Editor’s Note: Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons is a progressive Christian writer and activist. He is the founder of the Resistance Prays, a daily devotional that says it’s aimed “at spiritually and politically defeating Trumpism.” Follow him on Twitter @GuthrieGF. The views expressed here are the author’s. View more opinion on CNN.
In response to criticism from actress Ellen Page for attending what she called an “infamously anti-LGBTQ” church, Chris Pratt, who spoke in a recent TV appearance about being a member of Zoe Church in Los Angeles, defended himself and his church. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he posted on Instagram. “I go to a church that opens their doors to absolutely everyone.”
That doesn’t appear to be true.
Zoe Church, which Pratt attends, does not state its views on homosexuality on its website. (By contrast, a growing number of churches across the country explicitly affirm LGBTQ people.) While Pratt’s church instead has no public stance on LGBTQ equality, there are strong signals that raise questions about whether Zoe Church is fully inclusive.
The church’s pastor, Chad Veach, produced a film that refers to “same-sex attraction” as one form of “sexual brokenness” alongside things such as porn addiction. While a pastor’s personal views aren’t church policy, it’s unlikely his views would be different from that of the church he founded in 2015.
Veach has a close relationship with Hillsong Church. He told The New York Times he modeled Zoe after Hillsong and has also preached there. Multiple attempts to reach Veach or anyone at the church for comment went unanswered.
Like Zoe, Hillsong does not actively publicize its views on LGBTQ issues. But Brian Houston, senior pastor of Hillsong Church, did speak out about the 2017 Australian same-sex marriage plebiscite. “I believe God’s word is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he wrote.
Nailing down exactly where a church such as Zoe stands on LGBTQ rights is difficult, which I believe is intentional on its part.
Zoe and Hillsong are two of the many hipster-seeking evangelical churches across America that hide their views about LGBTQ parishioners behind things such as their pastor’s tattoos and amped-up music. “Many seemingly progressive churches seem so only because they are young,” religion writer Laura Turner wrote for Vox about this wave of churches that includes Hillsong and Zoe. “Their theology is actually fairly conservative, but it dresses up in leather leggings and cool hats.”
Many use rhetoric such as Zoe’s of having “open doors to people of all backgrounds,” language coded to seem welcoming without explicitly accepting LGBTQ Christians.
“The real question is not about Zoe Church’s posture to LGBTQ Christians, but about Zoe Church’s policies,” said Sarah Ngu, a writer who co-leads Church Clarity, an organization devoted to transparency about churches’ policies on issues such as women in leadership and LGBTQ. “The key question to LGBTQ people is whether Zoe Church will hire, marry, or ordain an LGBTQ person?”
Pratt seems to believe his church approves of same-sex marriage.
Pratt points to his own experience with the evolution of Christian teaching on marriage. “Despite what the Bible says about divorce my church community was there for me every step of the way, never judging, just gracefully accompanying me on my walk,” he wrote in his post.
He’s right, evangelical theology has evolved on divorce. By mentioning his experience and support of LGBTQ community in the same Instagram Story, Pratt implies his church has also evolved in its position on same-sex marriage.
But there is no public evidence Zoe supports same-sex marriage.
Both the substance of anti-LGBTQ theology and the process of hiding it harm LGBTQ people. Ellen Page captured the problem of being anti-LGBTQ: “The damage it causes is severe. Full stop.” Page declined through her publicist to comment further.
One of the many harmful effects of anti-LGBTQ theology is its effect on LGBTQ youth. LGBT adolescents, compared with their straight peers, are more likely to attempt suicide, according to a 2018 meta-analysis of 35 studies. And a study of 2011 data, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found religiosity is tied to higher odds of suicidal ideation (the desire to take one’s own life or thinking about suicide) for gay, lesbian and questioning college students.
Sure, Zoe and Hillsong aren’t screaming their condemnation of the LGBTQ community like Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, who blamed the Sandy Hook school shooting on same-sex marriage and abortion, or radio preacher Rick Wiles, who said Hurricane Harvey hit Houston because it “boasted of its LGBT devotion.”
Churches such as Pratt’s don’t go this far, but the same views on marriage do appear to lurk below the Instagram filter. They are baptizing a new generation into a stream of destructive theology through emotionally manipulative music. For LGBTQ Christians, this kind of “welcome” is especially painful. “There is nothing worse than investing in a church for a few years, feeling loved and accepted for the first time in a long time, only to find out that there is actually a glass ceiling,” Ngu told me.
Pratt should first clarify what his church’s views are on LGBTQ rights. In Page’s words, “Being anti LGBTQ is wrong, there aren’t two sides.” These churches don’t want people to know which side they’re on, and Pratt can help push them to be transparent.
And if the church does not affirm LGBTQ people, he has three options as an ally: Leave his church and join one that actually affirms LGBTQ people (here’s a map of affirming churches), stay and publicly voice his belief in a need to affirm LGBTQ Christians in his church or stop portraying himself as an LGBTQ ally.
I pray that Pratt will be an ally of LGBTQ Christians and become a powerful voice in the movement for true inclusion.