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

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

Chris Pratt (left) was recently called out by Ellen Page (right) for supporting an anti-LGBTQ church.

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

  1. The church is a body of people comprised from different cultures, experiences and walks of life. I believe it to be a waste of time and energy expecting acceptance everywhere you go. I don’t know that it’s as much an issue of transparency with the church, as it is an issue of individual perspectives within the church body, “on the fence” about their stances. Widespread vision surrounding acceptance themes is not feasible in virtually all aspects of human diversity. For example, many institutions (public schools included) do not agree to provide social opportunities for a population of marginalized people that I work with. Some are in support, others not so much. Holding up a mirror to blatant hypocracy, has in my opinion, NEVER led to people seeing the light. That’s not our job anyway, it’s God’s. Keeping that light shine in hopes that your example might help someone keep an open mind and heart is a more productive use of time.
    Mad respect for Ellen Page and her perspectives but I think she’s better off examining her own mirror instead of being mad at someone else’s.

  2. Clarity on this issue is a reasonable request. Expecting everyone to see eye-to-eye on this isn’t so much. But This isn’t some random issue among many. This is an issue that effects every church, everywhere. And the call of this article is for churches to be honest.

    At the same time, it isn’t unreasonable for Ellen Page to call out Chris Pratt either. Just like it wouldn’t be unreasonable for a person of color to call out a high profile member of a formally segregated church for not taking a stand against racism.

    How is it that churches have changed their stance on racism? Or queer-exclusion? It is a myth that they did so only through quiet and private dialogue and discernment. No, they experienced social pressure and were embarrassed. So I don’t for a moment believe that calling out hypocrisy “never” brings meaningful change (Jesus did it all the time…and quite publicly after all). Nor do I think it’s right to shift the conversation to having Ellen Page look at the log in her own eye before calling out the speck in Chris Pratt’s eye. That just sidesteps the issue with pious-sounding language.

  3. Mark,
    Thank you for posting this. I am a straight, female pastor of an open AND affirming congregation. My heart aches over the pain that is intentionally caused by people bearing Christ’s name. My faith teaches that every person is beloved by God. Churches don’t get to say otherwise.

  4. They need to clarify what is meant by lifestyle…, and under what conditions they’d help someone develop their heterosexual capabilities, which has been shown to be possible for motivated individuals who are supported by a community.

    I don’t see how such views contribute to violence vs trans women or make youth more likely to be homeless. Typically, its those who aren’t wrestling with exerting passages in the ot and nt on homosexuality who treat their youth with such callousness.

  5. I don’t have the energy to engage on this anymore David. But if you take a learning posture from LGBTQ+ advocates and activists, you could learn more about how even a gentle approach of trying to supportively “fix” queer folk is offensive and directly contributes to a culture of queer oppression. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you.

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