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The rise and fall of a Seattle megachurch through the eyes of an anthropologist

What happened during the creation and growth of Mars Hill Church made waves in Seattle and beyond. A charismatic minister, Mark Driscoll, preached in a daring, new way. He sought to make his ministry “culturally relevant,” bringing a hipster attitude to conservative theology. His methods drew people to the church in growing numbers.

But it turned out the foundation of the church was unsound. Driscoll was criticized from within the ranks of his colleagues and followers. Accusations against him included misogyny, plagiarism, emotional manipulation and abuse of authority.

In 2014, Driscoll resigned from the organization he’d built. Soon after the church that had grown to fifteen facilities in five states disbanded.

At the time this rise and fall was taking place, anthropologist Jessica Johnson embedded herself within the church. She gained access to leaders and congregants and made a thorough study of what was taking place, from the top down. The result is her book, “Biblical Porn: Affect, Labor, and Pastor Mark Driscoll's Evangelical Empire.”

Johnson teaches in the Departments of Anthropology and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington. She spoke at The Elliott Bay Book Company on May 23. KUOW’s Sonya Harris recorded her talk.

Please note: This recording contains themes of an adult nature.

Correction, 3:00 p.m., 8/3/2018: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Mark Driscoll was forced to resign.

Listen to the full version below: 

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