Tuesday in Holy Week – Feria
For every good thing that Hillsong Church does, it only takes one thing that blows up to have some serious ramifications on their reputation.
I was incredibly disturbed to read yesterday at Fairfax’s BrisbaneTimes.com, a story that was also syndicated across the other Fairfax newspapers on the eastern seaboard of Australia (The Age in Melbourne and The Sydney Morning Herald [SMH] in, well, you guessed it, Sydney).
The story broke in yesterday’s (17 March 2008) edition of the Sydney Morning Herald by Ruth Pollard. Mercy Ministries Australia (MMA) is, in a sense, affiliated with Australia’s megachurch of renown, Hillsong Church in Sydney who, along with a number of other churches and some businesses (including a very well patronized Australian coffee chain), helps to provide financial backing for it.
Today, further stories from women who had been treated at either MMA hospices (if you could call them that) in Sydney or Queensland’s Sunshine Coast appeared on The Age website (probably also on the SMH website as well).
This was followed by an article that interviewed MM director, Peter Irvine (and former managing director of that aforementioned coffee chain, Gloria Jeans Coffee) on what you could call the “business” side of MMA. And another article that interviewed director of Cult Counseling Australia, Raphael Aron on MMA.
Now, while I’ll say at the outset that there are probably some women who have been made well from their time at MMA hospices, if what the articles above report are true, it is a scary thing for MMA to be operating. When these women, who are at their most vulnerable point in their life, come to it for help and assistance and are treated with nothing more than “Christian counseling” minus professional medical treatment by professional medical staff, it raises big questions in my mind about fundamentalist (and sometimes evangelical) Christian groups running these sorts of places. And by the sounds of it, if ailments these women suffer from are thought to be the work of the devil himself, throw in an exorcism or two to “balance” out the intense Bible study and prayer that goes on there.
Not to mention the payment of these women’s Centrelink payments (i.e. Aussie Federal Government welfare/assistance payments for those of you outside Australia who read this) to MMA instead of themselves which to me speaks of a fundamentally easy way of receiving income by MMA at the expense of the women themselves.
I’ve had reservations about Hillsong Church and its affiliated entities before. Mainly on the theological side and also on the music side too. But this takes it to an entirely new level.
Tanya Levin’s book, “People in Glass Houses: An Insider’s Story of a Life In & Out of Hillsong” (2007, Black Inc. Books) has been an eye-opener over the past couple of days. I’ve only heard anecdotal stories of what goes on at Hillsong (including one helluva Hack! story on triple J back in 2005) and that at times does make me question whether the line has been crossed between cult and Christian church there. Levin’s book is not without controversy itself though. At times polemical (it’s like some articles and books I’ve read by ex-Catholics, ex-Mormons, ex-JWs, ex-Protestants, etc, etc), at other times, a rather warm recollection – her diary entries reproduced in it read a little bit like my own from about 6-7 years ago when I went through my own journey through fundamentalist/charismatic Christianity, with a lot of Hillsong and Planet Shakers providing the musical backdrop to it.
For all of you at CMCA-EMP who have been impacted by Hillsong in some way (most likely through the music produced, for which the profits should be bloody well taxed at instead of being treated as non-assessable income!), this book comes with a very, very, very strong recommendation from me for a read. Take what she writes with a (big) grain of salt though, but keep in mind that some of her criticisms are valid. Anyone who’s interested, let me know.