Daniel Cloes walks his girlfriend Danuta Wieczorek to the door after dinner. They say goodbye, but they don’t kiss goodnight.
For the devout Mars Hill couple, practicing premarital abstinence means more than just abstaining from sex. It means eliminating any temptation that may lead to it.
Wieczorek, 22, and Cloes, 23, admit they don’t fit into a dating era where “chivalry is dead,” and “hook-up” culture is alive. Outside of Mars Hill, their abstinence may seem foreign, their lip-lock ban bizarre. Inside, they are the ideal product of its Christian doctrine preaching premarital physical and emotional boundaries. With peers more likely to have a one-night-stand than go on a date, they are the inverse of the exterior dating world.
The church, which began as a Seattle-based bible study group, has now become a national megachurch sensation. Despite its conservative Evangelical stance, Mars Hill has collected more than 5,500 members since its 1996 founding. According to the evangelical Outreach Magazine, it is the third fastest growing and 28th largest church in the nation.
Led by the dynamic and often-controversial Mark Driscoll, the church sees high weekly attendance (In early 2012, Mars Hill reported a weekly attendance of nearly 15,000). This number is bolstered by the group's tech acumen. Pre-recorded video sermons are projected to all 14 Mars Hill locations in 4 U.S. states. The Bellevue Mars Hill is the only one where Driscoll regularly appears in the flesh.
Appealing to a young and tech-savvy audience, his sermons can also be streamed online. Advice and personal testimonies can be found in church blogs. Worship is cushioned by live rock music, Driscoll addresses his congregation in a graphic tee and the church has held enormous Easter baptism sessions on the field at CenturyLink. The members of Mars Hill themselves share a private social network and Driscoll’s sermons consistently top iTunes’ Religion and Spirituality list, with over 10 million downloads each year.
Mars Hill’s confining gender roles, though, have been criticized as counter-progressive. Last April, graffiti appeared across its U-district location’s walls: “Mars Hill is anti-woman.” In 2006, critics of Driscoll’s doctrine protested at the Ballard location.
“We live in this confused culture…where men don’t provide for their families,” Driscoll said in a September 2008 sermon regarding the dos and don’ts of marriage. “A woman needs a protector.”
Biblically, Driscoll says, men are to provide and protect, and women should serve their husbands and children. Aside from the possibility of illness or other hindrance to the husband’s ability to do this, this theology is absolute. In sermon after sermon, he says, any variation is sinful — both in his own eyes and in the eyes of God.
In the same 2008 sermon, Driscoll and his wife Grace answer anonymous questions sent in from Mars Hill members. The projector displays one man’s inquiry: “What are your thoughts on stay-at-home dads if the woman really wants to work? Or even if both want/need to work?”
Driscoll received the question with a grimace. “This is where our attendance goes down,” he said. His wife, Grace, helped answer the question through biblical means: “[A man is] worse than an unbeliever” if he fails to provide for his family. “It’s a serious sin,” she said.
She joked about how different the Driscoll children would look if her husband assumed the stay-at-home role. “As women, we’re built to be home with our kids … loving our husbands,” she said. “We should be pure. Kind. Self-controlled — so as to not malign the word of God.”
Driscoll chimed in. “You live in an absolutely perverted, corrupted, stupid culture,” he said. “It’s a culture in which men act like Peter Pan and they’re boys way too long. A lot of boys think they’re men just because they can shave. If you cannot provide for your family — you’re not a man.”
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