Sex From the Pulpit: Part Two

Mark Driscoll

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.

19 responses to “Sex From the Pulpit: Part Two

  1. Brett,

    I think you’re reading a bit too much here from a single visit to Mars Hill. For the record, I don’t go there…I live in LA. I’m also single, 25-year-old guy, so I’m coming from a similar position as you, but I do listen to his podcasts on occasion. I’ve listened to a few of these on the Song of Solomon series.

    “…it makes no attempt to articulate a cogent and Christian sexual ethic for singles” – quite simply, Driscoll would say: don’t have it! That’s his “sexual ethic” for singles.

    “…we get more scandalous and visceral images of sex in a church service than we do from a week’s worth of MTV?” This is pure exaggeration and simplistic. Listen to a few of his sermons from that series. Then actually watch MTV for a week. What is truly more “scandalous” – discussing sex as described in the Bible…or being bombarded all week by its cheapened version that is all over our modern culture?

    And to be honest, why does it surprise & upset you that Driscoll “talk[s] about sex so frankly and frequently” at Mars Hill during your one visit while they study the Song of Solomon? He takes months to study Scripture in depth (, it seems like you just caught him during an understandably sex-focused study.

    The Church has ignored discussing sex in the public sphere for a very long time, and we’re paying the price….Christians & non-Christians alike are both struggling with sexual sin immensely.

    I don’t mean to be argumentative, I’ve enjoyed your blog for quite some time Brett, but this post seems to be reading much further into Driscoll than warranted.

  2. Thanks for the comment Aaron, and thanks for reading.
    I may have caught Driscoll in a particularly sex-charged day, but I’m only reading in to it what I heard with my own ears, twice (I visited two of Mars Hill’s campuses that Sunday and heard Driscoll’s sermon twice). And this church visit wasn’t my only experience with Driscoll; I’ve followed him for years, read his stuff, listened to his sermons and agreed with quite a lot of what he said.
    And you are right: of course, Driscoll would (rightfully) say to singles, don’t have sex! But “a cogent and Christian sexual ethic for singles” has to go beyond having it or not having it. Yes, we can agree that sex outside of marriage is forbidden. But we are still sexual beings, and there are still questions about how we deal with that fact that are not being addressed.
    Driscoll is sort of like a Dad taking a van full of children to Disneyland, and making one of the kids stay in the van all day. Unless he takes the whole van of children to a place where they can all get out and play, or stays in the van in solidarity with the kid, or offers a viable alternative wherein the kid’s natural energy can be healthily channeled, even within the confines of the claustrophobic van, he’s unfortunately not being the most responsible dad he can be.

  3. Reading this reminded me of a time I went to a large church in Maryland with a friend and his family.

    I was single at the time, no girlfriend, no prospects and I was sitting next to my friend’s 12-year-old sister when the pastor started talking about how men are like microwaves and women are like crockpots.

    I pretty much tuned him out after that and watched as the pre-teen beside me rolled her eyes and twiddled her thumbs.

    The message pretty much seemed to be that you won’t reach your full potential as a Christian until you are married. That was what I read, fairly or unfairly, into Driscoll’s comment about encouraging members to get married and enjoy each other.

    Perhaps there is a relationship between this sort of teaching and the high divorce rate among evangelicals? When you’re encouraged by pastors and Christian mentors to rush to the altar so you can have sex and be fully accepted into the church body it’s no wonder people who have known each other for three months are so quick to tie the knot.

    That said, for what it’s worth I don’t feel any more accepted into the church now that I’m married. Now, I just feel pressure to start having kids as soon as possible.

  4. Obviously I’m in the minority here, but I don’t believe Pastor Driscoll’s discussions are appropriate from a biblical context. The fact that he is answering questions that his parisioners have is good but should take place in a private, face-to-face, and confidential setting. Not on a stage, via anonymous text message, in front of a congregation. Why would Paul caution against women wearing immodest apparel in 1 Timothy 2 if he was totally fine with a pastor telling his congregation about his wife’s sexual prowess and their home-made sex tapes. This is the kind of world-accomodating behavior that Paul would condemn as lasciviousness, in my opinion. It compromises Driscoll’s ministry by rooting it in the flesh and it’s preoccupation with flesh-driven hungers.

    “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.” – 1 John 2:16.

  5. My question is: Does Driscoll go further than the physical with his sermons on sex?

    Granted, the church has, for too long, neglected the fact that we are embodied beings with good desires of the flesh. And thank God, someone is talking about the Song of Solomon as what it really is–a glorying in those desires in such a way that brings glory to God. But there is no glory in sex if there is no intimacy, humility, and surrender in it. It is an incomplete joy without physical pleasure, but it is also an incomplete joy without emotional union and spiritual vulnerability. What does Driscoll say about that inter-spiritual (not just inter-physical) aspect of the sexual experience?

  6. “The body is the greatest gift a wife can give.” Please tell me there was a tremendous amount of mitigating context surrounding this statement…

  7. Awkward title, great book: “Getting Serious About Getting Married”. Debunks the whole ‘gift of singleness’ thing.

  8. It seems that, following this ABC interview and from what Brett and others have heard of Mark Driscoll’s sermons, it seems like there are two sides to the coin here. Sure he has dared to go where most pastors would blush. Its good to see a church talking freely about sex. A lot of secret sexual sin is fueled by the code of secrecy and hush hush. Sex is a beautiful in the confines of married, true. It is a very powerful way that God has given married couples to really connect with each other, be intimate and be vulnerable with each other.

    But I have to admit, listening to the interview (and if any of the testimonials are anything to go by), I almost felt like I was playing a video game and was given strategies for Level 10 when in fact I’m only at Level 3. In other words, and in my opinion, that kind of sex talk should have been for the probable 30% of those who hear these sermons who have built a deep foundation in their marriage of love and respect and intimacy with each other. Whether he was right to “brag” about what goes on in his bedroom could go either side of the field, but a lot of young couples that hear such are not ready to hear it, not because of immaturity, but because they are yet to reach that point even in marriage where the added sizzle is just that-something to add to the strong foundation that is already there, and not the goal. We live in a world where sex is idolized and worshipped. This is the same culture that encourages a lot of pleasure in whatever shape and form, but, as Kendra pointed out, very little in the way of emotional and spiritual connection.
    Of the percentage of Christian men that view porn, most are married men who should be enjoying this toe-curling sex that is being advocated. Am I against it? Perish the thought. I’m 21, single and know no doubt that I will get married one day. Certainly husband and wife should enjoy sex and be adventurous. But my only concern is that beyond that sexual element, I hope that Driscoll is teaching the value of commitment and intimacy in order to balance out the surge of testosterone and estrogen levels that are raised during such sermons. Fine if one is married, but if you are single, you are highly likely to, as someone said, tie the knot very quickly and get jiggy with it. I only hope that when the dust settles and all is quiet, there is a solid foundation of intimate knowing and loving the person to return to.

  9. Becky— Driscoll seems to have a fairly low view of women. I can’t say for certain, but I doubt that there was much in the way of mitigating context.

  10. This whole idea of mega-church sex series makes me wonder: how many people choose to attend Mars Hill or other church “sex series” as a bizarre form of a dating service? If you get a few hundred single people in the same room and start talking explicitly about sex, then repeat this for a few months….

    The question that comes up next is, is this okay? Related to Kendra’s question, is talking over and over again about only the physical aspects of human sexuality with hundreds of singles healthy? I like Brett’s kid-in-the-van example; it seems like this would just be more frustrating than helpful.

  11. You didn’t happen to run into our fellow LAFSC alum Robin didja? She met her husband there, if I remember right, and they both go there. I have no idea how much Driscoll’s sermons influenced their courtship or marriage. But she’s having a baby in April :)

    This does seem a little over-the-top from the way you describe it. I’m all for frank and open discussion about sex in church. But for Driscoll to bring his wife out on stage and talk about their sex life in front of singles…isn’t kind or loving.

    I’m working on a series of articles about sex education, and it’s got me thinking about who’s responsible for teaching young people and singles about sex. Pastors definitely have part of the responsibility, and I’d rather they be TOO open than too closed-mouthed. But I’m not sure how to know when the line has been crossed.

  12. Thanks for calling me “lovely” Tim.

    Great post Brett. I agree, one of the areas we always seem to get wrong is talking about stuff like sex and marriage and the rest. Churches preach to kids that sex is about as terrible and sinful as it gets, and then guys like Driscoll and others amp it up so much that it alienates a whole group of people (people like Jesus: single). It’s hard to find a church that has a good balance.
    I will say that Efrem Smith, at Sanctuary Covenant Church here in Minneapolis had a good sermon on it once. But don’t ask me to try and dig through the archives and find it.

  13. I do not want to “bust your bubble” , nor will I continue to read of your pertostuous writings…..first off, re claim and study further your herementuitical interpestaioons much further and more deeply in your bible , find a much more pronounced meaning in the delightnesses of the book of “The King of Solomons descriptive fate of love in the book found in the “Song of Solomon”–is NOT “a strip tease” or loose metopher in small matters at all—rather a poet of discriptive love foreboding for his beloved, or a sister he pursues as a genuine charm…..wrong my friend you are , and quiet dumb. “Rahab”

  14. Brett! I came across this post linked from another site and thought you had some insightful things to say (the whole Christian culture obsession with marriage is problematic, I agree) and then realized that this is your blog. Good to be reading your writing again now that I’m not involved with Relevant so much. I’ll be back. :-)

  15. Sex is great, and a marital blessing with which one wishes to be blessed as often as possible. But…ah…isn’t it an aspect of marital intimacy? And if you’re trumpeting what a great lay your wife is to your whole congregation, how exactly is that intimate?

    I know it’s all part of Driscoll’s schtick, and it works for him. But c’mon.

  16. thanks for this article!

    “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?”

    i like that last sentence very much. the church and christianity needs to be an incredible source of beauty and peace.

    we need to respond to God’s love by exuding all things beautiful; full of grace, humility, and peace.

    things that do not exude grace, humility, and peace:

    – gimmicks
    – treating sexuality with a cavalier attitude
    – believing that a woman’s body is the best thing she can offer

  17. Brave of you to tackle this subject… three posts! Impressive. :)

    On the subject of singleness: I recommend Laura Smit’s book Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love. I have to confess I didn’t read the whole thing – I mostly bought it for the appendix, which is an open letter to the church about the treatment of single people. It helped me understand some of the problems it causes when the church treats singles as second-class Christians. I’ve been anywhere from frustrated to outraged about this, over the years, and it was so helpful to find someone who’d written about it intelligently and passionately.

    I tried Mars Hill once, when I lived in Seattle, and after talking to a friend who’d gone there for six months, decided I didn’t need to try it again. Too one-person-centric for me.

    And yeah, “The body is the greatest gift a wife can give” …wow. Just, wow. I’m not sure any context could justify that.



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