The 25th Anniversary of The Little Mermaid and The Demise of Mark Driscoll

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I know, how could I possibly pair seemingly unrealistic topics of my childhood favorite Disney movie and Mark Driscoll? Continue reading. It shall all make sense in due time.

My blogging rants have previously spanned to the topics of Mark Driscoll and Disney (e.g., here, here, and here).

In the last few months, a lot has gone on in the world of Mark Driscoll (MD) and Mars Hill, Driscoll’s Seattle-base mega-church. While the purpose of this blog post is not to summarize what all has transpired, I will catch you up to speed here:

The quick summary: Shit went down. MD resigned and Mars Hill has disbanded.

The longer summary: The trouble started when MD got into some trouble regarding posts he made 14 years ago under the pseudonym of William Wallace II to attack “emerging-church-type feminists and liberals.” Why this happened to resurface after 14 years I have no idea, as Driscoll’s last year has hardly been clean, including controversies with possible plagiarism and allegations of paying off NYT best-sellers list. Somehow, the conglomeration of controversy spiraled in the last few months and resulted in the following: Acts 29, the church-planting organization Driscoll himself started, kicked out Mars Hill from its organization (major burn to MD) –> MD resigned from Mars Hill, saying he didn’t want to take away from the church mission, yada yada –> Mars Hill chose to disband.

This is HUGE in evangelicalism.

HUGE.

MD has been (with some exceptions) America’s evangelical, manly-man, neo-Reformed, social-media-savvy sweetheart. He captured the lives and hearts of thousands of Mars Hill goers. I myself, as I admitted in previous MD posts, used to listen to his podcasts. He is a captive speaker, quick with words, quick-witted, and relevant. Churches were planted. Good things happened. I do not want to negate the good things.

Do I believe that MD loves Jesus? I think that he does.

Do I think that MD bettered the city of Seattle and beyond? I think he did.

Now onto why I’m really writing about this story.

I am going to try really hard not to kick MD when he’s down. MD has long been controversial, and specifically what gets me going, are his homophobic and sexist comments that have been plentiful and sadly influential. Anyone who mocks effeminate worship leaders on Twitter is going to get a mouthful from me.

I saw the way this impacted others. Attending a Mars Hill campus in person in 2011, I was horrified to find every other woman pregnant and blonde and gorgeous. Every guy was ripped and strangely Driscoll-like in physical appearance. Everyone was white.

My own church when I lived in California preached out of MD’s book Real Marriage, a book filled with questionable antidotes such as one regarding a woman’s haircut pleasing her husband. This was the book also associated with a  plagiarism/ NYT best-sellers list scandal.

When MD resigned, Mars Hill leadership wrote the following: “Pastor Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.”

Uh…….?

How exactly are we defining immorality?

What is to be said for so many previous MD followers in therapy from attending Mars Hill and being subjected to degrading “church discipline” for being, for instance, a stay at home dad!!!! (GASP)?

What is to be said for the numerous controversial, hurtful comments that MD has said via Twitter or in personal conversations?

Those are moral because… MD believes that Jesus is God? And his doctrine is in line with certain standards?

Rachel Held Evans, in a typically eloquent post on Facebook yesterday, wrote the following:

It surprises me sometimes how people who are cruel and unkind get a pass on rude behavior from Christians because “at least their theology is sound.” But your theology is only as sound as the fruit of the Spirit it produces. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control – both Jesus and the apostle Paul taught that THESE are the things to look for when assessing whether someone is preaching the true gospel or a false one. I am so much more inclined to listen and learn from a teacher who exhibits these traits than those who may be highly credentialed whose fruit is bitter.

I think we as the church need to take a long, hard look at what fruit we are producing and the ramifications it has on others. There is this archaic idea that heresy means what you believe or cheating on your wife. I think this blog gets it. At the end of it, the writer, Kristen Howerton, says:

“It’s time we examine the negative ramifications to long-standing microaggressions, misogyny, and verbal abuse as seriously as we would embezzling or sexual misconduct from a church leader.”

Exactly.

More later but first…

NOW ONTO THE LITTLE MERMAID. 

The 25th anniversary of everyone’s favorite classic was this week. Growing up, I was obsessed with Ariel, as was every late 80s-90s girl. I had my Ariel Halloween costume and Ariel dolls and barbies and Ariel EVERYTHING.

I LOVED THE LITTLE MERMAID. Who didn’t? Cute, clever, catchy, adorable. A success for Disney, a success for mankind.

It wasn’t until I saw this Second City clip several years ago that I got to thinking:

What messages was this movie really teaching me?

Maybe not the 1st… or 100th… or 1000th… time that I saw that movie at age 4 would I think differently, but I wonder… what kinds of things did I implicitly learn?

I wonder… what we would find if we did a study on young girls before and after watching The Little Mermaid? Specifically, I wonder whether we would find that little girls are less likely to want to be a woman president or the effect a movie such as that would have on their ambitions and views of womanhood.

And as someone who has had an eating disorder for 13 years and is sensitive to weight-based discrimination, this movie is SO FRUSTRATING! Ariel is practically a mass-disseminated cartoon pro-ana figure, so much so that this PERFECT “Realistic Movie Trailer” renames the movie, The Little Waistline. And how fitting that the villain is a fat old woman. Perpetuating decades of stigma against older women and showing young girls that FAT IS BAD.

I read the host of perky articles that come out on the day that The Little Mermaid turned 25, and I tried to relive my childhood love of this movie. It didn’t work.

I know too much. I’ve been through too many years of therapy. I’ve battled too many companies selling pro-ana shirts, and we still haven’t had a woman president, and eating disorders are existing in unprecedented numbers. I have battled my entire life the voice that tells me to sell myself for society.

That started in childhood. THESE are the messages young girls get!!!!!

It’s not The Little Mermaid‘s fault, but does this movie perpetuate these messages, in my opinion? A resounding YES!

BRINGING IT TOGETHER

I told you I would bring it together. Now what could a middle-aged pastor from Seattle have to do with a movie about a mermaid?

Turns out, a lot (in my opinion).

Media, my friends, is an important thing. We are not untouched by what we fill our minds with; we are not untouched by what we watch or see or listen to or by the venues and organizations we attend.

Media is powerful, sometimes so subtle, you don’t realize how it’s slowly seeping into your consciousness, changing the way you see the world.

Both to Mark Driscoll and The Little Mermaid perpetuate some ugly stereotypes about the objectification of those who are different, whether it is those of different genders, sexual orientations, physical appearance, or anyone who you label as “the other.”

Sadly for evangelicals, Disney is stepping it up. Movies like Frozen and Brave are FAR (X 1000) better than movies like The Little Mermaid. I think Disney is learning their lesson. I am hopeful for today’s young girls, that they will be empowered to do WHATEVER it is they want to do, including achieving equal pay and other problematic society ills. I am hopeful that the movie Miss Representation and The Representation Project exist. I am hopeful because activist movie clips like THIS are going viral.

For evangelicals, I am not so sure. The oppression and discrimination of women and LGBTQ people is still prevalent is so many churches. And while The Little Mermaid turns 25 this year, MD JUST resigned. Apparently mocking stay-at-home dads and effeminate male worship leaders is still kosher in evangelicalism. So I guess the evangelical church is at least 25 years behind the rest of culture. Probably more than that.

I am not trying to be a hater, or promote a boycott of Disney/ Mark Driscoll. Like I admitted, I listened to Mark Driscoll. I loved (LOVED!!!!!!!!!) The Little Mermaid. If you like MD or old-school Disney movies, you know what, have fun. I will probably show my future daughter The Little Mermaid.

However, I think it’s well within my rights as a human to be critical of culture. I am in the field of mental health as a career, and I am an activist regarding body image, eating disorders, and gender-related concerns. And some of these things don’t sit well with me.

I am all too familiar with the scars that life leaves, and I am a fan of changing things so that people in the future can have a few less scars in life. So I’m going to leave you with the following thoughts:

For Disney lovers who show their little girls The Little Mermaid: If you must show your little girl this iconic movie, please have a discussion about it with her. She is SO much more than her body and selling and starving herself to please some hot dude (per the realistic movie trailer “white Aladdin”).

For evangelicals: Think before you preach, attend church, talk to others, and use the Bible to condemn. We need a movement based on love and acceptance, a movement that honors differences, and minimizes support groups needed for people in church. I mean GUYS how crazy is it that people should need to be in therapy or band together because of an oppressive church experience that leaves them feeling like scum. How much do you think Jesus is weeping because of that? MD’s popularity shows me how much we evangelicals are under the sea-– and many people don’t even know it.

Part 2: Jesus is a Pansy- Masculinity and Homophobia

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This post is a follow up about Mark Driscoll and his view of masculinity and homophobia, which are important enough topics that they warrant their own post.

Driscoll’s view of masculinity is related to and in reaction against the perceived femininization of the church. To Driscoll, the church is filled with “chicks and some chickified dudes with limp wrists.” He challenges it by creating a “macho ethos” in his church and media following (think: church members prefer movies like The Fight Club).

In addition to projecting his own view of masculinity onto others, Driscoll projects his sense of masculinity onto Jesus. If I heard Driscoll and never read the Bible, I would think that Jesus was a pro-wrestler, which is why one NYT article on Driscoll was apply named, “Who would Jesus smack down?” Driscoll has said, “I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” In a recent sermon on the “Do Not Kill” commandment, Driscoll said, “Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist; he’s patient. He has a long wick, but the anger of his wrath is burning.”

The idea of the feminization of the church is not inherently problematic. Yes, probably men have felt alienated by the church and by portrayals of Jesus, and that is something that needs to be addressed. But just because you sense a perceived need, you cannot just make up a view of Jesus that meets your cultural perceptions of crude masculinity and say it’s in the Bible.

Newsflash to Driscoll: there are Christians who are pacifists. They– we– do not appreciate Jesus being called a “pansy.” Shane Claiborne says that Fight Club makes for bad theology and is in fact “a betrayal of the cross,” as Jesus’ death meant to reconcile all things and ended the shedding of blood. He continues, “Mark may see things like ‘kindness, gentleness, love and peace’ as feminine, dainty things for pansies, but the Bible calls them the ‘fruit of the Spirit.’ These are the things that God is like.”

Driscoll’s words have translated into overt discrimination, homophobia, and public shaming. Mark Driscoll has talked about homosexuality more than any pastor I’ve ever known, and I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts. I don’t have to be Freud to realize that maybe there is something else going on here. He also compares masturbation to homosexuality because you’re playing with your own parts and you’re the same sex as… you. Like, why are you even thinking about that? Who thinks about that when they masturbate?

A more disturbing display of his homophobia is on a recent Twitter post, in which Driscoll asked his followers to tell stories about “the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader.” One heartbreaking blog by Tyler Clark says, “When you put out a call on Facebook for people verbally attack ‘effeminate anatomically male’ men, I find myself back in high school—shoved against a locker, with the bullies calling me a faggot.” Rachel Held Evans entreats other Christians to call out what Driscoll is doing: bullying.

I am disgusted by how Driscoll is perpetuating discrimination, shaming, and oppression of other men who are not 100% “macho.” It is so cruel to mock men who are effeminate and say “gay” and “faggot” in discriminatory ways… and worse yet, to do it in the name of Jesus. MD: Think of the men who you are alienating. Think of the men who don’t feel welcome at your church, who think that there is something wrong with them for not being like you. Think of how much homosexual people are already hurting, at the direct hand of the church, and how you are just perpetuating that.

I was able to hear Bishop Gene Robinson, the first ordained Episcopal bishop who is gay, speak last year, and he was talking about how he and his church went to a gay pride parade just to hand out water to thirsty people. No judgment, no mocking. That is a beautiful display of how we should treat the other. There is no room for high school bullying. Mark Driscoll, if you are a man, you need to stop mocking other men. Stop mocking people who aren’t you. Get on your knees and start handing out water to people you’ve hurt. Aren’t these people also your brothers and sisters in Christ?

Gender is not a static construct, unlike some evangelical culture might lead us to believe. It’s not as simple as: if you have a penis, you’re going to like violence and meat, and if you’re a woman, you’re going to giggle on the phone with boys and twirl your hair. There are no people who are “purely” masculine or “purely” feminine. That is very simplistic thinking.

My heart breaks for the people who Driscoll has hurt, the people, like Tyler Clark, who flashback to high school being taunted for being a “faggot” when hearing Driscoll speak, the men who have publicly shamed others after receiving “permission” from Driscoll to do so.

Mocking others and being insensitive are so not the markers of what Jesus is in the Gospels. Jesus said controversial things like, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5). Jesus’ followers wanted to haul ass on his enemies at times, and others wanted him to be a Zealot and overthrow Rome. Jesus chose not to do that. He could have. Heck, if he wanted to time warp and watch the Backstreet Boys in concert 2000 years later, he could have. Jesus could have done anything. Instead of promoting power, he gave up his power (Philippians 2). He came to serve, to wash feet, and to die on the cross.

In his life, Jesus really did the reverse of what people thought he would do. Jesus hung out around the prostitutes, the unclean people, the sick, the dying– the oppressed. Rather than aligning himself with the Pharisees, who imposed rules onto others, Jesus had the harshest things of all to say to them, including: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs,which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27). He did not say that to the downtrodden or downcast. He said that to the religious people in charge.

As Rachel Held Evans wrote:

“The bad news for Mark is that we *do* worship a guy who got beat up. We *do* worship a guy who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We *do* worship a guy who spoke honorable about women and treated them as equals. We *do* worship a guy who surrounded himself with just the sort of people Driscoll likes to publicly mock. We worship a guy who inaugurated his kingdom, not by “making somebody bleed” but by bleeding! Pastors should certainly strive to reach and serve men. But we can’t do this by twisting Jesus to fit into our culture’s skewed views of masculinity. Getting men to go to church is not the same as making disciples of Jesus.”

I am proud that I worship a God who has been sent to heal the brokenhearted, who is counter-cultural and embodies Love, as well as the fruits of the Spirit. I am thankful that God would not stand in a high school hallway calling a person derogatory names regarding his/ her sexuality. I am thankful that Jesus could have killed, but he chose to be killed. I am thankful for the redemptive love of God, and I am thankful that Jesus was not a sexist, homophobic, heterosexist wrestler.

Jesus’ Stepford Wives: When God Ordains Sexism (… or people think he does…)

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I am mostly writing in response to this article put out by Jezebel which alleges that Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church is the “worst person ever.” I have a long and complicated relationship with Driscoll. I started listening to Mark Driscoll* in 2006 during my freshman-year-in-college church podcast binge. He always fascinated me. He is such an engaging speaker. I loved watching his Q+A videos, and he was formative in my theological development. What I’m trying to say is: I’m not trying to be a hater.

Most of my issues with Driscoll have been in relation to gender and sexuality. In Driscoll’s own words, I saw those differences to be open handed, issues that can be debated among the church, that aren’t prerequisites for salvation. Our issues were not close handed issues, like I am accusing him of heresy. We both affirmed the basic tenants of Christianity. I am knocking the fact that he is reaching people for God. That he is furthering the Body of Christ. That he is preaching the Bible. That he has good things to say. Even though I am not on board with the whole traditional gender roles, male headship, Biblical Manhood and Womanhood thing, I never saw a problem listening to the occasional Driscoll podcast…

…until after I took a leadership position at my seminary in 2011. I was walking around my apartment cleaning one day, listening to a Mark Driscoll sermon. My roommate, a fellow seminarian, was horrified and asked, “Are you listening to Mark Driscoll? Don’t you think that’s kind of hypocritical since you’re on student government working to fight gender issues?”

I had never thought about it like that. Prior to this time, I listened to Driscoll because I liked his theological sermons and in depth Bible study. As I was reflecting, though, I wondered: By listening to this person, how am I inadvertently supporting the kind of discrimination I am trying to eliminate? Am I being socialized to other aspects of his “culture” along with listening to his teachings?

Around that time, I visited Mars Hill for myself, and I noticed the strangest thing. In contrast to the pot and hippie-ish coffee drinkers I had seen in Seattle all weekend, at this church there were qualitative demographic differences. All the women at Mars Hill looked really similar. Many were blonde. And it felt like 60% of the women there were pregnant! I was like, What strange kind of land have I stepped into? I felt like I had been time-warped into the Stepford Wives with a Jesus twist.

I started noticing Driscoll’s objectification of women. One quote from his Song of Solomon series: “Ladies, your husbands appreciate oral sex. They do. So, serve them, love them well. It’s biblical. Right here. We have a verse.” Interesting exegesis…. He also made clear that women should be in the home, and men who were stay-at-home dads were subject to church discipline at Mars Hill.

The Jezebel article presented other eye-opening things that Driscoll has said about women. For example, saying that Ted Haggard’s wife “let herself go” and holds responsibility for not getting him out of his sexual predicament? Calling pastors’ wives who let themselves go “lazy”? That is classic blaming and abuse. Then there is the whole thing about women being the weaker vessel. It’s funny, because I just wrote a paper about why people wanted to deny women the right to vote in 1900, and Driscoll bears uncanny similarities to the arguments people who opposed the Suffrage Movement used. They said that women were too easily swayed and “hysterical.” Therefore, deny them privileges.

Driscoll would counter that argument with the fact that he cares about women, loves women, etc. … but they just have different roles, that they must be treated differently, more delicately. To which I would respond: That is still sexism. It’s more covert sexism, that has a benevolent tinge to it, but still sexism.

Mark Driscoll, I do not want to knock you down as a person. I have respect for you as a brother in Christ. However, there are some things I want to say about some of this teaching that do not sit well with me. Ultimately, my allegiance is to God, and I believe God has called us to the reconciliation of all things, shalom, and redemption. I think your opinions about women– yes, they are opinions– are wrong, destructive, and perpetuate oppression.

Please do not treat me as a weaker vessel because the internalized feeling of being a weaker vessel is what I have been facing my entire life. I have grown up learning that I shouldn’t “let myself go,” that I should please others and not myself. I have lived it, and it is killing me.

Now you are sitting here as a pastor saying “there’s a verse” for why I should oral sex to my (nonexistent) husband? That I shouldn’t let myself go? That I should wear my hair and dress the way you want it? That my husband is my gardener, and he should be pruning me? How dare you!

I am starving, floundering, to break free of exactly what you’re promoting femininity to be. I am fighting for my life to be free, to let Jesus into my life, to let these unrealistic, archaic expectations of femininity go. It is my personal struggle, but I believe that God is with me, his grace there at every step. And yet you are saying that God wants history to regress a century and we should just live in the Victorian times? No, I will not accept misogyny that is being marketed as “conservative evangelicalism.” I renounce that in the name of Jesus.

These repressive factions of evangelical culture sicken me. It sickens me that people are taking the bait. It sickens me that last year, my then-church chose to do a sermon series on Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage. And do you know what sickens me the most? That Driscoll articulates his opinions about gender roles in the name of God. The idea that, “It’s in the Bible… There’s a verse for that.”

I resent that. The last time I checked, Jesus did not command women to blow their husbands. He also didn’t say that women should stay at home in most or every situation. That is bad theology, it’s offensive, and it’s misogyny.

When I think of Driscoll’s growing church in Seattle, it makes me sad. I know that it is reaching people, and I should be happy about that, but I keep getting this haunting image of a female in Seattle who was educated, ambitious, and opinionated, only to start attending Mars Hill and change completely. I imagine her getting married and popping out babies immediately and quitting her job. I imagine her becoming indoctrinated to her “role” as a woman and losing her identity in the process. That grieves me. Yes, she is “saved.” Yes, she is in Christ. That is good. But… I don’t think it’s good enough for the church. I think that you should sell your soul to Jesus rather than Jesus-and-outdated-versions-of-femininity. Being abused and enslaved by restrictions and regulations… that is not redemption. That is tragedy.

Driscoll’s popularity saddens and illuminates me to the fact that we, as evangelicals, are so socially backwards. We have such a long ways to go in reconciling all things to God. It saddens me that his disgusting, vile comments about women are accepted as streamline. They are not challenged, and dissent is silenced. Mark Driscoll isn’t the worst person ever, as Jezebel ascertains, but his sexism should also not go unchecked. His view points necessitate us to discern and critically think about the role women have in evangelicalism and where we can go from here.

*Mark Driscoll is an interesting character, to those who don’t know him. He is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and he has written a lot of books. I don’t even want to count how many sermons he’s given. He’s got to be reaching John Piper status soon. He is also definitively reformed and complementarian. Google him.