Now that the allegedly dystopian vision of San Francisco is all but complete, all we need is a Pentecostal megachurch to really cement the deal. Enter the Hillsong Church. The massive song-and-dance church is headquartered in Australia, with boutique congregations in France, England, South Africa, and Brazil. Now they could be coming for you, you heathens.
The basics: Hillsong Church was founded in Sydney, New South Wales in 1983 and is giant, theatrical, and influential in Pentecostal/Charismatic church circles. Best known for the music they produce, Hillsong-penned tunes are sung in other churches of varying denominations around the world. Being a Pentecostal church, yes, they do believe in such traditions as speaking in tongues and Gifts of the Spirit, but they're also comparatively progressive to their contemporaries. For example, they're have women in leadership positions and proudly count heaps of hipsters and young folks as part of their congregations. They also hold spectacular concerts every week. (The photo above looks like a revival of Starlight Express, which we mean in the most wonderful way possible.) Hillsong is also a champion of the pastor-turned-celebrity, with Carl Lentz being a notable example.
The church has also fallen to controversy. Pastor Frank Houston, father of Hillsong co-founder Brian Houston, confessed to sexually abusing children. Their stance on LGBT rights is curious. And, irresistibly, the church was accused of helping stack Australian Idol votes by encouraging members to vote for Christian contestants.
Now they want to come to San Francisco, a fresh territory busting at the seams with new money and young minds. The idea to set up shop in the city came to Hillsong Pastor Ben Houston while he was in West Hollywood "dreaming and strategizing" about where else in the West he could go. "San Francisco is an amazing city! And the surrounding areas of Oakland, San Jose and beyond all combine to create a city of millions of people filled with so much potential," says Houston."The Bay Area is similar to LA in that you see the full breadth and diversity of humanity."
But not everyone is having it. Christian Nate J. Lee tells Gospel Ministries why.
"There is a war going on here that can't be seen or understood through the eyes of a naive, idealistic pastor. So when Ben Houston shows up in his overly-produced video saying, 'San Francisco is a city where we see great potential,' it's painfully clear that he has no idea of the context onto which his words fall," stated Lee.
"Guess who else saw 'great potential' in this city? The real estate agents, developers, and city officials who have destroyed neighborhoods, broken up families, and displaced poor people of color for their own idealized, dystopian visions for San Francisco."
But the realization of Hillsong SF remains a pipe dream for the megachurch. At least for now.
"As excited as I am about all that is ahead, I know that there is nothing that is going to be easy about this venture," says Hillsong pastor Ben Houston. "[San Francisco] is up there with the most expensive cities in the world. I sense that there could be a lot of spiritual opposition to The Church."