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For decades, Portland’s Southeast Hawthorne neighborhood has been a center for our city’s West Coast counterculture, offering more head shops, thrift stores and local arts and crafts than you can shake a doobie at. You don’t have to share all of its habitants’ political views to see that they have something worthwhile to share with the world, namely that you can thrive by maintaining an independent, do-it-yourself outlook.

That kind of thinking isn’t exactly encouraged by many Christians. According to the Mars Hill Church website,  “mankind is totally depraved” and there’s not a damn thing we we can do about it, except allow Jesus to wriggle his way into our ventricles. Not exactly a recipe for rugged self-reliance.

That’s how Mars Hill Church—let’s call them Martians for Jesus—sees it. This last Sunday, Amanda and I attended the Grand Opening of the Seattle-based group’s 14th “church plant”, located in the heart of the Hawthorne District on SE 32nd and Taylor. It was also the kickoff for an 11-week series on marriage called “New Marriage, Same Spouse.” Their basic message: ‘Got a sucky marriage? You’re not getting enough Jesus.’

According to Pastor Mark Driscoll, there’s exactly one—and only one—way to have a happy marriage. Speaking via live video feed piped in from Seattle because apparently there aren’t any local Jesus Martians qualified to cover the topic (and sell his new book), here are a couple of his grand pronouncements about the human condition:

Regarding intimacy in the marriage:

“The deepest intimacy of all is spiritual intimacy and if you don’t build that relationship with Christ as the center, invariably it’s going to be a weak and immature relationship. It may feel close and intimate and exciting, but that’s simply because of the presence of sin and not because the presence of the spirit of god is binding two people together.”

Regarding having a thriving relationship:

Once a couple has followed the Mars Hill Christianity program adequately, “Then we’re friends and we’re actually close and we know each other. And the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all our unrighteousness. And that’s how it works. That’s the ONLY way that it works.”

In other words, if your godless relationship is bad, it’s because you haven’t added Christ to the mix. If, however, your godless relationship is healthy, you’re still doing it wrong.

Money shot , cha-ching!

Of course, it’s not enough that you’re a lousy sinner. The cosmic cards have been stacked against you as well.  Pastor Mark goes on:

“Satan absolutely hates God, he hates God’s people, he hates marriage and he especially hates Christian marriage. And so Satan attacks Christian marriages because he knows that if he can affect your marriage, he can affect generations—your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

So it goes: a message of powerlessness, with Jesus and Satan playing football with our souls.
According to this church, here are a few of the many rules essential for a healthy marriage. The list is by no means complete:

  • Have a threesome with Jesus. (See Amanda’s post for details.)
  • Make sure the husband is the head of the family, with the wife serving as capable helpmeet. (Personally, I don’t have a problem with this. Why should I???)
  • Don’t be gay.

Regarding that last bullet, Mars Hill Church has been quite vocal in expressing its beliefs against gay marriage—so much so that when they first took up residence in their new facility last September, local gay activists planned a series of protests, including a gay kiss-in.

Mars Hill is hardly the first local church to denounce homosexual marriage. So why did the queer community get all riled up? I think it has something to do with the fact that when the Martian Christians landed, they’d stated an intention to fix what’s wrong with our community—as if it were broken in the first place. As its website complains:

“The people of Portland largely worship created things without acknowledging the Creator.  From food to art to brewing to the best coffee you have ever tasted, Portland loves the gifts of the common grace of God without knowing the giver.”

Portland isn’t alone among communities that the Mars Hillians (rhymes with reptilian) see as woefully underchristianized. Their name itself refers to the Apostle Paul’s trip to Athens, where he famously became irritated at the amount of non-Christian gods in that city. So he marched up to where the city elders met at the Areopagus, a.k.a. Mars Hill, and said:

[Ye] men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. (Acts 17:22,23)

So, basically, Paul got a hair up his butt one day and 2,000 years later Mark Driscoll celebrates the occasion by starting a church.

I believe it’s that condescending “We’ve-got-God-and-you-don’t” attitude that contributed to hostilities between the church and the community it would claim to serve.

Rumor has it that the local Mars Hill leadership is in talks with the representatives of the gay community to ease tensions, while other, more conservative members of the church oppose such outreach. I think that’s a step in the right direction. If the church was to come to me for advice (which, shockingly it hasn’t, wtf?), I would advise them to go with that impulse—as a start.

Just because a community doesn’t share a certain distinctly American fundamentalist sect’s interpretation of Christianity doesn’t mean it’s failed to ‘acknowledge the Creator.’ My advice would be to close their Bibles for a while, take a cue from their pagan neighbors and let up on the religious arrogance. In the words of Bill Cosby, “If you aren’t careful, you might actually learn something.”

Or don’t. Fundamentalist churches like Mars Hill rarely convert atheists and agnostics to their cause. The best they can do is attract people who already think the way they do while pissing off everyone else.

If you live in Southeast, are queer or otherwise godless and you’d like to explore Christianity, I suggest skipping Mars Hill to visit nearby Theophilus Church. Same neighborhood, more chill vibe. Also, if you want a truly gritty, liberating experience (and you’re willing to put up with a little noise), pile the kids into the car and head a few blocks North to The Bridge. You’ll be glad you did.

In the meantime, Earth to Mars Hill, come in Mars Hill….

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