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.