Update: Since posting this article, Hillsong has released a misleading statement of inclusion which we've responded to here.)
Hillsong NYC is reportedly the church home (not to be confused with Churchome) of several celebrities: Justin Bieber, Kevin Durant, Kylie and Kendall Jenner, Nick Jonas, and Selena Gomez. It is led by Pastor Carl Lentz. It is not an independent church. It is a branch of Hillsong Church, which originated in Australia and now has churches in cities across the world, including NYC. Recently, Hillsong made the extraordinary move of becoming a denomination in its own right, a development that boasts its international reach and sheds light on its ability to attract influencers across the entertainment spectrum.
(This post is the first we are doing in a four-part series on Celebrity Churches.)
Let’s take a look at their Clarity Scores:
a) LGBTQ Policy
Church Clarity defines policy in this way, from our FAQ:
Beliefs are what churches think. Policies are what churches do. Policies are what churches “actively enforce” in their actions. Does a church permits women to preach? A same-sex wedding to be officiated in its sanctuary? A trans woman to join the women’s retreat? These actions are either, “Yes or No.” There is no in-between.
In 2017, Hillsong Church issued a statement from its senior pastor basically urging Christians to vote against legalizing same-sex marriage in Australia. This fact is why Hillsong NYC is scored as “non-affirming,” which means that its actively enforced policies place a restriction on LGBTQ people. And if you want evidence that Hillsong NYC complies with its mother church’s policies, just read this article about how local church leadership asked a gay couple to step down from leading worship.
Sounds pretty clear, right?
Actually, no. Non-verified scores such as Hillsong have two parts to each score, and the more critical part examines its level of Clarity. We scored Hillsong NYC’s website as “unclear” because this policy is quite difficult to find from Hillsong NYC’s website. It is not listed in the website’s primary pages and is nowhere to be found on its Beliefs page or Policies page. It can only be found by clicking on About > Media > Media Releases, at which point you have to scroll down to read the statement on same-sex marriage, as it is dated August 2017. If it takes a user more than 2-3 clicks from the homepage, and it’s not conveniently located, you can bet that we will score a church’s website as “unclear.” Our goal is to elevate the standard of clarity for policy disclosure.
b) Women in Leadership
We could not find a Women in Leadership policy on their church website, nor could we find a page listing the leadership team. But we did find this webpage on Hillsong.com, and according to it, Hillsong NYC’s “lead pastors” are Carl & Laura Lentz. Pastor husband-and-wife duos can be tricky to evaluate, as there are many non-egalitarian churches that feature both husband and wife in the “pastor” section of their websites; see Elevation Church, a Southern Baptist church, as an example.
Our criteria for discerning heterosexual, pastor duos is to determine if the “wife” has a “pastor” title attached to her name, and if she has a bio that is separate from her husband’s. We don’t include the content of the bio in our evaluation, as that gets into some nebulous areas of judgment which are not inherently tied to policy (e.g. Is running “children’s ministry” less “important” than preaching?).
In this case, it may surprise some to learn that Hillsong NYC’s pastor page passes this test. The phrase “lead pastors” as opposed to “lead pastor” is used, and there is a separate paragraph for Laura, thus the Egalitarian score. Yes, the bios are not quite equal, and we couldn’t find any evidence of Laura preaching, but that’s enough for us. (In addition, the head pastors of Hillsong Global are the husband and wife duo, Brian and Bobbie.)
However, because it was very difficult to find the pastor page on Hillsong NYC’s website, and we only found it by Googling “Hillsong NYC pastor,” we scored this church’s website as “unclear” given that the information was not clearly and accessibly located.
Here’s a quick action step:
(For more on how we score, see our scoring definitions.)