GQ Sentimentalizes Bullshit Christian Brainwashing
Hillsong megachurch and the creepy pastors who fool their flocks.
GQ, a publication about boners and pocket squares, sidestepped its regular beat to write up a fascinating and bizarre profile of New York City’s Hillsong Church. The megachurch has become famous for its pastors, who wear vampire clothing and look like botched clones of Keith Urban, and for its parishioners — particularly Justin Bieber and various NBA players.
Hillsong Church, which draws 8,000 parishioners each week, is one of these hippie places of worship, where the holy brass want you to know that they are totes cool with jeans, bro, besides their service doesn’t even start until like 11:00ish, or whatever. Those of us in the South know this type of church very well, though to be fair we know every kind of church very well. It might be new to you Yankees, however, which probably explains the GQ article.
The writer covering this holy phenomenon introduces the church through the retelling of Justin Bieber’s bathtub baptism, apparently to set the stage for Hillsong’s influence among the A-list. In the body, she gets to know and even begins to like the pastors, who make her question her spiritual standing in the hereafter. By the end of the piece, she not only misses the church people “very much” and cries when she parts ways with the pastors, but hints that she has essentially seriously questioned her weak faith.
If it sounds like it escalated quickly, that’s because it did. I absolutely get where she’s coming from, however, because these churches are designed to fuck you up in the head.
When I was sixteen, I was regularly allowing this douchenozzle in my youth group to finger-blast me in the back of his truck. When my youth minister caught wind of it, he pulled me aside and told me, “You’ve lost the light in your eye; you’ve abandoned your purity. And you won’t ever be able to get it back. But you can repent.” When a grown man tells a teenager that heavy petting has caused her to be perma-dulled, like a dead tooth in a mouth full of bright white Christian ladies, I have come to believe that grown man has some issues.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been on the receiving end of some guy’s salvation boner. I’d also gotten much of the same when I questioned our pastor about the sexist teachings of the bible. “I can’t believe that God would disapprove of me speaking in church when he’s given so much insight into the readings of the Bible,” I told him. The preacher pursed his lips and soured his face as he spit at me, “I guess you just want the Bible to say whatever you want it to say.”
Luckily, it wasn’t always directed at me — all women took a turn on the pukey pastor merry-go-round at some point. My father and the other elders at our church once decreed a battered woman should stay with her abusive husband. What could they do? Their hands were tied by the biblical judgment on divorce. When our preacher cheated with a woman in the congregation, the elders brought in his wife to interrogate the scorned woman, to see where she had fallen short in her marital duties.
By the time I’d reached my mid-twenties, I had become disgusted and disillusioned thanks to a stream of pastors and youth ministers who were at turns mesmerizing and disgusting. But it wasn’t always like that.
Much like the writer of the GQ piece, I became entranced with the youth ministers of my church and surrounding places of worship. They were almost always cool, handsome, dynamic and/or young. Even the preachers, who were usually longer in the tooth, were glad-handing politician sorts who understood how to look people in the eye and make them feel wanted. All public speakers are necessarily charismatic due to the demands of the job, but pastors and youth ministers speak as if they are the embodiment of God himself. I desperately wanted to both fuck them and worship them. I think everybody did.
Let me tell you something about the roles of pastors and youth ministers in today’s faith — it is just a hair short of the fanaticism surrounding David Koresh or Charles Manson, and equally as creepy. Faith leaders are absolutely revered by their flocks, who listen to what they say with a fervor bordering on erotic. (Speaking of erotic, guess how many adult youth ministers fall in love with the teenage girls from the youth groups under their purview? Hint: A lot.) People want to have the ministers over for dinner and get their opinions on heavy matters. Congregants dote on the children of pastors and are jealous of their wives. The role of these dudes is essentially a pagan idol, which is hilarious because as I recall God wasn’t too keen on those.
And my, oh my, do these grease traps soak it up. They are the worst type of guy that every girl falls in love with at eighteen but then realizes is a total douchebag: The false humility, the seemingly ceaseless passion, the “I’m the authority here, ma’am” sensibilities. All of it is very enticing to a lot of different people. The writer of the GQ piece mentions that she’s felt lost lately, adrift in the sea of life. Damn, that is the perfect mark for these sharks.
These dudes promise you happiness and comfort in the arms of the ever-loving God. They speak of the Utopian life they’ve found and the sanctity they’ve established. And you believe it, too, until you don’t believe it anymore. I remember a youth pastor I was particularly attached to, who was a frat guy turned God-man, and I thought he was the bee’s knees. He was funny and attractive and he paid attention to me. He laughed at my jokes and made me believe that a Godly man might fall in love with me someday. Then my mom told me he’d been holding mirrors underneath the bathroom door when his mother-in-law took showers.
I had an epiphany. “Oh,” I thought. “He’s just a creep like everybody else.”
Except as I age, I see them less as fallen angels and more like sociopath megalomaniacs who are intrinsically gross people — which is why they’re led into the profession. Not all of them, of course. (I have to say common sense statements like that in case of frothing-mouth commenters who require an explanation at all times. Not all, okay?)
The thing about these dudes is that they’re the Godly version of honey traps. They lure you into the precious arms of Lord Jesus until something happens. Your kid comes out as gay. You decide your marriage isn’t working. A kid unexpectedly pops up that you can’t pay for. You’ve started watching a lot of porn and can’t quit. And then, just like that, their dulcet tones and mellifluous guitar strumming screeches to a halt like a record player. Then they’re taking your very real problems and essentially telling you to turn or burn. They are conditional. They are heartless. And they get absolutely hard as a a rock thinking about their role as your judge, watcher, decider and leader. Gross.
That’s the thing that riled me so much about that GQ piece, particularly as someone who lost her church, her parents and her faith. When my brother came out, my parents not only disowned him but told me it was the right thing to do, as well. I spent about a year and a half pretending that my flesh and blood didn’t exist. What kind of people ask parents to do something like that? My parents still refuse to accept my brother and sister’s homosexuality (Oh, my sister’s a gayfer, too) and it’s part of the reason that my sister and I no longer speak to them.
So the GQ piece is basically like, “Yeah, the pastors of the Hillsong Church are anti this and anti that, but you have to admit they’re nice.” No, they’re not nice. They’re fucking creeps who get off on imposing the Lord’s will on people with situations that aren’t covered in any human way by the Good Book. They’re snake-oil salesman with their fancy clothing and nice exteriors who will crush you if you act outside of their will. They’re people who want fame and fortune who don’t have the means to do it outside of fooling scared, restless or unhappy people.
There are genuinely good people of faith and pure faith leaders, I know this to be true. But trust me folks — they don’t look like the pastors of Hillsong Church. I’ve known quite a few of them and they are a very different breed indeed. It may not be sexy to profile them in GQ, but if you’re looking for a path to the Lord, please look for the nice, loving, usually meek people who you might skip over. That’s where you’ll find the true love of God.