A Quick Note

I’m thinking over the piece in Salon today about Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Have you read it? Want to talk about it?

Some of you will remember that I wrote a couple of posts about Emergent/Emerging Church. In the article Mars Hill is described with one of those words. I want to know how rolling back women’s autonomy can be emerging?

I realize that every article contains its author’s slant, so I am looking for reader feedback and experience here. I don’t want to lead dull worship, and there are certainly people with tattoos in my church, people who ride Harleys in their 50’s, people who dress up because they like to and others who don’t because it would never occur to them. I try to give an interesting sermon. There is almost always humor. They laugh and they cry.

They don’t swallow the Bible whole, unquestioningly. They live in the real world, the world where some people don’t get married because they don’t meet the "right" person and some people don’t get married because they can’t marry the "right" person. They live in the real world, where one income is rarely enough to pay for the oil in the furnace when it costs more than $2.25 a gallon. The come as they are, and I share a message that God loves them that way. The hard work of being a disciple is not turning your back on the world by creating a community of safety, surrounded by others abiding by the same rules to which you cling. The hard work of being a disciple is walking out there in the world of danger and being the person Jesus calls you to be anyway.

Talk to me, friends, especially women who are involved in Emergent. I am still trying to understand.

38 thoughts on “A Quick Note”

  1. I don’t get it.
    I don’t consider myself to be part of the emergent movement, but there are many things about me and the way I think of church that mesh with the emerging church. It is my understanding that the emerging church culture is different than the fundagelical culture – more open to a questioning type of spirituality, less concerned with rules and proscriptions, more intent on being authentic than on telling people how to live. Mars Hill sounds…pretty much nothing like my idea of emergent, except for the tattoos (and how do biblical literalists get away with that?)
    I do find that some people who define themselves as Emergent/Emerging tend to accept the gender role-casting of popular evangelicalism, which I find troubling, but I’d never heard of it being as harsh and blatant as at Mars Hill. Oy.

  2. 1. Thanks for the welcome! 2. Your church sounds pretty much like the one to which I belong. 3. Scary article. I never have quite figured out what is new or emergent about the emergent church. Now I have even less of a clue.

  3. My cousin and her husband go to that church.
    Their wedding a few years ago was the most disturbing ceremony I have ever witnessed, because I felt like I was watching my cousin be erased. In particular, the pastors talked about seeing her husband’s relationship with God reflected in her eyes. Excuse me, but she exists as more than a mirror for a man’s spiritual life! I would be glad to talk about this more, if you are interested, but my reaction is not necessarily informed, just personal.

  4. Hey, Songbird, can you link to your emergent/emerging church posts? Or remind me what month they’re in?
    I’m a bit shocked by the article — the congregation has gotten about 10 times more agressive than I remembered it. I went a couple of times to evening services, about 5 years ago, with friends who attended. Guitar-praise-band stuff has never been for me, but what grated those nights was a song whose chorus began “God, wreak vengeance on our enemies / Show them your might / We are praying for you to bring a fearsome light.”
    Not my god.
    But I might have to go back to Mars Hill now, and see what is there, if only because the article seems almost beyond belief.
    Want a report when I manage to do it?

  5. Jane Dark- I would like a report. The article really creeped me out. It’s honestly hard for me to distinguish to any great degreee how this is any different than a cult. Of course, it may be the particular slant of the author. Nevertheless, the fertility prayers and reproducing to populate the world with their kind wreaks horribly. 1) This is still a free world. How does giving birth assure that their offspring will follow their line of belief/thinking? I don’t ascribe to my family’s. I would guess many in the church don’t ascribe to their own parents’ beliefs. 2) I won’t even begin with the misogynist crap. 3) The completely uncritical adoption of popular cultural to the extent of telling folks, “Hey! Join us. We’ll let you drink beer, and have tattoos and be all cool and shit; and oh, let’s use Snoop Dogg as an illustration for the sermon” but flatly rejecting feminism on the basis of a literal interpretation of scripture is such a blatant power move it’s flat out sickening.

  6. Jane Dark, links added.
    If you feel you are up to an undercover mission, I would love to hear your impression of the church. Just don’t elope with anybody!

  7. I apologize for the rant here. Wish I’d toned it down a bit since you’re asking for some honest dialogue from those who are involved with the emergent church movement. Guess I still feel pretty angry about my own experiences with this stuff.

  8. As I recall it got heated last time, Linda, so don’t worry!
    It’s very important to be aware if a movement packaged to seem culture-forward is actually regressive and repressive. But is this church actually emergent?

  9. Well that’s the key, Songbird. They may classify *themselves* as emergent, but they bear no resemblance to my understanding of the movement–a movement I have some issues with, but if you read McLaren’s book it is so not this flavor of Christianity at all.
    I have a friend who’s been highly involved in much of the emergent conversation (conferences, does some consulting for congregations on this stuff) and he would be sickened by this.
    Just as there are mainline congregations we’d like to divorce ourselves from, I think the same could be said here.
    That said, there’s plenty to criticize about emergent–it’s still too much of a boys club, but not for particularly insidious reasons, IMO. It’s just that much of emergent as I understand it is former evangelical conservative pastors who are sick of the hate and the narrowness, yet are still pretty serious Jesus freaks (a paraphrase from a Washington Post article on emergent from this last Sunday–sorry I don’t have time to link to it).
    Hope Jan of A Church for Starving Artists stops by here–she’s got a great head on her shoulders with this emergent stuff.

  10. Songbird, if I elope, it will be in the right direction: back to St. Paul’s.
    I’ll check their schedule, and my singing schedule; will see what works.

  11. Well, that’s interesting, rm. I must admit I get cross when I read about people who are so “successful” in ministry but have no theological education and/or denominational ties. Does the quantitative success of independent churches suggest that my little church doesn’t matter? Does the entrepreneurial triumph of someone like McLaren “prove” that he is better at ministry than I am or you are or any one of us?
    I realize I’m changing my own subject to some extent, but I feel as erased by the devaluing of a theological education as the women being married off at Mars Hill. Maybe I’ll just set up practice as a lawyer. My dad was a lawyer, and so was my first husband. I’m sure I could argue cases beautifully. Do I really need six semesters of Torts and Contracts and Constitutional Law and Professional Responsibility first?

  12. I have a friend who is a biblical scholar at a mainline seminary, evangelical in the true sense of that word & feminist. She goes to an emergent church. Her understanding of the term is that emergent is, above all, “post-denominational” and that the character of each individual congregation is going to vary widely because there is nothing really to tie them together. Her church has a woman co-pastor–both pastors have MDivs, and both worked in different mainlines before. I don’t know. Mars Hill seems to be its own planet. Of course there are PCUSA churches that I think are from a different planet, too.

  13. This Mars Hill stuff is just scary. I am always gobsmacked when I hear of young women who will accept this misogynist patriarchal crap.
    And it feels a bit like Christianity being hijacked–at least Christianity as I understand it. Fundamentalism is antithetical to how I understand the gospels.
    Linda, I don’t think you were overboard in your comments at all.
    None of this addresses your original question about the emergent church movement though. I confess that I don’t know much about it , but what I’ve heard sounds nothing like Mars Hill.

  14. I would also like to know, given Mars Hill’s fondness for end times preaching, why it is so important to be filling up the world with more babies right now?

  15. I’ll be honest. Churches like Mars Hill terrify me, in part because their Biblical interpretation isn’t literal (see the tattoo comment above). Rather, their interpretation of scripture seems to me to be fashioned around a dangerous antediluvian mysogyny, clothed in post modern wrapping paper.

  16. I forsee a new church emerging, full of cranky progressive knitters. I think I would be boss at providing them with pastoral care and yarn referrals.
    At our services, we would play a melange of alt-rock and classical and folk and Sacred Harp, pet spiritually therapeutic dogs (with no training or certifications, of course) while knitting and reading poetry and discussing the meaning of life, celebrate the sacrament of chocolate chip cookies and coffee before moving to our outdoor labyrinth for a meditative walk, all followed by a restorative hot stone pedicure at our church spa. And that will be The Church of the Singing Bird.
    (If you want capes, you’ll need to go see rach and Mindy.)

  17. A little late to this conversation I can see. I am not personally involved in the Emerging church movement but do find some of it fascinating. A friend of mine here in Seattle is though and does some great creative stuff with her community. A while back she posted about the effects of living in a city where Mark Driscoll has so much influence, you can read it here, , she gives you some personal perspectives on the damage he has caused and as you can see her post caused quite a stir leading to 150 comments before she shut comments down. It does frighten me that this man has such influence on women here in my own city, normally so progressive.

  18. Christine, thank you for the link. I now remember reading Driscoll’s attack on Brian McLaren last spring; at the time I had no idea who Driscoll was.
    Your friend’s experiences tell an important story.

  19. “Does the quantitative success of independent churches suggest that my little church doesn’t matter? Does the entrepreneurial triumph of someone like McLaren “prove” that he is better at ministry than I am or you are or any one of us? ”
    In a word? No.
    If one word isn’t enough? Duh! No!
    Black and white thinking unbecomes us, especially since we’re arguing against a church which sees things in those terms.
    This discussion is troubling me. First the discussion is about whether emergent is nothing but fundies with tattoos. When I forward an article that indicates that at least *some* emergent folks, including its figurehead and patron saint, are not, it becomes about their lack of theological education.
    If I didn’t know better, I would think you’ve just decided not to like these folks, period.
    Finally, I personally don’t give a shit whether the Post or McLaren or anyone else who doesn’t even know me validates my ministry or my congregation’s way of being church. I don’t have that kind of time or energy.
    Bleh! Some discussions don’t do well in blog comments, this may be one of them.

  20. The use of hyperbole is perhaps not effective in a written conversation. Sometimes it is not effective in person, either. (Ask my husband.)
    To give some context to my earlier comment about pastors who have not been to seminary: my denomination is currently exploring other paths to ordination that do not include theological education, and it is a touchy issue for me after the time and effort and, frankly, expense, I and my family put into my theological education, primarily undertaken while I was the single parent of three children. And as I have said in the past, I do have a strong reaction to the idea that I am participating in the last gasp of something meaningless and being made redundant almost before I have begun my work. Perhaps it is difficult for those working in large, “successful” churches to understand how marginalized small churches feel as they face their inability to support professional pastoral ministry. I have no problem, really, with worshipping in different ways. I have an enormous problem with regressive theology in sheep’s clothing and with communities based on what appears to be a cult of personality, whatever the theology of that personality might be.

  21. I read the salon article, and now I have a giant headache. Mars Hill Church makes my squick meter go off the charts.
    I don’t think they are what I would call emergent, though. There is a word I would use that I think more closely describes them: C-U-L-T.
    What is the first thing a cult leader does? He or she convinces the indoctrinee to leave behind his or her friends, family, and community.
    Thank you for this discussion, Songbird. I think those of us in the mainline need to stay aware and informed. Especially those of us in small struggling churches.

  22. What, pray tell, is a ‘squick’ meter? And don’t just say something to measure your squick with ’cause that’s just a dodge and I am onto you.

  23. I’m there, when you get that church started, Songbird!
    And I wouldn’t go to Mars Hill even for recognizance. I have a terrible poker face; they’d suss me out in a minute as a feminist Episcopalian gay-rights person and forcibly marry me to some heinous individual.
    Here’s the line that bothered me most:
    “Sarah talks about her appointed role within the church not in terms of subjugation but in the language of difference feminism. She tells me a sisterhood forms between women who celebrate their domestic roles and talents as offered from God, delivered unto their children, marriages, and community as part of his “perfect plan.”
    Um, is it just me? or is that exactly like the Fundy Latter Day Saints stuff?
    also agree with Linda…just because you HAVE kids has nothing to do with how they will turn out! I foresee some nasty surprises for some of these parents 15 years down the line.

  24. Oh, Lord. Please do not Google “squick” and read about it at Wikipedia and come back here to discuss it further, or I will have to hide the comments here. I’m sure cheesehead meant what I thought of, which is “it makes me feel icky to think about it.”

  25. Nothing to say that hasn’t been said, but that’s never stopped me before, has it? Ick. Just ick. Give me some Brian McLaren, quick. This guy scares me. And I guess the first thing I thought was, why is his church so successful? And then I wondered why the heck (fireplace) I was defining success by numbers, given that CULTS get big numbers too!

  26. I am a “young Evangelical” living in Seattle, and while I have never been to Mars Hill Church, I have a lot of friends who attend regularly or are members.
    I just bought the author’s book from which the article is taken, and I can tell you that, for her and many of the other secularists out there, any movement which calls people to conversion is dangerous because a priori there is nothing gained by the Gospel of Christ – no way, no truth, no life.
    Mars Hill kicked a couple of my friends out of their congregation for challenging authority, which is the one major problem I have with it. As a church, they develop community and preach the Gospel. While I disagree with their position on the role of women (I’m PC-USA), I respect their right to worship freely and the rights of my friends to decide for themselves. This article was hardly fair, though it is provocative and perhaps useful.
    Mars Hill is not a cult. It’s a more authoritarian-than-postmodern-sensibilities-like church.

  27. I would not call this church ’emergent’. I would call it ‘contemporary’ perhaps to an edge I find “not me”. I realize that there is no “emergent” denomination (hey, give ’em time — look at Willow Creek!) — and each “emergent” church defines themselves differently. But somehow, the freedom of service and worship in an “emergent” congregation seems missing here.
    This church is a heavy metal version of some of the fundy churches near me. Very scary thought that they are making such a strong comeback in contemporary culture, but I guess it does not surprise me, any more than their parents recycled fundamentalism with guitars and jeans a generation ago. (except we were hip. yeah baby)
    Do I believe that there are some absolutes in faith and practice? Sure. Do I think it has to come in this tattoed-lock-step-version of faith? Um. That would be no.
    I would love to hear from couples who actually GO to that church and find out if it is really that repressive to women working in their area of giftedness professionally (which, parenthetically may not include the fruits of their womb…)
    I also realize the editorial bent of Salon and try to give it some wiggle room… because I have no doubt that a highly conservative publication (you choose the title) would likely stake me out, honey-covered, over the fire ants… SO yes, Grace and trust need to be extended. And I am confident that God knows and sees the condition of every human heart, including the one who types this, will sort this all out before the end…

  28. Hi Songbird –
    Sadly, I am not really in touch with that cousin. Her sister and I are close, but neither of us can really have much of a conversation with A (the Mars Hill cousin), because she always brings it back to religion, and neither the sister nor I share her paradigm. I am glad that she has found a community where she feels at home sharing those things that are important to her, but I hope that as she grows up a little (she is in her early twenties) she will be able to find another community that helps her grow.
    In the meantime, I wouldn’t use the C-U-L-T word because I think it has too much baggage, but I do worry for her since her reality seems so skewed.

  29. I think to tar “emergent” with the feelings that arise from this article (for me too!) is like associating “Christian” with the feelings that come from reading about, say, Jim Jones.
    Emergent isn’t about doctrines, which are (obviously) all over the map, but about how we conceive of the community-building that is being Church. I have a friend at COTA in Seattle and am impressed by who they reach. It may not be my style, but their creed looks just like mine.

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