Sunday, November 25, 2007

Waving to God and Speaking in Tongues

Spot the black, fat lesbian in a wheelchair? No? She's not welcome in this place!

I must be in a serious mood this weekend. Lots of thoughts flowing between the ears (Amazing since there isnt much else in there). One of the commenters on this blog is a cleric. He’s a Minister in the Church of Ireland. He’s very intelligent, funny, politically and geographically aware, the sort that you would probably enjoy hearing a sermon from on any Sunday. Interesting really, as a non-believer, I find his site thought-provoking and his comments on my and other blogs unusually secular. It struck me that in a comment criticising the ”God Squad” that I might have hurt his sensibilities, I think not as he’s very broad minded but it also made me want to clarify the comment.

I am not religious. I was raised an Anglican, the Church of England variety and completed all the usual sacraments. I taught Sunday School in my teens and enjoyed the social side of church life, particularly in Melbourne at a little Church we attended in Donvale many years ago. The move to Sydney disconnected that nice feeling as we found it difficult to find a Parish that emulated it's close knit community and delightful Minister.

My mother was a Welsh Evangalist, quite religious but searching for a Church that suited her so we were dragged through the Baptist, Methodist, Wesley and numerous other breakaways in the hope of finding an ‘appropriate’ venue for my mother to Worship. None really worked for her and our churchgoing life was suspended. My father was Church of England and highly principled yet the Priest who attended him during his dying days was the son of a beloved friend and a Catholic, he always considered himself a non-denominational Christian. I married a Catholic and whilst I didn’t convert, I became accustomed to attending Mass and raised both children through the Catholic Education System as promised. I studied Judaism at University and attended the Great Synagogue on several occasions and dabbled as one does in Buddhism many years ago. So, I’ve had some pretty wide exposure to organised religion. Whilst I don’t believe in God in the traditional sense, and I have great scepticism about the e Church at large, I have deep respect for organisations such as the Salvation Army, St Vincent DePaul, Anglicare and similar philanthropics that do great work for the marginalised, underprivileged and the needy. So, why am I so down on the God Squad? Well I'm not. It's just this particular branch of pentacostal ratbags for whom I have no respect.

About 500metres from my leafy little enclave of acreage, suburbia is encroaching. At the end of our road is a large shopping centre, an ice skating rink, a light industrial park (offices and the like) a Convention Centre and the “Till on the Hill”. This is the Australian Headquarters of the Christian Life Centre – Hillsong. Inspired originally by an ex-pat Kiwi, it is an evangelical and pentacostal religious organisation.

They attract their parishioners very cleverly by offering an alternative to the conventional, a new age bible, rock and roll services, merchandising, counselling, medical centres, youth and women’s conventions and a focus on becoming wealthy through knowing God. It’s a safe place for younglings who have not yet forayed into the sinful world of sex, drugs and Saturday night binge drinking. It’s somewhere kids can go before they terrorise the streets on their P plates and it obviously fills a void that conventional Churches have been so far unable to do.

So what’s the harm? They believe in a benevolent and forgiving God. Hillsong's A-Z service delivery is immense, offering something for everyone from medical practices and psychiatric counselling to coffee shops. They encourage moral behaviour, no sex before marriage, respect for God and each other. They’re normal law abiding citizens, bringing religion into the modern age and believe that living your life blessed is better than living your life rich – or do they?

It is all about money and control. They preach that the more successful and wealthy you are, the better equipped you are to support the fiscal needs of the church and their work. They have commercialised religion beyond its biblical simplicity and now have a tangible, strong, influential and fully emerged business and political influence. Ironic that their medical and psychiatric practices have the pseudonym “Emerge”. The atmosphere during services is unrestrained, friendly and emotional, the responses loud and heartfelt. Hillsong promotes that God wants people to live "healthy and prosperous lives in order to help others more effectively". It is a message of "personal effectiveness" so people can make a bigger difference to the world. They are more like an Anthony Robbins motivational conference than a Church gathering.

At last count there were 1100 Assemblies of God churches in Australia under the presidency of the senior pastor of Hillsong, Brian Houston. They enjoy tax free status, as do all Churches in Australia and the evangelising of the masses has led to a complex web of financial arrangements that is impossible to detangle. Whilst they welcome checking of their accounts ‘via appointment’ any attempt by their parishioners do so is ‘frowned upon’.

Houston told ABC television's Australian Story in August 2005 that in the previous financial year, Hillsong had an income of $50million, and had $100million in "facilities". Little has been said about their worth since then. They hold “Miracle Offering Weekends” to raise cash for their multi-million dollar building projects, one of which includes the massive convention centre that sits beside the current Till. An excerpt from a letter to parishioners requesting their financial generosity to repatriate child soldiers in Uganda read:

“Our commitment is that we will give the greater of either 10 per cent or the first $500,000 of the Miracle Offering. Hillsong Church is not built on the gifts and talents of a few, but on the sacrifice of many."

10% well that was big of them - taking the term tithe literally I note. What about the other 90%! They raised $7.2 million! Oh and they can pay via cash, cheque or credit card. I am not averse to fundraising for charitable causes all Churches do it . . . but little is said about the charitable causes and in this case, so little is actually contributed . . . most is sunk into the purchase of valuable land and the building of megalithic facilities and the establishment of new businesses, not to mention lining the pockets of its initiators, Brian and Bobbie Houston.

"If you believe in Jesus," says Hillsong’s leader Brian Houston, "He will reward you here on earth as well as in Heaven”. It is this prosperity gospel teaching that puts him at odds with conventional religious leaders.

And don’t even get me started on Bobbie Houston’s philosophy on women. Young Hillsong women go to high schools to teach female students about make-up and skin care. Fat is out. Do some exercise. Bobbie Houston (the wifey poo) "If I carry weight I feel like a retard.” (I was unaware that being intellectually challenged was linked to weight gain) ... And then there’s this – “How are you going to do anything to surprise your man when you need a hydraulic crane just to turn over in bed?" She also recommends having plastic surgery, if it makes you feel better and it is for the right reasons, and "girls, pelvic floor exercises - can you believe I am saying this? - you know, I have heard that orgasm is not as strong if you are really sloppy in that area". and on her CD She Loves and Values Her Sexuality. Which is all about ‘catching a man’. If you don't look great, you won't get a decent looking husband and, if you already have one, to quote Bobbie, “he'll leave you!”

Tomorrow I will post something funny . . . promise!


Anonymous said...

OH Baino! Even though your story is far from 'funny' you have done another GREAT job at writing this post and I have a wide smile on my face! BRILLIANT! I should send everyone I know over here to your blog about every issue because you sum things up clearly, fairly and with a great sense of 'knowing'! Agree with everything you say, but would never be able to find the words like you do ... :)))

Baino said...

Haha, why thanks a load. And feel free to send who you like. The more the merrier (except som dipshit Jock from Boise who I deleted on the election post) I could do with a few more locals as you're my only anonymous Aussie!

Grannymar said...

Baino your post leaves me with a feeling of Deja vous!

We have had several church groups here like the one you write about. One in particular less than 10 miles away, The minister was so convincing that people were selling their homes or farms to give him the money! A church was built, then a recording centre, while a fleet of mini-busses travelled the countryside to bring in the faithful. All the while his children were chauffeured to private prep school.

One afternoon the teacher, who was a friend of mine, was approached by the children and as they returned their texts books (property of the school)they announced tht they would not be at school the next day.

So where were they? On a flight to America with their parents. The tickets were one way and they have never returned. The church limped on for a few months but now lies derelict.

Baino said...

GrannyMar: That sounds more like the Chrisitan Bretheren, an organisaton here that does not allow their parishioners to vote but lobbies heavily against the Greens in particular, quite against their code. One of my friend's parents did exactly that. Sold their home and donated all their money to the Church. It cost the their family and only now as they age are they repairing the damage previously done. They are considered a borderline cult here.

Hillsong is not, it's a bona fide pentacostal church similar to those in America but its growth, whilst high in % is still lagging way behind the orthodox Churches. I think as many leave the flock after a few years as join.

nonny said...

Baino you are right they sound more like a cult. Religion is a rather sticky grey area largely because people seem to have gone from one extreme to the other. They skippedy hopped form devote followers to atheists who condemn religious institutions as the corrupt male dominated money making machines that they often prove to be. Exploiting people and manipulating their sensibilities in the name of salvation is horrid. Masquerading as savours for financial and often political gain is surely one of the greatest crimes against humanity. Faith and hope are secret and should be kept that way. However I am a Roman Catholic, what my mother calls an a le carte catholic, I have nothing against homosexuals, I think you’re a fool if wait until you are married to have sex and you probably have more chance of getting our local parish priest to give his sermon stark bollick naked that get me out of bed for mass on a Sunday. I don’t believe in God. I think the Muslim religion is nothing more than a glorified cult. However I appreciate that whilst religion is guilty of monumental crimes, Irish people would not have got an education without the Church, orphaned children would have been homeless and above all religion regulates society. It gives children structure. It worked a treat telling my niece Tiny went up to Holy God and I don’t know one person who doesn’t pray like there is no tomorrow when the shit hits the fan. I don’t think I would be the same person without it

Anonymous said...

Personally I'd prefer Opus Dei but whatever ...

Jefferson Davis said...

That is downright appalling, Baino. It is all about the bottom dollar. A lot of these people start out with good intentions, but get greedy along the way.

I believe in God, but I don't partake in the organised religion game. :)

I'm waiting for Jesus to come down here and kick some serious arse! :)

Nough Said!

Ian said...

Hi Baino,

Thank you for the kind comments.

I'm afraid our little Anglican parish would not quite measure up to Hillsong. We limp to get a hundred on a Sunday morning and our accounts are perpetually on the edge of deficit. However, we do our best to be faithful which means including everyone. (Try preaching fundamentalist theology with a professor of geology in your choir, he demolishes the stuff). I know the church that Grannymar talks about and its approach wasn't so different from the ones you describe. I'm appalled at the woman's use of 'retard' for someone with intellectual disability, can't somehow see Jesus of Nazareth saying that

Baino said...

Nonny: Wow! Serious stuff young lady. And you're right, I am not denegrating the value of the Church at all. Good works abound and we must be careful not to tar all with the same brush. One of my closest pals is a priest, my husband fortunately, decided not to be one, another is a minister and neither have forced their opinions and both do good works. The teachings of the New Testament form the basis of my own morality. It's the commercialism of religion and the unaccountability of their finances to which I object and the 'brainwashing' of the young. Who knows, on my death bed, I'll probably ask for my friend and the lovely Father Vince to bless my soul!

JD:Quite so, the 'Church' needs to become relevant without the bells and whistles.

Anonymous: reveal thyself. Stand up and be judged! Or I'll hit you round the noggin with youre own selise!

Ian: Bless your soul and I mean it. When I come to Ireland, I'm up to bolster your numbers by 1! And whilst I wonder how we can actually 'know' what Jesus said since the scriptures were written so long after his death (just try playing Chinese whispers round a dinner table) the mores of his teachings were correct. Man or deity, who cares, the guy had some good stuff in his repertoire and you've gotta admit, the longevity of his teachings is astonishing. Then so did the Buddha and I'm battling through the Koran at the moment which bears little resemblence to modern interpretation. And at least the Geologist is in your Choir and one of your parishioners, I believe even Stephen Hawkings is a religious man! There's hope for me yet!

Thank you everyone for your considered and heartfelt comments. I know politics and religion are the two things we're not supposed to talk about but they are hot topics around our dinner table and I appreciate your willingness to share your views.

And as a dear but slightly muddled friend would say "Peace out"

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Tragically today's Christianity, in far too many instances, has become riddled with hypocrisy - from greed to all sorts of other things. I think our views are very similar on this subject.
I am gobsmacked by the comments from the pastor's wife - almost unbelievable.
Excellent post, Baino.

nonny said...

I know you are right Baino it is like everything I guess, money ruined it!

Daz said...

I have a relative a priest and I'll be damned if he doesn't struggle to make ends meet. This man is lso the abbot of a local monastic order as well. Don't you dare tell me he does it for the money.

Religion may be guilty of a lot of things, like the Crusades - though frankly Christian conqest of the Holy Land wouldn't have been too bad - the Muslims conquering Europe to spread their faith, or fundamentalist American preachers with anger management issues who preach hate at soldiers' funerals.

Don't tar all religious people with the same brush though. If anything, the most vitriolic, hate-filled hypocrites are the atheists, who amusingly fail to realise that not believing in God is still technically holding a belief in something.

Look at all the good religious orders have done for those in need throughout history, then come back to me.

Daz said...

And as a dear but slightly muddled friend would say "Peace out"

Only one person I know says that.

*silently fumes*

Baino said...

Daz: Don't tar all religious people with the same brush though.

I thought I'd made it PERFECTLY clear that I am NOT tarring all religions with the same brush. The post was not about orthodox religions or athiesm vs Christianity but about a particular sect who are abusing their position to accumulate wealth and political clout.
And Im pretty sure I presented a balanced argument commending the charitable works of a number of religious organisations! You're skimming again!

And imitation is the greatest form of flattery so stop fuming!

Daz said...

I know, but I still dislike atheists.

The believing non-believers who are as insistent as Jehovah's in trying to 'convert' people.

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