This Sunday evening, I trekked back to Mars Hill Church to give them a second look. If you’ve been following my blog, you probably know that Mars Hill was the second church I visited, and I gave them a pretty bad score. I also said some things about them that were pretty critical and not very positive.
You might also remember that I got some hate mail from them, and posted a rather strongly worded reply. I took my reply down, because I didn’t feel it added anything useful to the conversation, and it was put out there during a time when I was receiving some rather emotionally charged email, and I kind of got caught up in that. I’m a rather drama-averse person, and when I add to drama, I tend to feel that it’s a personal failure on my part.
Anyway, in all the drama, I also got some rather positive emails from the Mars Hillfolk, including several invitations to come back and give them a second look. It was asserted to me by more than one person that all the focus on money that I encountered was due to timing. I had simply showed up at a quarterly or annual point at which the church was asking for money and talking about money, and that if I showed up at a different time then the focus would be on something else.
So, I promised I’d go back.
Now, I’m a secular humanist (duh). And the Mars Hill folks are Bible literalists (duh again). There’s not a lot of common ground there. You know that my grading criteria and my particular bent is just not going to find a lot of simpatico with this church. But, if there’s a possibility that the score should change, then the score should change. And who knows, maybe there’s a humanist message in there somewhere. After all, the Adventists are usually considered fundamentalist, and they didn’t do too badly on my scale.
On with the review:
I went down to Ballard late Sunday afternoon, having spent my morning with the Disciples of Christ in the University District. I really like the Ballard neighborhood. Of all of Seattle’s distinctive little patches, Ballard really stands out the most because it used to be a city in its own right. It’s an interesting mix of waterfront industrial, commercial, and residential spaces. Walk a little ways in one direction, and there’s a street full of groovy little shops and restaurants and a theater. Walk a little ways in another direction, and you find some of Seattle’s densest housing. Walk towards the locks and canal, and there are ships, warehouses, and industrial manufacturing. Mars Hill Church is in the industrial part. Right near the drawbridge that goes over the canal and into Seattle’s Interbay and Queen Anne neighborhoods.
Like last time, I walked into the main part of the big boxy former warehouse building, and found the book store. They’ve expanded their offerings since I was last here. There are now 24 books, DVD’s and CD collections on sale, and Pastor Driscoll’s name is on 11 of them. I wonder how his sales are doing?
I was early enough to make use of the men’s room, and I found that over each urinal was a framed advertisement for something Driscoll was selling. Four in all, and two more by the sinks. It was nice to have something to read.
I went into the rearmost set of double doors into the sanctuary, by the large coffee dispensers, and availed myself of some coffee. Now here’s a good idea. A caffeinated flock is a happy flock. Every church should have a cafe at the back of the chapel.
Last time, I sat right up front. This time, I didn’t feel the need to do that, because I suspected the sermon would be a video presentation, and I thought I already knew what the band sounded like, so I took up a seat on one of the coffee shop couches in the back, near one of the four video screens, and pulled my clipboard and notepaper out of my backpack. Mars Hill is the only place I’ve felt like I could sit and take notes without seeming rude. That’s probably because this place doesn’t feel like a church so much as a concert venue.
The video screens were showing various announcements and an advertisement or two for various things. Summer camp for Junior High school cost $275, and summer camp for High school cost $300. Also, Pastor Driscoll’s book on Acts was still for sale, in case anyone hadn’t noticed.
One of the ads for the summer camp thing included this little gem, a quote from a 15 year old girl: I learned I don’t have to be strong because Jesus is strong for me. So, no need to worry about the kids getting too independent too soon I guess.
A guy named Chad appeared on stage, and said a few words of welcome, and fired up the music. The band changed since last time. Previously, the band was pretty good. This band, however, was awesome. There were seven people on stage. In addition to the usual drums, keyboards, guitars, they had a trombone and a cello.
The music style was a punky mix of pop and folk and rock that sounded really good. I’ve never heard of anyone putting a trombone in a rock and roll song before (except for maybe Chicago), but it really works. The crowd loved it too, they were on their feet and dancing around. They sang along, which was easy because the video screens showed the words to the songs.
When the crowd was sufficiently warmed up, Alex came on stage and reminded everyone to fill out their “connect” cards, which put you on the Mars Hill mailing and emailing lists, and through which you can become a member of the church. He pointed out that on the back was a little story about Daniel, and how important it is to get the true gospel in this increasingly violent world.
Then, a big screen came down over the stage, and someone pushed play, and Pastor Driscoll’s image appeared fivefold.
I moved to one of the really tall cafe tables with padded stools sitting around them, so I could be up a little higher and see better. Also, I needed a place to set my coffee.
You know, one thing that would make this experience even better would be to make it a drive-in. Remember back in the 1970’s when you’d park your car in a big lot and watch a movie on a giant screen with that tinny speaker held in place by your window? If we did that for church, we could park near the concession stand so there would be plenty of popcorn and soda, and when the pastor needed confirmation, we could flash our headlights or honk the horn. Can I get an amen? HONK
Driscoll was still doing his series on Acts, and was, I think, about halfway through his book at this point. In this part, he talks about Peter and John going around and spreading the word.
Now, last time I was here, he stressed that we are on Jesus’ mission. And that we really didn’t have a choice in the matter, that we were just supposed to fulfill the mission. Not question it, but just do it. He was adamant about that.
This time, however, he was stressing the fact that Jesus didn’t give orders, that he was here to serve us. Because it’s through his grace and sacrifice that we get into heaven. So I’m wondering if we’re still on the mission? I was thinking about this, and being a little confused about it, when he said this:
Jesus is happy to serve you if you’re willing to obey him.
He goes on to say that we are all doomed, no matter what, and we can only get into heaven if Jesus agrees to let us in. And that’s because we chose to be sinful. But he also says we’re born in sin and so our choice doesn’t matter. In the very next sentence.
So, we have chosen to sin, but we didn’t choose to do that, and if we obey Jesus then Jesus will serve us. Got it. I think I’m on board now.
Sarcasm aside, at least I can say that he’s not going on and on about money. I mean, money is splashing all over the place around here, but at least he’s not preaching about how people should give him money like he did last time. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe this isn’t a scam. Maybe this guy really is preaching what he believes. And maybe the logic bomb I snarked about is just because of the way he happens to be telling it tonight, or maybe I just don’t get it. I curbed my dogma, and waited patiently to find out.
He goes on to compare Christianity with other religions, and says that those other religions are wrong. Not because they have bad people, he says the people are good, and do good things, and live good lives. But since they don’t have Jesus, they’re all doomed. But the good news is we all have Jesus, so we’re not doomed. Well, not me I guess. I think I’m doomed.
He goes on to conclude that being with Jesus is really all you need in life, and that things like therapy, psychology, and “self-help” would be totally unnecessary if everyone just had Jesus.
This is the first thing he’s said that hits on my criteria, and it’s a negative. Discouraging people from seeing a therapist or a doctor of any kind is a bad thing, in my view. Religious folk are well-meaning, but not necessarily equipped to help someone who’s suffering depression or some sort of mental illness. For that, you need a medically trained professional. Some folks will need spiritual or moral guidance as well, but the one shouldn’t rule out the other.
At this point, he strayed from topic a little to say something about women and men. He wanted to go out of his way to say that the Bible is not in any way sexist. When God says “You men….” commands the men to do things and ignores women, it’s not because God thinks any less of women. It’s because God has burdened men with extra responsibilities that women just don’t have. And that’s why sometimes things seem a little unequal. They’re not, you see, because men have this Godly burden.
So, for all the women reading this blog, don’t you worry your pretty little heads about anything. We men are ready to lift that burden so you don’t have to. Isn’t that nice?
And now we have another point, and it’s also negative. Inequality and misogyny aren’t humanist values.
He then makes a wisecrack about voting and democracy, saying the reason we keep voting is we can’t seem to find a leader worth keeping. The good news, he says, is pretty soon we’ll have a King and won’t have to vote anymore. I presume he means Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, and not some sort of revocation of our independence from Great Britain.
Now he trundles back to his main point, and reveals his overarching theme for tonight’s sermon: Christians, your faith must be public. You must go out there and be Christian and want to be Christian, and be proud of being Christian, and want everyone else to be Christian. Get on social media, call your friends, tell your parents and neighbors. Sing the gospel.
He says don’t worry when people tell you you’re being “pushy” or “intolerant.” He says it’s not intolerant to push someone off the tracks when a train is coming. Got a gay friend? Push him off those tracks. Know a doubter? Shove away, he’ll thank you for it in the afterlife. It’s the kindest, most tolerant, most loving thing you can do. Go love the hell out of those people.
Are you in college? Does your university (he sneered when he said it I swear to Dawkins – there’s no mistaking a sneer on a giant ten foot tall screen)… does your university have bad things to say about religion? Stand up in class, and lovingly tell the professor why he’s wrong.
But, there’s a problem in all of this. You have to be prepared to give the Gospel. Christianity, he says, is a series of pop-quizzes and you have got to be ready for them.
Can you guess the best way to do this? Did you guess “Buy Pastor Driscoll’s books?” If so, you guessed correctly.
So, remember a few paragraphs back when I wondered if maybe the message wasn’t focused on money? Well, I no longer wonder. Almost every single thing he’s said built up to this point. To set the stage and make the case that in order to be a good Christian and get into heaven, there would have to be some sort of financial transaction involved.
He concluded with a commercial about the Everett facility, which (praise God!) has raised $300,000 of its $750,000 goal for properly finishing it, and then the band came on to sing the offeratory song. This time, they merged communion with offering, which I think is a mistake. I think having communion at the same time you’re asking for money will cut into prophets.
The offeratory song was “Jesus Paid It All” and it went on for about nine full minutes. It was a really rocking song. There was another song after that, but I left. I also didn’t do communion. I already know what shortbread dipped in cheap box-a-wine tastes like, so there was no point.
So, the score. I had actually thought that I might end up revising their score upwards. I was not expecting to be revising it downwards.
Being good to your fellow human: -1 (misogyny)
Help your community: -1 (push your community into faith)
Be good to yourself: -1 (Jesus > therapy)
Good and timely advice: -1 (buy my books)
They have reclaimed their place of honor on the bottom.