowed);

– Kangaroo Court Firing of Two Elders Who Dared to Question;

Extreme Gender Role Enforcement;

Members Must Attend Accountability/”Community” Groups.

Many of those are characteristics of pietist and holiness churches, particularly the signed membership ‘covenant’, enforced pledging and accountability (‘small’ or ‘cell’) groups. Please be careful.

This sounds quite Islamic. Islam is becoming increasingly insular in the West whilst becoming more public in its perspectives on family life and sex roles. No good Muslim argues with his imam. The woman stays at home or is employed outside it under controlled conditions.  Women are made to submit for their ‘protection’ and ‘God-given’ role. In the extreme context of this role, they are quiet and cover up most of their bodies in ‘modesty’. Men are supreme. The man runs the household and dictates the spiritual and temporal life therein. Islam appeals to men because it gives them the opportunity to ‘lord’ their authority over others. This is why their prison ministries attract so many disaffected male prisoners. It gives them power over others; they have licence to become religious dictators in their own homes.

This Islamic tone sounds suspiciously like the church and family life which Mark Driscoll and a few other pastors are promoting in the 21st century.

It is still unclear whether there is a conscious goal on the part of certain Christian pastors or vicars to push their church members into communitarianism leading to an Islamic lifestyle. However, Rick Warren is working on a joint Christian-Islamic statement of co-operation on projects for the ‘common good’.

Depending on the congregation, this new Christian communitarian lifestyle could be a conservative pietist-holiness kind or a liberal social gospel variant, getting everyone ‘involved’ and ‘committed’ to church and interfaith ‘projects’.

Tomorrow: More on Rick Warren’s reaching out to the Muslim community

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