LAURA CRAIK asks if the new star-backed ‘megachurches’ are really about religion

LAURA CRAIK asks if the new star-backed ‘megachurches’ are really about religion

RRiiiing! Eight o’clock on Sunday morning and the alarm clock woke me up much earlier than last night’s party thought expedient. My daughters are equally unimpressed. ‘Why do we have to go to church?’ complains the three-year-old. “To get you into that good C-of-E school that’s out of our local area,” I say. “Now eat your Weetabix, for God’s sake.”

That is not completely right. My husband is a fully baptized believer. He studied theology at the university. We’ve been going to our local church since our youngest child was a baby, long before we knew about service areas.

During the 11 years that we ultimately spend in adoration at the altar of good SAT scores – sorry God – he delves into the church and its good work and supports many of its efforts in a way that sounds too boastful to to enumerate them. Self-exaltation is never sacred. To quote Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit. Appreciate others in humility rather than yourself.’

Unfortunately, those theological teachings go unheeded by Kanye West, the 45-year-old rapper, who proclaims he’s “too busy making history to read” and whose “greatest pain in life is that I never can see perform live’.

West leads a new celebrity God Squad, an ever-growing clique of high-profile believers who proclaim their allegiance to Christ with a vehemence that would shame John the Evangelist.

Its weekly Sunday service, which debuted in 2019, is religion for the social media age: big on pomp and spectacle. Held at various pop-up venues, including his Wyoming ranch, it gathers fans for prayer and song – the latter performed by a gospel choir playing versions of popular hits by Nirvana, Drake and West himself.

Unfortunately, those theological teachings go unheeded by Kanye West, the 45-year-old rapper, who proclaims he’s “too busy making history to read” and whose “greatest pain in life is that I never can see perform live’. West is leading a new celebrity God Squad, an ever-growing clique of high-profile believers who profess their allegiance to Christ with a vehemence that would shame John the Evangelist (stock image)

“It’s just an idea that we had to open our hearts to make music that we feel is as pure and as positive as possible, where people can come together and be comfortable with their families,” West told David Letterman. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to save his own family: His wife Kim Kardashian filed for divorce last year.

Cynics have questioned the timing of West’s launch of Sunday service, which came shortly after his divisive allegiance to then-President Donald Trump in 2018, a move that alienated much of his fanbase. Whatever his motives, West is far from alone in proclaiming his love for the Lord.

Other high-profile God Squadders include actors Mark Wahlberg, Matthew McConaughey and Chris Pratt, actress Letitia Wright, Olympian Usain Bolt, boxer Tyson Fury, singers Justin Bieber (and his wife Hailey), Carrie Underwood and Robbie Williams, the God credited him for healing when he caught Covid. “I don’t normally do this, but I got on my knees and prayed,” he told a newspaper in 2020. “Within 30 seconds I had my vibration raised. And you know what? The symptoms and the fear disappeared.”

It’s clear that some celebrities’ beliefs run deeper than others. One whose devotion goes beyond praying to be relieved of flu-like symptoms is model Miranda Kerr, 39.

Between an Instagram post about her trip to Disneyland and another celebrating her five-year marriage to Evan Spiegel, is a 20-minute video reel in which she shares her 13.5 million followers with a conversation with her “dear friend,” Father John Macnutt, invites. in a regular slot Kerr refers to as Spiritual Sunday.

Church can be daunting, so some may try online “safely” first.

“What does faith mean to you as a wife, mother and businesswoman?” asks Macnutt. “My journey began as a little girl when my grandmother read me the Bible,” Kerr replies. “She would say that God lifts the veil from your eyes when it is time to understand him.”

Kerr then shares details of her grandmother’s prayer on rays of sunshine and light, which she now reads to her three children. Unfortunately, the exact words are unclear due to Kerr’s erratic internet connection – a harsh reminder that in the world of online spirituality, any service is only as good as your service provider.

Kerr’s Spiritual Sunday ends by playing a brief burst of The Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’ (to which one might add: And Reliable Wifi), to which she and the priest appear to be dancing — or at least resonating — along.

Judging by the comments and 22,000 likes, her followers are thrilled. “I’ve suffered from depression, but this session gave me energy and made me want to keep going,” says one. “Where did you get your blue dress from?” asks another.

It’s easy to mock. Christianity has always been a soft target, otherwise how would the term “Bible Basher” have come about? However, for many, online worship has been a real lifeline, especially during the pandemic.

My local church in North London has seen an increase in people coming through the doors that were first introduced to their services online. “Thanks to Covid, it’s very likely that these people sampled church precisely because they could ‘safely’ do so online without crossing the threshold,” says Rev. Mark Wakefield.

“For those of us who are used to church, it’s easy to forget how daunting it can be — what should I wear? What is expected of me? How do I know what to do? Online services alleviate these concerns.”

While it’s tempting to scrutinize the exploits of the celebrity skycrew — such as when Chris Pratt, who discovered religion as a teenager, posted pictures showing he’s now so committed to Christianity that he once built a cross in his backyard to celebrate Easter – to be labeled as virtue signaling, most of them are too consistent and heartfelt in their messages for that accusation to be valid.

Whether thanking God in every acceptance speech is good for their brand is a moot point. But when the Kardashians holding a prayer circle before shows encourage someone to explore their faith, where’s the harm?

We live in challenging times. No wonder people are seeking help, guidance and enlightenment in spiritual form – if only on TikTok, where the hashtag #Christiantiktok has had more than 18 billion views.

“All religions must be tolerated, because each person must get to heaven in his own way,” said the Greek philosopher Epictetus. Whatever you think about religion, it’s hard to argue with.

Know your megachurches

CHARLOTTE VOSSEN lists five of the biggest celebrity magnet communities

Hillsong Church

What? The controversial Hillsong (accused of being anti-LGBTQ+) was attended by Hailey and Justin Bieber, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, and Bono before its “hype priest” — so named for wearing expensive streetwear — fired Carl Lentz in 2020 over unspecified allegations became “moral failure”.

Where? Founded in Australia, now with offices in 30 countries including the UK and serving 150,000 weekly visitors worldwide.

Instagram followers: three million

The controversial Hillsong (accused of being anti-LGBTQ+) was attended by Hailey and Justin Bieber, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, and Bono before its

The controversial Hillsong (accused of being anti-LGBTQ+) was attended by Hailey and Justin Bieber, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, and Bono before its “hype priest” — so named for wearing expensive streetwear — fired Carl Lentz in 2020 over unspecified allegations became “moral failure”

ChurchOME

What? Whether you call it a Sunday service or a Justin Bieber performance, Churchome and lead pastor Judah Smith know how to draw an audience. Lana Del Rey and Kourtney Kardashian are regulars. There is an app that offers guided prayer and chats with the pastoral team.

Where? US cities only, including LA, Nashville and Washington DC – as the homepage states: “It’s not about having a big church, it’s about building a community of people with big hearts.”

Instagram followers: 133,000

Whether you call it a Sunday service or a Justin Bieber performance, Churchome and lead pastor Judah Smith know how to draw an audience

Whether you call it a Sunday service or a Justin Bieber performance, Churchome and lead pastor Judah Smith know how to draw an audience

VOUS Church

What? With its senior pastors Rich Wilkerson Jr. (famous for marrying Kim Kardashian and Kanye West and his own reality show Rich In Faith) and his wife DawnCheré, Vous Church is where Christian faith meets pop culture. As with all other celebrity merchandise, this church includes everything from graphic t-shirts and shorts to slogan hoodies – and they often sell out.

Where? Miami and YouTube Services.

Instagram followers: 275,000

With its senior pastors Rich Wilkerson Jr. (famous for marrying Kim Kardashian and Kanye West and his own reality show Rich In Faith) and his wife DawnCheré, Vous Church is where Christian faith meets pop culture

With its senior pastors Rich Wilkerson Jr. (famous for marrying Kim Kardashian and Kanye West and his own reality show Rich In Faith) and his wife DawnCheré, Vous Church is where Christian faith meets pop culture

mosaic church

What? Led by pastor, author and filmmaker Erwin McManus. His worship band Mosaic MSC has nearly a million monthly listeners on Spotify, there is also a podcast called Battle Ready, which addresses issues such as mental health, and a TV show. Ben Affleck and Usher are among the prominent attendees.

Where? Seven offices in the US.

Instagram followers: 141,000

ZOE CHURCH

What? Rumor has it that Chris Pratt met his wife, author Katherine Schwarzenegger, at Zoe Church, which was founded by Pastor Chad Veach – another close friend of Justin Bieber. His services are streamed live on YouTube and Facebook every Sunday, drawing thousands of viewers.

Where? Los Angeles, California.

Instagram followers: 88,000