Monday, May 25, 2009

Brian Houston, talking snakes, cane toads, Hillsong and its worst mistake

(Above: is it just my filthy mind or is Adam hiding something in this family portrait? Even if Eve is doing the best with her hair).

The front page of the physical The Sydney Morning Herald - remember the good old days when you got newspaper ink on your hands as you read the daily doings of the colonies - had an intriguing splash under the banner.

Brian Houston on Hillsong's worst mistake, it said, along with a picture of the said Houston, and a pointer to page 3. 

Sure enough, there  it was, on page three, and with a way bigger picture of Houston than some papers spend on a page three girlie photo. Hillsong preaches new austerity  gospel, it read, though in going online it suddenly found itself with a new header Next stop secular Europe, says Hillsong founder.

Not sure why the change from gloomy introspection to expansionist dreams of Europe in the headers, but it was the talk of Hillsong's worst mistake that had me intrigued.

Was it perhaps a belief in talking snakes? Or the shift to Brisbane, to take over Garden City Christian Church (official opening yesterday), only to discover that the good lord had filled Queensland with cane toads? Or thinking clap happy songs of a banal pop kind are a way to grab the ear of the Lord? Or inviting Peter Costello to smirk all over the gathered flock?

Or perhaps digging back a little, the hanky panky of the father coming to haunt the son? Or even the ill-fated attempt to establish an incompatible mega church and complex in the inner suburbs of Sydney at Rosebery?

Well no, it seems the global financial crisis has in fact done some good work. 

If Hillsong founder Brian Houston had his time over, he would not write a book called You Need More Money.

That purposely provocative title - which encapsulates Mr Houston's "prosperity theology", but also irked Hillsong's many critics - has dogged him throughout the phenomenal growth of his Pentecostal church.

"If you said to me 'what are the three silliest things you've done', that probably would be No. 1. The heart of the book was never just about being greedy and selfish … I put a bullseye on my head."

Even so, it seems that Hillsong turned over $60 million in 2008, half of which came from its congregation, which isn't a bad turnover for any kind of business. Plenty of cash in the jar, and you save souls as well.

But if you thought handing over your tithe to the lord would please god, insulate you from the GFC, and bring you prosperity with a purpose, you might just have backed the wrong horse.

... since the global financial crisis, increasing numbers of Hillsong members are reporting financial hardship rather than financial gain.

"Definitely people are asking deeper questions about life and spirituality," Mr Houston said. "The people in our church are hurting like everybody else is, which means that we've got more call on us to be giving assistance to people and reaching out to people … That's definitely been magnified through the global crisis."

Personally I blame the talking snake. It takes some fancy theological footwork to get around some of the biblical commentary found in the new testament. Like:

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Or Matthew 16:26:

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

It can be done, but the tap dancing is up there with Gregory Hines.

Still there's good news, and it's coming to the people of Europe, who sadly don't know what they're missing when it comes to clap happy biblical fun:

While he says he receives letters "almost every day" from people around the world wanting a Hillsong in their city, Mr Houston is more interested in expanding further into Europe. Hillsong operates in London, Paris, Kiev, Stockholm and Moscow.

"Europe obviously has such a huge Christian tradition but has become so secular … I would like to think over the next few years it would be great to impact a few of those European cities."

Mr Houston said Hillsong does not receive any money from its international branches.

Say what? A franchise which doesn't collect money from its franchisees? What in the world has gone wrong with the greed is good entrepreneurial tithe for the Lord Christian movement?

Or is it just that Europe, after so many years of a huge Christian tradition and all its sundry complications and foolishnesses, has finally seen the secular light, and to crack into a tough market you have to waive the fees? 

Whatever, it'll be interesting to see Hillsong's figures for the current financial year, as the GFC tests the faithful flock's faith in talking snakes. And prosperity theology. And clap happy song making of a banal pop kind ...

Ah now I get it. Eurovision ... the last frontier for Hillsong. It makes perfect sense, and Europe is the perfect soul mate. Come on down Alexander Rybak, believer in fairytales:

I’m in love with a fairytale,
even though it hurts
‘Cause I don’t care if I lose my mind
I’m already cursed
She’s a fairytale
Even though it hurts
‘Cause I don’t care if I lose my mind
I’m already cursed

Damn you Eve, damn you and that talking snake.

1 comment:

Den Hopper said...

Nice to see that Hillsong London have now published their latest accounts with the charity commission: