Christian mega-churches are having a major moment right now — especially in Hollywood. There are more megachurches in California than any other state, and people line up on Sundays to attend services held in popular LA music venues. Newlyweds Justin and Hailey Bieber are basically poster-children for megachurches, and Kanye West's Christian Sunday Service in Calabasas has turned into a social media phenomenon.
But not all of the attention surrounding these mega-churches has been positive. In February, Ellen Page called out actor Chris Pratt for attending a church she believed has exclusionary LGBTQ policies. "Nothing could be further from the truth," Pratt responded in an Instagram story. "I go to a church that opens their doors to absolutely everyone."
The question of LGBTQ inclusion comes up frequently with regards to this brand of image-obsessed, trendy megachurch. Some claim to have "open doors," but, in actuality, aren't completely welcoming of LGBTQ+ members or supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. A new episode of the Refinery29 YouTube webseries, State of Grace, explores megachurch transparency toward the queer community. The question posed by host Grace Baldridge is: "Is it really welcoming to all if you're unwilling to affirm all?"
Stormie Rae, a queer woman of faith interviewed in the video, describes reaching out to a nearby church called Oasis, to confirm that they would be accepting of her and wife. She received a reply saying, "The answer is a resounding 'YES!'... We do not reject people because of their sexual orientation or any other kind of issue that they are facing." This wording felt like they were "trying to tip us off that our sexual orientation is an issue we are facing," she says now. Oasis didn’t provide an official statement to Refinery29 regarding the LGBTQ+ community, but stated that they "welcome transparent conversation on views about leadership from family, friends, and church."
In the episode, Baldridge explains that the production crew had hoped to attend and film a service at another popular megachurch in LA, called Mosaic. On the night before the scheduled shoot, Mosaic pulled out of the interview. Soon, they realized Mosaic had faced similar backlash for not accepting and affirming LGBTQ+ people. So, they spoke to some former Mosaic members and found that they had a similar experience. For example, one former member told State of Grace that they weren't allowed to put a team member in charge of a section at church because they were openly gay. Others describe feeling welcomed and supported by pastors in private, but not hearing that sentiment echoed during services. State of Grace producers reached out to Mosaic for comment, but did not hear back; Refinery29 is still awaiting official comment from Mosaic.
"This lack of clarity not only stifles conversation, but it deceives a community that has long been abused by religion," Baldridge says. "To belong is to be included, to be allied to — not to be lied to, to be condemned by, or to be cast aside. The good news is, churches don't have a monopoly on community."