After the 11:00 a.m. service at Mars Hill Church in Ballard Sunday, November 26, parishioners lingered in the wide, carpeted lobby, quietly discussing a note from church elders that had been handed out with the program. The page-long letter warned of the upcoming protest on Sunday, December 3, by people who "differ with our biblical convictions." Although protest organizers say they oppose all fundamentalism, this week's demonstration focuses on a specific, local controversy: Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll's views on where women belong in the church, the family, and society. The founder of the conservative megachurch, the largest Christian assembly in Seattle, often shares his opinion that women shouldn't be leaders of homes, congregations, or nations.
Driscoll's latest controversial remarks appeared on his blog, in a response to the gay-prostitute and meth scandal that brought down fundamentalist Ted Haggard. Driscoll wrote that he had seen many pastors' wives who "really let themselves go," implying to many readers that Driscoll blamed Mrs. Haggard for neglecting her wifely duties and abandoning her husband to his sexual vices.
Protest organizer Paul Chapman, a 36-year-old Microsoft program manager, says Driscoll poses a threat, of sorts, because the pastor uses feminine terminology as an insult.
Chapman wants Driscoll to apologize and promise to stop making misogynistic comments. He also hopes the protest will convince the Seattle Times to drop the pastor as one of five rotating columnists for its religion page. If these things happen, Chapman says he'll call off the protest. Does he think there's a chance in hell? "A dim chance," Chapman says. "I'm willing to let it happen. If it doesn't, I'm there."
Chapman, who has spread the word of the demonstration via a website, endfundamentalism.org, says he doesn't know whether to expect 5 or 50 fellow protesters.
Chapman grew up attending a conservative Baptist church in the suburbs of Chicago. His eventual disillusionment didn't lead him to abandon his faith, but instead to find a home in the liberal, charismatic churches that grew out of the Jesus hippie movement of the 1970s. His wife, an ordained minister, leads a weekly spiritual group in their home. Chapman says he's no hippie, and even struggles with calling himself a Christian.
"I would self-identify as a Christian," he says, "although the connotations that raises with people are increasingly disturbing these days so I'm a little hesitant with that."
For Chapman, Mars Hill and Pastor Driscoll represent a local example of the fundamentalist impulse to demean nonbelievers. "This is a case of somebody in my own backyard who is taking his holy text and bashing people over the head with it," he says.
Following Sunday's service, several church members said that although they had not read their pastor's comments, they believed his words had been taken out of context.
Driscoll's November 3 blog offered "practical suggestions for fellow Christian leaders."
He wrote: "It is not uncommon to meet pastors' wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband's sin, but she may not be helping him either."
Days later, Driscoll wrote a clarification, arguing that he had meant to say that many Christian marriages lack physical intimacy. Mrs. Haggard, he wrote, "is not to blame for the sin of her husband."
Another recent blog entry pairs the election of a female leader in the Episcopal Church with reports of declining American testosterone levels. "If Christian males do not man up soon," he wrote, "the Episcopalians may vote a fluffy baby bunny rabbit as their next bishop to lead God's men." According to a list compiled by Chapman, Driscoll has also derided "tender chickified church boys," and women with "pushup bra(s) and clear heels and opinions!"
Mars Hill elders have urged their congregation to respond to the demonstration by ignoring it. The elders also put the kibosh on a suggestion to bring food and umbrellas to protestors. Driscoll did not return a call for comment.
The protest is scheduled for Sunday, December 3, at 10:00 a.m. at the Mars Hill Ballard campus.