Every Sunday, millions of Christian Americans go to church. Whether it be for the community, or obligation, or just to connect with religion, the American church has never had a problem with attracting members to join. However, in recent decades, the church has had a bit of a PR problem in America as young people have opted for “spirituality” over religion and many churches have refused to change their stances on progressive issues. Now, the American church is getting a rebrand, by courtesy of the country’s biggest celebs.
The “pioneer” in this new era of celebrity Christianity is without a doubt, Justin Bieber. He was first seen publicly with his new pastor, Carl Lentz, in 2015 after a new appreciation in his Christian faith. Lentz, who soon became notorious for his designer sneakers and Off-White hoodies, was the pastor of Hillsong Church, NYC. Hillsong is a church based in Sydney, Australia with locations all over the world, and is known for its unorthodox and upbeat music as well as its adherence to the Old Testament of the Bible, that many other “hip” churches had opted against.
Bieber is not Lentz’s only celebrity friend either. He has been known to be cozy with NBA superstar Kevin Durant, Nick Jonas, and the Kardashian-Jenner clan. Churchome, a Seattle-based church that holds services in LA, has members including Russell and Ciara Wilson, Kourtney Kardashian, and Larsa Pippen. The church’s pastor, Judah Smith, has been credited with guiding Justin Bieber’s return to Christianity in 2009. Bieber has also gotten close with Chad Veach, pastor of Zoe Church in Los Angeles. Notable members of the church include Selena Gomez and Chris Pratt who was recently called out for Zoe’s and Veach’s homophobic stances.
“Instagram built our church,” said Veach in 2018 to the New York Times.
The world of Celebrity churches, like all parts of celebrity, is not as sanitized as one would think. In early November of 2020, Carl Lentz was fired as the lead pastor of Hillsong NYC due to “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures,” according to Hillsong. In cases like Lentz’s, as well as other situations, celebrities realize that publicly attaching themselves to a church attaches them to all of the church’s baggage as well.
While the website of Zoe Church says that Zoe “is a place where our doors are open to people of all backgrounds,” its pastor, Veach, has come out on the opposite side of that idea numerous times. He has referred to homosexuality as “lifestyle stuff,” and has worked on projects that refer to the same-sex attraction as “sexual brokenness.” In 2015, The pastor of Hillsong International in Sydney, Australia, Brian Houston said “ We do not affirm a gay lifestyle,” in an article called “Do I Love Gay People?”
Many have begun to wonder if there is such a thing as “too much celebrity” in the context of religion. In early 2019, Kanye West was first seen leading a choir of identically dressed singers in gospel music. It was called Sunday Service, and it was his new church. Of course, the jokes immediately came comparing the group to Heaven’s Gate or Jonestown. When the choir’s album, Jesus is King, came out in late 2019, it was lauded by the religious and non-religious alike. However, the hook of the album was always based around one man, Kanye West.
With the proliferation of every inch of celebrity life, of course, religion would soon become a part of it. But many now worry that celebrity may now be an intrinsic part of religion.