In the months since Good Times checked in with Greater Purpose Brewing Company this past June, the church has had its moments in the spotlight, including the progressive Christian brewers becoming a lightning rod for the Christian right.
Greater Purpose Community Church (GPCC) is the pro-LGBTQ+ congregation getting ready to launch a brewery and restaurant in the old Logos bookstore. Their brewing company will be a family restaurant featuring soul-fusion dishes served alongside in-house-brewed craft beer, with a portion of the proceeds to be donated to local charities.
Shortly after GT’s story ran, it was covered on local radio station KSCO and by local television stations. Within a month, the story was viral, published everywhere from Now This News and Fox News to foodie outlets like delish.com.
“We knew we would get some level of publicity,” admits pastor Christopher VanHall, who wants to use proceeds from the forthcoming brew pub to donate to local nonprofits, including the Santa Cruz chapter of Planned Parenthood, which has offices upstairs in the same building. “But we expected the news to be localized. We never thought it would go beyond Santa Cruz.”
While many of the online comments following the stories were positive, not everyone found the idea of the brewery-church combination—or VanHall’s politics, for that matter—refreshing.
The ultra-conservative California Family Council wrote a blog post with the headline “Santa Cruz ‘Church’ Says It Will Serve Beer and Donate Profits to Planned Parenthood.” Right-wing podcaster Ben Shapiro shared a Daily Wire story about the brew pub on Facebook, writing, “No. A thousand times, no.” Some conservatives freaked out over VanHall’s comments that Jesus was a person of color who “was killed by white supremacy.”
Critics quickly flooded both VanHall’s and the church’s message inboxes. Their social media comment sections were inundated with opinions from conservative evangelicals, bigots and good old-fashioned internet trolls—VanHall says they ranged from the hilarious to the profane. When trolls blitzkrieged GPCC’s Google rating to only one star, citing various reasons from the proposed brewery to the church’s support of the LGBTQ+ community, GPCC was choice in their response.
“Bigots and misogynists took our Google rating down to a 1. We couldn’t be prouder! #WeAreNumber1,” VanHall wrote on GPCC’s Facebook page, alongside a rainbow flag emoji.
VanHall says with a laugh that probably 95 percent of the negative reviews aren’t from locals, “but we spun it in a good way.”
Unsurprised by the backlash, he says that the far-right critics who reacted strongly are the type of people who motivate him to keep building a different kind of congregation. “It might not win them over immediately, but with any luck conversations like those will help them transition like I did,” says VanHall, a former evangelical himself.
As for the brewing company plans, VanHall says Greater Purpose leaders will submit the final design to the city by the end of the year. They hope to start construction by the beginning of February, with the goal of opening by summer.
VanHall is also in the middle of writing a book series. The first book, on his “exodus” from evangelicalism, will be out next year, he says.
The story behind the brewery, along with the viral controversy, has earned the honor of being book number two.