Here are a few things I have had to say about Hillsong Church. Please note that when I started writing about Hillsong the latest claim from the "church" for annual income was $18 million. By November 2004 the admitted gouge had risen to $30 million per year. All tax-free.
Some people felt compelled to write to me about what I said, and you can read the correspondence here.
The Right Honourable Happy Clappy, MHR (10/7/2004)
The framers of the Australian Constitution were very clever people, and one piece of evidence of this is Section 116 of the Constitution which ensures that the country has freedom from religion. Not only was the separation of church and state explicitly stated, but it was done in words which are more precise and less "interpretable" than those of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Australians don't particularly care if politicians have religious beliefs, and members of parliament are quite free to worship whomever they want in any legal way they want. There are certain religious events where it is appropriate for politicians to attend in their official categories (installation of a new Archbishop perhaps, state and VIP funerals, ecumenical services, …) but these are rare and attendance is usually bipartisan. What is almost unheard of is what we saw in the papers this week – a very senior politician appearing as the star turn at a fundraiser for a religious organisation which is so far out of the mainstream that it resembles a real religion only to the extent that the congregation occasionally choruses the name of Jesus.
The religious organisation (it could hardly be called a church, and even the word "religious" seems inappropriate) is called Hillsong, and it claims to attract 15,000 "worshippers" every Sunday to its auditorium near my place. I know someone who was encouraged to go there a couple of times by her neighbours, but as she is a single mother on a disability pension she felt a bit out of place in a room full of people worshipping money. What really frightened her, though, was being in a room full of thousands of people who could be encouraged to simultaneously salute Pastor Brian by raising their arms to a 45° angle. She thought that she had seen pictures of this sort of thing somewhere before. She asked once about pastoral services like having a quiet place to come during the week for reflection and contemplation and the availability of someone who could offer some counselling if she had problems. The person she asked looked at her in bewilderment, unable to comprehend why anyone would expect a "church" to do these things and do them without payment. Churches are places where you sing, pay, pray, pay, sing, pay, salute, sing, pray and pay. And tithe, in case you can't get there one weekend to pay in person. (She eventually went to the Salvation Army, who offered her emotional support and paid her outstanding electricity bill.)
Hillsong claims an income of $18 million a year, but as it also produced what was supposed to be the biggest selling music CD in the country last year and there were no costs for artists' fees or record shop commissions, it is quite possible that this amount could have come from merchandise sales alone. With 15,000 people throwing money into the place each weekend, plus the admitted $10 million collected at the annual conference there is a lot of cash floating about, and when it comes to avoiding taxes and accountability, cash is king. Pastor Brian "donates" his salary back to the "church", so he has no income subject to income tax. It is remarkable, then, that on no income he manages to have a house in a suburb where if you walked into an estate agency with only $2 million to spend on a house the agent wouldn't bother to look up from the form guide, and he has a weekender with extensive frontage to the Hawkesbury River north west of Sydney. (In his case it is probably a "weekdayer".)
One of the reasons that churches are exempt from income taxes is that they are expected to do social and charity work. Hillsong is quite happy to comply with this law and proudly donates $400,000 out of the $18 million towards good works each year. To put that in perspective, the Salvation Army spends about $30 million a year to pay for all its operations in the two states of New South Wales and Queensland, but that salary and expenses bill supports more than $160 million of welfare and charity work. The brother of the politician who appeared at this week's conference fundraiser has said of Hillsong that "It is the total opposite of what Jesus preached", but he is probably biased as he is a genuinely ordained Baptist minister and also the CEO of World Vision in Australia.
It is the matter of taxation which makes the appearance of the politician even more inappropriate. Peter Costello is the Federal Treasurer, the second-most senior member of the government and the minister responsible for all commonwealth expenditure and taxation. That he would appear on stage with and offer wholehearted support for someone who is using a façade of religion to avoid paying millions of dollars in tax and who boasts to the papers about giving his salary away is not only offensive to people who like to see the church kept well away from the state, but also to followers of legitimate religions and the large numbers of ordinary taxpayers who are continually harassed by taxation officials for minor errors and infringements.
Telling lies for God (and Mammon) (17/7/2004)
Amnesty International is a very well-known human rights organisation and the word "amnesty" doesn't sound much like any other English word, so if someone came up to you in the street and said something which sounded very like "fund-raiser for Amnesty" you probably would assume that the benefactor was going to be Amnesty International and not, say, the Partridge Protection League or Save the Woodchips. After I published my piece last week about Hillsong I was contacted by someone who had been approached in a local shopping mall by a girl who invited her to a fund-raiser for Amnesty. The girl went on to say that the event was being run by Hillsong. My informant knew enough about Hillsong to not want to have anything to do with them and was also suspicious that there would be any connection between Hillsong and Amnesty so she declined the invitation. The girl from Hillsong then said "God bless you" and went looking for another prospect.
The event being run by Hillsong was part of their annual "Gouge a few million more tax-free bucks" convention, but I suppose there is the remote possibility that they were going to donate one night's proceeds to Amnesty, so let's look at the financials. Hillsong have claimed, and nobody has denied, that they were getting full houses each night, so that means there would have been about 16,000 people in the Homebush Superdome that night. If everyone donated $100, a reasonable assumption given the Hillsong target market, then $1.6 million would have been collected. Deducting a reasonable $150,000 for venue hire and other associated expenses would have left $1,450,000 over to give to Amnesty. As Amnesty International Australia's total revenue from fundraising during the financial year ending December 31, 2003, was $1,436,092 a fund-raising event bringing in more than this on one night would have caused celebration in the Amnesty office loud enough to disturb the neighbours.
I rang Amnesty for a comment and, unsurprisingly, I was told that their fund-raising coordinator knew nothing about this, there were no fund-raising activities carried out by or on behalf of Amnesty in Sydney that week, and that they were in no way connected with Hillsong. They are further investigating the use of their name. Unfortunately there are no laws which prohibit anyone claiming to be raising money for a charity unless none of the money goes to the charity. As much of the money collected at religious revival meetings is cash which can be made to disappear, all Hillsong have to do is produce a receipt for a few dollars donated to Amnesty the day after the "fund-raiser" to win a defamation case against anyone who impugns their reputation or comments on their morals. By the way, Hillsong's unaudited, admitted income is $18 million a year (and is quite probably much higher than that) from their "church" in an industrial estate. Amnesty's total, audited income from all sources across Australia was $10,644,955 last year. I know which one I will be giving my money to.
Strangely, there is one thing that Hillsong and Amnesty have in common – they are both evidence of the non-existence of God. If there really was an omniscient, omnipotent and just God then there would be no need for an organisation like Amnesty, because such a god would not allow the suffering, injustices and atrocities which the organisation exists to fight. Similarly, if there really was an omniscient, omnipotent and just God it is hard to imagine why He would tolerate a pretend church which defiles His name by its worship of wealth.
Hillsong "Church" (27/11/2004)
I have mentioned Hillsong "Church" a couple of times in the past (see here and here). This pretend church runs its business from an industrial park near my place. It is very big on taking money, but when it gives any back it is in small amounts which the "church" would not miss. As an example, at the time of writing this there is a proud boast on their web site that the "church" has just donated $AU106,000 to help World Vision feed people in Sudan. This represents 0.3% of the "church's" admitted yearly tax-free income. Remember that the vast majority of the income is in the form of unaccountable cash.
While looking at the Hillsong web presence, I noticed a couple of strange things. The first is that with all its money and commitment to life in Australia, it has its web site hosted in New Jersey. The second is that it has registered at least three domain names in Australia – hillsong.com.au, hillsong.net.au and hillsong.org.au. When you enter any of these names into your browser you are taken to hillsong.com and the New Jersey host. According to the rules of Australian domain names, .com.au and .net.au are restricted to Australian commercial businesses and .org.au domains are only available to non-profit organisations and charities. I have asked the appropriate authorities how it can be possible for the same commercially-registered company to have use of all three names. I realise that Hillsong is really a business pretending to be a church to avoid tax, but I would have thought that their lawyers would have advised them not to be so open when leaving traces in public records.
Hillsinger has something to say (29/1/2005)
My comments about the pretend church Hillsong have attracted some mail. For people who do not live around my place, the picture at right is of the two senior pastors, Bobbie and Brian Houston, who live in abject poverty (they have no income) on several acres of land in a very expensive Sydney suburb. That's when they are not living at their other home on the banks of the Hawkesbury river at Wilberforce or in Bobbie's $650,000 flat at Bondi. Brian is so poor that he can't afford a car and has to make do with a $30,000 motor cycle. The reference to Gloria Jean's is to a chain of coffee shops which now seems to be controlled by Hillsong. My responses are in italics.
Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2005 21:22:35 +1100
Subject: Your comments on Hillsong
I just had to email you about your comments about Hillsong.
1. the "church" has just donated $AU106,000 to help World Vision feed people in Sudan. This represents 0.3% of the "church's" admitted yearly tax-free income – this does not counter that it is a good thing as that is one of the donations of the church. Another is $400k raised for Tsunami recently. The activities of the churches foundation itself is a charity (for example helping who have been sexually abused) so they do not have to justify all donations by giving it all away as some if for the activities of the foundation itself.
$506,000 out of an income of $30 million! I am impressed. What specially impresses me is that this is more than 75% of what the church paid to buy an apartment for Bobbie Houston at Bondi. I assume the church paid for it, because as we all know Bobbie has no income because she donates her salary to the church.
in any case you are wrong about it being tax deductible ... donations for the running of the Church are not tax deductible only donations to the foundation are.
I never said anything about tax deductibility of donations to the church. I said that the income of the church was not subject to tax. This is a different matter altogether.
2. your comment about being hosted in New Jersey --- so what? does it really matter? They probably host it there because australian hosting is very expensive.
I agree. If I had an annual tax-free income of only $30 million I couldn't afford about $400 a year either. Of course, if I felt the need to get around Australia's laws on international money transfers it would be handy to have someone in the US who could issue invoices to me.
3. Your other comments show that you have not investigated the issues properly
By my "other comments" I assume you mean my comments about Peter Costello appearing at a fundraiser and Hillsong representatives deceptively using the name of a genuine charity to attract people to one of those fundraisers. What is there to investigate? Costello was there, Amnesty were not.
In any case a more important question is why you feel the need to attack the church (ask ask for donations for doing so ... on the bottom of your page)
I don't like scams of any kind. Getting money from people by pretending to be some sort of church and spending the money on lavish lifestyles is no different from any other sort of financial fraud, except that it is legal.
If you met the founders of the church you would realize that their purpose is 100% to make the world a better place, and attacking them whilst it might give you some gratification ... are you making a contribution by doing so?
It would be enormously gratifying to me and I would definitely have made a contribution if I could encourage just one person to worship God in a real church instead of a farce like Hillsong.
You are attacking quackery and unscientific medicine on your website and I can see some advantages in that, but isn't it unscientific quackery to attack a church without really knowing what you are talking about.
Fax me a copy of the church's accounts.
And one other thing quickly on the point of money ... you can't help the poor by being poor ... I am wealthy and that gives me the ability to give away a lot of money and make a difference with that money. The same is true of the Church. They wouldn't be able to do anything without money.
Excellent! Any day now I expect to see Gloria Jean's coffee shops providing free meals and coffee to indigent people. The homeless people in the Bondi area will also appreciate being able to shelter themselves in Bobbie's $650,000 shack.
Now, what was it that Jesus said about wealth and rich people ...?
Hillsong and charity (2/3/2005)
Parishioners of this pretend church keep writing to me to tell me about the great charitable works performed with the $30 million extracted from the faithful each year. Now we find that this great charitable organisation has been firmly locked on to the public teat in order to pay for the charity. Since 1999, Hillsong has received almost $800,000 from Australian taxpayers to fund the things the "church" would be paying for itself if it was not just a business to collect unaccountable and tax-free cash. In the last financial year, Hillsong received $300,000 from a federal department which is supposed to be responsible for industrial relations. It was mere coincidence, of course, that the "church" openly sponsored a candidate in the latest federal election and that that candidate just happened to belong to the party in government at the time. I suppose you could say that the $300,000 had something to do with workplace relations. It allowed Hillsong to save that amount of money and to spend it elsewhere and someone got a nice new workplace in Parliament House, Canberra. As I said, pure coincidence.
Hillsong: An open book (16/4/2005)
I recently met someone who has been commissioned to write a book about my local Church of Mammon, Hillsong. She is (or at least, was) a member of the church. It is quite usual when writing books to contact any people who might be mentioned or who can provide information which allows a balanced view to be presented. The author wrote to Pastor Brian Houston to try to arrange some interviews with him. (The letter has been edited here only to remove the signature which would identify the writer.)
Dear Brian and Bobbie,
I hope this finds you well.
As you may be aware, I have recently been given the opportunity to write a book. My publishers, Allen & Unwin, have asked me to write a book on my experience growing up in Australia as the daughter of a Jewish mother and an English father, who both became born again Christians, and then Pentecostals.
The story is very much about what it is like to grow up in a small church, leave, only to come back and find that the church is anything but small and is now influencing governments and communities in a way that I believe is uniquely Australian.
The rumour mill, reliable as it may or may not be, has questioned me as to why I have not contacted you for an interview. My immediate response was that I had not wanted to waste your time — I am still trying to get my head around everything that's going on. However, I think it would be appropriate for us to meet, so that my attending Hillsong does not become an issue for anyone, particularly for you. Meeting with you would be an opportunity for me to extend a formal courtesy and to minimise unnecessary sparks from the rumour mill. To me it seems simplest for Hillsong members to know that the leadership are working with me directly, and thus they have nothing to fear.
Ideally, I would like to meet with you every month or two if your schedules allow over the next few months. This is a big work for me, and I have by no means begun to write. A one-off interview would not serve the personal purpose I am trying to achieve, any more than a one-off visit to Hillsong would depict the big picture.
Perhaps a cup of coffee in the next couple of weeks would be a good start. Look forward to hearing from you.
I have been told on several occasions that Hillsong is open to any investigation and has nothing to hide. (I always ask the defenders of the "church" to fax me a copy of the accounts. Nobody ever does.) Here is the response to a perfectly legitimate request to meet to clear the air and gather reliable information. Note that the reply did not come from Pastor Brian, but instead from someone with the title of "General Manager". Does your church have a General Manager? Probably not, but then your church could very well be a church, not a business enterprise.
Thank you for your email dated Friday 8th April 2005.
Your email has been forwarded to me, as we are aware that during your attendance at our recent Colour Your World Women's Conference you caused significant disruption to the meetings you attended.
It is for this reason that we ask you to refrain from attending any future Hillsong church services or events; including accessing Hillsong's land and premises at any time.
In relation to your request, Hillsong Church's leadership and staff are unable to provide assistance for your proposed book.
General Manager – Hillsong Church
Hillsong Church (4/7/2005)
My local Pentecostal cash collector, Hillsong, is back in the news this week. Their annual conference is now on and initial reports are that the venue which nominally holds a maximum of about 16,000 people is packed to its 30,000 capacity. I assume that loaves and fishes are on the catering list. Again, prominent politicians are appearing on stage and offering support for the organisation, although how much of this is because they believe in the principles of the organisation and how much is vote chasing is unknown.
Hillsong doesn't like talking about money, but Pastor Brian Houston, who runs the place, appeared on television over the weekend and said that the income was "about $40 million" but he wasn't quite sure. I suppose that when you don't have to account to anyone for the money then weighing it and making a guess is as good as counting it. When I say that they don't like talking about money I am referring to the executives who run the corporation. The parishioners are very ready to talk about money, and are eager to assure me that spending about $700,000 out of an income of $40 million on good works is extreme generosity. They also like to tell me about how the Bible commands tithing. Someone wrote to me back in April with all the usual comments, and then wrote to me again this week with a subtle accusation of hiding from the truth. You can read his original email here.
(Daniel's follow-up and my reply are here.)
The Chaser's War on Hillsong (27/5/2006)
One of each week's delights on Australian television is a program on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation network called The Chaser's War on Everything. On Friday, May 26, 2006, Hillsong Church received an accolade.
A Hillsinger sets me straight (28/10/2006)
I received yet another weirdly-formatted epistle from a supporter of my local temple of Mammon, Hillsong Church. My responses are in italics.
From: "Tristan Grassick"
Date: Sat, 28 Oct 2006 19:32:09 +1000
Dear authors of ratbags.com
i have just read your concepts of what you think the hillsong church is about. It is all well and good that they have huge sums of income from the church.
Who has "huge sums of income from the church"? The pastors? Surely the huge sums should be used for good works, not personal wealth-building.
But what you are missing is that this church is one of the biggest in NSW and Australia,
The results of the 2006 census are not yet available, but according to the 2001 census, these are the numbers of people claiming affiliation with the ten largest religions or sects. Hillsong has a long way to go before it even makes a blip on the radar. Don't believe everything you hear from the stage. (I almost said "pulpit" there, but we are talking about Hillsong.)
|Presbyterian and Reformed||236,719||637,530|
also it is growing greatly.
I have no doubt that it is growing. That proves nothing except that fashion and publicity can make some thing popular. If it went from 100 members to 200 it would be the fastest-growing church in the country, but it is numbers which matter, not rate of growth.
I would also like to bring up that what is happen with hillsong has happened with all churchs since Jesus Christ, for example i would like to bring up the Catholic church during 11th century and onwards they have asked for money for the church.
So what? It has been a long time since the 11th century. I have no objection to churches asking for money. It is what they do with it that concerns me.
The difference here is that they never put any of there money into charity only themselves.
Let me see – Aid to the Church in Need (http://www.aidtochurch.org), Catholic Charities USA (http://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org), described as "the membership association of one of the nation's largest social service networks", St Vincent de Paul Society (http://www.vinnies.org.au, http://www.svdpusa.org), ... You're right – they never put any money into charity. I suppose I could go on to mention Anglicare, the Uniting Church's Missionbeat, the Salvation Army, but they probably don't meet your definition of charities either. Did I mention that you shouldn't believe everything you are told from the stage at Norwest?
They also have been the worlds most profitable organisations in the world.
Some of them are very large organisations indeed. It would be very surprising if a religion with hundreds of millions of followers didn't have a useful amount of money coming in.
Another thing is that during the early catholic church they charged taxes to the population that followed them. And the talk of the Hillsong Church being in the governments ear is stupid, the catholic church ran governments for years.
In Australia? When was this?
This brings me to my last question, if the hillsong church is so bad what does that make the Catholic church?
A big, old church with millions of followers and billions of dollars which has done both good and bad things throughout its very long history. It is also irrelevant to Hillsong. You don't prove that something is good by pointing out that something else is bad. There is a lot I don't like about the Catholic Church, but even if I thought that it was the second-most evil organisation since the invention of fire this would make no difference to my opinion about Hillsong and the way it conducts its business.
Please give me an answer and humor me
Last year there was outrage in the Australian literary community when the Australian Broadcasting Corporation cancelled publication at the last minute of a book about Alan Jones, the country's highest-paid and (some say) most influential radio personality. Jones has a radio audience of such a size that politicians almost climb over each other to be interviewed. The book contract wasn't cancelled because the author didn't know what he was talking about or it might have been inaccurate. (Chris Masters is probably Australia's best investigative journalist and his record of research is impeccable). The problem was that the ABC thought that they might be sued. The author kept his considerable advance and the book was published by Allen & Unwin. Jones may well have lawyered up, but the book was a best seller and as of yesterday was on prominent display in at least three large Sydney bookshops.
You might think then that Allen & Unwin would be just the publisher to take on a church, especially as they had been the Australian publisher for the drivel of The Da Vinci Code which offended a lot of Catholics with its fantasies about how the church works. Well, you might think that.
In late 2004, Allen & Unwin commissioned a book about my local money magnet, Hillsong. The author had been a member of the church and knew the management well. Hillsong has been aware of the book for a long time but declined to participate in any way, even going as far as to ban the author from entering church property. (This could be difficult, as Hillsong is reputed to be a rather substantial landlord in the area surrounding the theatre that they use for "worship".) In 2006, Allen & Unwin promoted the book, People in Glass Houses, to European book sellers at trade fairs. I was in line to get an advance copy so that I could have a review ready to publish here when the book came out in March 2007. I never got that review copy, because Allen & Unwin abandoned publication of the book in February. The excuse given was that they were afraid of being sued. One wonders why they didn't worry about this sooner, especially as they had told the author that they had good legal advice that the book was not a target for defamation action and they had had the final manuscript since last October.
I feel sorry for the author, who has put several years of her life into the book and now will receive nothing in exchange for the time and effort. I feel sorry for the people who might have read the book and been prepared for what they would find if their friends took them to a Hillsong hysteriafest. I feel sorry for the editors at Allen & Unwin who were startled by shadows. And I feel sorry for free speech.
(I tried to contact the author but, quite reasonably in the circumstances, she has made herself invisible and none of the email addresses I have for her work. If you are reading this, Tanya, or if someone reading it can get a message to her, I would love to get together for a coffee. And we won't be going to a coffee shop in that chain.)
Good news (4/8/2007)
In March I mentioned that a book about my local congregation for the collection of cash, Hillsong, had been abandoned by the publisher just a few days before it was supposed to be in the bookshops. The good news is that the author found a new publisher and People in Glass Houses is now available. According to Sydney's best bookshop (Abbey's) my copy should go into the post on Monday, and I have registered to attend a function with the author at Sydney's second-best bookshop (Gleebooks) next week. The publicity that the book has been getting is the sort that most first-time authors can only dream about (full page review and interview in Saturday's paper, many minutes on Australia's only serious television interview show, …) so the book has every chance of becoming a big seller. I hope it is, and I hope that the gutless publishers who dropped it at the last minute regret the lost income.
Get them demons out of them girls! (24/1/2009)
Exorcism is a medieval practice usually associated with the bad old days of the Catholic Church. Yes, it occasionally pops its ugly head up in some Catholic parishes today, but it is still seen as a throw-back to ancient times. You might not expect to see it in a hip, up-to-the-minute, rock-music-playing generation Y outfit like my local Temple of Mammon, Hillsong. Well you might not expect it if you didn't know that exorcism is cheaper to supply than professional counselling and Hillsong likes to supply counselling in the cheapest fashion possible, especially when there is government money to be had for the asking. One of Hillsong's sidelines is Mercy Ministries, where unfortunate young girls who have been led astray by pregnancies or substance abuse are offered counselling to help them get their lives back together. The counselling is provided by fully qualified Bible students (qualified in Bible study, that is, not that expensive and time-consuming psychology) and is provided for free (after the clients assign their welfare benefits to Hillsong). As an added incentive to the young ladies to mend their ways, a special part of the auditorium is reserved for them at Hillsong's theatre posing as a church so that they can be pointed out to the rest of the audience for mocking and pity. Placing them in stocks and supplying tomatoes to throw at them would be silly as it would require money being spent on building the stocks, buying the tomatoes (although surely some Hillsong-attending farmer could be persuaded to donate them) and cleaning costs (unless audience members would like to volunteer). Having their hands locked into stocks would also prevent the girls from getting their pocket money out when the collection plate comes around.
Read more about this travesty here.
Who will tend the harlots now? (19/12/2009)
In January I mentioned an organisation called Mercy Ministries that appeared to be part of the Hillsong Church. It supposedly offered assistance to wayward young girls in exchange for them assigning over all welfare payments. When stories of exorcisms and other nonsenses started trickling out of Mercy Ministries the outfit became an embarrassment to Hillsong. The first action taken was for the Gloria Jeans coffee shop chain to withdraw sponsorship of Mercy Ministries. (Hillsong deny anything other than a coincidental and informal relationship with Gloria Jeans but it would be difficult to slip a cigarette paper between them.) The embarrassment became too much when it became obvious that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was taking an interest in the way that Mercy Ministries had redefined the word "free" to imply the words "after you give us all your income".
Here is Hillsong cutting Mercy Ministries loose:
Statement Regarding Mercy Ministries
27 October 2009
I want to inform you of issues that have become increasingly clear in recent days, which have left me personally devastated.
Mercy Ministries Inc. have informed us that they are ceasing operations in Australia.
Some of you are aware of Mercy Ministries, an organisation set up to rehabilitate and reach out to young women in need. It has come to my attention in recent days, that investigations into Mercy Ministries Inc. have been ongoing, over what is essentially unclear or misguided communication in relation to their funding and services.
In the past, Hillsong Church has supported Mercy Ministries through financial donations. A number of individuals involved with our church have also served on the board and/or staff of this ministry, of their own volition.
Unfortunately, we believe that in the case of Mercy Ministries, concern about the way they delivered their message and services has unfairly affected Hillsong Church by association.
It is not my place to defend or try to explain what Mercy Ministries has or hasn't done. Hillsong has done nothing wrong. Hillsong is not under investigation, but a number of key people from Hillsong Church over the years, have been involved in Mercy Ministries.
It is wrong that anything Mercy Ministries may or may not have done could overshadow so much of what we as a church stand for: Loving God and Helping People.
To ensure that this does not happen again it is important that we take immediate action to protect the reputation of our church moving forward.
We will undertake an internal audit of Hillsong staff to identify what organisations or boards they are currently associated with.
From there, we will be strongly recommending that our executive level staff no longer participate on other not-for-profit boards.
We will also examine some future guidelines and boundaries for Hillsong staff in regards to their involvement in external boards.
It is so important that we continue to support and work in cooperation with organisations doing great things in our community and around the world.
Despite the numerous positive achievements of Mercy Ministries, Hillsong Church will no longer support, or be associated with this ministry.
Further, we sever any affiliation with Mercy Ministries internationally, and would not be associated with any attempt by Mercy Ministries Inc or Mercy Ministries Ltd, to recommence within Australia, under that or any other name.
We would encourage those, that any investigation involves, to cooperate fully.
We will continue to keep the church informed as to any new developments with this situation, and would ask you to continue to keep this in your prayers.
- Brian Houston, Senior Pastor, Hillsong Church
And here is the ACCC nailing the coffin shut, wrapping it in chains and tossing it into the ocean:
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has obtained court enforceable undertakings, which includes payment, from seven former directors of Mercy Ministries Incorporated and/or Mercy Ministries Limited in relation to misrepresentations by those entities.
The undertakings include an apology and a voluntary payment of $1050 to those people affected by the conduct. These are made by former directors Mark Zschech, Peter Irvine, Mark Caldwell, Stephen Crouch, Young Pil (Phil) Sohn, Darlene Zschech and Clark Pearson.
Mercy Ministries is a not-for-profit Christian based charitable organisation which offered a residential counselling program to young women affected by issues such as eating disorders, depression, self harm, unplanned pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse and the effects of sexual or physical abuse. The program was offered whilst the young women resided in a Mercy Ministries home.
The ACCC was concerned that in a period between January 2005 and June 2008, Mercy Ministries misrepresented in brochures and on its website that its services were provided for free, when the majority of residents were required to assign their Centrelink payments to Mercy Ministries for the duration of their stay.
The ACCC was also concerned that during this period, Mercy Ministries misrepresented that it offered professional support from psychologists, dieticians, general practitioners, social workers and counsellors, when the level of professional support was not available as represented. Mercy Ministries did not employ this range of professionals. It did facilitate access to external professionals upon request from residents.
To address these concerns, as part of the undertaking, the former directors:
Mercy Ministries operated its program in two homes, one located on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, and the other in Sydney. Both of these homes have now closed. Mercy Ministries has ceased trading and has advised the ACCC it is in the process of being wound up.
"Given the vital role charitable organisations have in our society, and the trust placed in them, it is imperative that their conduct is of the highest standard, especially in their dealings with vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our community," ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said today. "The utmost integrity is expected from charities – by the ACCC and the public at large – and it should be delivered. "Misleading conduct of this kind is a matter of serious concern, and I am pleased that those directors ultimately responsible for the conduct have offered both an apology and payment to the young women affected."
Section 52 of the Act prohibits corporations from engaging in conduct that is misleading and deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive. Section 53(aa) prohibits corporations from falsely representing that services are of a particular standard, quality, value or grade. Section 53(e) prohibits corporations from making false or misleading representations with respect to the price of goods or services. Individuals responsible for the conduct or management of a corporation are also prohibited from knowingly causing or permitting the corporations to engage in such conduct.
Which book? (2/10/2010)
Here are two books about religion and getting rich. One comes from Hillsong and one comes from Landover Baptist Church. Which do you think is more in tune with the teachings of Jesus? Which do you think could be a parody of the prosperity gospel movement?
Speaking of stealing taxpayers' money ... (12/10/2019)
I hadn't thought about Hillsong, the Church For Collecting Cash, for a while but I was reminded of them last month when I was reminiscing about previous visits to the MindBody$pirit Festival. Another reminder popped up this week when someone mentioned a newspaper article from a few years ago that examined the finances of this business pretending to be a church and the rivers of cash flowing to its owners, sorry pastor's family. It's worth a read, because the only things out of date in it are the dollar values, which now will inevitably be much higher.
Taxpayers support lavish Hillsong lifestyle
The tax office wants a special national body set up to monitor "not for profit" charities, admitting that churches – such as the multi-million-dollar phenomenon Hillsong – are literally "invisible" to it.
And the sector is expanding so rapidly that $31 billion a year is now being drawn out of the federal Budget in tax exemptions to the ever-growing list of groups claiming church and charity status.
The push to put not-for-profit groups under greater fiscal scrutiny comes amid revelations that senior pastors of the Hillsong mega-church and their families are enjoying lavish lifestyles virtually tax-free.
Critics say Hillsong – which makes millions by routinely demanding its followers hand over at least 10 per cent of their salaries for the church coffers – exploits tax exemptions designed to help small, struggling churches.
Swansong for Hillsong? We can only hope. (23/1/2021)
I haven't paid much attention for a while to the pretend church, Hillsong, but the international chain of money laundries has been getting some media attention lately, especially in the US. The "pastor" in charge of one of the most lucrative franchises, New York City, has been forced to resign over some "inappropriate" sexual activity resulting in a charge of "moral failure". In his favour he was only being adulterous with female celebrities, not just any women he happened to pick up in bars (standards must be maintained). And definitely none of that gayish homosexual stuff that the "church" finds abominable. He'd been banging the help and the congregation for years and everybody knew it but there were blind eyes to be turned, so it's a bit of a mystery why he suddenly had to go now. One can only assume that his employers were looking for a way to get rid of him and accusations of sexual misconduct worked so well when Brian Houston took over the business from his father.
There have been several other high-profile "pastors" leaving the "church" for personal and family reasons and maybe we can hope that more decide to earn an honest living elsewhere. Unfortunately there seems to be no shortage of replacements.
One thing that is certain is that there won't be an exodus from the top of the Australian hierarchy. Brian and Bobbie Houston own the business and its impressive tax-free income stream and all the people leaving are just employees of the corporation and can be replaced. The replacements might even work for less money and I'm sure that new franchise agreements can be drafted ensuring that more of the collection plate money goes to where it should,
The New York Post has been following the story closely and you can read about the saga here.
An old "friend" is in a bit of trouble (16/10/2021)
I've been reminded lately of Hillsong, a pretend "Christian church" which is actually devoted to worship of money. I don't know if they still pretend to use the Bible, but the "church's" version of the book, if they have one, obviously doesn't contain the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:24 - "Ye cannot serve God and mammon"), but what would Jesus know anyway? He didn't have a stage and a big theatre to preach from. Hillsong doesn't pay tax on its tens of millions of dollars of annual income, so Chapter 22 of Matthew's gospel is probably not there either. That's the one where Jesus tells people to pay taxes ("Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's").
Hillsong was created out of a church called Hills Christian Life Centre which had been established by Frank Houston, father of the current owner of Hillsong. Brian got his father out of the way by revealing that Dad was a paedophile, giving Brian total control of turning what seemed to be a real Christian church into the money making corporation it is today.
Unfortunately, simply declaring your father to be a kiddy fiddler and then taking over his business wasn't enough. You are supposed to report this sort of behaviour to the relevant authorities. As was revealed at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, almost everything Hillsong did was the wrong thing to do. The law has finally caught up with Brian Houston, and he is facing criminal charges over the concealment of sexual offences. This has placed him in an invidious position because he probably has to stand aside from all involvement with Hillsong while the charges are being considered by a court, but he and his lawyers have cleverly constructed the documentation for the many and various commercial entities making up the Hillsong conglomerate to make his involvement permanent and mandatory - the business can't continue to operate without his direct and immediate occupation of some defined positions. It looks like he will have to make his wife into the Global Pastor to keep the income in the family.
You can read the story at Hillsong leader Brian Houston charged over the concealment of alleged child sex offences, and a followup article here.
Global Pastor Brian (Photo credit: AAP: Paul Miller)
Fun with old friends #3 (15/1/2022)
With the arrival of yet another COVID strain and an outbreak of infection and hospitalisations following the ill-advised relaxing of contact and mask rules just before Christmas (when people could be expected to travel and gather in groups) new restrictions have been announced by my state government. Prominent among these new restrictions are bans on groups gathering for singing and dancing. We are all being encouraged to buy and use Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kits. Unfortunately, RATs are almost impossible to find and the laboratories doing the more usual PCR tests have been overwhelmed. I had to have a test because the contact tracing system put me in a place where there had been a positive COVID carrier - no RAT was available and it took almost a week to get the (negative) results of a PCR test (never more than 24 hours on previous occasions), during which time I had to isolate at home.
So, ICU beds full of unvaccinated people leaving no room for people who didn't get sick by choice, no quick home tests available (or at gouge prices if any can be found), fun, games and live entertainment closed down, huge delays in getting tested (the queue for drive-through testing near my place was blocking traffic two streets away) and more delays in getting the test results out, but the big news story of the week has been a tennis player who came to Australia to compete in the Australian Open but refused to comply with the rules regarding disclosure of vaccination status.
While all this was happening, our local "church" devoted to the worship of money, Hillsong, held youth camps. At these, everyone was given two RAT kits (I'm supposed to get ten free ones because I'm a pensioner with diabetes but there are none available) and it probably won't surprise you to hear that there was much singing and dancing happening.
So, a pretend church can defy all the rules that dictate the behaviour of the rest of us, rules intended to control an epidemic and protect the health of everyone else. You might wonder how this travesty was able to go unnoticed until after it was over. I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but the Prime Minister is a great supporter of Hillsong and has waved at the crowd from their stage, and the Minister responsible for managing the tennis player situation and keeping it on the font pages of the newspapers is a regular Hillsong attendee.
And have Hillsong been fined or suffered any other penalty for blatantly defying the rules being applied to the rest of us? Don't ask silly questions, just reread the last sentence in the previous paragraph.