An Open Response To An Open Letter

Hi John, 

Thank you for taking the time to write your open letter. As I can't find a place to respond on the site, I thought I'd get in touch here. Open letter to open letter style, I guess, like Sinead O'Connor to a lot of people. Makes me feel a bit like Miley Cyrus and I I like it. It's like we're pretending to have a private conversation, but really it's like a public debate. Sign o' the times. 

It is clear you've read my story and understood it. Your empathy in quoting my writing is apparent. You have identified the charm of the early church and the warm community feel. You've also noted my losses. Much appreciated. 

It's not worthwhile to address each point you've made. There is however, some misunderstanding. You say that I "wanted a horde to rush after you when you left. But you only had Jewels, who was a jewel for being there ." Not true. It was just shocking at first to receive no contact from people who had sworn black and blue they were your spiritual family. Later, of course, I learned that this is the experience of many people who leave churches such as Hillsong. Often, their disappearance is associated with a hidden sin, or failure to submit to leadership, in hush hush kind of rumours. Thus, most people, in good faith and belief in the leadership, don't associate themselves with the perceived outsider, leaving that person quite isolated.  This can have devestating effects on people. 

You are quite right in your concerns that Hillsong is no longer subscribing to some of the doctrines it was when I began writing over ten years ago. It's very clear that there are changes. The book "You Need More Money" is now the source of great embarrassment, although at the time, it was touted as a message from God. It is now impossible to buy a copy of it anywhere in Australia, directly due to Pastor Brian Houston's documented regret over it. 

I must ask you at this stage, John, does this not ring any alarm bells for you? That the senior pastor of such an influential organisation now regrets that which he, at the time, claimed to be the truth he received from God? 

In the old days, that used to make someone pretty clearly a false prophet. And you know what Jesus said about false prophets, I'm sure. 

Or maybe I'm not so sure. You see, although you identify as a Christian who does not attend Hillsong, at no point in your letter do you quote a Bible verse, or talk about God or Jesus Christ.

Rather, you refer to Live, Love, Lead by Brian Houston as if it were the 5th gospel. You quote Houston as if he a credible storyteller, when in actuality the book is largely a work of badly constructed fiction, or at best, based on a true story. 

Don't even start me, John, on the excerpt from the Australian that you mention regarding the handling of Houston Sr's pedophilia by the AoG and by his son. It was reprehensible in its distortions, omissions and untruths.

Had you argued your point from a Christian point of view, quoting the Bible at all, then perhaps we could have interacted from the same place of understanding. Of course I am an atheist, but I know my bible, which I was taught was the foundation of Christianity, not a church or a man. 

Hillsong has nothing to do with Christianity. While I appreciate your concern that my claims might become more wild and radical as time goes on, as happened to the agent in your story, I assure you that if you read the mail I received, you would consider my public assertions quite tame.

Hillsong certainly has changed, but I can't take this as a given from Live, Love, Lead. In ten years' time, it may go the way of other 'regrets' that Houston initially felt were from God.  I am often told that there is no perfect church. Of course not. But this organisation is not benign, or suffering from some human error here and there. It is inherently a destructive system that leaves a lot of silent collateral damage by the way side. 

This statement of yours  I find remarkable though :" It’s time you had a good look at Hillsong again. Some things are very different. If you are unable to go because Hillsong does not want you there, send a trusted friend." 

Do you not find it odd that a church does not want a person? Given for the non stop quest for exposure, I don't need to attend in order to see what, if anything, Hillsong is about. The broadcasts are widely available. And I'm surprised that as a Christian, you find it has anything with Christ or his teachings. 

If it's true as you say, that "We Christians often let down people who move to the fringes of our congregations, and then leave," then all I can wonder is why there is not more care for them? Do you not wonder where they end up? 

I can tell you where they are, because they write to me about the anguish, the betrayal, the costs and the crimes that were committed against them. The trauma can be very long term and very severe, while of course, many leave Hillsong unaffected, or with a positive report. But even if they are the 99%, what about those others? 

Why do they not matter to the church as they did to Jesus in Luke 15:4 where he said:

"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

What about the 1%,? No matter what Houston writes or how big Hillsong grows, when will the 1% matter? 

Please write openly again, John. I appreciate your appreciation. But let's consider things from a Christian point of view, a science-based point of view, or both. Pastor Brian Houston represents neither of these, and quotes from him or his writings do little to reassure me of any truth, given how as you point out so rightly, Hillsong's messages from God have changed so very much over time. 



P.S. I'm glad you had a laugh-out-loud moment anyway. It's great that Brian and I both agree on the ponytail situation of old. 





Touch Not the Lord's Annointed Music


That's the headline to this article which outlines the concerns Hillsong music has that 

"Despite the demographic of our audience being predominantly Christian, sadly we are not immune to the challenges posed by music piracy"  This was written in a submission to an inquiry on the government's draft copyright laws. 

There are so many Reasons Why This Is Funny that I'm having trouble starting but here goes:

1. Hillsong already makes a truckload out of their music. It's the music that helps with the giving, the music that forms so many good feelings and gets people addicted. It's central to the show and the whole community. The songs are part of the faith, the soundtrack to it...are they not doing well enough already?

2. Is it really a surprise that Hillsong fans are pirating their music, despite it being their version of Christian? This is a church of no theology, where everything is OK and God only does nice and good things. There's no great drama about sin or repentance or hell, so there's not really a whole lot of right and wrong. And they expect their followers to be morally stringent? Cute. 

3. Despite Hillsong claiming to be a Christian religion, nothing is free. Does it cost money to make their music? Sure, but not as much as most production companies. But crazy thought here: what if they gave stuff away? and not just the stuff that was easy to give away like other people's time and money? Imagine if they just gave a whole lot away, or gave to anyone who asked? It would be, at the very least, some damn fine press. 

4. A not so funny Reason why this is absurd is that I am not aware of what else Hillsong feels strongly enough to lobby government for. I haven't seen them demanding government responds to their Christian outrage about the threats to Aboriginal communities, or violence in families, or substance problems, or homelessness or the suicide epidemic in Australia. Very obvious issues to address using Jesus's commands, yet they stay silent. 

But don't steal their music. Don't touch their profits. Because where your treasure lies, there your heart lies also. 


The beginnings of Glass Houses

Just over ten years ago, i got the chance every budding writer dreams about. A friend of mine was working with publisher Allen and Unwin and rather casually whined that I’d like to write a book about Hillsong. I’ve often had lots of great starter ideas, and not always been great at finishing them.

She surprised me when she said, “if you’re serious this time, Tanya, put something together and I’ll forward it to the editor.”

With no idea how books were written, I sat nervously on my living room floor and wrote down the concepts I wanted to cover giving each a page.  I needed to devise a chapter outline and a couple of examples of those chapters. Within a few days, I had that done. It was scary and exciting and humbling. I revised, edited and revised, and emailed it to my friend.

Two weeks later, having had no reply, I hesitantly approached her. Was it that bad, I asked, that you didn’t know how to tell me?

No, she answered, she hadn’t found the mail. Immediately she sent it up the channels and within days, I had a coffee date with an editor to pitch my book. If you’re supposed to write about what you know about, then Hillsong was it, or rather, the struggle with my faith which had culminated in the  five years in the church that had started that movement.

My ideas were accepted. No one had talked about Hillsong publicly, and to outsiders, it was a huge mystery as to what went on in there, and why people continued to attend so loyally. I learned immediately that my art was not going to be marketed. Rather, not unlike Hillsong and Christianity, I had a marketable brand to sell, and my art should adjust.

So in February, 2005, I signed a contract for the Hillsong book, as it is commonly known. The folk at Allen and Unwin were terrific. My editor worked closely with me and taught me from scratch how this thing would work. It was not an easy task and she was patient and mentored me for 2 years. The cover looked like this:


And then she went away on leave.

It was during this time, a week before the book was due to go to print that Allen and Unwin changed their minds. I got a phone call telling me that due to legal reasons, the book could not go ahead. This seemed incredibly strange as we had all met with a fancy defamation lawyer at the very beginning and the legislation was explained to me carefully. Now, the advice had changed.

I was later to be told by another of AandU’s authors that Hillsong’s threats had been the real driver behind the decision.

It seemed way too strange. I called Jennifer Sexton at the now defunct The Bulletin and asked her opinion. She turned it into the lead story, with a 3000 word extract, and a cover exclaiming

the book that was too hot to print. I'll add the pic as soon as I find it, again....

Soon after, I signed with Black Inc Books, who had received different advice, and were not concerned about lawsuits. Two months later, in July of 2007, my first book baby, People In Glass Houses, was born.

The fun was only just about to begin.




Here we go again... YAY

A few months ago, it was decided there was no time like a Warner Bros produced Hillsong movie to re-release People In Glass Houses. The original idea was to have it ready for the Easter premiere and that would be great timing.

And so I set about writing an update chapter to try to encapsulate the last 8 years since the book first came out in around 4000 words. This proved very difficult. So much has happened in these few short years all around the world.

There are more Hillsong outlets, more offshoot churches, Hillsong-run community services and school programs and youth programs and more Hillsong music than ever before. And of course, more scandals, as the inherently dangerous system spits out more victims of the never-ending promises that don’t quite make it.

So many issues, and so many individuals could be written about for this re-release, but for the sake of time and brevity, one chapter had to do. For now.

And so on 22 April 2015, People In Glass Houses (an Insider’s story of a life in and out of Hillsong) will be in stores near you. And if it’s not, insist that it is. Or buy one online for almost nothing.

This is pretty much all I know right now.  Except that Warner Bros quit and now there's a distributor called Relativity, which I like cos Hillsong is all about nepotism and mediocrity.

8 years is a long time, especially in book years. Especially in e-book years. This project is going to be really interesting.