October 13, 2019

Hollywood's Holy Hipsters

“I am in the mosh pit of West Hollywood’s El Rey Theatre, jangly from two cups of Zoe Ministries’ excellent self-branded coffee. Twenty 20-somethings in mom jeans, sneakers, and colorful baggy shirts are singing Disney-radio-inflected anthems about God while we gently shoulder-bump one another. Soon, preacher Chad Veach takes the stage in a baseball cap, rainbow-hued kicks, and a denim jacket that says “Veach” on the back. He bounces on the balls of his feet, referring to Jesus’s disciples as “his crew.” Whenever he says anything vaguely profound, people yell “WOW!” which is the “Amen” of cool, young churches. Veach warns the first row they’re going to get wet from his spit. He’s preaching pure Pentecostalism, and I’m prepared for snake handling, for speaking in tongues, for a deaf man to hear and then say that the music here is a little generic.

Veach is part of the new Great Awakening. Interest in Christianity is blossoming in America’s biggest, bluest cities, partly promoted by celebrity Zoe-goers such as Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger. Young people listen to Spotify lists of songs performed by the bands at one-name churches that sound like rehab centers: Hillsong (a global megachurch that started in Australia), Mosaic, Vous, Radius, Churchome. The center of this Great Awakening is Los Angeles, where the Word comes in many denominations. In January, Kanye West started hosting Sunday Service, at which Tyler, the Creator; Katy Perry; Orlando Bloom; Kid Cudi; DMX; and 070 Shake have listened to him sing about God. On Easter, West built a hill on a fenced-in area attached to the Coachella music festival, joining in with a chorus in matching mauve ponchos.

Halfway through the service, Veach (who likes to say that Zoe is pronounced “Zo-ay, like Be-yon-cé”) slows his sermon down. His 34-year-old brother-in-law, he informs the crowd, was supposed to preach this Sunday for the first time, but he had a stroke while on vacation with his family and died. It’s shocking and tragic, and then Veach reveals that his daughter, Georgia, who has an incurable brain disorder that will likely prevent her from ever walking or talking, got more disheartening news. He has a “g” tattoo in her honor, as do Zoe regulars Justin Bieber, Hailey Baldwin, Selena Gomez, and Ashley Benson

The sermon suddenly feels authentic. There is a man in front of me grappling with his faith. Then I realize that all that has preceded this—the merch giveaway from children’s pastor Tommy Two Guns, the number for automatic text tithing, the promo video that looked like it was for the next Saw—was equally authentic to these young Angelenos. When Veach asks the nonbelievers to accept Jesus, nearly 200 raise their hands. I want to lift my atheist arm to feel whatever they’re feeling, but my hand won’t go, which makes me wonder if God is real and is keeping me honest…”

Read more

JJ Editor's Picks

"Kurds have been staunch allies in America's struggle against ISIS. Without them, America would have paid a far steeper price in blood and treasure to defeat the brutal outfit. That's why President Trump's move to pull U.S. troops out of..."

"For the first time since President Richard Nixon refused to turn over the White House tapes, the United States is facing a genuine constitutional crisis. To be sure, Donald Trump had already created a crisis in the presidency by abusing the..."

"Every October for the past five years, Fat Bear Week has showcased some of the healthiest, hungriest, and chonkiest bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve, a four-million-acre expanse of wilderness in southern Alaska..."

"I sat on my childhood bed, surrounded by 52-year-old stuffed animals, with a smartphone lodged between my ear and shoulder. My father had died unexpectedly the day before, and I was jotting down notes as my rabbi back in Ohio described various..."

"In August, it was SoulCycle and Equinox. The month prior, Home Depot. Back in 2017, L.L.Bean. These are only a few of the companies to ignite the collective ire of progressive consumers over corporate ties to Trump. In the case of the boutique..."

"Movies like Gemini Man are usually ideal airplane viewing. Take a formulaic plot about spies and cloning, then add dialogue so predictable that getting interrupted by pilots’ announcements and turbulence and your seatmate’s need to get up and..."

"It’s still unclear whether Israel’s next election will be in four years or four months. But either way, if the center-right wants a better outcome, it needs to learn the lessons of September’s election. So here are two: First, while center-right..."

"Smart homes, bountiful oceans and casual sexism: the future as envisaged from 1967 ‘Yes, life will be richer, easier, healthier as space-age dreams come true.’ In 1967, the Ford Motor Company (then known as Philco-Ford) released the short film..."