Hillsong: Sydney’s two branches
By B. Michael Bigg
THEY sought help, but got exorcism and the Bible” was the Sydney Morning Herald’s article of an investigation into “A SECRETIVE ministry with direct links to Gloria Jean’s Coffees and the Hillsong Church”
The article accuses Mercy Ministries of “deceiving troubled young women into signing over months of their lives to a program that offers scant medical or psychiatric care, instead using Bible studies and exorcisms to treat mental illness” , and that “Government agencies such as Centrelink have also been drawn into the controversy, as residents are required to transfer their benefits to Mercy Ministries. There are also allegations that the group receives a carers payment to look after the young women.”
Three women, “Naomi Johnson, Rhiannon Canham-Wright and Megan Smith (Megan asked to use an assumed name) went into Mercy Ministries independent young women, and came out broken and suicidal, believing, as Mercy staff had told them repeatedly, that they were possessed by demons and that Satan controlled them”.
In observing Mercy Ministries’ marketing, the article notes,
Throughout its website, decorated in hot pink tones with images of happy young women who have been ‘saved’, Mercy claims to offer its residential programs free. Yet the services are not free—young women on unemployment benefits are ‘asked’ to sign them over to Mercy, while others are asked to make a donation for expenses.
Mostly funded by Gloria Jean’s Cof- fee—which said last night it did not plan to change its sponsorship arrangements— and supported by the Hillsong Foundation, Mercy Ministries says it has a 90 percent success rate, but when asked to provide evidence of the program’s outcomes, Ms Watson said that research was under way and not yet available.
If Hillsong and Mercy Ministries wants to be scrutinised, then they have their wish:
“The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission and the Queensland Office of Fair Trading have also indicated they will investigate if they receive complaints from the women”.
Meanwhile journalists Paul Bibby and Jano Gibson in a Sydney Morning Herald article dated April 11, 2008 entitled Rabbitoh’s “Christian” Politicians Push For Hillsong Mega-Church reports:
A GROUP of prominent politicians, busi- ness leaders and community organisations including the South Sydney Rugby League Club are supporting the controversial Hillsong Church campaign to build a mega- church in the inner city.
The $78.4 million development, to open seven days a week, from 7am to 10.30pm, has drawn strong opposition from resi- dents, who say it would flood the streets with noise and traffic. The supporters’ letters, urging the council to accept the application for a “positive addition” to the area, praise Hillsong’s “commitment to the community”.
The letters—which include submissions from Wesley Mission and the Australia Christian Lobby—have an identical para- graph stating that the sender “cannot speak directly to the proposed development”. The corporate relations manager of the South Sydney Football Club, Chris Keeble said a Hillsong executive, Leigh Coleman, had contacted her earlier this year, seeking support.
She said Souths worked with Hillsong on community projects. “We didn’t fully understand the nature of the development and the objections from the community, but we do feel that they are making a positive contribution.” Following a call to action by the Hillsong general manager, George Aghajanian, the council has received about 1100 submissions from church members, about 900 of them from outside the Rose- bery area. Residents submitted 200 letters of objection.
The spokesman for the Rosebery Action Group, Graeme Grace, said he was disap- pointed about the Rabbitohs supporting the development in its area. “I think the others really have no idea of what the development will actually involve—they’re just jumping on the Hillsong bandwagon. It won’t affect them because they’re nowhere near it.”
Mr Aghajanian said the project would bring great benefit to the area and com- munity. Opinions “of those in the community who support this endeavour” should be heard. “Our congregation cannot be ex- cluded from the community ... the members of Hillsong Church have as much right as the minority residents action group to get those who are concerned to act on their behalf.”
Editorial Addendum: Velvet Glove; Iron Fist or Cloak and Dagger? Obviously Hillsong has its hand out. And when the Roman Catholic Pontiff visits Sydney for the 23rd World Youth Day event (July 15-20 2008) you can be assured that Hillsong will be there. After all Brian Houston commended the present pope on his appointment with the amazing words:
We pray too that this papacy, like those before it, is marked by a commitment to seeing the Christian message continue to go forward and people changed by the power and truth of the gospel.
And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that know their God shall be strong, and do exploits [take action] (Daniel 11:32).