Warning: The following column contains sexually explicit language.
There's a new form of Christianity sweeping the U.S. Its main focus: sex.
Don't be surprised. We already have a Christian denomination catering to every other worldview, comfort zone and obsession, so why not sex? As I said in "The Marketing of Evil":
"No matter what kind of person you are, a form of Christianity has evolved just for you. There's a politically liberal Christianity and a politically conservative Christianity. There's an acutely activist Christianity and an utterly apolitical Christianity, a Christianity that holds up a high standard of ethical behavior and service, and a Christianity for which both personal ethics and good works are irrelevant. There's a raucous, intensely emotional Christianity drenched in high-voltage music, and there's a quiet, contemplative Christianity. There's a loving Christianity and a hateful, racist Christianity, a Christianity that honors Jews as God's chosen people and a Christianity that maligns Jews as Satan's children."
So, it was just a matter of time before we got a version of Christianity for people obsessed with sex.
And while there is a surprising number of preachers, teachers and Christian websites today whose main focus is sex, the most prominent is Mark Driscoll, founding pastor of the wildly popular Seattle mega-church Mars Hill Church. According to Mars Hill's website, Driscoll's mostly youthful flock has grown from a handful of people in a home Bible study to over 19,000 people meeting across 14 locations in four states.
"One of the world's most-downloaded and quoted pastors," says Driscoll's official bio, "his audience – fans and critics alike – spans the theological and cultural left and right. He was also named one of the '25 Most Influential Pastors of the Past 25 Years' by Preaching magazine, and his sermons are consistently No. 1 on iTunes each week for Religion & Spirituality with over 10 million of downloads each year."
By the way, as runner-up for top mega-church pastor in "The Church of Sex," I'd nominate Ed Young, senior pastor of Dallas-based Fellowship Church, who recently staged "a 24-hour bed-in with his wife atop his church," a stunt designed to publicize his just-released New York Times best-seller, "Sexperiment: 7 Days to Lasting Intimacy With Your Spouse."
But back to Driscoll: I have nothing personal against this popular, hip, tough-talking young pastor in blue jeans, and I totally understand the appeal of his blunt, masculine, passionate style – a refreshing respite from all the stuffy, pretentious and cowardly pastors out there.
However, let's just state the obvious: Mark Driscoll is utterly obsessed with sex.
He tells, for instance, the following story of one female member of his congregation who – and I quote – "brought her husband to Christ" by giving him oral sex, in accord with Driscoll's specific pastoral advice to her. Here's how Driscoll, during a Nov. 18, 2007, sermon in Edinburgh, Scotland, described this particular husband's "conversion":
She [the wife] says, "I've never performed oral sex on my husband. I've refused to." I said, "You need to go home and tell your husband that you've met Jesus and you've been studying the Bible, and that you're convicted of a terrible sin in your life. And then you need to drop his trousers, and you need to serve your husband. And when he asks why, say, 'Because I'm a repentant woman. God has changed my heart and I'm supposed to be a biblical wife.'" She says, "Really?" I said, "Yeah. First Peter 3 says if your husband is an unbeliever to serve him with deeds of kindness." [Laughter from audience] How many men would agree, that is a deed of kindness. He doesn't want tracts. Those won't do anything. What we're talking about here could really help.
Really, people? Is this what we now stoop to in our efforts to make the magnificent Christian faith – the moral foundation of Western civilization – more appealing to a rudderless, confused and sex-drenched generation? Is this what now passes for pastoral counseling and preaching the Bible? I call it abuse and exploitation. I would even call it blasphemy ("… tell your husband that you've met Jesus … And then you need to drop his trousers …").
Driscoll was "preaching" the Song of Solomon, which he has said repeatedly is his favorite part of the Bible and about which he preaches often. It's also a major focus of "Real Marriage," his brand-new No. 1 New York Times best-seller – which is mostly about sex – co-authored with his wife, Grace.
For Driscoll, the Song of Solomon amounts to a soft-porn sex manual, which inspires him to admonish women – those who aspire to be "biblical wives" – to awaken their husbands each morning by sexually servicing them in the same way the aforementioned wife "converted" her husband "to Christ." (Actually, I'm not really too sure she converted him to a deep Christian faith, but no doubt he was converted into an enthusiastic member of Driscoll's fast-growing church.)
To his credit, Driscoll condemns fornication, adultery and homosexuality. But for married folks, Driscoll – citing his chief inspiration Solomon, who had 700 wives – promotes sex toys, imaginary sexual role-playing, cybersex, what used to be called "sodomy" (both oral and anal) and wives becoming strippers for their husbands.
In fact, the wives-should-become-strippers teaching is not only in the Bible, gushes the enthusiastic Driscoll, it's in his favorite part of the Holy Scriptures.
"This is my favorite chapter in the whole Bible!" Driscoll exclaimed during the same 2007 sermon. "I believe in the resurrection of Jesus. It's great too. But this is an amazing chapter of the Bible: [Song of Solomon] Chapter 6 verse 13. It's awesome. It's awesome. … Now, what do you think the dance of mah haneim is? It's an ancient strip tease. Stripping is biblical. You're welcome. [Laughter from audience] It's biblical."
I am not a Bible scholar, far from it. But it's fair to say the Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) – a short love poem of only eight chapters – is probably the most controversial book in the Bible. It is never quoted in the New Testament. Because of its often erotic language, "ancient Jews and Christians alike rejected its literal interpretation and allegorized it," explains the editor's note in my King James Bible: "For the Jews, it referred to God's dealings with his bride, Israel. The early Christians saw it as representing the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church." This spiritual interpretation pretty much held sway for the first 19 centuries after Christ.
But in modern times, of course, we like to think we understand such things much better than those ignorant, superstitious, early Christians who knew Jesus and the apostles. Kind of like the way today's judges see things in the U.S. Constitution – gay marriage, abortion, banishing the Ten Commandments from courthouses – that jurists in all previous generations somehow missed.
In any event, however you interpret the Song of Solomon, it's undeniable that weird and sometimes disastrous things happen when you base your worldview and ministry on one or two allegorical and controversial scripture passages. I mean, check out this YouTube video of a room full of "Christian worshipers" ecstatically handling multiple poisonous snakes. That's right, there are some churches, mostly in the Southeastern U.S., that believe handling venomous snakes and drinking poison are an important biblical test and proof of their faith. Why? Because in the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus said: "And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mark 16:17-18).
Common sense tells us – however we interpret Jesus' actual meaning – that He didn't intend for the faithful to "tempt God" by drinking strychnine and strutting around on stage with rattlers and cottonmouths, practices that every year result in one or more deaths being reported from these churches. But to proponents of snake-handling and poison-drinking, "it's biblical."
In the same way, common sense tells us God did not create women – including married women – to have to compulsively service the needs of oversexed, insecure, angry, egotistical men at all hours of the day and night. And women definitely shouldn't be psychologically manipulated by authority figures into believing they are disobeying God, Jesus and the Bible if they don't become sexual Stepford wives.
Which brings me to this question:
Why has Liberty University – a great Christian college, and one of the few schools in the nation that doesn't infect students with a highly sexualized culture the moment they set foot on campus – agreed to bring Driscoll to its campus in Lynchburg, Va., next month to teach and preach – twice – to all the young Christian students entrusted to that school's care?
Are the students' parents cool with making their kids a captive audience for Driscoll's sex-book tour? And what are the decision-makers at Liberty thinking? It's not as though I'm the first person to point out Driscoll's weird overemphasis on sex. The Christian blogosphere has long been fired up over Driscoll. The Baptist Press reported that a major Christian radio network, the Bott Radio Network, canceled Driscoll because of his over-sexed sermons. Even a recent Seattle TV news story about a controversy at Mars Hill Church revolves around – you'll never guess – sex.
Or check this out: Driscoll tells his congregation he has spiritual visions – which he calls a divine "gift of discernment" – but guess what he spiritually discerns with this sixth sense? Right. As this rather creepy YouTube video reveals, Driscoll has detailed and graphic visions of sexual sins involving his flock, including (in this particular clip) molestation and adultery.
Or how about this story Driscoll told during the same sermon from which I've been quoting:
We were in a grocery store recently, and my wife and I were holding hands and just, you know, shopping. I said, "Why don't you walk ahead of me for awhile." She said, "What for?" I said, "I just want to watch your butt for a while." She said, "Watch my butt?" I said, "Yeah, I like your butt. I like you and I like walking with you. But I'd like to watch your butt for a while, at least through the vegetable section. I want to watch your butt." [Laughter] … Let her know.
Supporters of Mark Driscoll (including the decision-makers at Liberty University), it's time to wake up. This is not normal. Asking your wife to walk ahead of you in public so you can ogle her rear end is not normal. Having mystical visions of parishioners in sex acts is not normal. Counseling female members of your church to bring their husbands to Jesus through sex acts – that's not normal. Being pastor of one of the fastest-growing mega-churches in the country and announcing that, out of the entire transcendent Bible – which holds the secrets to heaven and hell and eternal happiness or eternal darkness – your favorite part is about stripping?
That's not normal.
Modesty, moderation, self-denial, humility, patient endurance – remember that old stuff? Those are the spiritual qualities of a Christian, which are consistently extolled throughout the entire New Testament. "For to be carnally minded is death," warns Paul; "but to be spiritually minded is life and peace" (Romans 8:6 KJV). The apostles constantly admonish believers not to get too caught up with "the lusts of the flesh."
In "real marriage" – that is, a marriage made in heaven between sincere and spiritually seeking men and women – wives actually appreciate a little nobility, patience and self-restraint on the part of their husbands. Without the manly virtue of self-control and even a little self-denial in their relationship, women can feel trapped – like they have no choice but to become seductive sexpots to keep their husband happy. And if perchance this creates conflict within her own conscience – conflict with a part of her that is not so sensuous, but more angelic and childlike and innocent – her husband has no clue what is happening. But she suffers the conflict nevertheless, perhaps dealing with it by pleasing him more and more, in the vain hope it will relieve her conflict. It doesn't.
Friends, one of life's great challenges for fallen, broken beings like each of us is that we somehow, through God's grace, eventually rise above all the various temptations and pulls of "the world" and live solely unto Him. It would really be nice if our pastors and other spiritual authorities, who claim to represent God, would exemplify and exhort us along this high road – rather than lead us in the opposite direction.