Just a quick introductory for my readers: In January 2014 I wrote an article about returning to Hillsong Church after being in Los Angeles. I was pretty excited to be attending the church where I grew up. And, it still feels like a gift every single Sunday. I read the bible with people I have known for decades. Even when they don’t know, I cry when they lose children, I cheer when they walk into new areas of gifting, and my heart hurts for those who lose their faith. My door is always open for coffee and story-telling at a deeper, heart level. I’m excited about vision Sunday, because we’re all going somewhere together. I trust the leaders, after all these years. And even when I’ve got tears in my eyes and I’m hurt, I know that Jesus is the head of His church. Despite the critics, and the logistics of working out how best to fit back in, it’s my family, and my happy place. I’m not a celebrity, I’m not on staff, I’m just an attendee. I’m like one of those anonymous characters of the bible you’ll catch up with in heaven.
I guess I have to say this, because it’s important – I’m a Christian so I worship Jesus. We’ve attended other churches, especially in Los Angeles, and we loved them! I don’t worship the church. But there’s something about coming home that’s different. I don’t think it’s possible to compare – God must have placed me there as a child. It’s the same feeling in the driveway of your childhood home. It’s not about the house, but it is about the house. Anyways.
Writing is what I do, so I wrote it all down – why my family came to the church, what it meant to them, why it changed the world, and (in my most humblest of opinions) what it was. I wanted to point out the beauty of seeing both in both truth, and love. It was published on the ABC Religion & Ethics site. A good day – a *lot* of people read it.
To be honest, many were shocked to hear a positive Hillsong story, because in the circles I move it’s kind of rare. But other than that, nothing really happened. Of course, right? It’s just one of thousands of histories of an enormous congregation.
But this week a site decided to re-post the article (one year on) in the context of a much wider debate. It’s funny, because I’m used to critique, and having my ideas tested. In fact, I’m all for that. I’m entirely comfortable being criticized and walking away knowing there’s stuff I have to work on. It happens pretty much every week of my life. But here I couldn’t work out the central problem. The site, to be honest, is theologically schizophrenic. It claims a basis of Christianity, but I cannot yet see how it claims Christ. By this I mean that it is not easy to see how it models Christ in its engagement, has any accountability, or provides any support for people who share their experiences. As well as this, it has no clear outcomes of community-building, or relationships with the local church (aside from promoting a number of “safe” Reformed congregations, and removing them when they fail a non-advertised theological litmus test). Perhaps I’ve got it wrong, it’s more than possible. I’m told the site is hosted overseas, but I see no evidence for that. The leadership are mysterious – they don’t reveal their names, but they want personal email addresses of Hillsong staff and leaders. It’s just weird, eh?! For this reason, I won’t be publicizing the website.
Being trained in critical thinking but also appreciative inquiry I’m finding it hard to find something positive to say. IMHO it’s a group of people with unrelated theological positions united around a practice of rehearsing what (in my experience has seemed like) character defamation; and providing a release for their outrage and anger.
This could actually be healing, I think. It’s important for people who are in pain to tell and retell their stories. Where there is corruption, it should be unearthed. It’s just that this site has absolutely nothing for anyone more informed than the leaders, because truth, personal preferences and downright lies are mixed together so strangely. I note, however, that a number of people from the website think it is polite. Each to their own.
One thing that really ‘gets’ me is that my article was posted with a couple of ‘morals’ about sexual abuse and the church. Now, please, post your morals, but puhlease, don’t use someone else’s sexual abuse to critique me. Sexual abuse is no joke, I find it deathly serious. It’s incredibly hard for those who have suffered it, because abuse doesn’t just happen in Sydney, Australia. I know of one direct instance in which sexual abuse happened at the City campus (Sydney Christian Life Centre, which became Hillsong) and to this victim I would say that *I am incredibly sorry*. It’s important for me to say that. Globally, more and more stories are being unearthed and they are terrible. This links to the volumes of trafficked women being moved around the world. There are horrific, horrific things coming out about people who may have appeared completely normal – and this is now proved true even in churches. My friend’s niece sits on the Royal Inquiry into Sexual Abuse, and I can’t imagine how she gets up in the morning. My friend says she’s genuinely tortured. She is continually confronted with the deep, dark evil carried in human souls.
So it’s not right for me to put on a cape and be a crusader as if I could ‘solve’ the pain this insidious evil causes. But I want to grapple with the depth of it. I believe that those who run fastest, and strongest, should be creating spaces of safety and protection for those who are weak and who struggle. I’m paraphrasing some biblical passages here that are, of course, better left un-paraphrased. But I hope you understand.
We the church need to stand against sexual abuse. I’m totally up for new friends and connections, and discussions on how to do that best. But in this case, there are some people making my personal experiences fit their paradigm. And their claim is that my church experience is intricately connected to the hurt and anger of other people’s experience of sexual abuse. And that’s so, so, so sad. They’ve asked me to answer some questions, which I will do – in an upcoming blog in a couple of weeks. I’ll answer questions that are genuine and serious, because I love to interact with those honestly seeking Truth.
But, in the interim, I thought I would post what the gospel is – one of the questions asked. So… here it is.