It’s the church of choice for Bieber and Durant. It’s where the cool kids spend Sunday morning after Saturday night at the club. For ye of little faith, it’s hard to make sense out of Hillsong. Is it legit? Is it a hipster cult? And why’s everyone wearing Saint Laurent? GQ’s Taffy Brodesser-Akner joins the flock to find out if Christianity can really be this cool and still be Christian.
Answer: Well, it is. And it’s not.
First off, I have no idea what to feel about this article. It doesn’t have a point, exactly? It’s just honest. It’s one woman’s account of how she perceives this pop-culture Christian movement. And it’s a well-written article, fraught with the tension that occurs when you try to stick by your guns but also show the love your faith demands you show (love that, as a human, is so darn hard to reflect).
But if the thesis question is if it’s possible to be slick hipster-cool and still a Christian, my answer is that I don’t think Christianity will ever be totally “cool.” I mean, by virtue of our faith, we’re anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, and anti- a lot of things the world demands we accept otherwise we are backwards bigots that stand in the way of the world’s mantra that “…you do you.” The author, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, manages to put down in painfully piercing words exactly what those oft-repeated sentiments constantly boil down to:
…you shouldn’t always ignore the Devil. Sometimes the Devil has valid things to say. What if the Devil whispers in your ear and reminds you that most of current Christian doctrine was decided not by Jesus but at the Council of Nicea almost 300 years after Christ’s death? Or the Devil might point out that if Christ died so we didn’t have to submit to Levitical law, meaning we can shave our heads, we can have tattoos, then maybe that could extend to things that are truly important to a person’s essential happiness and ability to survive in this terrible, lonely world. The Devil might suggest that if you can back down from your doctrine of biblical inerrancy in order to let women pastor at Hillsong—because the Bible does clearly say that women shouldn’t—then surely you could blur your eyes and see that Jesus never actually said anything about gays or abortion.
And if you still thought you had a leg to stand on here, the Devil might even offer to introduce you to some of the wives of “cured homosexuals” and ask you to ask them how they’re doing, if their marriages feel authentic, if their husbands aren’t suicidal. And the Devil will whisper in your ear and tell you to keep your fucking laws off my fucking [sic] body, and yes, the Devil is the Devil, but that doesn’t mean she’s wrong.
This is part of why Christianity will never be cool: we do think the Devil is wrong and that you’re not supposed to listen, because he is supremely good at twisting facts (especially if one isn’t really in the mood to dig deep) and tugging at the heartstrings of very valid feelings. Troye Sivan wrote a heartbreaking song called “Heaven” about his struggles with his sexuality and the demands of the faith he’d grown up exposed to, and when I first heard him singing “Without losing a piece of me, how do I get to heaven? Without changing a part of me, how do I get to heaven?” I wanted to cry and say I was sorry, I was so sorry, because I could not ever have an answer he–or anyone else, really–would ever want to hear.
(“Deny yourself. Pick up your cross. Follow me.” We are all asked to die to ourselves, but some people are asked to die bigger deaths than others and that denial burns and stings and I want to scream at every so-called Christian who has ever expressed hatred and repulsion for a gay man, because how dare you, you don’t know what it’s like.
We can never pretend to know what it is like.)
I could go into the doctrine of this, but that would take a much longer blog and I’d probably start sounding like a Pharisee at some point because I am not good at talking about my faith, though I can’t help but talk about it sometimes, the same way I can talk at length about Doctor Who because I love it so much. But what I do know is that, as a Christian, I can never be completely cool–I will always experience that painful tension that comes with trying to live in and love (gratefully, fearfully, hesitantly, madly) a world whose beliefs sometimes diametrically oppose mine, while struggling with my decidedly un-loving sinful nature and its reflex to defend any backlash using hatred and arrogance and all those lovely things that I will admit I do reflect.
I am not a better person because I chose this. Frankly, it’s arguable that I am a worse person than most of you, because I need divine intervention in order to continue to function on a semi-normal level.
And that is an image that will stick with you, let me tell you: Justin Bieber, on his knees in Tyson Chandler’s bathtub, wet and sobbing against Pastor Carl’s chest, so unable to cope with being himself that he has to be born anew, he has to be declared someone entirely different, in order to make it through the night.
It isn’t cool, this choice I made. And there are days I hate that I have to be consistently at odds with people I care deeply for. I have lost friends because of this faith, though nine times out of ten I’m sure it’s down to my inability to effectively represent it without sounding like a Pharisee (Jesus would not approve.). Sometimes–a lot of the time–having to stand my ground is terrifying and irritating and painful. Being a Christian isn’t cool at all, but God saved my life, and frankly being uncool is better than the deep, dark alternative of the life I had before Him. At least now, facing the monster in the mirror isn’t so terrifying, because there is hope. There is an acknowledgment that everyone is broken somewhere, but not irreparably. And there are a pair of doors that are always open, to anyone, even if what lies beyond them can be distinctly uncool.
Point is, read the GQ article. It’s interesting. This wasn’t supposed to be a super long blog, but it turned out that way. I should get back to the things I’m supposed to be doing.