Monday, September 18, 2006

David Byrne talks about 'Jesus Camp'


This scared the shit out of me! There is insanity and then there's the abyss... Byrne on Jesus Camp

34 comments:

mister tumnus said...

you know, far out as this group sounds i don't think it's a million miles away from our established evangelical churches in the UK do to kids. i know of at least 2 teenage pregnancies (and suspect a few more) and many more sad stories caused by kids not using conraceptives because they knew they weren't meant to be having sex before marriage. when is the chuch going to take responsibility for fucking up people's lives to this extent?

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

it's funny (not) but this does not remind me of the way of shalom, but mirrors more what happened in Germany in the 40's....

...fucking up lives? oh no dear friend they complete them, restore them, bring healing and truth to them.... what a crock of control power shit! yes, am angry would break bones if people were doing that to the two mini chambers

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

though i acknowledge that's not exactly the way of shalom either (the breaking bones bit)

mister tumnus said...

would love to talk with you sometime regarding the minis, now that i have one of my own.

sometimes i really worry about what to tell her about god etc.

sometimes i think i'd rather she didn't believe in god than end up believing the screwed up stuff i thought was true.

Awareness said...

I shared this with a couple of people today. Quite startling, but not surprising really. I think both the exteme left and the extreme right are so full of mumbojumbo diatribe and practises. The United Church of Canada congregation in Toronto for example were trying to force a ban against interacting/financially dealing with Israel this past summer. At the national conference they voted to approve a ban on bottled water. Where does Jesus fit into any of that.

This article, however takes the cake because it reveals a sick side of adult power over innocents. It's cultish and frightening. I too thought of Nazi Germany.

One more thing......its a fine line to walk with children and introducing them to God. So many of the stories can be perceived by them as quite scary. My daughter whose 12 now really struggled after I sent her to an Anglican church camp a couple of summers ago. It turned out her counsellor was quite charismatic with her prayers and stories. My daughter found it bizarre and invasive. It scared her to a point where she turned away from wanting to know more about God for a while. We're back on track now, but it took many gentle talks with her dad and I to soothe her fears.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

mr t, a long conversation me thinks, but one i'm happy to have with you. one of the main reasons for me leaving the charasmatic evangelical church was the way they run their children's programmes. there is a big difference is gently leading them in 'the ways of the lord' ie, into the way of shalom and agape - of loving our neighbour etc, rather than turning them into young versions of 'on fire for the lord' idiots who don't know what it is to listen.....

when i am next in belfast we will continue...

awareness, am so pleased your daughter seems to have come through. i was involved in youth work for a long time in the 90's and think, looking back, there were many unhelpful things done in trying to 'win kids for god'.

i think now it's more about quietly making introductions and walking together on our journey and let god do what god does best.

as for banning water, I reckon the best thing america (and i am very aware you are canadian when i say this) could have done in places like afghanistan and iraq was to initially give aid, food, blankets - whatever was practically needed and then set up long term development programmes that revealed a much more caring and all-loving god that the middle east don't see when they see the nonesence coming out of the bible belt and the kind of crap this film reveals - its about loving all sides.

and you know what i can't shake. i just couldn't see jesus getting kids to act/perform like that.....

Wobbler! said...

What a process I've just been through to make a comment! Don't even want a blog site!

Basically what I wanted to say is:-

What springs to mind when I read these comments is that verse in proverbs about training a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it (or something like that I think!)

I take from the word "train" that it is gentle instruction, not force feeding ideas or theologies and practices on kids. From my experience most people who are "forced" to take on religious ideas etc.. will only rebel when the chance arises. Where as those who are given freedom to make their own choices, generally are a lot better off and more well balanced.

My fear here is for the damage done to these kids minds - maybe not immediately but as they grow older.

Not sure that this is what God has in mind for any of our kids.

Wobbler! said...

In fact the more I think about it - it is brain washing and it is NOT acceptable

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

wobbler, sorry for the hassle but glad for your comment

i think the important word you used is choice, and sadly you are right to suggest that most kids just are raised with their parents faith

It is not surprising or perplexing to observe that as one grows up, one inherits the spirituality of one’s family. One believes a particular life way, and one celebrates that belief through particular customs, and tries to keep the precepts of that pre-determined belief.

Thankfully a whole new generation observe that contemporary spirituality has little to do with someone else’s past, but has everything to do with present experiential spiritual exploration. In short, it has much to do with self-identity. There is a distinct difference in cultural context.

No longer is it accurate to suggest that one culture holds an historical influence on another because that culture is the past form of the present one. This poses difficulties for the Church whose Scripture communicates the great mettanarritive of family and belonging specifically through adoption into this remarkable history.

that sadly is very lacking in this documentary

thanks for your comment, it's an important part of a needed conversation

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

wobbler, what i mean is lacking is any recognition of anything beyond their understanding of absolute truth,

these days i think we either have to be more nuanced and simle - just like christ was

Wobbler! said...

I like that word "nuanced"! Thank you. I agree that we need to think outside of the box that we call Christianity

mister tumnus said...

for the record, my folks didn't go to church and when i told my dad i'd got saved he went nuts and said i'd been brainwashed and said i was never again to go back to that 'good news' camp....

21 years later i think i might be starting to understand his concerns...

urbanmonk said...

I visited an orphanage in northern Thailand in 2004 that was run by a Charasmatic american woman and her Children.. this place housed, fed, clothed, loved around 40 or 50 kids. most of them either with no parents as a result of aids, or with aids themselves...

We were shocked to be introduced to the "childrens conferenece" that was run by her, supported financially by her many american supporters, where the children are taought such wonderful things as, "worshiping" praying in tounges etc...

as a special treat, we were hhonoured to have 40 or fifty seven year olds, sing western "hillsong" worship music to us, then pray for us at length in other tounges.

It makes me wonder what we ( the christian world) are so convinced odf at the moment that is going to prove damaging in the future..

top post mate.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

Wobbler,

Kathryn Tanner observes that the differences from one culture to another are laid out spatially rather than temporally and that,
‘change within a culture does enter the anthropological picture but only as a secondary matter. On an organic analogy, cultures may have their own internal principles of change: they eventually tire, grow old, and die. Like natural systems, cohesive interdependence amongst their constituent parts is an internal goal; cultures move of their own accord in that direction.’
Our post-modern culture is seeing that various traditions are not really contending and mutually exclusive truth systems. In essence each tradition has something to offer – each has advantages and disadvantages, and can be useful to the person who chooses it. In other words, the majority who live in the shadow of the Enlightenment now believe that spirituality is for people, and not the other way around.

I think it's an important lesson in thinking outside the box

Mr t, it's funny how we recognise protection years later. i have to say my parents, even within their strictness of methodism, didn't allow some of the evangelists to 'sort' me and my brother out. am eternally grateful for that because some of our friends who were 'sorted out' are now very fucked up when it comes to engaging with faith

monk, i despise hillsong (i know that's strong, but am afraid when i see darlene of the houston's i want to hit things) so the image of these kids being told to sing that crap to you leaves me feeling rather ill. again i would imagine that in the long term these children will either be immersed in a blind faith of absolute that can't connect with any culture outside their own or be so disillusioned with faith that they will have none.

again not what jesus had in mind really and all rather sad

what was it he said about 'millstones around necks?"

Niki said...

damnit I knew there was a reason I should've stayed an atheist. Sunday School traumatised me.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

Niki, dare i ask where you went? I find it more and more disheartening as i hear of more people who have had such bad experiences of a wonderful story that has been told so badly

Niki said...

St Josephs. Alright I know it was catholic but still. Similar story.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

maybe i should start a church for people who don't like church - in a bar or abandoned gay disco?!

Niki said...

Oh go for it. I'll join.

The Meaning Weakened by the Lies said...

Part of me feels I really need to protest about your harsh words against Hillsong, as I feel (but do not know) that your opinion may be voiced from a position of ignorance.
Firstly, let me agree with you that I do not condone the 'brainwashing' and forceful coercing of impressionable minds into a falsely ritualized 'plastic jesus' religion. However, I do not believe that hillsong (regardless of if their songs are sung by Jesus Nazis) should be so grossly associated. And neither do I think that their music is 'crap'. It does not, granted, necessarily fit into to my taste in music, but it is another expression of worship that some people, especially younger adults, find easier to connect with.
Over the last 3 years I have been involved with Hillsong church in a couple of different ways. First as a congregation member, then as a worship team member and then as part of its development. I have seen a number of sides to the church, some I have come to love and others that completely frustrate me (pretty much like any local church). I will be the first to admit that when it comes to problems Hillsong can often tackle then with a yes or no attitude, do or don’t. But in comparison to some real Nazis churches I have experienced, Hillsong are a compassionate, supportive and loving community. They experience the same everyday problems as all of us, and I am often envious of their ability to deal with these problems in not only a way that reveals their humanity, but lays it bear before God. Yes, their outer appearance may on the outset seem garish and self confident, but their Sunday meetings are the tip of the iceberg and their expression of love for God, and yes, not everybody’s cup of tea. They do not encourage tongues or any of the over emotional prayer that many of today’s evangelical churches promote, but firmly believe in the ability of God. I have seen their ‘kids church’, it is a simple and loving environment where kids are encouraged to interact with stories about jesus. It is no more than an exciting evolution of the C of E’s Sunday school.
The team within the church is always taught to follow their leader, to seek advice and to do what it is that needs to be done, they work as a team for one purpose. To serve God.
I cannot comment to far on their teaching schools as I have had little experience of them. The few comments I have are such. 1. I know they produce good leaders. 2. They are immersed in a Christian bubble and do not experience the real trials of every day life. This can make answers to problems too black and white. However because everyone is working together problems are dealt with much more quickly and there is a lot less heartache.
To sum up, there will always be parts of a church looking for its own ego boost, however, I have never in my life felt so part of a community, so supported, so loved, so able to discuss any one of my sins and not be judged on it. We need to embrace our humanity to share our faults with others, to lay ourselves bear and admit, yes I have done wrong and I can’t cope, or I don’t know what to do next. But we can become hedonists for our own troubles. Hillsong is full of compassionate, functional people trying to present an more accessible pathway to god and help each other over the stones on the way. And it’s working.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

meaning:

Thanks for your comments, this blog is a place for dialogue - part of the reason i started it - and i would be worried if everyone who commented agreed with me, in fact that's the last thing i want as this is about journeying together and learning from one another. It's a busy day here at the moment, but I will be responding to the content of your comment in more detail in due course

urbanmonk said...

HArbour..

I agree with you 100 percent!( I was being sarcastic about being honored)

It was really weird to see a big city faith tradition being imposed on what is basically a rural village setting.. totally out of place.. kind of mal adjusted.

Meaning weakened by the lies...

you really need to pay a visit to the signpostsdotorg blog in my side bar.. a regular commentor there is geoff Bullock.. And if you are a hillsong lover, you would know him of course.. hes not there any more, but was once very close with brian Houston. Youve heard of him no doubt?

Hillsong is errant in its teaching on financial stewardship, just by the by..

The Meaning Weakened by the Lies said...

Would you like to elaborate on errant?

Rainbow dreams said...

Imposing extreme views of any sort on children without any balance or appreciation of other's viewpoints has to be a sure fire way to make sure divisions and barriers between people continue... the exact opposite to the message of 'love one another' as I understand it.

Sometimes it feels as if the world is far too full of extremes, and as shocking as this group is I find it sad that I wasn't too surprised by it.

I'm with niki on catholic sunday school - perhaps I just hate to be told what I will and won't believe, but it was one of the reasons I rebelled as soon as I had the chance

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

Meaning:
I think there are two main issues for me

1, the theology of hillsong worship
&
2, The prosperity teaching of hillsong

so here's why i'm not a great fan - though, i do have the right to be wrong...and am also recognising hillsong is obviously a special place for you

1, the theology of hillsong worship
i think there is a subversive potential of christian song which is rife within evangelical circles these days.
what we sing shapes what we believe (far more than sermons or blogs!) - songs shape our theology. a song with its repetition and alliance with a melody or tune becomes something we ingest, and once it's inside us it shapes our whole outlook - on the world, on the church, on god, on christ AND it starts in childhood (which is part of my worry with the jesus camp ethos)

i remember when i was a kid in sunday school a lovely lady who used to teach me and my brothers' class - and in this class was a very fat ugly girl who was repeatedly sick every week. we would be drawing pictures of moses and the red sea or daniel and the lions wiht their mouths tightly shut and all of a sudden this girl would barf. and immediately this wonderful woman would take her outside and get some fresh air and then when she was feeling better she would clean up the sick and as she did so she would sing the song:
'praise him praise him all ye little children, He is love He is love....'
and so for me this teacher who in one moment could clean up sick and sing that He is love, i figured, well this god she knows must be marvellous!
this special love has guided me and kept me in faith all my life

my gran used to sing a song (she was a very working class practical woman), 'oh what can little hands do to please the kings of heaven', which is about this love which is with in god more than anything else; this love which is focused in jesus who is our personal saviour; this love is also what we share in kindness and in service to those who feel unlovely and unloved. all my theology is based on these songs - thankfully not, 'if i was a fuzzy wuzzy bear, i'd thank him for my fuzzy wuzzy hair' - nice tho it is, what kind of theology is that? (don't get me wrong i have 2 children and nonesence songs have thier place; but if that's all we have; if that's all they ingest) then it does not exactly fit them for heaven never mind the 'unclean' of this world.

if all we have (and i think there are many at hillsong) is a happy song that means less and less the older we get - is that encouraging or subverting the growth of genuine belief?

the thing is when it comes to the content of the theology of worship of hillsong and predominantly most of the wests' attempt at worship (including matt redman, delerious etc etc - and i have experience with this issue, and dealing with these people) do we have a language which deals pastorally with the likes of Dunblane, into the massacre's of school children in whatever city it regularly happens these days, of infant mortality, of separation, of loss, of brokenness - i don't think (and i led worship in an evangelical church for nearly a decade) hillsong (and many more) does not provide them....i think they provide entertainment and a feel good factor, and that for me is far from worship

if the theology we sing is about me, it's a bogus theology - god is bigger than my emotion, if how i feel is our focus then we make an idol of god. is god not secure enough in heaven that He needs to be enthroned in my praises?

the big question, i think, is this;

does jesus want me to worship him or follow him?

there are very few places in the gospels where jesus primary concern is that we worship him - but there are very few contemporary songs that deal with this.

in the end i do not want to be a voyuer at the devotional practice of a worship band and i am afraid what i have seen of hillsong and much of contemporary christian worship thats all it is...

2, The prosperity teaching:
The times i have been in hotels and found myself watching the god channel open mouthed at every hillsong performance that has been saturated in prosperity teaching, it seems to be one of the hallmarks of the church's teaching.

Brian Houston's (not the singer from Belfast) book You Need More Money is a good example of this. Essentially the theology teaches that God wants his people wealthy and prosperous, and has given us the ability to "unleash" this power from within us.

What dear Austarlian friends tell me is that hillsong believes God wants us to be prosperous so we can be a blessing and increase the kingdom of God on earth. Many Christians, including those from the Assemblies of God in Australia, oppose this sort of teaching as being unbiblical and heterodox. But Hillsong have defended this book claiming is has been misrepresented.

Another friend emailed me this a while back concerning Geoff Bullock, it says he:

began to feel like a real estate agent selling a manufactured ideal of God rather than one he really believed in. “I think Hillsong’s still got it, this feeling that God smiles a bit more when we’re singing our songs, and we’ve got good hairdressers, dentists, cosmetic surgeons. I came to think that the patron saint of Hillsong was Gianni Versace.”

But the criticism seems likely to persist as long as Hillsong makes $50 million in revenue, pays no tax and yet spends just $2.67 million on “welfare services”. It is not clear how much Mercy Ministries gets from Hillsong, but its total donations were just $304,840 in 2004. And Hillsong Emerge’s 2004 accounts show it got only $646,666 from the Hillsong Foundation Trust and about that again in government grants.
And Houston has been less than transparent about his own income. Until last year he had failed to declare that he and Bobbie had sold their own personal property holdings to a Hillsong-related entity of which he is a director, Leadership Ministries Incorporated. Bobbie sold a Bondi beachfront apartment on the same block as Jamie Packer’s pad to the not-for-profit LMI for $650,000 in February 2002. The couple also sold a waterfront property on the Hawkesbury River in October 2004 to LMI for $780,000, making $535,000 on their 1998 purchase price. They continue to use both these properties.
LMI is the tax-free entity Hillsong set up as a vehicle to pay the couple’s income. In breach of Office of Fair Trading reporting rules, no financial statements had been lodged since its inception in October 2001. Only after the property deals were uncovered by The Australian were the accounts filed in August last year. When the numbers came in they revealed the golden couple got a measly net income, after donations, of just $21,658 in the year to December 2002, $12,739 in 2003 and $69,041 in 2004.
If this is all there is, then how do the couple and two of their three children pull off a property buying spree worth $1.738 million over 12 months in exclusive beachside Bondi? On August 26, 2003, son Joel, who is a lead singer in the Hillsong band and earns song-writing royalties, bought a $676,000 apartment a few minutes’ walk from the LMI-owned apartment, paying $276,000 up front. That same day Brian and Bobbie paid $650,000 with a collateral mortgage for the apartment next door to Joel’s. Exactly a year later, son Ben borrowed just $90,000 to buy a $412,000 apartment a few streets from the other family holdings.

Brian Houston mentioning his BMW several times, an altercation between my minister and a Hillsong pleb running the bookshop who couldn’t step outside of the hierarchical model of leadership to make any decisions. I remember listening with horror as Brian Houston suggested we should look in our neighbour’s wallets to see if they had given enough to the offering plate and to tap them on the shoulder if they still had cash left over.

Whoa! I wanna know you, I wanna know you today.” With that catchy lyric, the lead singer rips into a punky-pop riff on his electric guitar as the band and side-stage choir spring to life. Over a sea of raised arms, five cameras capture the action as the audience, in time with the lanky, tousle-haired lead singer, belts out a thundering chorus: “You’re the best thing that has happened to me.”
No, this isn’t MTV live. It’s Hillsong Church, part religious service, part rock concert, part multi-media conglomerate. Every weekend at Hillsong churches in Sydney 19,000 people sing, clap and jump through a two-hour tribute to a God who rocks. As traditional religious congregations shrink, Hillsong attendance expanded more than 13 per cent in 2004.
There are no images of Jesus being tortured on the cross at Hillsong headquarters in Sydney’s Baulkham Hills, no vaulted ceilings. The audience sits not on wooden pews but on 3500 cushioned theatre seats. Under each one is an envelope and credit card form for believers to donate their pre-tax 10 per cent salary tithe. Ushers flood the aisles and pass black buckets down each row. The buckets have holes in the bottom, presumably to discourage parish-ioners from giving coins. And the rivers of cash keep flowing: donations and salary tithes to Hillsong were $15.3 million in 2004; merchandise, CDs, books and DVDs, returned a further $6.93 million, while total church revenue has now passed the $50 million mark - all tax-free thanks to Hillsong’s charitable status. And then there are the donations - it’s anybody’s guess how much - from the owners of the $40 million Gloria Jean’s coffee empire, Nabi Saleh and Peter Irvine, who are both senior members of Hillsong, the former as treasurer. The message of Hillsong’s prosperity gospel is: the richer you are, the more you can help others.
But along with the expanding congregation and profit margins have come the ugly rumours that won’t go away - of underhanded treatment of disaffected church members, of attempts to silence critics, of profiteering from the faithful. Only last month, the Labor Mayor of Blacktown in Sydney’s west, Leo Kelly, accused Hillsong of attempting to pressure him, via an ALP state official, to dampen his criticism of their use of public funds.
Hillsong’s main benevolent arm, Hillsong Emerge Ltd, has been accused in federal and NSW parliament of misappropriating commonwealth grants worth millions of dollars. And a former member, Robert John Orehek, was charged with fraud after allegedly fleecing believers of up to $20 million, which he sank into failed and fraudulent property investments.

THE KING OF HILLSONG EVANGELISM, Brian Houston, bounds onto the stage, clad in a dapper suit. “The faithful are in church tonight,” he declares, surveying the auditorium. “Awesome!” The background music fades away and the house lights brighten. People reach into their bags for Bibles and notebooks. Houston savours a silent pause. He’s been thinking about the seven deadly sins. “What would be my deadly sins, destructive in the lives of people?” Avarice, gluttony and wrath are apparently old hat. Houston instead says the sins are negativity, regret, complacency. Just a few weeks later, Hillsong’s formidable marketing arm has swung into action, releasing a four-CD set of Houston’s teaching on the sins that undermine potential in people, retailing for $35 in the church shop.
Houston has become the most influential pastor in the Pentecostal movement, and is a household name to born-again Australians. He also has political pulling power: Prime Minister John Howard, Treasurer Peter Costello and former NSW premier Bob Carr have all addressed the Hillsong congregation in recent years. In the last federal election, Hillsong member Liberal Louise Markus narrowly snatched from Labor the seat of Greenway, next to Hillsong’s Baulkham Hills church.
After the service - there are 30 every week in the two main Sydney venues, Baulkham Hills and Waterloo - people pour into the Hillsong shop. Half of the back display is devoted to the CDs and books by Houston and his perky wife of 28 years, Bobbie. Their bright white teeth and perfect hair seem to shine down from dozens of book and CD covers. In Bobbie’s CD set She Loves and Values her Sexuality she proclaims, “You might be happy with your weight but is your husband happy with your weight? … How are you going to do anything that might surprise your man when you need a hydraulic crane just to turn over in bed?” Boob jobs and face lifts get the thumbs up, as do good sex and a husband who says sorry with an impromptu spending spree at the jewellers. It’s a feel-good message, and when it doesn’t feel good, money makes it better.

GEOFF BULLOCK KNOWS ALL about Hillsong’s brand power and merchandising. He helped build it, even coming up with the name Hillsong more than 17 years ago. He launched the church on the international Christian music scene when he wrote most of the original songs, such as Power of Your Love, Refresh My Heart and Have Faith in God. For the church’s first decade he was Brian Houston’s best friend. For eight years, until a messy split in 1995, he ran the music department, nerve centre of “the brand”. Although his songs are now rarely played at Hillsong, they are popular on the international Christian music scene and Bullock lives off composition royalties paid through APRA (the Australasian Performing Rights Association).
When I meet Bullock at a sunny, beachside terrace cafe he is edgy and constantly apologises - for knocking the table as he crosses his legs, for being unable to eat much of his salad. A short, tidy man with intense blue eyes, he is approaching his 50th birthday. He hasn’t slept much in anticipation of revealing the backstage story behind the “miles of smiles” at Hillsong. “It was very nice being at the top of the tree but it just … ” He pauses, swallows. “This is going to sound dramatic. They stole my soul.”
Bullock’s moment of religious revelation struck in 1978 at Sydney’s Koala Motor Inn, where Houston’s father, Frank, was preaching. Bullock was 23 and had been touring the east coast in a rock’n'roll band, smoking dope and reading Carlos Castaneda’s stories of magic and sorcery. “It was wild,” he recalls of that November night. They sang hymns to a funked-up polka tune played with live piano, drums and bass. In the latest fashion blue safari suit, at the centre of the throng was the bespectacled 56-year-old preacher, Frank Houston, who declared that he used to smoke cigarettes before Jesus saved him. “People were trying to put cigarettes in his mouth,” says Bullock. “He lay down and he spat them out. It was a show of great confidence and charisma.”
Bullock was a needy, naive Sydney North Shore lad, schooled at the Presbyterian Knox Grammar. He believed in a higher being and was willing to try anything to reach Him, including cannabis. “I was absolutely ready for brainwashing. I was absolutely ripe for ‘love bombing’.” So, just two hours after walking into his first evangelical experience, Bullock answered God’s call, and his 21-year-old Anglican girlfriend from Lithgow in country NSW, Janine, followed. Individually, in back rooms, they were counselled. They had been born again and were now committed to Jesus. Satan would fight to get them back, they were warned. “I went in with a confident world view and I came out quite rattled. My whole belief structure had been turned on its head.”
He said goodbye to his rock’n'roll band, Arnhem, and to smoking, drinking and playing the occasional gig in topless bars in Sydney. A church leader came to his house and threw out his extensive collection of music - Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd, The Beatles. “I had this wonderful group of friends, a great lifestyle, going listening to bands. All of that was viewed as being ‘of the devil’ … I didn’t lose some friends, I lost all my friends.”
Five years later, when 29-year-old Brian Houston set up his own church, Hills Christian Life Centre, in the newly suburban northern hills of outer Sydney, Bullock was a founding member. Young Houston was inspired by Tony Packard, who established a high–profile Holden car dealership in the area at Baulkham Hills with the catchcry “Let me do it right for you”.
Bullock was among the 70 believers at Pastor Brian Houston’s first service on Sunday, August 14, 1983, at Baulkham Hills Public School. From here a Pentecostal phenomenon called Hillsong was born. Bullock sang, played piano and was music frontman on stage for at least three services every Sunday. He recorded the church’s first six albums, three of which went gold, one platinum. He also ran the Bible college curriculum. For this he earned no more than $45,000 a year from the church and gave back a pre-tax tithe of 10 per cent, even when he couldn’t pay his growing family’s bills. Now he is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder after being expunged from the church he helped build.
Bullock and Janine married in 1980 and had five children within a decade. At the height of his Christian stardom in the late 1980s to mid-1990s, Bullock toured the United States, Britain, Asia and New Zealand with an expanding repertoire of songs. For Sydney Sunday services they rose at 6am to set up the band and audio equipment and then rehearse ahead of morning, afternoon and evening church services. He was too busy to notice he was failing as a husband and father. “We had to put our parenting on hold,” he says.
Bullock began to feel like a real estate agent selling a manufactured ideal of God rather than one he really believed in. “I think Hillsong’s still got it, this feeling that God smiles a bit more when we’re singing our songs, and we’ve got good hairdressers, dentists, cosmetic surgeons. I came to think that the patron saint of Hillsong was Gianni Versace.”
Christmas Eve 1994 was the end for Bullock. He had rehearsed the choir and band to play the standard church repertoire for three Christmas services. Just hours before the first service, Houston discovered Bullock had not rehearsed traditional Christmas carols. “He just tore me to shreds and then left me to do three services,” Bullock says. Houston got his Christmas carols that night, but it finished his partnership with Bullock.
Once Bullock departed, a campaign of whispering about his morality and sexuality filtered throughout the church. When he broke up with Janine a few months later, his subsequent relationship with a married woman (whom he later married) was, he says, twisted to become the reason he had been forced out. At the same time, Houston preached about dark forces intent on undermining the church. “They ran a huge campaign to discredit me,” fumes Bullock.
Janine says she changed her phone number to stop friends from the church calling to tell her Bullock’s departure and their marriage break-up was against God’s will. She once hid in the wardrobe when a woman visited her house a second time. “I couldn’t bear her preaching at me again, telling me that this wasn’t of God.”
Janine still goes to Hillsong once a month, but says she can’t help but be cynical about the facade of spirituality compared with the lack of compassion and understanding she experienced. But, she adds, “there’s some beautiful Christian people who attend there”.

GEOFF BULLOCK ISN’T THE ONLY FOUNDING member of Hillsong to question its methods and ethics. For a decade until 1991, Stephen Grant was paid $100 a week to preach at Hillsong and was dean of the church’s Bible college. He admits that, as an eccentric, he was a strange fit for a fundamentalist church.
Still, Grant came from a wealthy family - he now runs a successful art gallery in Sydney’s Redfern - and had pledged (but never paid) $150,000 to the church’s building fund. He had a beautiful wife and was entertaining at the pulpit. He wore loud, colourful suits and sometimes a red leotard. When he blew on the congregation, the entire room of people would fall over.
But he realised his views diverged from Houston’s when they travelled together to the US in 1988. “In the US, I saw the wholesale commercialisation of born-again Christianity. I went, ‘Nah, truth is becoming a commodity here. It’s not a question of internal search, it’s a question of external commodification.’” But Houston liked what he saw and soon Hillsong’s fundraising became increasingly glitzy.
“I started to question what the bloody hell I was doing,” Grant, 46, reflects. “I was preaching all over the world. But I was getting really depressed.” He had lost both his parents and his marriage was under pressure. Grant subsequently discovered that, in the inner sanctum of the church, his wife was being encouraged to recognise that he did not belong.
His clinical depression was seen by the church as a sign of faltering faith. “I knew there was nothing wrong with my faith, and yet I was told: ‘You are not believing in Jesus enough.’” The Hillsong website backs up Grant’s claim. “Depression,” it declares, “is a supernatural spirit straight from the devil.”
When Grant broke up with his wife and left the church, like Bullock, he had to start life all over again, outside the Hillsong fortress. “People find a lot of healing in the church. I don’t have a problem with that. But … if you are kicked out, you are f—ed.”
The Christian message of the shepherd seeking lambs lost from the flock doesn’t apply at Hillsong, says Grant. “It was forbidden for me to be visited by the members of the church. Damn the lost lambs.” His recovery took five years.
The sentiment is echoed by theology student Penny Davis, who took years to rebuild her self-esteem after a shattering experience at Hillsong, which began in 1995 when she was just 20. Women who don’t fit Bobbie Houston’s mould at Hillsong, or those brave enough to challenge the male hierarchy, are swiftly brought into line, she says. With ambitions to become a pastor, Davis quickly realised she needed to change her wardrobe. “To get anywhere, you had to become a clone,” she quips. “I grew my hair, started wearing make-up and doing all the nice girly things.”
Life became very full, and it was all about church. She moved into a share house with four other young women from Hillsong, volunteered two days a week at church and did paid work with the Hillsong community youth centre three days a week, earning a weekly income of $600, less the 10 per cent salary tithe. “The pressure at Hills to be glamorous and have everything as well - it’s quite difficult on a low income.”
Just months after joining, she slept with a woman from the church - one who later confided about the liaison to a youth leader. Davis was immediately counselled that homosexuality was a sin. “I was just so vulnerable,” Davis says simply. She was assigned a mentor, who claimed she had successfully corrected her own “dysfunctional” sexuality. They spoke at least once a week, when Davis had to confess any lesbian fantasies. The mentor also read Davis’s diaries. After the “problem” persisted, she was put into an 18-week “ex-gay” program called Living Waters, then conducted at Hillsong. Once a week she attended the Living Waters group sessions, where she was told to focus on problems in her past which may have triggered her sexual “dysfunction”. “I was committed to getting these things fixed,” Davis says.
Three years of counselling, sessions with a psychiatrist and group therapies failed, however. Davis resorted to grabbing joyful glances at a video of Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras while her flatmates were out, she laughs. “I started to subconsciously realise that this was not going to change … the shame and guilt were eating me up inside.”
Davis decided her sexuality and spirituality could never be reconciled at Hillsong and made the momentous decision to leave. In response, her Hillsong friends sent a barrage of text messages quoting the Bible on the “sin” of homosexuality. She was kicked out of her house and then her friends froze her out, ignoring her emails and phone calls. “She’s gone, we have restructured, there’s no need to continue communicating with her” was the message sent to her Hillsong friends by church leaders, claims Davis.
Social worker Tanya Levin, who spent her teenage years at Hillsong, says that those who question church policy are first shouted down and later ostracised if they persist. Levin has been commissioned to write a book about growing up in an evangelical church. For research, Levin attended the annual Hillsong women’s conference Colour Your World last March and took offence when poor children in Africa were being marketed for sponsors in the audience on the basis of being cute. “They are actually for life, not just for Christmas,” Levin shouted before walking out of the auditorium.
When she wrote an email the next month to the Houstons asking to meet them on a regular basis in order to gather material for her book, she got this curt response from the general manager, George Aghajanian: “We are aware that during your attendance at our recent Colour Your World Women’s Conference you caused a significant disruption. It is for this reason that we ask you to refrain from attending any future Hillsong church services or events; including accessing Hillsong’s land and premises at any time.” Aghajanian closed by saying the church’s leadership and staff were unable to provide assistance for the book.
When Levin subsequently attended a Sunday evening service, a pastor asked to speak to her outside. When she attempted to get back in to retrieve her bag, two security guards blocked her path, picked her up by the elbows and escorted her off the premises.

Brian Houston refused numerous opportunities to comment for this story, except to say: “More than 19,000 people come to Hillsong Church every weekend and I know that the overwhelming majority of them would testify to a healthy experience for both themselves and their families. They would also speak of the constant positive impact they see on others who are being helped through Hillsong Church and its many community programs.”
There is no doubt that Hillsong - or, closer to the mark, its loyal parishioners - perform many good deeds. The church has a number of charitable arms, including Mercy Ministries, a residence for girls dealing with unplanned pregnancies and eating disorders established five years ago by Hillsong’s Darlene Zschech, the country’s most popular and successful Christian singer. Although recently mired in controversy, the church’s main benevolent arm, Hillsong Emerge, has helped people find jobs and recover from addictions. Hillsong attendees sponsor about 2600 children in Uganda, and generously gave $500,000 to victims of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.
But the criticism seems likely to persist as long as Hillsong makes $50 million in revenue, pays no tax and yet spends just $2.67 million on “welfare services”. It is not clear how much Mercy Ministries gets from Hillsong, but its total donations were just $304,840 in 2004. And Hillsong Emerge’s 2004 accounts show it got only $646,666 from the Hillsong Foundation Trust and about that again in government grants.
And Houston has been less than transparent about his own income. Until last year he had failed to declare that he and Bobbie had sold their own personal property holdings to a Hillsong-related entity of which he is a director, Leadership Ministries Incorporated. Bobbie sold a Bondi beachfront apartment on the same block as Jamie Packer’s pad to the not-for-profit LMI for $650,000 in February 2002. The couple also sold a waterfront property on the Hawkesbury River in October 2004 to LMI for $780,000, making $535,000 on their 1998 purchase price. They continue to use both these properties.
LMI is the tax-free entity Hillsong set up as a vehicle to pay the couple’s income. In breach of Office of Fair Trading reporting rules, no financial statements had been lodged since its inception in October 2001. Only after the property deals were uncovered by The Australian were the accounts filed in August last year. When the numbers came in they revealed the golden couple got a measly net income, after donations, of just $21,658 in the year to December 2002, $12,739 in 2003 and $69,041 in 2004.
If this is all there is, then how do the couple and two of their three children pull off a property buying spree worth $1.738 million over 12 months in exclusive beachside Bondi? On August 26, 2003, son Joel, who is a lead singer in the Hillsong band and earns song-writing royalties, bought a $676,000 apartment a few minutes’ walk from the LMI-owned apartment, paying $276,000 up front. That same day Brian and Bobbie paid $650,000 with a collateral mortgage for the apartment next door to Joel’s. Exactly a year later, son Ben borrowed just $90,000 to buy a $412,000 apartment a few streets from the other family holdings.
And questions persist about why it took 30 years for Brian Houston’s father, Frank, to be exposed over a complaint of sexual abuse of a boy in his homeland of New Zealand. Houston says his father was banned from preaching in 2000, when he confessed. But Frank continued to live on the Hillsong account, in church digs, until his death in November 2004.
Houston has hiring and firing rights over the board, and has appointed some influential and rich men to control the church’s empire (there are no women, he says, because one of the board members won’t allow it). The general manager of Hillsong - psychologist George Aghajanian - now oversees a $100 million property portfolio. And Hillsong has its sights on lucrative new markets in Europe - it opened a church in Paris last year and already has churches in London and Kiev.
Geoff Bullock says he can’t help but admire Houston. “He works hard and is gifted. He deserves to be a wealthy man.” But when told how little Houston is claiming as net income Bullock is incredulous - especially knowing the charismatic pastor’s fondness for Valentino suits and first-class plane tickets. And then there are the thousands of dollars in “love offerings” Houston regularly personally pockets for every talk he gives on the international Pentecostal speaking circuit. “Why not just be open about it?” Bullock asks.


These are just some of the reasons i feel rather uncomfortable around hillsong, so whilst no expert i don't think i'm ignorant either.

At the end of the day this pilgrimage of faith is not about being right; in the end three things remain and the greatest of these is love

you have every right to disagree, and am sure you will, but, what i want to say in closing is that i long for the seeds which Jesus talked to be planted in our contemporary culture. Mission cannot be forced, but I have an enormous longing for the seed to be sown. I am conscious though that our job is not to bring in the Kingdom but bear witness to the Kingdom. We need to rediscover the man of sorrows. We need to be more adventurous in our discipleship and discussions. There is no place for patronising contradictions, but there is a need for sensitive and discerning Scriptural evaluations of the plight of our neighbours. Macro Christianity - crusades, football stadium altar-calls, must be replaced with Micro Christianity: that tender landscape where practical love is embraced and the commitment to the long slow dent of Christian living amongst the broken, fallen world is born and nurtured. ‘Effective evangelism’ can be found when evil, pain and suffering are nourished by tears; that place where our compassion becomes a signpost pointing on beyond itself.

and in the end we need to take responsibility for nurturing our own spiritual lives. And we need to find ways of doing that in the midst of all the conflicts and confusion of our current lives. There are some very old resources available to us, including such things as prayer, labyrinths, ritual, silence and contemplation. There are also formative practices which might include feasting, conversation, creative expression, intimacy, friendship and humour. If God blazes in our hearts, our words will become unimportant.

The risen Christ still walks the paths and cruises the bars, and we who seek him may need to learn again the freedom which he has died to bring us.

urbanmonk said...

wow! your pretty switched on harb..

I am conscious though that our job is not to bring in the Kingdom but bear witness to the Kingdom. We need to rediscover the man of sorrows.

I love that paragraph... I am of course very biased, being a man who would rather read Job or Lamentations than almost any other book.. The OT scholar Walter Brueggeman confronts the positivism that pervades western Christendom in a slim little volume about the psalms.. most of them are lament prayers/poems but whenn was the last time you heard, "oh God our God.. why have you forsaken us"(ps22) being recited in a service?

you have been very thourough in your analysis, to which i could add not a jot.. But in terms of errancy...

it speaks for itself doesnt it... most AOGs here would I think in some way align themselves with houstons teaching.. even the basic ten percent tithe as a start is errant from NT Christianinty.. and AOGs are very big on this. Have any of you visited signposts?

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

Hey monk, not sure about being switched on - and am not sure these kinds of dialogue actually help at all, it just seems to push people further apart, hopefully not.

I think Brueggemann is one of the few prophetic voices we have right now, i find his work terrifying and peaceful at the same time, and i agree with the psalms observation

as my friend father Bell says, those who want to shout hallelujah must first know how to cry 'how long?'

mister tumnus said...

this is a bit off topic but something you said there made me think of it. for anyone interested in that topic of sexuality and spirituality i would recommend the book 'found wanting:women, christianity and sexuality' by alison webster.

sorry if i've posted about it before. it's a great book and full of the sorts of case studies you mentioned, harbour.

mister tumnus said...

i've just advertised your blog on www.sarahmasen.com

i hope that's ok. they're talking about this jesus camp film too and i thought some of them might be interested in this discussion.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

you have mentioned the book and i intend to read and digest it...will order today

don't mind you linking the debate though i feel very intimidated as david is seriously switched on and wise and observant beyond words - feel clumsy in his presence

mister tumnus said...

he's overrated....

mister tumnus said...

just kidding ;)

Dan Morehead said...

Wow...don't even know what to say.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

mr t, glad you were kidding - do you think david's mind ever takes a break?

Dan, not sure there is anymore to say...but i know what you're saying (if that makes sense)