Sydney Morning Herald review

Picture from the same SMH photo shoot. I loved that top. I wore it til it fell off. 


From the review by Roy Williams, SMH

PEOPLE IN GLASS Houses is an impassioned and witty expose of the Sydney phenomenon now known as Hillsong. Growing up in Cherrybrook in the 1980s, Tanya Levin was the sort of teenager "that fundamentalist parents longed for". She was well-behaved, earnest and unworldly, immersed in the youth group at Hills Christian Life Centre. But psychologically Levin suffered a great deal and soon after she finished school her life "mutated into a Christian horror movie".

What Levin means is that the inner-city life she began to lead - as a uni student, social worker and single mother - would have been regarded with horror by many of the sheltered Christians she left behind.

Levin admits she did it tough but through hardship she learnt about reality. When years later she came home to the church of her girlhood, she was able to see it for the travesty it had become.

The Hills Christian Life Centre was founded in 1983 by an ambitious young pastor, Brian Houston. His father, Frank Houston, had played a key role in the late 1970s establishing a new Christian denomination in Australia - the Assemblies of God, an offshoot of the Pentecostal Church in the US.

Levin delves into this early history. From the beginning, she explains, the AoG was a fundamentalist sect espousing biblical literalism and a strict patriarchal code of sexual morality; its members frequently practised exorcism and spoke in tongues. In the early days there was also an emphasis on spiritual authenticity. A strong influence was the Haight-Ashbury Jesus People Movement in San Francisco, which eschewed the many trappings and hypocrisies of formal religion.

Levin joined as an impressionable 14-year-old in September 1985. The church's rented premises at the Hills were humble and the small congregation consisted of mostly working-class families. The atmosphere was friendly but austere.

Contemporary ("happy clappy") music proved popular and soon became one of the church's features. The term "Hillsong", coined in 1987 as a name for the annual music conference, ultimately (in 1999) became the official title of the church itself.

Prodigal daughter Levin returned to the fold in 1998 to have her baby son "dedicated". She found many things different. The Hills district was now the land of McMansions. Brian Houston had gone from "pastor to CEO" and his glamorous wife, Bobbie (tagged by Levin as "the High Pastoress of Hillsong, the Hostess with the Mostest"), had assumed control of women's business more

An interview with the Sydney Morning Herald's David Marr

Sitting in a hotel room the day after the TV interview with Andrew Denton interview and David Marr, the multi-award winning journalist, investigator, and author walks in. His genius is as intimidating in real life as it is on paper. 

"One day," he says, frustrated before we'd even met, "I'm going to teach you what a narrative is." 

He never did, and neither did Hillsong. But he did write a brilliant piece describing the reasons WHY I wrote the book. So many people had been interested for so long. It was an honour to be interviewed and critiqued on the spot by him, and to have the intentions of the gold diggers noted so clearly so early on. 


From  "Hillsong - the church with no answers" 

By the miracle of YouTube, we can take a helicopter ride over Sydney any time we like with Pastor Brian Houston as he lays out Hillsong's Vision 2007. In a voice that has coaxed fortunes from the faithful, he talks prosperity, vision, growth and God's strategy as the helicopter swoops down on the "beautiful piece of property" Hillsong bought last year in inner-city Rosebery for $28 million. 

"I think the finances are where we're going to have to have the greatest faith." 

His confidence is absolute that the mortgage will soon be paid. To a sceptical outsider, Houston looks oddly like Spike Milligan with cans on his ears and a microphone to his mouth as he looks down on the suburbs where Hillsong's "state-of-the-art worship centres" are booming already or will soon be delivering the goods for Christ. He shrugs off ridicule. The nation's most triumphant preacher lives in a world without doubt and without dissent. 

"Jesus said a house divided against itself cannot stand," Houston reminds the thousands who have viewed this film clip and left adoring messages behind. ("Please come to Sweden! We need 'fire' here!!!!!!!!!") Authority is a big deal at Hillsong. You don't mess with Brian or his wife, Bobbie. "The great strength of our church has always been our unity. A single vision is critical to where we're going." 

So Tanya Levin is a problem. She asks questions. She wants explanations. She challenges the vision of Hillsong's leadership. In short, she's trouble. 

Two years into writing People in Glass Houses, her insider's account of Hillsong, she was finally - and literally - shown the door. "There is no debate within Hillsong," she says. "That's fundamentalism. It's not open to free thought and question, not at all." 

The church wasn't answering her emails about the book. Houston had ignored her calls. She defied orders not to turn up at the Castle Hill "campus", until the night came when two security guards carried her from the church and "a very tall, handsome Maori man of about 24" called Dion walked her to her car. 

"I cried at Dion," she writes. "I told him about my dad, and faithfulness and loyalty … whatever kind of Hollywood angel he was dressed as that night, there would come a time when he would outlive the usefulness to the Firm. And then he would lose that simple genuine look he stared at me with. I told him to go home and read his Bible and go ask the preachers why it doesn't match what they say. He listened like one does to the ravings of a lunatic and I made him listen because that's his job."