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Hillsong’s Not So Happy Clappy Underbelly

I’m currently working on a story about Hillsong. Given that I only occasionally pretend to be a journalist, this work is going quite slowly, but it is going nonetheless. The working thesis of this story is that Hillsong is in fact a dangerous cult, on a par with Scientology, and even the casual and peripatetic inquiries I’ve made so far have given me enough material to put together this preview.

We like to think of Hillsong as a sort of eccentrically fervent church, a weird and anomalous phenomenon, with beliefs on the insanity end of the stupid spectrum, sure, but just another happy clappy congregation at the end of the day. This just isn’t true. Quite a few people, I’m sure, are aware of the fact that Hillsong is not a church but a for-profit enterprise. This has been made pretty obvious in the past, with their past ownership of Gloria Jeans and their previous Australian head actually saying on Sixty Minutes that they operate for profit. But there are many indications that Hillsong operates on another and far more sinister level as well.

Let’s take the idea that Hillsong is anomalous – a strange but harmless blip on society. It isn’t. It’s the whale amongst a network of Pentecostal churches who share money, lobbying power, and insane beliefs, and a member of one of these churches is our current Prime Minister. What this means is that there is an entire mechanism or network of people surrounding and supporting him in our nation’s corridors of power who are similarly deranged. Okay, maybe ‘deranged’ is a bit subjective, so let’s go with ‘compromised’ instead. We need only look at the tender treatment of these churches in the media, the glad-handing and soft-soaping that both political parties undertake every single election cycle with these congregations, to see that this disturbingly regressive and reason-immune cluster of churches is burrowed tick-like into the highest levels of the Australian establishment. This makes them both mainstream and deeply unacceptable.

But there’s even darker stuff to be found. One of the frustrating things about journalism is that quite a bit of the evidentiary basis for a story is ultimately going to be anecdotal. The idea is to collect enough of these anecdotes – verifiable ones, for preference – to start the sort of evidence avalanche which can properly be termed as data. I’d like to share some of the anecdotes I’ve collected so far. To protect sources and keep my promises, I’m going to have to use alpha-numerics instead of names.

A1 came from a Hillsong family. He was brought up in a high powered Pentecostal community – the kind and level which owned Gloria Jeans. He has a fairly typical story to tell, with the usual catalogue of psychological damage one can expect from an organisation which thinks of shame as a beneficial child-rearing tool. His sexuality was constantly under the microscope, and he was driven from church to church, pastor to pastor, in order to have his most intimate thoughts and actions parsed and examined for orthodoxy. So far, so typical, as far as religion goes. But he also describes the extreme pressure put on him by the church to cut himself off from all secular forms of counselling, instruction, or support. It got to the point where he was being advised not to have any friends outside the church, and not to speak to family members who had yet to accept the church’s embrace. This was my first sniff of cultish practice, and it’s absolutely classic of its kind.

G3 was a working girl and meth addict. She was accepted into the church on the back of a ‘chance encounter’ at what can only be termed a crack house in Terrey Hills. Initially, all was wonderful. She received great support in addiction recovery and in other aspects of re-building her life. Things took a turn for the dark when she suddenly found herself steered towards a volunteer program made up of people like herself, formed specifically to target drug addicts, sexual abuse victims, and other vulnerable people for recruitment. This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem. It’s very easy to see this as an ordinary outreach program, but there are a few key aspects of it which ring serious alarm bells. Like the fact that this outreach sent recovering addicts back into drug dens and haunts to trawl for more members. Like the fact that even when she relapsed (which she of course did multiple times owing to being sent back into crack houses on a regular basis) and began prostituting herself again, the church was still more than happy to accept their twenty percent tithe – insisted on it, in fact. Like the fact that when her parents attempted to move in to support her, strong pressure was placed on them to route money to the church so that they could ‘take charge’ of her recovery. Ultimately, G3 died of an overdose, miserable and conflicted about her faith, on the dirty carpet of a heroin dealer’s living room.

So the next time you see a Hillsong lovie with the cheerful t-shirt and the Christian rock, or a family member or friend considering going along ‘just to see what it’s all about’, please do keep these two stories – two amongst a great many more, some of which involve actual kidnapping and coercion but which I do not currently have permission to share – in mind.

Category: Bad, Religion

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