Over the years, religions have used celebrities to brand and popularize their churches. The Church of Scientology is the most well-known example of a church that practices this form of recruitment, and has used celebrity endorsements in order to attract followers since of its creation in 1954.
However, Scientology is not the only church that uses this method of branding. Within the past couple of years, the Hillsong Church has had an increase in media attention due to its association with celebrities, such as Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner and Kevin Durant.
These tactics that churches use in order to gain attention is making religion out to be a type of trend. Religion is not a trend no matter what church or faith one belongs to, and should not be thought of as such. A religion should be defined by its beliefs and customs, rather than the celebrity faces that endorse it.
The Church of Scientology is very open when it comes to the fact that it caters to celebrities. During the late 1960s, the first Celebrity Centre was created. The main goal of the Celebrity Centre is to recruit celebrities to their faith. In 1955, L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, created “Project Celebrity,” which promised rewards to those that successfully recruited celebrities to their faith.
In 1976, a Scientology policy was released that proclaimed that “rehabilitation of celebrities who are just beyond or just approaching their prime” enables the “rapid dissemination” of Scientology. Hubbard also explained that Scientology is available to help celebrities and public figures deal with the burdens of being in the public eye. The practice of catering to celebrities has not diminished over the years. Some of the most famous Scientologists include Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley. Cruise is known for his outward public support for the Church of Scientology, making recruitment videos and declaring Scientologists as “authorities on getting people off drugs, using the mind, improving conditions, rehabilitating criminals, creating peace and uniting cultures.”
One of the main issues with celebrities being the face of specific faiths is the overshadowing of a church’s beliefs and values. Scientology is an individualistic faith that encourages spiritual enlightenment and freedom for all, rather than following specific scripture like other religious groups, though there are specific values that Scientologists live by. The Church of Scientology does not encourage its members to accept anything solely based on faith, but rather to apply what they have learned from their church and find the proof of truth themselves through experience and observation.
Though the Church of Scientology supports positivity and spiritual growth, there are many controversial beliefs that are associated with Scientology, such as the right to attack those that criticize Scientology and the disbelief in psychiatry and psychology.
Overall, it is important to educate oneself on the beliefs and practices of a religion before judging or being swayed by its supporters. Different faiths may be harming, rather than helping, themselves by establishing their religions through the voices of celebrities.
The Hillsong Church, founded in Australia in 1983, is another faith that has sparked media attentionrecently. Many are branding it as a “hipster” and “cool” church due to the way Hillsong presents and celebrates its faith, often through the form of music. Additionally, the church’s association with celebrities, such as Justin Bieber, has led to a rise in attention and membership. According to the church, 30,000 people attend services every week. Hillsong Music has topped the Australian charts and has had albums certified platinum or gold.
Hillsong is a Pentecostal Church, which is a Christian religion. Unlike Scientology, Hillsong is scripture based. The Church sees the Bible as truth and as authoritative in all matters of faith and believes one should strive to live a fruitful Christian life.
The mission statement of the Hillsong Church is “to reach and influence the world by building a large Christ-centered, Bible-based church, changing mindsets and empowering people to lead and impact in every sphere of life.”
The Hillsong Church holds some controversial viewpoints, such as opposition to embryonic stem cell research and abortion, support for creationism and intelligent design to be taught in school and forbidding of homosexuals to hold leadership positions in the church.
Celebrities have the right to the comforts of religion just like anyone else, but that does not make it right for churches to use the status of celebrities as a means of profit, especially when it distracts people to what the religion represents. Celebrities and trends should not be what drives your religious convictions. If you want to understand a religion, you must research and observe for yourself.
Jaclyn Weiter, FCRH’18, is a communication and media studies from Wantagh, New York.