It’s hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning – Calvin and Hobbes

18 03 2007

GnuUpon walking into the newsagent last Friday, I was accosted by a flying lady throwing magazines at me. The one (out of three…) that I caught was the week’s edition of “The Bulletin”. Since I would usually struggle to grasp a falling gnu in my outspread arms, I took this as a sign from God that I ought to purchase a copy. Well, that and the arresting “Jesus Loves Money” headline splashed across a silhouetted angel (which suggested a faint possibility of the innards being of relevance to this topic…)

The headline turned out to refer to a fascinating article (7/3/2007), “Book of Revelations“*, discussing the internal workings of the controversial Hillsong Church. The crux of the article tells of Tanya Levin, a disillusioned ex-member of the church, whose book “People in glass houses: how Hillsong became an assembly of Gods” was recently axed from publication by Allen and Unwin, citing legal reasons.

Though these reasons are unclear in this article, a previous Bulletin article (27/2/2007), “Unhappy Clappy“* mentions the publishing house’s concerns about defamation claims by the church. Although corporations cannot sue, the Church, which has an estimated annual tax-free turnover of $50 million, is considered a not-for-profit organisation, and is therefore able to sue away to its (well-obscured) heart’s content.

The withdrawal from publication has caused quite a public reaction, not only due to the disappointment caused to those anticipating the book’s release, but also sparking concerns about the power of religious institutions in society and the apparency of influence on censorship and freedom of speech.

The 8 page feature includes an extract from Levin’s novel consisting of personal anecdotes of life in the church as well as facts on Brian and Bobbie Houston, the couple who founded the Hillsong Church back in 1983. Included also is a column on “Christianese,” a “list of phrases you might encounter at Hillsong, but … can also be useful for interpreting any TV evangelist.” The list includes satirical definitions from “AWESOME: Originally a Valley Girl word, used at Hillsong as a high holy word,” through to “THE THRONE ZONE”, an epitomical evangelist term for Heaven.

Levin explains aspects of the Houstons’ notion of “Prosperity Theology”: the general idea being that money is a panacaea for the world’s ills, justifying Brian’s Harley Davidson bike as “the best way of demonstrating the blessing of God in his life.”

Apart from her own dissatisfaction with the materialism this theology promotes, Levin also tells of a touching encounter with a prison inmate who had been involved in the “Jesus [rehab] program” with the church.

An inmate in a NSW jail was bailed to a Hillsong rehabilitation service. On the first day he was there, one of the young millionaire businessmen leaders took him out to show him his sports car. The idea was to get the client to realise that with a bit of elbow grease and some commitment to the Jesus program, he to could have a car like that one day.

“Tanya he tried to impress me with money,” the young man told me from the jail, where he chose to return rather than continue under the Jesus program. “We’re drug dealers, criminals, working girls. We’ve seen more money than most people. We know what money can do to people. We don’t want to learn how to make money. We need to know how to handle what we’ve got.”

Brian Houston

Perhaps the most interesting excerpt from this whole saga came in the follow-up retaliation from the man himself, senior pastor Brian Houston. The article, (13/3/2007) The Love Connection*, is spread around a photo of Brian and wife Bobbie, glamorous in black and wearing a diamond encrusted cross around her tanned neck. In this self-penned article, Houston explains that the “Hillsong story is not about my wife Bobbie or me. It’s founded instead on the lives of the thousands of everyday Sydneysiders who attend our church each week: they’re the real Hillsong story.” Houston finds it sad that these people rarely rate a public mention, with the media often ignorantly criticising some of the more controversial aspects of the church’s running.

Houston admits that “If I had my time again I wouldn’t have called a book You Need More Money. It’s like a target, ‘Free shot!'” He goes on to speak of his vision for the church and the thinking behind his theology.

Let me be clear – I believe that a blend of wisdom, patience, hard work and generosity will build your life, especially when your focus extends beyond you. It’s both biblical and healthy.

Interestingly, some time back, an established church minister, while speaking with one of my colleagues, criticised the aforementioned book and then in the next breath complained that his church could not afford to employ a youth worker. Mischievously my friend asked, “So you need more money?” And therein lies the heart behind the book. It consistently spoke against greed and warned of the lure and love of money, but people couldn’t see beyond the title.

Spending is seasonal, but giving is a lifestyle… Christianity is not only about eternity; it’s a challenge to make a difference in our desperate world today.”

Houston sums up the essence of the church as he sees it, proclaiming “We’re committed to loving our city and beyond through a strong and healthy church that’s helping real people find real answers for their real problems. We, along with many great churches across our nation, know that although we can’t do everything, we must do something.”

* Links are to incomplete online versions of the stories. The original articles I read were in print editions of The Bulletin.




4 responses

18 03 2007

Good work on your blog buddy! It’s so refreshing to see someone write about religion from an unbiased stance. The whole Hillsong debacle is a fascinating one to watch. Keep it coming.
Jihad Jack

19 03 2007
Sigourney Berndt

Hmmm, interesting, interesting….
You seem to have found an article with slightly more substance…
Damn you to hell!!
*shakes fist*
But still…I’m sure we will indeed be friends…
And we shall hold hands and skip through the marigolds together …..


Keep up the good work
*thumbs up*

29 03 2007

jesse? what? :S

11 04 2007
gary porter

tanya levins book extracts are infantile in the extreme, easy to see why it was not published …it is a crap book !! jennefer sexton has been taken for a ride …again!!

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