Despite its popularity in Hollywood with stars like Justin Bieber and Chris Pratt, Hillsong Church has come under fire for its conservative views
One of Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin‘s go-to date spots before their engagement? Church, of course.
The couple have been spotted attending services of the Hillsong Church during their whirlwind romance, heading to a church conference together in Miami last month before attending a service at Churchome Church in the town of Kirkland, Washington, a couple weeks later.
After Bieber canceled the remainder of his Purpose world tour in 2017, he turned to the church and pastor Carl Lentz as his support system.
“Justin has a really deep faith, and he truly loves God,” a source told PEOPLE at the time. “He has found a church family that accepts him and loves him for who he is, not for his fame or money.”
Selena Gomez often accompanied Bieber to services during their rekindled romance, and attended the church on her own as well. (The two dated on-and-off from 2010 to 2015, then were seeing each other again in the fall after Gomez broke up with The Weeknd. However, they pumped the brakes on their reconciliation in March.)
But Bieber isn’t the only celebrity presence in the evangelical, praise music- and worship-based congregation — everyone from Bono to Vanessa Hudgens to Nick Jonas has attended services. Even Chris Pratt and his new flame Katherine Schwarzenegger and her brother Patrick have checked it out.
There’s also a Kardashian-Jenner connection: Kendall and Kylie have dropped by for services, and Miami-based minister Rich Wilkerson — who famously performed Kim Kardashian and Kanye West‘s wedding ceremony— has often delivered sermons as a guest speaker (although he isn’t officially connected to the church’s team of clergy).
Originally based in Australia, the church brought its house of worship to New York City (Bieber’s congregation) in 2010. Over the years, Bieber has gotten close to Pastor Lentz, a church leader dubbed by many in the media as the “rock star pastor.”
Married to wife Laura — they met at Hillsong College, a school affiliated with the international organization — Lentz is based in N.Y.C. From a quick browse of his Instagram feed, the pastor is friendly with a bevy of entertainers and athletes, having shared selfies with everyone from JAY-Z and Wiz Khalifa to Kevin Durant.
Lentz and Bieber have grown close since the pastor performed the pop star’s impromptu baptism in 2014. Lentz called on his pal, the NBA player Tyson Chandler, to borrow his bathtub to baptize Bieber. “It was probably one of the most special things I’ve been a part of,” Lentz later told Oprah Winfrey of the experience.
Unlike many Christian congregations, the youth-saturated Hillsong congregation doesn’t meet in a chapel or sanctuary but rather popular music venues in the city and has hosted services at Irving Plaza and Hammerstein Ballroom. They’re also cool with worshipers coming in t-shirts, jeans and baseball caps.
And while it welcomes stars, the organization has launched its own chart-topping careers. Since forming in 1998, Hillsong United — a band of worship leaders that rotate in and out of the lineup — has released five studio albums, all of which have peaked at No. 1 on Billboard‘s US Christian Albums chart. Throughout Gomez’s Revival World Tour, she even covered Hillsong United’s “Transfiguration.”
Despite its popularity in Hollywood, the church has been criticized over its conservative views on gay people and abortion.
Pastor Lentz addressed abortion in a 2015 interview with GQ, saying, “If you sit down with me and you say, ‘Carl, I’m having an abortion,’ I’m going to say, ‘I think that you can have this child. I don’t know how hard it’s going to be. I could never imagine. I do know that my prayer is that God will give you peace to stand on this side with me. Should you choose another option, I will not turn my back on you. I will not vilify you. I will not hate you. I will not, I cannot, live your life. I love you regardless, but my prayer is that somehow, some way, you will see my view on this.'”
An engagement between two male choir singers who appeared on Survivor caused a stir in the church in 2015.
“These two men in particular are amazing human beings,” Lentz explained in the GQ profile, getting emotional as he discussed the hot-button issue. “And they are going through a really amazing journey called life. Yes, their sexuality is involved with it, but it’s not as cut-and-dry as you think it is. And if they make a decision to live as gay men, they are going to get married, our stance in this church is there’s going to be a limited involvement when it comes to leadership, because you don’t believe what I believe. This would create friction that wouldn’t be fair to the people that we’re serving.”
Despite this Lentz, as well as senior pastor Brian Houston, insists everyone is welcome at Hillsong, though they clarify that this does not extend to leadership positions in the church.
“Hillsong Church welcomes ALL people but does not affirm all lifestyles. Put clearly, we do not affirm a gay lifestyle and because of this we do not knowingly have actively gay people in positions of leadership, either paid or unpaid. I recognise this one statement alone is upsetting to people on both sides of this discussion, which points to the complexity of the issue for churches all over the world,” Houston wrote in a 2015 blog post. “This won’t make everyone happy and to some, this stance may even be seen as hypocritical. We are a gay welcoming church but we are not a church that affirms a gay lifestyle.”