Upon 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.”