I had always heard that Mark Driscoll liked to talk about sex. And cuss. And when I sat in on a service last November at the Ballard campus of Mars Hill Church where he pastors, the guy did not disappoint (well, he didn’t cuss per se… but he did say vulva).
Now, let me preface this by saying that I have a lot of respect for Mark Driscoll. I think that he’s doing great things for the church in Seattle, and deep down—beneath the frat guy, “Jesus was not a limp-wrist hippie in a dress!” veneer—he’s a caring, godly person. But man oh man does he like sex: having it with his wife, talking about it, and getting as many young married hipsters in his church to have it daily.
In a recent New York Times article about Mark Driscoll, writer Molly Worthen opens with a discussion of Driscoll’s sex-heavy rhetoric:
Mark Driscoll’s sermons are mostly too racy to post on GodTube, the evangelical Christian “family friendly” video-posting Web site. With titles like “Biblical Oral Sex” and “Pleasuring Your Spouse,” his clips do not stand a chance against the site’s content filters. …An “Under 17 Requires Adult Permission” warning flashes before the video cuts to evening services at Mars Hill, where an anonymous audience member has just text-messaged a question to the screen onstage: “Pastor Mark, is masturbation a valid form of birth control?”
Driscoll doesn’t miss a beat: “I had one guy quote Ecclesiastes 9:10, which says, ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.’ ” The audience bursts out laughing. Next Pastor Mark is warning them about lust and exalting the confines of marriage, one hand jammed in his jeans pocket while the other waves his Bible. Even the skeptical viewer must admit that whatever Driscoll’s opinion of certain recreational activities, he has the coolest style and foulest mouth of any preacher you’ve ever seen.
I can verify that this description is completely accurate, having seen Driscoll in full-on sex-talk mode at a November service in his church. I was lucky enough to be there during a series on Song of Solomon called “The Peasant Princess,” on the night when Driscoll was preaching on the “Dance of Mahanaim” passage of Song of Solomon (6:11-7:10)—a passage which Driscoll describes as “an ancient striptease.”
Before he began his sermon, Driscoll noted that this was “one of the steamiest passages in the entire Bible” and urged all young children to immediately leave. He then proceeded to elaborate in great detail on the Dance of Mahanaim, talking about what each of the sexually suggestive metaphors meant, etc. Eventually he came to his point: that this passage of scripture was a call for wives to be “visually generous” to their husbands. They should keep the lights on in sex. Walk around the house topless. Things like that.
“The body is the greatest gift a wife can give,” said Driscoll.
A good marriage should be sexually open, with both husband and wife totally willing to do whatever pleases the other—whether it means getting your hair cut “just how s/he likes it” or being willing to do weird fetishy things to please your spouse.
At the end, Driscoll brought his wife out on stage (a little awkward, given the fact that he’d just been telling us about how great she was in bed), and the two of them answered questions that the audience had texted in during the service. One of the questions was about the biblical merits of married couples making homemade sex tapes, to which the Driscolls responded with coy looks at one another and a “yeah, we’ve done it” moment of awkward laughter.
All of it is well and good, I suppose. I do think sex is a wonderful thing for married people—and that they should be doing it freely and often. But here’s my problem: what are all the single people in the audience (and there looked to be a lot of them) supposed to do with this???
Clearly Driscoll’s aim is to get the young Christians in his church married off asap, so this whole “I’m single!” thing doesn’t pose too many problems. Friends of mine who attend or have attended the church confirm this. To be married at Mars Hill is the goal; to be single is to be, well, kinda shunned. In a recent interview with ABC, Driscoll said that at Mars Hill, “We encourage our people to get married and enjoy one another.” Fantastic. But what about the people who stay single well into their twenties, thirties, and beyond? What about the people who feel called to singleness?
From my vantage point—as a 26 year old, unmarried male—Driscoll’s “sex is grrrrrrrreat for married people!” emphasis is more than a little unhelpful. Here’s what it does: it alienates single people and makes them feel like they haven’t lived or won’t live until they get married. It leaves no room for any “satisfied single person identity.” And—most obviously and unforgivably—it makes no attempt to articulate a cogent and Christian sexual ethic for singles. What are we singles supposed to do with our sexual frustration when we get more scandalous and visceral images of sex in a church service than we do from a week’s worth of MTV?
It seems to me that if Mark Driscoll and preachers like him want to talk about sex so frankly and frequently in their churches, they must at least be willing to talk as enthusiastically about the merits of single, celibate life for the Christian, or at least about how it can feasibly be done. But that may be asking too much of them.