Will Woke Progressives Allow Celebrities to Be Christian?

Actor Chris Pratt attends the 2018 MTV Move & TV Awards in Santa Monica, Calif., June 16, 2018. (Mario Anzuoni/REUTERS)
We cannot exist as a pluralistic and diverse society if the price of admission to any American industry is the abandonment of religious faith to conform to the demands of the intolerant.

You may have missed this news, but Chris Pratt, one of the most likable celebrities in modern American life, is now problematic to some people. But he’s not alone. Justin Bieber, Kylie Jenner, and Selena Gomez are under scrutiny now also. Their crime? They’ve attended Evangelical churches — such as Hillsong and Zoe — that don’t make it crystal-clear that they adhere to the new progressive sexual orthodoxy.

That’s the thrust of one of the more intolerant Washington Post op-eds I’ve ever read, an essay by Post digital producer Drew Goins condemning Pratt for attending a church that doesn’t say that it “affirms” gay marriage and gay sex. You see, it’s not enough to be “welcoming” — loving each person who walks through the doors and inviting them to join in worship and seeking a saving relationship with Christ — these churches must be “affirming.” They must depart from Christian orthodoxy, or their celebrity members will pay a steep public price.

Hillsong and Zoe represent a wing of Evangelicalism that shuns public controversy and deliberately avoids the culture wars, including debates over sexuality. While the beliefs of most of their leaders and congregants are traditionally Christian, they tend to focus like a laser on introducing people to Jesus rather than on comprehensive instruction in Christian theology.

The approach has its upsides — Hillsong, for example, has been able to reach a remarkably diverse group of people — and its downsides. The decision to avoid taking on tough topics such as human sexuality can sometimes look less like evangelization and more like accommodation. As a consequence, Hillsong has long battled substantial criticism from the right that it’s the “squish” church that’s not bold enough in speaking the truth.

But when it comes to attacks such as Goins’s (or attacks from activist actresses such as Ellen Page, who recently tweeted that Pratt’s church is “famously anti lgbtq”), then put me squarely on Team Hillsong. Put me on Team Pratt. His acceptance in Hollywood should not hinge on whether he swallows the politics and theology of radical cultural gatekeepers.

One wonders what qualifies people like Goins and Page to authoritatively determine that traditional Christian theology is false, and one also wonders what enables them — or the legions of people who, for example, attacked Karen Pence for teaching at a Christian school — to enjoy the unique privilege of imposing their secular religion on others.

After all, a core (and very basic) tenet of pluralism is the notion that people of diametrically opposed belief systems can live and work side by side so long as they treat each other with dignity and respect. I’ve spent my entire career working with people who believe that my religious beliefs are wrong, that my stance on sexual morality is wrong, and that my political judgments are deeply misguided. Yet even in the case of profound disagreement, it is easy to treat people well. It is easy to treat people fairly.

Conversely, it is the height of intolerance to believe that it is somehow problematic — absent any evidence of mistreatment on the job or on-set — that a person disagrees with you on matters of faith. And if it is an obligation for colleagues to go beyond “welcoming” each other to “affirming” each other’s deepest beliefs, where is the affirmation of faithful Christians?

Here is the distinction that makes no sense. An orthodox Christian and (to take an example) a married secular gay employee work side by side. They disagree with each other about matters absolutely fundamental to their lives and identities. The secular gay employee believes the Christian’s worldview is false. The Christian employee believes the secular gay employee’s worldview is false. Why is it uniquely intolerable or even injurious for the gay employee to have to share the workplace (much less the industry) with the Christian? Do they not have the same obligations to set aside their differences and treat each other with dignity and respect?

When I interviewed many years ago for an Ivy League teaching position, I was asked, “As a Christian, how can you teach LGBT students?” I wonder how many prospective LGBT professors were asked, “As a gay professor, how can you teach Christian students?” For me, the answer is clear. I teach (and taught) gay students the same way I taught any other student. As a Christian, I believe every human being is created in the image of God and is therefore worthy of being treated kindly and fairly. Disagreement is not disrespect.

I don’t know Chris Pratt’s core beliefs about human sexuality. I don’t know much about the views of any of the celebrities listed above. But I do know this — we cannot exist as a pluralistic and diverse society if the price of admission to any American industry is the abandonment of religious faith to conform to the demands of the intolerant. If Hollywood ever becomes so radical that it no longer has space even for Hillsong, then Hollywood will stand opposed to the American experiment itself. Any truly tolerant community must have space for believers, and any tolerant industry should judge believers based on their work, not on ignorant presumptions about the veracity of their faith.

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