Women and submission in church and society

by Ann Fontaine

AlterNet recently carried a story about the Mars Hill Church in Seattle and it’s “hipster pastor” Mark Driscoll with the title: Oral Sex, Yoga, and God’s Eternal Wrath: Inside the New Hipster Megachurch That Tells Modern Women to Submit:

When Jess came to the University of Washington as a freshman, she was a feminist economics major whose postcollege goal was to land a position at an organization dedicated to social entrepreneurship. Now in her early 20s and just a few years out of college, she is married, looking forward to a life as a homemaker, and involved full-time at the Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, one of the hippest, fastest-growing, and most conservative evangelical churches in the nation.

That men lead the movement is key according to Driscoll, who ties myriad modern spiritual and societal problems back to the failure of female leadership. Driscoll traces his theory all the way to Genesis—in a 2004 sermon, he said Eve’s eating of the fruit of knowledge was “the first exercising of a woman’s role in leadership in the home and in the church in the history of the world. It does not go well. It has not gone well since.” What’s more, Driscoll describes Satan’s encouragement of Eve as “the first invitation to an independent feminism…the first postmodern hermeneutic.” For Driscoll, then, feminism and postmodernism are not only demonic, they are inherently linked; two revelations in the bite that led to the fall of man.

Why do people and especially women join a church like this? The Rev. Dr. Edward O. deBary, Asheville, North Carolina, former Director of the Education for Ministry Program offers one answer.

I tend to see such movements as the Mars Hill Phonomenon in Seattle in a broader context. I would identify it as a social coping mechanism in a world society that has, and continues, to face mind-boggling changes. While the text differs the context and the desired out-comes do not change when one considers other movements that emphasize much of what the Mars group seems to develop vis-a-vis the relationship of men and women, sexuality, and procreation.

We can note other “religious” movements in far away places that adhere to a similar schema. While it is not part of the article, I think a similar search for durable, direct, and fixed answers (as contrasted to flexible approaches) also applies to end of life issues, including the death penalty. It is very much part of the body politic today and the underlying drivers revolve around fears: fears that we are alone, fears, that we have no control and will suffer at the hands of others (known and unknown), fears that even life itself will conclude in either a bang or a final croak (depending upon which disaster you want to pick), and fear that our lives have no meaning.

Ultimately I think these movements represent a kind of social hysteria which is why a gifted “guru” can often provide charismatic leadership to which the most discomforted adhere. As I heard one person who was concerned with the current debt, “We have to find someone who will save us.” That person had a particular political savior in mind, but the very notion that this is what we are seeking in leadership – a savior – spoke to me of the fear and despair that permeates much of our society and thus gives birth to radical ideas as the way to salvation (economic or otherwise).

What do you think?

The Rev. Ann Fontaine is a retired priest who lives on the coast of Oregon. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

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3 Comments
  1. Marnanel

    “Ultimately I think these movements represent a kind of social hysteria which is why a gifted “guru” can often provide charismatic leadership to which the most discomforted adhere.”

    I think that’s rather insightful. How often have we heard someone repeat a story, for example, about Darwin having recanted his theory on his deathbed? Of course even if it were true (it isn’t) it wouldn’t mean anything for or against the truth of Darwin’s ideas. But it says a lot about the people who repeat the story, that they think of leaders before they think of ideas.

    Marnanel – thanks for commenting- please sign your name next time ~ed.

  2. Claudia Perez

    So many people are afraid they “don’t know enough” to make an informed decision, which creates a vicious circle when they are afraid of something they don’t understand. I have come to realize my own parents were always relying on “experts”. Never having owned a business but wanting to do so, they went with “experts” who made a tidy profit but cost us dearly. They were truly fearful for where Barry Goldwater would lead our country, according to the political experts of the day, yet he had the openness of mind to understand and urge recognition of the accomplishments of WWII’s Women Airforce Service Pilots, of which my mother was a member.

    I know I’m not exactly brilliant, but I figure God gave me brains, so I need to use them to assess best-available information and have at least an informed opinion. That doesn’t sit well with fearful people.

    I am so grateful for the three-legged stool of the Episcopal Church, but it still troubles me to realize there are a lot of people out there who fear mystery.

    ClaudiaJeann

  3. billydinpvd

    It’s funny, but I don’t see men who invoke divine authority to insist that women submit to their “headship” as being particularly strong or manly. Rather the opposite: they strike me as being genuinely threatened by independent women. Finding women threatening unless they are vowed to submit to your will is not a hallmark of “real men,” no matter what Driscoll and his ilk think.

    Its not that I think every relationship has to be the same, and maybe some heterosexual couples find this sort of gender ordering helpful and positive – but anyone who says, “You have to do what I say because that’s how God wants it” seems a bully by proxy.

    Bill Dilworth

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