Actor Chris Pratt defended his evangelical church recently after fellow star Ellen Page called it anti-LGBTQ.
In an Instagram story, Pratt said that Page’s accusations “couldn’t be further from the truth” and that Zoe Church “opens their doors to absolutely everyone.”
But what does that mean? Can LGBTQ people join if they are in same-gender relationships? Will a pastor marry or baptize them? Can they become pastors?
This kind of ambiguity bothers George Mekhail, who co-founded a website called Church Clarity in 2017 to assess how clearly congregations state their positions on LGBTQ acceptance and the ordination of queer people and women.
Dozens of volunteers research and write profiles for individual parishes, rating them on scales from “verified clear” to “undisclosed” on their LGBTQ and women in leadership policies, based on how much information is publicly available.
Hey @prattprattpratt, we get that your church opens its doors to everyone, but these are really the kind of questions to ask your pastor:
1. Will you officiate an LGBTQ wedding?
2. Will you hire an LGBTQ person and ordain them?
— Church Clarity (@churchclarity) February 11, 2019
While there are more than 1500 congregations in the database, including many from the United Church of Canada, Church Clarity is currently reviewing the policies of celebrity megachurches like Zoe Church, which is in Los Angeles.
The organization has not disclosed its policy on LGBTQ inclusion and is unclear about whether it allows women to serve in leadership positions. But as Church Clarity notes, Zoe pastor Chad Veach was the executive producer on a film that called same-sex attraction “sexual brokenness.” A Zoe Church doctrine of faith also states that they believe the only legitimate marriage is between one man and one woman.
“These churches that celebrities tend to publicly be affiliated be with, are, a lot of times, some of the most misleading,” says Mekhail.
“When Justin Bieber or Chris Pratt or Kylie Jenner is affiliated with one of these churches, people sort of assume that the same persona that they put out there, a progressive, young-millennial vibe, is what their church is about too.”
He points to a conversation between Bieber and a young queer fan last year that was caught on video.The singer reassured the fan that she would be welcome at Hillsong NYC, but the church, while unclear about its LGBTQ policies, is likely non-affirming.
“When Justin Bieber or Chris Pratt or Kylie Jenner is affiliated with one of these churches, people sort of assume that the same persona that they put out there, a progressive, young millennial vibe, is what their church is about too.”
Mekhail’s experience as the pastor of a Seattle-area megachurch inspired the idea of Church Clarity. He says that when his church, EastLake, became openly LGBTQ affirming a few years ago, pastors from other churches congratulated them on their stance, but only privately.
“I just thought that was a really interesting dynamic. Why are you saying one thing quietly but publicly you’re unwilling to say it?”
He says that while Church Clarity is an LGBTQ-affirming organization, it doesn’t have a specific political aim besides the mantra that “clarity is reasonable,” which people across the theological spectrum have told him they agree with.
Many Canadian churches have profiles on the site, and you can also submit information for others that the team will review.
“A lot of these churches, I think they think they’re being sincere when they say all are welcome, but they don’t really consider the harm that is done when you bait and switch people like they’re doing,” says Mekhail.