Chris Pratt, Hillsong, and the Violence of “Open but not affirming”

Chris Pratt, Hillsong, and the Violence of “Open but not affirming” February 12, 2019

Last week, award-winning actress Ellen Page made the news by calling out her colleague Chris Pratt (not to be confused with Chris Pine, Chris Hemsworth, or Chris Evans).

Chris Pratt attends Zoe Church in Los Angeles, one of a number of megachurches associated with Hillsong around the world. A number of celebrities (like Justin Bieber) also attend.

According to Ellen Page, Hillsong is “infamously anti-LGBTQ.” She later elaborated:

Rejecting this charge, Chris Pratt responded:

It has recently been suggested that I belong to a church which ‘hates a certain group of people’ and is ‘infamously anti-LGBTQ.’ Nothing could be further from the truth,” he wrote. “I go to a church that opens their doors to absolutely everyone. Despite what the Bible says about divorce, my church community was there for me every stop of the way, never judging, just gracefully accompanying me on my walk. They helped me tremendously offering love and support. It is what I have seen them do for others on countless occasions regardless of sexual orientation, race or gender.

This may seem nice and inclusive. However, Hillsong and Zoe Church may welcome queer folx through the doors, but they continue to name the “homosexual lifestyle” as a sin. And they aren’t upfront about it.

It is a violent bait-and-switch, wherein a trendy and hip church is welcoming to a point, but enforces heteronormativity.

And it isn’t only Hillsong (and Zoe Church) that is guilty of this. Thousands of churches across the country are covert about their official stances on sexuality and gender.

It is time for churches to be open about their support (or lack there of) of LGBTQ+ folx.

This latest media flare-up reminds me of a time in March 2017 that a number of my friends and I held a Queer-celebrating communion gathering outside of Wooddale Church – Loring Park.

Wooddale is a megachurch network in the Twin Cities that similarly poses a friendly face towards queer folx, while denying their full inclusion. And Wooddale’s Loring Park campus is smack-dab in the middle of a Minneapolis neighborhood particularly known for it’s active and thriving gay community.

As their service ended, we unfurled a banner that read, “(Y)our Queerness is made in the image of God. #SilenceIsSin”, confronting the way in which many churches have ignored the epidemic of LGBT youth homelessness or the growing incidents of violence against transgender women.

Make no mistake: these social crises are the direct result of religious teaching against LGBTQ+ people.

As we engaged congregations leaving worship, they were honestly confused. Some folks swore up and down that their hip church was Queer-friendly. They didn’t believe that Wooddale supports reparative therapy, or that they formally condemn the “homosexual lifestyle.”

As I was engaging one young couple about this, a small group from the same church surrounded and berated my friend Marty, who was dressed in full drag, telling Marty he’s an abomination and going to hell.

In the following weeks, I met with with a couple church members and, later, the pastor. The pastor said all people are welcome but he stands by the bible’s naming of homosexuality as a sin. He said, and I quote: “If the Bible told me to sleep on my lawn, I would.”

He refused to say anything about whether or not his church would ever allow queer folks to be formal members or serve in any leadership capacity. He also stood by their practice of reparative therapy saying, “If people want to be free from homosexuality, shouldn’t we offer that as a service?”

At the same time, he defended their decision to be covert about these things, for the sake of the “Gospel.” After all, he said, “God loves each of us just as we are, but enough to challenge our sin.” He felt it was important to stress inclusion at the outset and challenge sin later on, as a process of discipleship.

Such a stance by Wooddale Loring Park, Hillsong, Zoe Church, and the thousands of other churches just like them may seem hospitable. But it is violent.

It is abusive to befriend someone out of a desire to change them.

It is violent to trick people into thinking they’re fully a part of your “church family” only to reveal the truth of their second-class membership later.

It is violent to preach a gospel of LGBTQ exclusion while transwomen experience violence daily for their gender and while 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ folx, usually due to their parents’ religiously-informed rejection.

If you attend a church and they haven’t made a public show of solidarity and inclusion, don’t assume they embrace queer members or leaders. Dig deeper.

If you’re a leader at a church that is covert about it’s stances on sexuality and gender, stop being sneaky cowards. Be honest. Have integrity. Make it plain. Otherwise, you’re doing violence.

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