Hillsong critics, including politicians who have been contacted by former Hillsong members, have accused it of cult-like behaviour
Celebrity evangelist Brian Houston has defended his Hillsong ministry against allegations it is a “cult-like” organisation as the Sydney megachurch opened a “campus” church on Brisbane’s southside yesterday.
He also denied Hillsong had misspent Commonwealth grant money or recruited students in NSW schools.
Mr Houston and his wife Bobbie were installed as the new senior pastors of one of Brisbane’s largest Pentecostal churches, the 1000-member Garden City Christian Church.
Criticism that Hillsong is overly focused on money, flashy entertainment and fund-raising, were rejected.
“We’re big and because we’re big people wonder what all this is about,” he said.
Hillsong critics, including politicians who have been contacted by former Hillsong members, have accused it of cult-like behaviour, including psychologically abusing people who questioned the church’s practices.
“Recruitment and fundraising is what it’s all about,” said Tanya Levine, whose book People in Glass Houses exposes her experiences with Hillsong.
“Fundamentalism is not open to free thought and questions.”
But Mr Houston said Ms Levine was only a spectator.
“There’s 21,000 people who attend Hillsong on Sunday in Sydney and I would say 20,500 or 20,800 have awesome things to say,” he said.
Former ALP leader and long-time MP Carmen Lawrence, now teaching at the University of Western Australia, said there was not proper scrutiny of $600,000 in federal grant money Hillsong received for indigenous employment and hundreds of thousands more for other programs.
Mr Houston said “absolutely 100 per cent” of the allegations were false, blamed people with “an agenda” for prompting the reports, and gave assurances the ministry had strict accountability for grant money.
Hillsong is Australia’s largest church. Hillsong also has congregations in London, Kiev, and in 25+ locations in Africa.
Known thoughout the evangelical world for its hugely popular worship songs, the church has released over 40 worship albums since 1992.
Unfortunately, the theology of Hillsong Church leaves much to be desired. It promotes Word-Faith theology, with a major emphasis on the so-called prosperity teaching — the notion that God will only bless you if you first bless him (by giving your money to whichever preacher promotes this scam).
Next stop secular Europe, says Hillsong founder
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.
Hillsong estimates it earned $60 million in 2008, half of which came from its congregation. It would not disclose how much Brian and his wife Bobbie Houston were paid, but said all profits were ploughed back into church activities.
Unlike the sacrifice and humility preached by other Christian faiths, Hillsong members are told material success is nothing to be ashamed of. But Mr Houston cautioned it must be “prosperity for a purpose”. “It’s great if you want to go make money for a purpose. If it’s just all about you and selfish, then we wouldn’t [preach that],” he said. “It’s about being effective, not just being self-absorbed, but living for things that are bigger than you are.”
But since the global financial crisis, increasing numbers of Hillsong members are reporting financial hardship rather than financial gain.
Yet the financial crisis isn’t curtailing Mr Houston’s plans to expand Hillsong. The church officially set up in Brisbane yesterday, after taking over Garden City Christian Church. It is likely to be Hillsong’s only Australian branch outside Sydney.
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.
Interview with Brian Houston
The Life of Brian (Houston)