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Hillsong Church

Updated on January 20, 2015

Christian Church or Controversial Cult?

There are those that are former members who liken the experience to the fairytale The Emperor's New Clothes.

And then there are those passionate members who feel they have found freedom and eternal life.

If you're considering attending Hillsong be sure to read all you can before getting caught up in the emotion and hype.

A Current Affair expose on Hillsong

Their not-for-profit status runs contrary to the fact that they are pulling in millions of dollars and they won't reveal the details of where the money is going.

Investigation into charity run by ex-Hillsong CEO Leigh Coleman, Many Rivers Microfinance

A Christian charity which has so far spent more than $1.3 million to generate just $330,000 in loans for indigenous Australians is being investigated.

Many Rivers Microfinance is run by a former Hillsong executive who has already come under parliamentary scrutiny over an earlier loans program that delivered only a trickle of funds to the Aboriginal community.

In 2006 Leigh Coleman’s operation at Hillsong Emerge – the evangelical group’s former benevolent arm - had its funding discontinued after revelations the vast majority of taxpayer dollars went to employing staff.

Mr Coleman’s current program at Many Rivers has since successfully raised millions of dollars from the Federal Government and some of the country’s biggest companies including Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Westpac.

Read more here.

Here's a joke:

The Pope says young people should resist the temptation of money.

Coming from a man who lives in a golden palace.

Here's another joke:

Via Brian Houston on Twitter (@BrianCHouston)

Better to make sacrifices to serve the Lord; than to live secure, but unfulfilled!

Coming from a man who lives a life secure due to other peoples financial sacrifices.

Brian Houstons Doctrine of Prosperity

A few weeks ago I saw Brian Houston on the Australian Christian Channel on Foxtel and he was putting on his usual show. I was flicking through channels. Despite being a believer, I'll admit that watching ACC TV doesn't interest me, but occasionally I'll pause on it for a while when channel surfing.

What intrigued me about this Hillsong broadcast was it wasn't immediately apparent the point that Brian was trying to make. He was almost ranting and raving.

It all became clear though when he started stabbing is finger into the air in front of him and saying 'people say that we have a doctrine about PROSPERITY!" and he continued to say that they did not.

It was bizarre to say the least. I didn't stay on the channel too long, so maybe I missed the whole point. But the point I got was this, Brian wasn't preaching the word of God when I was watching him. He was hitting back at his knockers. Or perhaps people like me who ask questions.

A spectacular waste of airtime if you ask me.

It would be more beneficial to learn what offends God. Rather than keep up to date with what has been getting on Brian's goat.

Why are a lot of people convinced otherwise? Why have we (myself and whoever else wishes to put up their hand and be counted) for such a long time associated Brian Houston and Hillsong with this doctrine of prosperity?

Why would Brian write a book such as You Need More Money but then broadcast that he's not into prosperity?

Do I need more money?

Well the stack of bills sitting on my desk certainly say yes.

Do I want more money?

Why not? I can survive on little, but I'd like to be thriving instead of just surviving.

But do we need church to be motivational seminars about money?

I think that as PEOPLE... not just Christians, we shouldn't have a poverty mentality. But is the extreme opposite right?

Discuss, decide, deliberate, debate or disagree?

©2006 Authors Name Withheld Upon Request

(If anyone wishes to reprint this, please leave a message in the Guestbook of this page to arrange contact)

Hillsong on a mission to spread the word north

The Sydney church is expanding into Queensland, writes Cosima Marriner

Sydney, London, Kiev, Paris, Cape Town, Stockholm, Moscow... and now Brisbane.

The languid Queensland capital has become the latest stop in Brian and Bobbie Houston's odyssey to franchise their pentecostal Hillsong Church around the world.

Mr Houston has resigned as president of the Australian Christian Churches, a position he held for 12 years, to focus on the "multisite" expansion of Hillsong. And that, coupled with the controversial move interstate, has prompted speculation that Hillsong is ramping up its domestic network of churches, ready to pounce on churches struggling amid the global financial crisis.

Garden City Christian Church on Brisbane's southside will be renamed Hillsong Brisbane Campus and the Houstons installed as senior pastors there on May 24, after 79 per cent of Garden City members voted in favour of the takeover.

An information document circulated before the vote said the Houstons had chosen to move into Brisbane because "it is a fast growing area with great potential for the Gospel".

The Garden City Christian Church's 3000-strong congregation will significantly bolster Hillsong's numbers, which stand at 21,000 across Sydney.

Hillsong told the Herald there are "currently no plans" for other churches in Australia. "However, our heart is to bless and build churches through example, encouragement, and strategic partnerships and we believe it is right for churches to endeavour to reach and help people wherever there is need," it said in a statement.

The Sydney-based Houstons, who already spend much of their time travelling to the branches they have set up overseas, intend to be in Brisbane "as much as possible" to lead services and meetings.

Garden City's senior pastor for eight years, Bruce Hills, was forced out before the arrival of the Houstons. Garden City Christian Church announced Mr Hills's resignation in December, amid criticism that the church was not growing enough. Yet in an address to a Christian conference at Easter, Mr Hills revealed he had a nervous breakdown last September. "Emotionally I just imploded," he said.

When he returned from eight weeks' leave, Garden City Christian Church elders told him: "We'd rather have more of a CEO leader than you. We'd like you to resign."

Describing it as "the deepest, darkest experience I've ever been through", Mr Hills said he was "really angry about what these people had done".

Steve Dixon, who has been acting pastor at Garden City since Mr Hills's resignation, will now be "campus pastor" of Hillsong Brisbane.

A former Hillsong staff member for seven years, who now blogs as The Thinking Theologian, argues the worldwide economic downturn has crimped the Houstons' global expansion ambitions, forcing them to look closer to home for new Hillsong branches.

"An established, sizeable congregation, with a catchment of wealthy city-slickers, is far too lucrative an opportunity to turn down," the blogger posted. "But it won't stop at Brisbane. I suspect as increasing numbers of churches feel the pinch of the global recession, they'll be more than willing for Brian Houston and co. to step in and give them a makeover, repackage them, and then market them under the Hillsong brand."

Since starting their church with 45 people meeting in the Baulkham Hills Public School hall in 1983, the Houstons have been trying to emulate the model of established churches, where there is one leader for the faith, and "operational" pastors appointed to run individual churches in locations around the world.

The takeover of Garden City Christian Church coincided with Mr Houston's resignation from the Australian Christian Churches presidency at its conference conference on the Gold Coast.

"Its [sic] a happy, sad time for me as my time as leader of ACC comes to an end tonight. My heart is full of vision for the future though," Mr Houston said on Twitter.


Hillsong takes over Garden City Christian Church

By Tuck Thompson. April 27, 2009 11:15am

Celebrity evangelist Brian Houston and his Hillsong mega-church have taken over one of Brisbane's largest Pentecostal churches, Garden City Christian Church.

Sydney-based Mr Houston and his wife Bobbie were elected senior pastors of Garden City Christian Church yesterday. The fate of pastor Steve Dixon is yet to be explained to the congregation or made public.

Security guards prevented the media from entering church grounds during a secret ballot of registered members. The GCCC website later said the Houstons were chosen by "an overwhelming majority".

Congregation members said Pastor Dixon intended to remain at the church but Hillsong said he was leaving in 12 months to go to Hong Kong.

Pastor Dixon, who attended yesterday's service and election, declined to be interviewed.

Church member Priyance Nicks, a 20-year-old student from India who collects Brian Houston's CDs, was pleased with the vote.

"He preaches good and his way of conveying messages touches your heart," said Mr Nicks, carrying a Good News Bible. "Whenever he comes here, there is going to be a big crowd."

Many church-goers were unwilling to speak publicly. Others voiced their opposition to Hillsong in subtle ways.

"Vote No, Keep Local Leadership," read a message inside the windscreen of a vehicle parked outside the church entrance on Rover St, Mount Gravatt, in Brisbane's south.

The church would not release details of the vote but church-goers said it was 79 per cent in favour of the Houstons from 669 ballots.

Some church members were suspicious of the outcome, saying scrutineers were selected by the church board which had nominated the Houstons.

Hundreds of churchgoers were not allowed to vote because they were not registered.

Pastor Houston declined to be interviewed.


Dangerous cults: the Assemblies of God and the Leader Newspaper Group

By Ajit Randeniya

Since the death of Lasantha Wickramatunga, the Sunday Leader and Morning Leader readers (who are a precious few), are being subjected to an endless barrage of government bashing and other bile that suggest worrying signs of the Group turning into a personality cult: the masthead now includes a photograph of Wickramatunga, with pen in hand, and every edition appears to devote at least 40-50 of space to corny sounding ramblings about his love for his family and staff (admirable though not faultless obviously), and of course, his bravery, promises to avenge his death and demands of a quick arrest.

Clearly Wickramatunga has been a legend amongst his group.

What is worrying is that may be, just may be, the Assemblies of God (AoG), the Pentecostal cult to which Wickramatunga, Sonali Samarainghe and most people at the Leader belong(ed) to, has had a more profound role on the group than people imagined! This degree of devotion and the missionary zeal appears hard to explain on any other grounds.

The AoG is well and truly a 'cult' ,formed in 1914 in Arkansas. It is based on Arminian theology and Pentecostal doctrine that stresses controversial, and sometimes heretical, belief systems including concepts such as speaking in tongues, hands-on faith-healing, slain in the Spirit, and the most un-Christian belief that 'salvation can be lost'.

The men who formed the AoG, and have led it since then, have been described as 'scoundrels who use the sheep for their own gain'. The group includes some of the most dishonourable people ever to have graced the world. They include Billy graham, Morris Cerullo, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Benny Hinn and Karl Strader. These false prophets of our time always aim to attract other cult figures such as Elvis Presley, and political figures such as George Bush (who were both membes of AoG).

Former members of the cult have warned of the dangers of the 'cultish' group behaviour they force the membership to engage in, often involving supporting fellow members of the group, and political causes, through a shared secret behavioural code named 'Blackwhite'. It essentially means that members should be prepared to claim without hesitation that black is white, if required to defend the group from opponents, and when group discipline demands. Rationality or facts to the contrary are considered evil luxuries: AoG says Blackwhite is God's Law.

Other methods of brainwashing is achieved through swearing in New recruits to the dozen or so AoG 'Statement of Fundamental Truths', the Pentecostal doctrines they adhere to. The Statements include common confessions, swearing to that 'the Bible is the inspired Word of God and is without error in every detail'. Attainment of Baptism of the Holy Spirit is manifested by Speaking in Tongues.

The cult nurtures a strong sense of 'fellowship' at informal 'Church services' which provide the opportunity for uninhibited expression of feelings through song, dance and 'tongues'. The members of the cult believe that they can raise the dead, heal the crippled, touch Jesus through cell phones and disturbingly, that non-Christians are the enemy whose defeat they look forward to.

There are more organised and disguised fronts for recruiting and brainwashing: the 'Teen Challenge' division of AoG youth ministries program that focuses on 'troubled youth' is an example. This front, presented as a rehabilitation program for teenage drug addicts, employs coercive tactics to convert troubled young people, and has been dubbed 'kiddie gulag' by the American media. Despite medical and community concerns about the particular drug rehabilitation methods used, Teen Challenge received federal funds under George Bush's 'Faith Based Initiatives' program, demonstrating the level of political influence they are capable of yoelding.

Over the years, the cult has been riddled with numerous scandals involving fraud, sexual misconduct, child sexual abuse, emotional abuse (especially of questioning or dissenting members) and charges of tax evasion. The divisions of AoG that have figured most prominently are the ones in the southern hemisphere, New Zealand and Australia.

The leading newspaper in New Zealand, 'The Herald 'revealed in March 2008 that a series of leading AoG pastors had been deeply implicated in a sex scandal. Wayne Hughes, former General Superintendent and the leading preacher Jim Williams were included among those with a history of abusive sexual activity with teenagers. The charges led to further charges of a 'cover up' by the Assemblies of God (the worldwide movement).

Australian AoGod founder Frank Houston was exposed in 2003 as a pedophile. He was also implicated in fraud relating to group finances. Upon exposure of his sordid affairs, Houston suffered what doctors called 'a bout of hysterical amnesia' and vivid hallucinations, and resigned his post. He died the following year. Publisher Allen & Unwin reneged on a book deal with the 35 year old Australian woman Tanya Levin, a former member of the group, on the 'serious moral failures' Frank Houston had admitted to his son Brian (the current General Superintendent of the group's Hillsong curch in Sydney, Australia) prior to his death. Brian Houston was also exposed for financial misconduct on Australian prime time television, and is currently under investigation for tax offences.

In 2007, a leading member of the Hillsong cult, John Orehek, pleaded guilty to two of the 31 charges of 'fraudulent misappropriation' of funds, including defrauding 200-plus fellow members to the tune of A$20 million, by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

The American holy men of the group have not been behaving any better.

In 1986, Jimmy Swaggart, in an ugly rivalry for TV audience and donations, exposed fellow AoG pastors Marvin Gorman and Jim Bakker on extra-marital affairs and sexual indiscretions. Swaggart cursed that Bakker was a 'cancer in the body of Christ.' As a retaliatory move, Marvin Gorman hired a private detective who managed to photograph Swaggart with a prostitute in a Louisiana motel .(The incident was the subject of an unreleased the 'Texas Motel Medley' by the late rock music legent Frank Zappa)! Upon being busted, Swaggart tearfully confessed on television, 'I have sinned against you, my Lord, and I would ask that your precious blood would wash and cleanse every stain until it is in the seas of God's forgiveness'.

This is the cult that seems to be setting standards at the Leader Group, who are preachjng incessantly on honesty, decency and Human Rights to the Sri Lankan government..

God save Sri Lanka!


Hillsong plans Brisbane housewarming before vote cast

Reported by Chris Barrett. April 21, 2009 - 1:27PM

The Hillsong juggernaut has planned a victory party on May 1 to celebrate its arrival in Brisbane despite its takeover of a Pentecostal church south of the city not yet receiving the green light from congregants.

Registered members of the Garden City Christian Church in Mount Gravatt will on Sunday vote on whether to officially appoint evangelists and Hillsong founders Brian and Bobbie Houston as senior pastors in a move that would see the church renamed the Hillsong Brisbane Campus.

Despite claiming their pending footprint into Queensland was merely a partnership with the existing church, an information document circulated at Garden City at a service on April 5 has left little doubt about the Houstons' intentions to change the face of the congregation.

"We intend, as indicated earlier, to operate as Hillsong Brisbane Campus," the document noted.

Anticipating the approval of the takeover by members will be a mere formality, Hillsong heavies have planned a large housewarming party at the church on May 1 - the day after the three-day Australian Christian Churches (ACC) national conference winds up at the Gold Coast Convention Centre.

ACC, of which Mr Houston is the head, is the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God denomination.

"They're going to have a gathering at the church to celebrate their win," said a Mt Gravatt church congregrant, who asked that her name not be published.

The congregant fears the nature of the Mt Gravatt church, which has more than 1000 members, will continue to go backwards under the stewardship of the Hillsong franchise.

"It used to be a really humble church and it's totally changed over the years," she said.

"They do really, really frivolous things. Once they did skydiving to raise money for missions.

"If people want to support the church they will - you don't have to have big names."

She said her family intended to end their long-time association with the church when Hillsong took over.

Hillsong has indicated it would allow the church's acting pastor Steve Dixon to remain for a transitional period and that members would not lose control over church assets under the so-called partnership.

But one former Hillsong congregant has warned that the "controlling cult" made fundraising and recruitment its highest priorities, with church members holding few rights.

"They're coming off all kind and pastoral when in fact it is simply a company takeover," said Tanya Levin, author of the 2007 book People in Glass Houses, about her experiences under Hillsong.

"It will be interesting to to see how much of their former church as they know it survives.

"Because the Assemblies of God have got a history of going in, taking over and pretty quickly throwing out everybody that the previous church actually thought were important."

Hillsong's headquarters, the "Hills" campus, is in the Sydney suburb of Baulkham Hills but it also has two other campuses in the city. It conducts services around Sydney and has established international extensions in the UK, the Ukraine, South Africa and Sweden.

Ms Levin said the move into Brisbane was the latest example of the Houstons' desire to spread their influence.

"They're really explicit about wanting other areas in the world," she said.

"They want Africa, particularly, as well as India."

The church has established a growing presence within political circles in recent years, with then-Prime Minister John Howard opening its Baulkham Hills complex in 2002 and the likes of Peter Costello, Alexander Downer, Helen Coonan and Bob Carr having attended Hillsong events and conventions.


Hillsong takeover bid for Garden City Christian Church

Reported by Tuck Thompson. April 21, 2009 12:00am

One of Brisbane's largest Pentecostal congregations has been stunned by news their pastor could be forced out when the church is taken over by Hillsong.

The Sydney-based mega church is set to take control of the 1000-member Garden City Christian Church in Mt Gravatt on Sunday if Hillsong evangelists Brian and Bobbie Houston are named senior pastors of GCCC.

In a statement, Hillsong said current GCCC pastor Steve Dixon would remain only for a 12-month "transitional period". That stunned longtime members who were told Pastor Dixon wanted to stay.

"Nobody has been told anything about that. That's the first I've heard of that," said one member.

Pastor Dixon is not commenting as the church waits on Sunday's vote to determine if the Houstons will control the church.


She played Mary during World Youth Day. Now she's defected to Hillsong

Reported by MATTHEW BENNS. 22/02/2009 1:02:29 AM

SHE was a poster girl for World Youth Day, when more than 400,000 pilgrims gathered in Sydney to celebrate their Catholic faith.

Cast as Mary, Marina Dickson, 27, moved the faithful to tears as shecradled Jesus in her arms after he stumbled barefoot through the cityfor the 13 stations of the cross, watched by a worldwide audience of500 million.

Now the Chilean-born beauty therapist has left the Catholic Church to worship at the evangelical Hillsong church.

She is thrilled: "It's important you are where God wants you to be. I feel Hillsong is where I am called to be. I am so happy."

Not so Australia's leading Catholic, Archbishop of Sydney CardinalGeorge Pell. "If this is true and Marina decides to formally leave thechurch, that would be a surprise. It would also be a great sadness," he said. "But at least she is not leaving Jesus Christ."

Ms Dickson worshipped at St Mary's Star of the Sea Catholic Church atMilton, on the South Coast, when she auditioned for the role of Mary.She said she was honoured to be chosen as the "beautiful and loyalwoman of God".

Last week, Ms Dickson, of Pennant Hills, told The Sun-Herald:"I have only good things to say about the Catholic Church but I havethis hunger for God. I wanted to learn more about the Bible and have adeeper relationship with God.

"Hillsong is more about having a relationship with God. It's alifestyle, not just somewhere to go on a Sunday. I love it. It is likeI fell in love with God all over again."

Chehade Richa, 18, who played Judas, said Ms Dickson's decision was "very surprising".

"We were meant to embody Catholic youth but I guess if that's where shefinds her spirituality then that's OK," he said. "It's not a betrayal;Hillsong still believes in Jesus and his core teachings."

Alfio Stuto jnr, who played Jesus, said: "Who is anyone to judge what others do? Let those without sin cast the first stone."

How did Michael Guglielmucci get away with it?

I read today that Michael Guglielmucci has been lying about his cancer. You can read all about it at Basically it has been confirmed that he lied - but here is the part that amazed me:

"This news has come as a great shock to everyone including, it seems, his own wife and family," Hillsong general manager George Aghajanian said in an email to his congregation yesterday.

How can your wife not know that you don't have bone cancer? I'm not saying that there is some conspiracy here, but there is only one sort of person that can get away with faking a terminal illness to people who are close and care about them, and that is a practiced pathological liar. I say this means that he has been lying for a long time, and got so good at it that he managed to convince even those closest to him that he was dying of an illness that he didn't have. Kind of like Frank Abagnale Jr. from the movie Catch Me If You Can (imdb), a man who made millions pretending to be a solicitor and a pilot.

Someone must have been suspicious, someone must have noticed something, but it seems like nobody said anything. We tend to assume that someone must have checked it out, he is on a stage, so it must be fine right?

Here is the Hillsong video - tubes up his nose and everything. At the moment Hillsong seem to be trying to take this down, so if it goes missing, I will try to find a replacement.

EDIT I can't find another video - some poor intern at Hillsong must be working 16 hour days filing copyright claims with every video host on the planet.

So when did Michael start lying, and how did he perfect the art?

I read this in a forum post at from 2006:

when i heard he was sick, i laughed... not because i am happy he is sick, but because while he was at our church he was healed of:

* Glandular Fever

* Blood Clot in his brain

* Brain Tumor

* Burst Eardrum

That's right, isn't it amazing that one man can have so many severe illnesses miraculously cured by God. Another post in that thread claimed to have seen his broken leg healed on stage. Now I actually believe that God can and does heal people, but it seems likely to me that Michael has been faking it for a long time, and that christians are so eager to have their "faith confirmed" in front of them that they jump and cheer at anything that seems to fit the bill.

I remember a man that preached at a church I used to go to (Gateway City Church in Wollongong). He was going to heal people's backs, and he did this by sitting someone in a seat on stage, looking at their legs, declaring that one was longer than the other (there was someone from the church helping him and agreeing that the legs were not the same length). Then he got all the young children from the church to come down the front (the stage is over a meter high). Then he prayed, and said that the legs were the same length now, the other guy on stage agreed, and the "healed" walked around and said they felt better. But then he asked the children to confirm to the congregation that it had actually happened.

The whole congregation cheered wildly at the kids saying that it happened, despite the fact that it was completely impossible for any of the kids to have seen what happened, or had any idea if there was a change in the legs. Who knows, maybe the people were healed - but why the show? Why pretend to have kids witness something? The whole situation makes a mockery of the word proof.

So here is the challenge - just because a person says they have proved something, doesn't mean that there is any proof at all. Just because someone is on stage doesn't mean they are telling the truth. Just because you aren't in charge doesn't mean you don't have a responsibility to the truth - if something stinks, then find the rot and deal with it.


Fame, fortune and the business of religion

MICHAEL McGUIRE. August 30, 2008 12:01am

The remarkable fall from grace of porn pastor Michael Guglielmucci may not just be a personal embarrassment for his family but also a financial blow for churches.

The Reynella-based Edge Church is a rapidly expanding financial force, recording a 12 per cent rise in revenue to $5.53 million in its most recent financial report.

In addition, the 2007 annual report shows a net asset base of $11.56 million, up from $4.01 million the previous year, in part helped by the $4.5 million donation of the land and property of Findon-based Westside Christian Church.

Like all religious organisations, it also benefits from its tax-free status, meaning it pays no income taxes such as stamp duties when buying new cars.

Most of the church's income comes from its congregations based at its three campuses at Reynella, Goodwood and Findon.

The Reynella church boasts a database of 3400 people, while the Goodwood campus is expanding into the city at the Greater Union site in Hindley St and the Findon location has a congregation of more than 250.

It also has an offshoot in the English city of Bristol.

It's a a big jump for an organisation church which started with only 30 members in 1994.

Attendees at the church contribute "tithes", which is an Old Testament concept literally meaning contributing a tenth of income to support a church.

Edge followers contributed $3.12 million in tithes in the 2007 financial year, up from $2.64 million the previous year. Weekly offerings from the congregation averaged $60,000 a week over the year and spiked to more than $80,000 a week by the end of the financial year. Believers can also send their children to the Edge Kids Life child-care centre.

A visit to the church's website also offers many ways for believers to part with cash.

The webshop offers books by Michael's father, Danny Guglielmucci, as well as a host of CDs, DVDs, music books and teaching aids.

The particularly keen can also sign up to next month's Edge Conference for $259 for an adult, $60 for a child between three and 11 and $45 for a child aged between one and three.

According to the annual report event registration raised $364,505 last year.

The pentecostal church within Australia has been a growing and interlinked movement for many years and Danny Guglielmucci has been at the centre. According to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Mr Guglielmucci is also a director of the Assemblies of God in Australia, Assemblies of God World Missions, Australian Christian Churches and Edge Church Property. Until recently, he was also a director of Mercy Ministries.

Also, according to ASIC files, Mr Guglielmucci has listed his birthplace as both Adelaide and Montevideo in Uruguay.

The Assemblies of God, which has a close association with the Family First political party, is also financially strong, recording $16.1 million in revenue in 2006.

Business Review Weekly has also estimated the related Hillsong Church in Sydney turned over $61 million in 2005, while the Paradise Church in Adelaide generated $6.2 million in 2005.


Churches must reflect on their core values

REBEKAH DEVLIN. August 30, 2008 12:01am

THERE are rarely darker times for a church than when someone in leadership falls from grace.

In the case of Michael Guglielmucci, he has fallen spectacularly and very publicly.

The extent of his deceit is hard to fathom and, sadly, I think there are more revelations to come.

I have a faith in God. While no church at present is my home base, I have visited a number, searching for the right place to laymy Bible.

I have been to Edge Church International a few times. I found the people very warm and hospitable, very inclusive. With them I have no problem.

However, I think something is on the nose within the Assemblies of God movement, or the Australian Christian Churches, as they are now known.

While there were quiet dissenters before this scandal, now many in the church are finding their voice.

Reverend Philip Powell left Paradise Community Church in 1992, quitting his post as secretary-generalof the AOG because he was so disenchanted with what he was seeing in the movement.

"It was very, very political," said the pastor, who now leads a Brisbane non-denominational church.

"It's become like a corporation, like a business operation."

He said the downfall of Michael Guglielmucci was a symptom of the denomination heading in the wrong spiritual direction.

"When the church becomes money-driven or music-driven, it's on the wrong track – they're excellent servants but poor masters," Mr Powell said.

"Many of the people wake up too late and realise they've . . . lost the significance of what the Gospel is all about."

In my view, serious questions must be raised about the way people are promoted to positions of authority in the church.

Family dynasties dominate the leadership of Australia's biggest – and richest – churches.

Michael Guglielmucci is the son of Edge Church International founder Danny Guglielmucci.

Michael was a pastor at Russell Evans' church in Melbourne – Russell himself is the son of AOG legend Andrew Evans.

Brian Houston, who runs Australia's biggest church, Hillsong in Sydney, is the son of Frank Houston, another preacher who suffered a fall from grace.

Brian's son Joel helps run the church's music department, including the prolifically profitable music-selling arm – which creates the albums that often top the ARIA charts. It seems wrong some pastors are getting around in expensive cars and expensive suits, holidaying in their beach homes and riding their jet skis and Harleys.

When did that become part of the deal with answering God's calling?

The "love offerings" – an offering taken up for a guest preacher – seem to have become a "scratch my back I'll scratch yours" exchange between powerful pastors, knowing a weekend visit to another church can net upwards of $10,000.

In my opinion, the rise of the celebrity pastor is something that must be addressed. Somehow the church has embraced all that is destructive about the world of celebrity.

The money, the fame – ultimately it has a tendency to corrupt. Why should we expect those in Christian circles to be any different?

Many AOG churches have become so obsessed with presenting a picture-perfect world, they have forgotten they are meant to be the one place where it is OK not to have it all together – to have problems, to sin, to have doubts. Churches are hospitals for the soul.

But instead, those who do not fit the cookie-cutter vision of a "successful Christian" have been cast aside, or even pushed out the door.

Services have become lavish displays these days – rock music-style praise, flashy video presentations – young, pretty-looking vocalists performing with their hands raised dutifully (yes, all carbon copies of Matt Corby).

Speaking in tongues, something which had previously confused and dismayed some visitors, has been banished.

Nothing about church these days is controversial, it is all about projecting success – "become a Christian and you too could have a life as perfect as mine".

I wonder whether this vision of unobtainable perfection actually now turns people away.

The sick in body and the sick in spirit are seldom prayed for out the front as they were in years gone by. This is now done during weekday meetings in believers' houses – away from potential visitors.

Many AOG churches do fantastic things for their community, as do churches of all denominations. There is good in every church.

I just think they have been striving too hard for success.

In the wake of this sorry affair with Michael Guglielmucci, questions must be asked and churchgoers should not be content with what the all-powerful pastors tell them from the pulpit.

My hope is this horrendous breach of trust will not damage the faith of believers – we are all human, but we need to ensure we are not blinded by faith.


On Today Tonight

Academy Award winning performance?

Confessions of a porn addict pastor

August 29, 2008 12:00am

AN AUSTRALIAN pastor who inspired hundreds of thousands of people with his fight against terminal cancer has admitted he faked his illness to hide an addiction to porn.

Police are now investigating disgraced pastor Michael Guglielmucci over the collection of public donations to his cancer cause.

The alarm is understood to have been raised by the Hillsong Church in Sydney which revealed the pastor's hoax in an email.

His deception was so great his wife quit work to care for him, he forced himseld to vomit regularly at night and even lost his hair to fool his family and the public about the extent of his illness.

Guglielmucci, whose parents established Edge Church International, an Assemblies of God church, had earlier this year released a hit song, The Healer, which debuted at No. 2 on the ARIA charts and was featured on Sydney Hillsong church's latest album.

It since has become an anthem of faith for believers, many of whom are suffering their own illness and were praying for a miracle for Guglielmucci - more than 300,000 people have watched one performance on YouTube.

In a frank TV interview, Guglielmucci explained fabricating a terminal cancer battle to hide his 16-year obsession with pornography.

"This is who I am - I'm addicted to the stuff, it consumes my mind,'' he said of pornography.

"... I'm sick and this is why I had to come up some sort of explanation of what was happening in my body.''

The shame manifested itself physically, resulting in him losing his hair and purging his body.

"I don't know how you can fake vomiting all over yourself night after night after night, I'm not that good an actor,'' he said.

To conceal the two-year cancer lie which he hid from his wife and family, he sent phoney emails to his loved ones from non-existent medical practitioners.

"I've been living a lie for a long time,'' he told the Seven Network's Today Tonight. "I've been hiding who I am for so long. I can honestly say to you that the last two years have been hell for me physically, emotionally, but I never sat down and said ... let's try to fool the world.''

Detectives have begun investigating claims that disgraced pastor Michael Guglielmucci deceived people into donating money to a fake cancer cause.

The South Australian police commercial and electronic crime branch has contacted officers in Victoria and New South Wales.

It has also been checking various Pentecostal church-related websites.

Guglielmucci's wife, however, has vowed to try to save their marriage, despite the humiliating revelations of his cancer hoax and pornography addiction.

Amanda Guglielmucci, 29, has also defended her husband, insisting he is a good man, trapped by lies which had spiralled out of control.

"I know he's not an evil man, there's not evil in his heart,'' she said yesterday.

Mrs Guglielmucci, who is staying in their Sydney home while Michael is with his family in Adelaide's southern suburbs, said she would try to salvage her marriage.

"I know that I love him, I know that much,'' she said.

"We're just not going to rush anything, we're gonna walk through the process, however slowly it needs to happen, in order for the healing and restoration to be complete and then we'll go from there.''

She has turned to a counsellor to help cope with her husband's massive deception, which has shocked not only his family's church, Edge Church International, but the world-wide Christian movement.

Just over two weeks ago, the world-renowned pastor and songwriter sat his wife of seven years down at their Sydney home and told her the awful truth.

"I was the first one he told, he confessed everything to me,'' Mrs Guglielmucci said.

"He just went through it - where it had started, everything in his life as a young kid, the patterns. He was crying, sobbing actually, absolutely sobbing, he just said 'I don't have cancer'.

"He was terrified, I still remember the look on his face . . . it was a very hard moment for him, as it was for me hearing it.''

Despite his elaborate deception and his admission of an addiction to adult pornography, Mrs Guglielmucci said it was feelings of sympathy and shock rather than anger that overwhelmed her.

"I could just see a really broken, unwell man. At that point I found it really quite hard to get angry,'' she said.

"Seeing your husband of seven years absolutely sobbing in front of you, risking everything coming forward and telling the truth - in that instance it was really hard to be angry or mad.''

Mrs Guglielmucci said she understood people struggled to believe she could not have known her husband was faking his illness. However, she maintained his real symptoms - vomiting, hair loss and apparent pain - never gave her reason to suspect otherwise.

"I never questioned it, when you love someone you trust them. I had no reason not to trust him,'' she said.

"Perhaps I feel a little bit foolish in this, hindsight's a fabulous thing . . . but I'm trying not to beat myself up.''

Mrs Guglielmucci even quit work to look after her ailing husband. "In the middle of the night he was in so much pain I would put towels in the microwave to try and give him some relief in his back,'' she said.

However, she never attended doctors' appointments with him, a move she now regrets.


Porn pastor's wife vows to stand by him

By Rebekah Devlin. August 27, 2008 12:01am

THE wife of fraud pastor Michael Guglielmucci has vowed to try to save their marriage, despite the humiliating revelations of his cancer hoax and pornography addiction.

Speaking exclusively to The Advertiser, Amanda Guglielmucci, 29, defended her husband, who faked a two-year battle with cancer.

She insisted he was a good man, trapped by lies which had spiralled out of control.

"I know he's not an evil man, there's not evil in his heart," she said.

Mrs Guglielmucci, who is staying in their Sydney home while Michael is with his family in Adelaide's southern suburbs, said she would try to salvage her marriage.

"I know that I love him, I know that much," she said.

"We're just not going to rush anything, we're gonna walk through the process, however slowly it needs to happen, in order for the healing and restoration to be complete and then we'll go from there."

She has turned to a counsellor to help cope with her husband's massive deception, which has shocked not only his family's church, Edge Church International, but the world-wide Christian movement.

"I'm actually seeking professional counselling myself. I need to be able to unravel a lot of emotion that's bombarding me at the moment, I owe it to myself to work through that properly, and to him," she said.

"I had questions after the shock of it all, but my initial thoughts after hearing that were a sense of sorrow for the church and that a lot of people were going to be hurt because of it."

Just 15 days ago, the world-renowned pastor and songwriter sat his wife of seven years down at their Sydney home and told her the awful truth.

"I was the first one he told, he confessed everything to me," Mrs Guglielmucci said.

"He just went through it – where it had started, everything in his life as a young kid, the patterns. He was crying, sobbing actually, absolutely sobbing, he just said `I don't have cancer'.

"He was terrified, I still remember the look on his face . . . it was a very hard moment for him, as it was for me hearing it."

Despite his elaborate deception and his admission of an addiction to adult pornography, Mrs Guglielmucci said it was feelings of sympathy and shock rather than anger that overwhelmed her.

"I could just see a really broken, unwell man. At that point I found it really quite hard to get angry," she said.

"Seeing your husband of seven years absolutely sobbing in front of you, risking everything coming forward and telling the truth – in that instance it was really hard to be angry or mad."

Mrs Guglielmucci said she understood people struggled to believe she could not have known her husband was faking his illness.

However, she maintained his real symptoms – vomiting, hair loss and apparent pain – never gave her reason to suspect otherwise.

"I never questioned it, when you love someone you trust them. I had no reason not to trust him," she said.

"Perhaps I feel a little bit foolish in this, hindsight's a fabulous thing . . . but I'm trying not to beat myself up."

Mrs Guglielmucci even quit work to look after her ailing husband. "In the middle of the night he was in so much pain I would put towels in the microwave to try and give him some relief in his back," she said.

However, she never attended doctors' appointments with him, a move she now regrets.

"Before I stopped working to care for him, I was busy, he'd have doctor's appointments when I couldn't be there and he would say `it's fine you don't need to be there'," she said.

"Or I would just drop him off at the hospital."

While his initial confession to his wife did include his addiction to porn, Mrs Guglielmucci said she had not even begun to process that element of his deception.

"We're only talking two weeks (since admitting his lies), there's a lot of stuff to deal with," she said.

"That sort of side of things hasn't really hit me yet, there's many levels and layers to everything. I can almost talk about it like I'm removed from it. That's where the professional help will help me work through that – it hasn't hit me yet."

Mrs Guglielmucci said her faith in God had remained unmoved throughout the ordeal.

"At times like this, it's just a stronger resolve," she said.


Porn-again pastor tells of his addiction and shame

KIM WHEATLEY, CHIEF REPORTER. August 25, 2008 07:20pm

Disgraced pastor Michael Guglielmucci has finally told of fabricating a terminal cancer battle to hide his 16-year obsession with pornography.

"This is who I am ... I'm addicted to the stuff, it consumes my mind," he said of pornography in his first interview on Today Tonight since the story was first revealed on AdelaideNow last week.

"... I'm sick and this is why I had to come up some sort of explanation of what was happening in my body."

The shame of his addiction manifested itself physically, resulting in him losing his hair and purging his body.

"I don't know how you can fake vomiting all over yourself night after night after night, I'm not that good an actor," he said.

To conceal the two-year cancer lie which he hid from his wife and family, he sent phoney emails to his loved ones from non-existent medical practitioners.

"I've been living a lie for a long time," he said.

"I've been hiding who I am for so long. "I can honestly say to you that the last two years have been hell for me physically, emotionally, but I never sat down and said ... let's try and fool the world."

Today Tonight insisted that it did not pay for the interview from the man who has been in hiding and receiving psychiatric help since AdelaideNow revealed the web of lies last week.

Mr Guglialmucci, who claims to have written the hit song Healer after being inspired by God, also insisted that all monies received via song sales would be returned.

"I don't have any desire to attain any financial gain from that, we're already making stages to sign those royalties over," he said.

"I'm so sorry, not just for lying to my friends and my family even about a sickness, but I'm sorry for a life of saying I'm something I'm not ... from this day on I'm telling the truth."

Mr Guglielmucci has written to Police Commissioner Mal Hyde offering to fully co-operate with any police inquiries into his fake illness.

A statement from Edge Church International General Manager Steve Hilder- sent to The Advertiser a short time ago - advises that the letter, written by Mr Guglielmucci's lawyer, says the police will be told "all pertinent information".

The statement also states that Mr Guglielmucci is an "itinerate minister who held a credential with the Australian Christian Churches"

"His credential was immediately suspended," it says.

"The National Executive of the ACC is taking this matter very seriously and is awaiting the results of the medical tests before determining the full extent of the discipline that will be imposed upon him.

"Michael Guglielmucci has not been a paid staff member of Edge Church for eight years.

"Michael has lived in three other states of Australia since leaving us and has been a minister on staff in two other churches since leaving our employ.

"He has not received any money from Edge Church International toward his alleged medical expenses."

The statement says the church understands a post office box will be set up in the name of his father, Danny Guglielmucci.

"Michael's lawyer has written to the Police Commissioner advising him of all pertinent information and notifying him of Michael Guglielmucci's intention to fully co-operate with police inquiries," it says.

"Edge Church is committed to the truth and honouring the people of our church. Our history has been one of integrity and openness. We love the people of our community (who) have been actively involved in trying to bring life and hope to the hurting and the needy and will continue to do so.

"Hope, truth and love is not just our motto, it is our life mission."


Money back pledge from disgraced pastor

A high-profile preacher who lied about having cancer has promised to return any money he received from donors.

Michael Guglielmucci's father, who is also a preacher, has told the congregation of their church in Adelaide's south that his son needs their prayers more than ever.

Michael Guglielmucci spent two years playing to packed houses on the Christian rock scene, sending an anthem of faith and healing to the top of the charts.

But last week the Melbourne-based pastor came clean about the terminal cancer he did not actually have.

His father Danny issued a public apology to the congregation this week.

"Mike thought he could escape the pain by creating a diversion from his addiction to adult pornography, so he created the cancer scenario," he said.

Danny Guglielmucci is a founder of Edge Church International, at Reynella in Adelaide, part of the Assemblies of God network.

His son was a pastor with Planetshakers, an international Christian youth movement that started in Adelaide.

"We fully understand the questions, shock, disbelief and even anger you may feel, but Michael is struggling with a different kind of illness and is receiving professional help," the pastor told the congregation.

As for money donated to Michael Guglielmucci in good faith: "[We will] gladly pay it back if people want their money back, absolutely. We are glad to make restitution," Danny Guglielmucci said.

Michael Guglielmucci has not appeared publicly but a church leader read a statement from him.

"As a result of this secret life of sin, my body would often break down. I would report the cause of my symptoms simply as illnesses but the truth is, that although I was ill, I did not have cancer, but again used a mis-diagnosis to hide the lie that I was living," the statement said.

Many of the congregation at Reynella have spoken of the need for forgiveness.

"Michael was a man, he sinned, and he needs to be forgiven," said one.

"Everybody is a sinner and we've all been forgiven by God," another said.

Danny Guglielmucci says his son is receiving psychiatric care and legal advice and may need to go to an overseas clinic.


Pastor Michael Guglielmucci's flock kept in the dark

August 25, 2008 08:40am

It took 11 days before an Adelaide pentecostal church exposed the details of pastor Michael Guglielmucci's fictitious battle with cancer.

Danny Guglielmucci, the father of the fallen pastor and founder of Edge Church International at Reynella, told his faithful followers yesterday the church went public at "our first opportunity".

The man at the centre of the scandal that has rocked the church, also spoke publicly for the first time yesterday. But his words only came in a written statement, which claimed the reason behind his fictitious cancer story was to hide his 16-year obsession with pornography.

"For over 16 years, I have struggled with an addiction to adult pornography. As a result of this secret life of sin my body would often break down," his confession began.

"Two years ago, I reported that I was suffering from cancer. The truth is that although I was ill, I did not have cancer but was again using the misdiagnosis to hide the lie that I was living."

The fallen preacher was a Christian superstar, who said God inspired his hit song Healer. The song became an anthem of faith for believers, many of whom donated money to the Guglielmucci cancer cause.

The church said it was unknown how much money had been raised deceptively through websites, preaching and song sales.

When asked by The Advertiser if he would go to the police, Danny Guglielmucci said he was seeking advice from church lawyers, but that an audit of accounts was taking place.

Danny Guglielmucci also said that the first he knew of his son's web of lies was on August 13. Three days later, a meeting of the national executive of the Australian Christian Churches was convened at which his son confessed because of a dream of Jesus on the cross looking down at him saying "the truth will set you free".

At that meeting, a strategy was decided including seeking medical and legal advice. Michael Guglielmucci also agreed to take part in one exclusive TV interview, to be shown tonight.

It was only after a brief email from Hillsong Church in Sydney, which produced the hit album featuring Healer, was obtained by The Advertiser last Wednesday that church followers were finally allowed to know that the cancer was a lie.

The reason for that lie – Michael Guglielmucci's addiction to pornography – was exposed yesterday.

Danny Guglielmucci stood before 1200 people packed into the former indoor cricket arena for forgiveness, but maintained that he and the church had acted ethically.

"I have led you with openness and integrity and declare that we have not lived a lie before you," he said, before receiving a rousing ovation.

Michael Guglielmucci remained in hiding yesterday and is receiving psychiatric help.

Despite the betrayal, forgiveness was the catchcry for an overwhelming majority of those at yesterday's service.

"Obviously it was the wrong thing to do, but I'm proud that he's come out and admitted it," said 18-year-old student Daniel Sutherland.


Australian pastor, musician fakes illness to get money

Marty Cooper - OneNewsNow - 8/24/2008 4:15:00 AM

About two years ago, Pastor Michael Guglielmucci announced to his congregation that he had terminal cancer. Today, he is cancer-free.

To the shock of many church members and fellow pastors, at a recent Australian Christian Churches (ACC) – formerly named The Assemblies of God – national executive meeting, the pastor admitted to having a lied about his battle with cancer. The Advertiser stated that the ACC was going to audit Mr. Guglielmucci's bank accounts, which were filled with donations he willingly accepted from people who prayed for his plight.

After inventing his cancer story, the pastor wrote a hit song titled Healer, which – according to the newspaper account – became "an anthem of faith for believers, many of whom are suffering illnesses and were praying for Mr. Guglielmucci." While performing it live at his church called Planetshakers – a subset of the church Guglielmucci's parents founded called Edge Church International – he wore an oxygen tube in his nose. The song, which is on Hillsong's latest album, appeared at No. 2 on the ARIA charts.

In the Healer video, Guglielmucci talks about his feelings after he found out about his so-called "aggressive form of cancer."

"I just went home," he said. "I knew I had to go home and needed to get alone with God."

And his followers were not the only one surprised by the deception. Among them also were his wife and family. Guglielmucci's parents are with him while he seeks professional help. Sources in the church community report that he attended his medical appointments alone.

Jonathan Fontanarosa, Edge Church's executive pastor, says everyone is waiting on a better explanation pending further investigation.


Disgraced pastor Michael Guglielmucci releases statement

August 24, 2008 12:15am

Fallen pastor Michael Guglielmucci released this brief statement to explain his actions, read by read to a packed congregation by his father, Danny.

"Today is a very sad day for our family and church family.

For many years our son, Michael has suffered from unexplained illnesses. We have been worried as we have seen him suffer and spend periods of time in hospital.

Two years ago our lives were totally turned around by the sad news of our sons' cancer diagnosis. The love and support shown by our local church and all of our many friends around the world helped us get through a very difficult situation.

During the last two years we have experienced the favor of God, his love and grace, and also the constant pain of the possibility of losing a son.

On Tuesday 12th of August we received a call to come and meet with Mike and Amanda but weren't ready for what we were about to hear. Mike began to share how he has lived a lie for the last 16 years of his life because of addictive behavior he couldn't break free from.

He loved God and would throw himself into prayer, worship, and serving God with full energy and enthusiasm but still couldn't break free.

In September in 2006, Mike had an accident and went to hospital. It was at this time, because of his torment of living a double life, Mike thought he could escape the pain by creating a diversion from his addiction to adult pornography, so he created the cancer scenario.

The pain of this addiction was so deep that he started something he couldn't stop and proceeded on a downward spiral that led to him experiencing pain and suffering that resulted in constant vomiting and many other symptoms of a genuine sufferer.

Sharonne and I witnessed these episodes and pained and wept over his suffering. Michael wrote the song Healer because he wanted God to set him free from his addiction but hid it behind the lie of a fabricated illness.

Once he had started down this track he felt he couldn't stop so he continued to act out this sickness, feeling he had gone too deep into the lie.

I can't begin to tell you how much this is hurting us on the inside. A few weeks ago Mike had a dream of Jesus on the cross looking down on him saying, 'the truth will set you free' and so he decided to confess and bring everything out into the open.

I immediately contacted our National Executive and submitted to their advice and council. Church, our family needs your prayers at this time. We are so, so sorry to bring you into this.

I have lead you with openness and integrity and declare that we have not lived a lie before you. We fully understand the questions, shock, disbelief and even anger you may feel over this announcement. Please pray for us and we will pray for you.

Michael is struggling with a different kind of illness and is receiving professional help and will do so as long as is needed. On the council and advice of our executive and board, after our up and coming Edge conference, we will take time to be with Mike and get him all the professional and spiritual help he needs to come to full recovery.

We have an amazing team. Thank you, executive, board, staff and church, for your love and support. We will do what is right before God and man and see this situation turned around for the glory of God. We love you."


Lying preacher must go through restorative process, says dad

The father of a Christian preacher who has admitted to lying about having cancer has told a congregation that his son must go through a restorative process.

Pastor Daniel Guglielmucci addressed more than 1,000 worshipers at the Edge Church in Adelaide's south this morning, after his son Michael last week admitted to lying about having a form of leukemia.

"So now these five things must apply to him. He must humble himself, he must again hunger after God, he must be committed to holiness, to honour God, to honour church, and to honour everybody in the community," he said.

"He must also have a heart to heal his own brokenness before he can ever reach out to the brokenness of others."

Last week his Melbourne-based son, Michael, revealed he had lied about having a form of leukemia, while releasing a music single called Healer.

It is also believed he received a number of donations for treatment for his fake illness.

Pastor Guglielmucci read a statement from Michael, admitting to a 16 year obsession with adult pornography.

He earlier said his son is a sinner who must seek repentance and anyone who gave money to his son will be able to get it back.

Pastor Guglielmucci says his son may need to attend an overseas clinic, to overcome his behaviour.

Mr Guglielmucci's lawyer says the preacher is receiving psychiatric treatment in Adelaide.


Fake cancer preacher admits porn addiction

The father of a Christian preacher who falsely claimed to have cancer says anyone who gave money to his son will be able to get it back.

Michael Guglielmucci faked having a terminal form of leukemia for two years while preaching to the Planetshakers group in Melbourne and Adelaide.

It is believed he received a number of donations for treatment for his fake illness, and even released a music single titled Healer.

His father, Daniel Guglielmucci, a founder of the Edge Church at Reynella, faced reporters this morning.

He said his son was a sinner who must seek repentance, and might need to be sent overseas for treatment in a specialised clinic.

He said the church and his son are taking legal advice about the situation.

He then read a statement from his son to a packed congregation.

In the statement, Michael Guglielmucci said he had been addicted to adult pornography for 16 years, apologised to those he had misled, and promised restitution.

Michael Guglielmucci has been stood down by the Australian Christian Churches, formerly known as Assemblies of God.

The Australian Christian Churches is investigating the incident and says it is still deciding what form of discipline it will take.

Mr Guglielmucci's lawyer says the preacher is receiving psychiatric treatment in Adelaide.


Preacher 'never saw a doctor'

Reported by Elissa Lawrence. August 24, 2008 12:30am

MICHAEL Guglielmucci hung around in doctors' waiting rooms as part of a web of lies to convince followers that he was dying of cancer.

Family members of the fallen Christian superstar were also convinced God had healed him of some of the debilitating effects – including broken bones – of his fake battle with cancer.

Details have begun to emerge about how Mr Guglielmucci deceived those close to him. A friend of 15 years, Adelaide motivational speaker Colin Pearce, revealed his adult sons had been fooled by Mr Guglielmucci.

On a blog he posted this week, Mr Pearce said: "My twin sons were very close to Michael . . . they travelled with him when he preached. They nursed him through deep pain.

"They worked on his websites, backed him up in his quest to stay alive and supported him through thick and thin. And it was all bogus.

"He never had multiple myelomas (sic) or kidney failure or 33 broken bones or leukemia or stomach cancer.

"He never even saw a doctor. He went to hospitals and clinics but hung around the waiting rooms."

Speaking with the Sunday Mail, Mr Pearce said he believed Mr Guglielmucci had read up on the illness before telling people about the symptoms he was suffering.

"His illnesses all progressed from the chemo and his treatment," he said. "So he'd say, `Oh, you'll never guess what's happened, it's gone to my kidneys now' or `It's gone to my stomach'. It was always an extension of the original illness.

"These secondary illnesses can occur . . . if you read the internet and it says be careful you could develop this or that . . . I suppose he just read that."

Despite the fraud, he defended the disgraced pastor.

"He's a beautiful man with a flaw," he said. "He is just the kind of guy everyone loved. He's a big, beautiful cuddly bear who has done something really bizarre which I don't understand."


Pastor conned followers with his fake cancer 'over porn addiction'

Reported by Elissa Lawrence. August 24, 2008 12:00am

The father of a disgraced Melbourne preacher who faked a two-year battle with cancer says his son's porn obsession fuelled the deceit.

Shocked father Danny Guglielmucci - also a minister - said his son Michael's bizarre double life was underpinned by the 16-year addiction.

Michael Guglielmucci, until recently a preacher at the popular Planetshakers youth church in Melbourne, inspired Christians around the world with a hit song, Healer.

The song featured on Sydney church Hillsong's latest album and debuted at No. 2 on the ARIA charts.

But the high-profile church leader was stripped of his credentials this week after he admitted fabricating his battle with terminal illness.

The deception included conducting performances with an oxygen tube in his nose and telling audiences he had broken bones and other unexplained symptoms.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Herald Sun Mr Guglielmucci said he, his wife and Michael's wife had no idea about the deception until recent days and they were all in "absolute shock" to discover Michael wasn't terminally ill.

"My wife and I, over the past two years, have watched him vomit in buckets, having nose bleeds and even his hair fell out in clumps at one stage," he said.

"As a professional minister I've stood in front of my congregation and cried and said to pray for my son."

Mr Guglielmucci revealed his son had suffered "mystery illnesses" since the age of 12 -- about the time his porn addiction began.

Mr Guglielmucci said his son was not motivated by fraud, but by guilt.

"To deal with the guilt he would pour himself into doing good work. He's touched the lives of young people all over the world. Now they are all affected by this."

He said his son was undergoing psychiatric assessment with Adelaide doctors.

"They have said to me that he is very ill. They are assessing where reality stopped and fantasy kicked in and what's caused all this," Mr Guglielmucci said.

Guglielmucci's fake battle against terminal illness had attracted the support of Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian.

It is understood Guglielmucci had performed onstage with Sebastian, whose MySpace page yesterday still included a link to a website where supporters could raise money and show support.

Guglielmucci's bank accounts are being audited by his church and leaders have promised any money raised deceptively will be returned or donated to charity.


Disgraced pastor 'porn addict'

Reported by Elissa Lawerence. August 24, 2008 12:30am

The father of disgraced pastor Michael Guglielmucci has revealed his son has been addicted to pornography since the age of 12.

Danny Guglielmucci – whose high-profile preacher son this week admitted his two-year battle with cancer was fake – said the "severe addiction to pornography" was part of a bizarre double life his son had been leading.

Mr Guglielmucci said Michael had made a full confession to his family about his past, including revelations about the 16-year porn obsession and the lies over his supposed battle with terminal illness.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Mail this week, Mr Guglielmucci also revealed:

HIS son has been suffering "mystery illnesses" since the age of 12.

DOCTORS gave his parents the option of admitting him to a psychiatric ward for assessment as a child over the ongoing "illnesses", but they refused.

THE family's "absolute shock" at discovering Michael was not terminally ill.

Mr Guglielmucci said he and wife Sharonne – who founded Edge Church International – were struggling to comprehend what their son had done.

They are expected to address the church's Adelaide congregation today to explain his actions.

"When (Michael) rang me last Tuesday, I was on my way to New Zealand," Mr Guglielmucci said.

"He said, `Dad you've got to come and see me'.

"I said to my wife, `Maybe the doctors have told him he's only got a few weeks to live'.

"So we cancelled everything and jumped on the plane and went to see him in Melbourne, and that's when he told us the story.

"We were just in absolute shock and we still are. We haven't had time to get our head around it. He said, `I don't have cancer. I've had two lives that I've lived'.

"His wife (Amanda), who has been with him for seven years, found out the day before we did and she's had no idea.

"Michael has had a severe addiction to pornography. The addiction to pornography started when he was 12.

"It's horrendous because we don't have that sort of stuff around. He was raised in a Christian home; we've never brought that stuff into our home."

Michael Guglielmucci was one of Australia's highest-profile Christian preachers, inspiring hundreds of thousands around the world as he performed his hit song Healer with an oxygen tube in his nose. He was a pastor with Planetshakers, Christian youth movement that began in Adelaide and has grown into an international ministry. Guglielmucci was based in Melbourne.

But that all came crashing down this week when his deception became public.

Mr Guglielmucci said his son finally confessed after the guilt of his lies and addiction became overwhelming.

"He lived the two lives and he would get sick as a result of the guilt," he said.

"He was feeling like he was letting God down, letting his family down, his church, his friends.

"He's been living this for so long, feeling like he's had these two lives and now he's the one that's come out in the open. He confessed it, he didn't get caught.

"To deal with the guilt he would pour himself into doing good work. He's touched the lives of young people all over the world. Now they are all affected by this.

"He hasn't done this for any reasons that have been portrayed that he's a fraud.

"It was either keep pretending or come out with the truth and tell everything. He's come out with everything but now we've got the consequences of it all.

"We have to accept it. We're hoping to share with our congregation how it all started and how it got where it is.

"We understand people's anger, we understand their questioning.

"There's so many questions.

"An addiction like this is not going to be fixed overnight. You can't have a 16-year problem and fix it in a week."

Mr Guglielmucci said his son was undergoing psychiatric assessment with Adelaide doctors.

"They have said to me that he is very ill. They are assessing where reality stopped and fantasy kicked in and what's caused all this," he said.

"The doctor believes that at times Michael was totally convinced that he had this sickness."

Mr Guglielmucci said his son had a long history of "mystery illnesses", starting in childhood.

"When he was about 12 he did vomit all the time, he'd get really really sick," he said.

"He was in the Adelaide Children's Hospital for seven weeks at one stage; he didn't eat and we thought we were going to lose him.

"They took out his appendix, thinking that it might be that, but they realised that it wasn't.

"They gave us the option of putting him in a psychiatric ward to see if there was something psychological but we felt uncomfortable with that at the time.

"We signed him out from hospital and then he would go a few months and then he would get sick again.

"We'd always take him to hospital; we'd always do the proper thing but they couldn't get to the bottom of it until now."

Mr Guglielmucci said he and his wife were in "absolute shock" to discover their son was not terminally ill.

"We have watched our son go through what we thought was cancer," he said. "My wife and I, over the past two years, have watched him vomit in buckets, having nosebleeds, and even his hair fell out in clumps at one stage.

"Every time we saw him, we saw symptoms. He stayed with us for a while where we had to put a special air-conditioner in one of the rooms because he would heat up so much in the middle of winter.

"He had this cold air-conditioner blowing on him to try to keep the heat down. As a professional minister I've stood in front of my congregation and cried and said to pray for my son.

"I've travelled the world asking people to pray for him. Can you imagine what a horrible thing it would be if I was playing a game?

"To be honest, I ask myself as a father, `What did I miss, what did I not do? What could I have done better?' "

Mr Guglielmucci said Michael's wife was "getting really good counselling".

"She's not made any decision at this point," he said.

"It's happened so quickly. There's so many questions."


Duped Christians want their money back

By Kim Wheatley. August 23, 2008 02:17am

Angry Christians have condemned disgraced pastor Michael Guglielmucci's cancer hoax as the ultimate act of betrayal - and they want their money back.

His lawyer revealed yesterday that the inspirational preacher was receiving psychiatric help after confessing to faking a two-year battle with terminal cancer.

Lawyer Matthew Selley told The Advertiser his client had no plans to report to police despite Pentecostal church officials advising him to reveal details of any cash that may have been raised deceptively.

Mr Guglielmucci remained in hiding yesterday but has already made an exclusive arrangement with Channel 7's Today Tonight.

Mr Guglielmucci has been described as a Christian superstar, inspiring hundreds of thousands around the world as he performed his hit song Healer with an oxygen tube in his nose.

One of those was former Edge Church International member Alex Saint, 24, who bought the music and was touched by his idol's supposed strength.

The video editor, who lives near Murray Bridge, felt a connection because his mother had recently died of breast cancer.

As a result, he donated a small amount to the now-defunct Facebook page "Praying Together for Mike Guglielmucci".

"I believed every word he said. I believed he was going through hell," Mr Saint said.

"My heart goes out to all the people who have been hurt . . . to make all this up is extremely crushing for anyone who has gone through cancer. There's no better script than to be dying of cancer and giving glory to God in a Christian context . . . it's the highest form of fraud."

Another believer, Caroline, 46, donated $800 after seeing Mr Guglielmucci perform at the Edge Church at Reynella about five months ago.

The grandmother, who is receiving a disability pension, was saving the money to take her four-year-old grandson - who is wheelchair-bound with cerebral palsy - to Sydney for a holiday.

"I feel like a real idiot," she said. "I saw Michael talk and sing and he's so very charismatic.

"I decided to donate the money because I thought it could benefit more people, but what a con."

But supporters have rallied around Mr Guglielmucci, including former Family First MLC and Paradise Church pastor Andrew Evans, who believes people will turn the other cheek.

"My gut feeling is that people will forgive him," he said.

Mr Evans' son Russell founded PlanetShakers and has preached alongside Mr Guglielmucci.


Pastor told to see cops about fake cancer

15:00 AEST Fri Aug 22 2008

A pop-star pastor who lied about having terminal cancer has been told to report to police over donations given to him by concerned people.

Michael Guglielmucci, whose song "Healer" was a massive hit among young evangelical Christians, has admitted to lying about having terminal cancer.

Australian Christian Churches, which suspended Mr Guglielmucci after his confession, has ordered the disgraced preacher to speak to police and will audit his bank accounts, the Adelaide Advertiser reports.

Mr Guglielmucci claimed that "Healer" came to him as "a gift from God" on the day that he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

He appeared on stage wearing oxygen tubes in his nose and appeared in documentary programs describing his battle with the disease.

It is believed Mr Guglielmucci's wife and family believed he was genuinely ill.

"Healer" appeared on the most recent album from Australian mega-church Hillsong and propelled Mr Guglielmucci to the forefront of Australia's evangelical youth movement.


Disgraced pastor Michael Guglielmucci seeing psychiatrist

Kim Wheatley, Chief Reporter. August 22, 2008 04:00pm

DISGRACED Christian pastor Michael Guglielmucci is receiving psychiatric help after being exposed for faking a terminal illness, his lawyer has revealed.

In a statement issued a short time ago, Adelaide solicitor Matt Selley said Mr Guglielmucci has been struggling with issues for many years, but did not elaborate on what those issues were.

Mr Guglielmucci inspired hundreds of thousands of young Christians around the world as he performed his hit tune Healer with an oxygen tube in his nose.

The Advertiser revealed today that pentacostal church officials told him to report to police, who will investigate what has happened to money raised during his two-year cancer deception.

"I have had only a limited opportunity to confer with Mr Guglielmucci," Mr Selley wrote.

"I understand that he has been in the care of a psychiatrist this week seeking assistance in dealing with issues with which he has struggled for many years - and which I understand may explain how this situation has arisen.

"I have spoken with Mr Guglielmucci's psychiatrist, who has confirmed that Michael is unwell and no doubt the publicity he has attracted in the past day or so is adding to his pressures.

"In the circumstances, Mr Guglielmucci will not be making any further statement to the media."


Controversy and Criticism

On August 20, 2008 by Guglielmucci's own admission he had presented a false claim about his health, specifically having cancer. This was documented in the media as to being a shock to his church and his own family.

Australian Christian Churches vice president Alun Davies gave a statement that Mr Guglielmucci had admitted to fabricating his illness:

"Representatives of the National Executive for the Australian Christian Churches recently met with Michael Guglielmucci. At this meeting, he read a statement indicating that his claim to have cancer was untrue." His credential with the Australian Christian Churches was immediately suspended.

According to The Advertiser (Adelaide) Mr Guglielmucci may release a statement on the situation soon.

Shortly after the news broke of this alleged fraud, videos were removed from Youtube which showed Guglielmucci speaking openly about his cancer and also featured various footage of him wearing an oxygen mask while leading worship. The Youtube messages indicating that the Hillsong Publishing was asserting their copyright of the material and having the videos removed. However, Hillsong Publishing had not previously asserted their copyright for the video on Youtube featuring Guglielmucci and his song "Healer" and even recently saw the video reach as high as 300,000 views. Since the news of Guglielmucci's alleged fraud, every other attempt to host the videos has been met shortly thereafter by Hillsong asserting their copyright to have them removed.


'Cancer claim' preacher in psychiatric care

An Adelaide lawyer acting for a preacher who admitted falsely claiming to have cancer says his client is now in the care of a psychiatrist.

Melbourne-based Michael Guglielmucci has been stood down by the Australian Christian Churches, formerly known as Assemblies of God.

Lawyer Matthew Selley said Mr Guglielmucci will not be making any statement to the media.

But a statement about the preacher, who is the son of the founder of the Edge Church at Reynella in Adelaide, will be read at churches on Sunday.


Pop star pastor lied about cancer - 12:00 AEST Thu Aug 21 2008

A pastor who claimed terminal cancer inspired him to write a hit evangelical pop song has been exposed as a fraud.

Michael Guglielmucci told worshippers, friends and his own family that he was likely to die from the disease.

He claimed his hit song "Healer", which was included on mega-church Hillsong's latest album, came to him as a "gift from God" on the day the diagnosis was revealed.

It propelled Mr Guglielmucci, formerly a pastor with Melbourne-based church Planetshakers, to the forefront of Australia's Christian youth movement.

But the story was completely made up.

A statement from Australian Christian Churches vice president Alun Davies said Mr Guglielmucci, now living in Adelaide, had admitted to fabricating his cancer story.

"Representatives of the National Executive for the Australian Christian Churches recently met with Michael Guglielmucci," Mr Davies said.

"At this meeting, he read a statement indicating that his claim to have cancer was untrue.

"His credential with the Australian Christian Churches was immediately suspended."

An abundance of material documenting Mr Guglielmucci's falsified illness is available on the internet.

In one Hillsong video, subtitled in Spanish and posted to YouTube, the pastor described his made-up cancer diagnosis in meticulous detail.

"I went to the hospital expecting to have some tests and got the news that I had cancer, and quite an aggressive form of cancer," he said.

"I walked into my studio at home and for some reason pressed record, which was a good thing ... I just sat at a piano and began to worship.

"I didn't, like, sit down and write the verses and the chorus, I just sang that song from the start to the finish.

"I just realised that God had given me an incredible gift and I knew that was going to be my strength."

A Facebook group entitled "I continue to love and support Michael Guglielmucci" has been set up, with many young Christians calling for the pastor to be forgiven.

But comments attached to YouTube videos have been less kind.

"Should this still be on [here]? Can someone delete it? Mike never had cancer, it's all a lie he made up. It's embarrassing and sad to watch," read one comment.

In an e-mail sent to Hillsong members yesterday, the church's general manager George Aghajanian said the news was even a shock to Mr Guglielmucci's own family.

The suspended pastor was seeking professional help, the e-mail said.

Planetshakers spokesman Darryn Keneally said his church was "devastated by the elaborate hoax".

He said Mr Guglielmucci would make reparations to anyone who gave him money because of his made-up sickness. "There were no fundraisers conducted however when Michael left the church, 18 months ago, a special offering was taken up in honor of his services to the church," he said.

"Planetshakers Church did not ask for any congregational financial support to be given to Michael and we have not given him any financial assistance since.

"We have asked that all money generated from the proceeds of his song Healer be donated to charity."


Pastor Michael Guglielmucci spun gospel of lies

By Kim Wheatley. August 21, 2008 12:57am

He preached to thousands about his terminal illness and tugged at hearts with a hit song.

The problem is the pastor wasn't dying at all

Michael Guglielmucci, who inspired hundreds of thousands of young Christians with his terminal cancer "battle", has been exposed as a fraud.

Guglielmucci, whose parents established Edge Church International, an Assemblies of God church at O'Halloran Hill in Adelaide's southern suburbs, now is seeking professional help.

Earlier this year, Mr Guglielmucci released a hit song, Healer , which was featured on Sydney church Hillsong's latest album.

The song debuted at No. 2 on the ARIA charts.

It since has become an anthem of faith for believers, many of whom are suffering their own illness and were praying for a miracle for Mr Guglielmucci, who has claimed for two years to be terminally ill.

In one church performance that has attracted 300,000 hits on YouTube, he performs his hit song with an oxygen tube in his nose.

It appears Mr Guglielmucci, who was a pastor with one of Australia's biggest youth churches, Planetshakers, may even have deceived his own family.

"This news has come as a great shock to everyone including, it seems, his own wife and family," Hillsong general manager George Aghajanian said in an email to his congregation yesterday.

"Michael has confirmed that he is not suffering with a terminal illness and is seeking professional help in Adelaide with the support of his family. We are asking our church to pray for the Guglielmucci family during this difficult time."

The Advertiser was told last night Mr Guglielmucci may release a statement on the situation.

The Australian Christian Church said Mr Guglielmucci's credentials immediately were suspended once he told the national executive that his cancer claims were "untrue".

"The national executive is taking this matter very seriously and is awaiting the results of medical tests before determining the full extent of the discipline that will be imposed upon him," vice president Alun Davies said.

"We are very concerned for the many people who have been or will be hurt by Michael's actions.

"We encourage all of our churches to pray for all those affected."


Kenneth Hagin's Forgotten Warning - By J. Lee Grady

Before he died in 2003, the revered father of the Word-Faith movement corrected his spiritual sons for going to extremes with their message of prosperity.

Charismatic Bible teacher Kenneth Hagin Sr. is considered the father of the so-called prosperity gospel. The folksy, self-trained "Dad Hagin" started a grass-roots movement in Oklahoma that produced a Bible college and a crop of famous preachers including Kenneth Copeland, Jerry Savelle, Charles Capps, Jesse DuPlantis, Creflo Dollar and dozens of others-all of whom teach that Christians who give generously should expect financial rewards on this side of heaven.

Hagin taught that God was not glorified by poverty and that preachers do not have to be poor. But before he died in 2003 and left his Rhema Bible Training Center in the hands of his son, Kenneth Hagin Jr., he summoned many of his colleagues to Tulsa to rebuke them for distorting his message. He was not happy that some of his followers were manipulating the Bible to support what he viewed as greed and selfish indulgence.

Those who were close to Hagin Sr. say he was passionate about correcting these abuses before he died. In fact, he wrote a brutally honest book to address his concerns. The Midas Touch was published in 2000, a year after the infamous Tulsa meeting.

Many Word-Faith ministers ignored the book. But in light of the recent controversy over prosperity doctrines, it might be a good idea to dust it off and read it again.

Here are a few of the points Hagin made in The Midas Touch:

1. Financial prosperity is not a sign of God's blessing. Hagin wrote: "If wealth alone were a sign of spirituality, then drug traffickers and crime bosses would be spiritual giants. Material wealth can be connected to the blessings of God or it can be totally disconnected from the blessings of God."

2. People should never give in order to get. Hagin was critical of those who "try to make the offering plate some kind of heavenly vending machine." He denounced those who link giving to getting, especially those who give cars to get new cars or who give suits to get new suits. He wrote: "There is no spiritual formula to sow a Ford and reap a Mercedes."

3. It is not biblical to "name your seed" in an offering. Hagin was horrified by this practice, which was popularized in faith conferences during the 1980s. Faith preachers sometimes tell donors that when they give in an offering they should claim a specific benefit to get a blessing in return. Hagin rejected this idea and said that focusing on what you are going to receive "corrupts the very attitude of our giving nature."

4. The "hundredfold return" is not a biblical concept. Hagin did the math and figured out that if this bizarre notion were true, "we would have Christians walking around with not billions or trillions of dollars, but quadrillions of dollars!" He rejected the popular teaching that a believer should claim a specific monetary payback rate.

5. Preachers who claim to have a "debt-breaking" anointing should not be trusted. Hagin was perplexed by ministers who promise "supernatural debt cancellation" to those who give in certain offerings. He wrote in The Midas Touch: "There is not one bit of Scripture I know about that validates such a practice. I'm afraid it is simply a scheme to raise money for the preacher, and ultimately it can turn out to be dangerous and destructive for all involved."

(Many evangelists who appear on Christian television today use this bogus claim. Usually they insist that the miraculous debt cancellation will occur only if a person "gives right now," as if the anointing for this miracle suddenly evaporates after the prime time viewing hour. This manipulative claim is more akin to witchcraft than Christian belief.)

Hagin condemned other hairbrained gimmicks designed to trick audiences into emptying their wallets. He was especially incensed when a preacher told his radio listeners that he would take their prayer requests to Jesus' empty tomb in Jerusalem and pray over them there-if donors included a special love gift. "What that radio preacher really wanted was more people to send in offerings," Hagin wrote.

Thanks to the recent resurgence in bizarre donation schemes promoted by American charismatics, the prosperity gospel is back under the nation's microscope. It's time to revisit Hagin's concerns and find a biblical balance.

Hagin told his followers: "Overemphasizing or adding to what the Bible actually teaches invariably does more harm than good." If the man who pioneered the modern concept of biblical prosperity blew the whistle on his own movement, wouldn't it make sense for us to listen to his admonition?

Hillsong reopens building plans


TWO months after Hillsong Church scotched plans for a $78 million mega-church and office block at Rosebery, the Christian group is eyeing off a site just two bus stops down the road.

The Herald understands the church made a multimillion-dollar offer to the City of Sydney for the former South Sydney Hospital site in Joynton Avenue, Rosebery.

The council did not accept the offer but instead will seek expressions of interest in the old hospital from potential developers, which may include Hillsong.

Hillsong decided in June to withdraw its application to build a 2700-seat auditorium at nearby Rothschild Avenue. Independent experts contracted by the council had found earlier that month that the proposal would breach height limits and worsen traffic.

The Herald learnt yesterday that a senior council staff member subsequently suggested to Hillsong that they offer to buy the former hospital, acquired by the former South Sydney City Council for $14 million in 2002.

A spokesman for the City of Sydney would not confirm or deny the suggestion, saying only that: "Hillsong and other parties have approached us about the South Sydney Hospital site, which is publicly known to be zoned for redevelopment.

"The City is regularly approached by developers or other groups about our properties.

"Any eventual development will be subject to a development application process and will need to respect the site's heritage items."

Members of the Rosebery Residents Action Group are furious, saying that such a church in Joynton Avenue would cause the same traffic problems as the plan rejected by council experts in July.

"It is truly just two bus stops up the road," said the group's spokesman, Graeme Grace. "I would hope the council would not be interested in entertaining a mega-church or entertainment centre on the hospital site. This has nothing to do with religion; we are extremely worried about the traffic."

The Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, confirmed at a community meeting last night that Hillsong had expressed interest in the hospital site but would not say if she supported their plan.

The Greens councillor Chris Harris said the council should not be in a rush to sell: "It would be good site for a future school or hospital or aged-care facility."

The Labor candidate for the mayoral elections, Meredith Burgmann, said: "I have been convinced by the residents that its absolutely the wrong area to have a mega-church with a 3000-odd seat auditorium. The traffic issues in a quiet suburb would be awful. The council should put a caveat on what it could be used for, saying it has to be an aged-care facility or something."

Hillsong declined to comment.


Hillsong accused of closet zealotry

July 29, 2008 Paul Bibby

STUDENTS opting out of scripture classes at a Sydney high school are being invited to attend a personal development program run by the Hillsong Church where they are hearing personal testimonials from church members, a teacher at the school says.

The teacher's federation representative for Cheltenham Girls High, Doug Williamson, said non-scripture students at the school were being invited to join the Shine program, where they were exposed to religious content.

Hillsong Church says Shine is non-religious and the volunteers who conduct the program do not evangelise, but Mr Williamson said children had been told stories about finding religion.

"My understanding is that on a number of occasions the facilitators have spoken about their own lives and how they came to be members of the Hillsong Church," Mr Williamson said. "It is inappropriate for students to be subjected to this kind of closet evangelism."

Speaking through the Department of Education's media unit, the school's principal, Susan Marshall, told the Herald all parents were informed the Shine program was run by Hillsong and had to sign a permission slip.

She said there was no evidence to suggest testimonials were provided during the program and that "if they were, the program would be terminated".

But Mr Williamson said he believed many parents were not fully aware of what the classes involved, and that without constant monitoring, there was "no way to know exactly what's going on".

A parent from another Sydney school said students at her child's school were automatically enrolled in the Shine program if they chose not to attend scripture.

"When you tick the box [for non-scripture] you are automatically told that your child will be enrolled in Shine," the parent said. "It appears that they don't have enough teachers to supervise the kids if they don't do scripture, so they just bung them in Shine. It's an alarming situation because most of the mums and dads don't even know it's happening."

The NSW Greens yesterday called for Shine to be suspended while allegations that it put an unhealthy and inappropriate emphasis on physical appearance were investigated. It joined the NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens in expressing concern that the program could damage the self-esteem of the at-risk girls it purported to help.

Hillsong Citycare said grooming was an aspect of the program but not its main focus.


What will this mean for Hillsong?

Charities, churches set to fill tax coffers

CHARITIES and other non-government organisations could lose billions of dollars' worth of tax perks as the Rudd Government's taxation review prepares to examine whether the concessions offered to the $80 billion non-profit sector are justified.

The investigation, by Treasury boss Ken Henry, is expected to meet with resistance from some of the sector's most powerful groups, The Australian reports.

Most of the country's religious groups, which make up about $25 billion of the sector, run commercial enterprises.

Among them is the Seventh Day Adventists' cereal giant Sanitarium, which generates more than $300 million a year.


Many of the operations have little to do with charitable work but are exempt from various taxes including corporate tax and capital gains tax.

The Catholic Church has long opposed reforms such as the creation of a national charities commission to regulate the sector, or charging tax on commercial enterprises.

While any changes eventually recommended by Dr Henry may offer the opportunity to bolster Treasury's coffers, it will create a significant political challenge for Kevin Rudd, a devout Christian who has courted the religious vote.

Australian Industry Group head Heather Ridout, a member of the Henry review's committee, said the non-profit sector was a huge part of the economy and so it made sense to look at it as part of the review.

"The agenda is broad and so all types of entities will be looked at in this review," she said. "The non-profit sector is a very big and important part of this, particularly since we have had a lot of changes in welfare benefits and their interface with tax."

Business enterprises run by religious groups range from pizza chains, insurance companies, wineries, farms, schools, hospitals and aged-care facilities. All are exempt from tax. Australia is one of the few countries in the world where religious groups are not forced to pay tax on business ventures.


Hillsong Church's $78m church plan for Rosebery dumped

July 03, 2008 12:00am

THE Hillsong Church has withdrawn its $78 million Sydney church proposal on the day before it was due to be refused.

The development application was pulled yesterday after an independent report blasted the proposal as being too big, too tall and causing too much traffic congestion for the suburb of Rosebery.

A decision was due to be made tonight, but Hillsong general manager George Aghajanian stepped in at the last minute to cancel the Central Sydney Planning Committee (CSPC) meeting.

"We disagree with the recommendation and many of the findings of the independent planner's report, and are re-evaluating our options," Mr Aghajanian said.

"We believe we have a strong case in defending our application and we will continue discussions with council about finding a way forward for a church in the Green Square precinct."

The Angelini Planning Services said the proposal for a 2700-seat auditorium and an office block, included 679 parking spaces, which "would duplicate week-day peak traffic volumes on the weekend".

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said more than 1092 submissions were made to the council over the development, 276 objecting and 816 in support.

Brian Houston, senior Pastor of the Hillsong Church, said they would not be deterred by this latest setback.


Hillsong hits schools with beauty gospel

Paul Bibby, July 26, 2008

Every Tuesday afternoon during the first term at Matraville Sports High School, a group of young women take part in classes intended to boost their self-esteem. Some have personal problems, others have behavioural issues, while a few simply go because their friends do.

For the next two hours they learn a range of skills including how to put on make-up, do their hair and nails, and walk with books balanced on their heads.

The program, called Shine, was created by the Hillsong Church. It is being run in at least 20 NSW public schools, numerous small community organisations and within the juvenile justice system.

Hillsong describes Shine as a "practical, life-equipping, values-based course" and its website is awash with glowing testimonials from young women whose lives have been improved by learning about "being a good friend" and "learning about myself".

But serious concerns have been raised by teachers, adolescent developmental experts and parents groups. They say the program is inappropriate for troubled young women, that the under-qualified facilitators are reinforcing gender stereotypes. and that some parents have not been properly informed.

Shine was originally developed by the CityCare arm of Hillsong as an explicitly religious program. The church says it is now "community-based, not religious-based" but, as recently as 2005, promotional material referred to young women's "created uniqueness".

"Through skin care, natural make-up, hair care, nail care girls discover their value and created uniqueness," the material says.

The term has been omitted from more recent material but the beauty classes remain, as do etiquette and deportment lessons.

The program has set alarm bells ringing for psychologists such as Dianna Kenny, an adolescent development expert at the University of Sydney. "They are essentially saying you are not appropriate as you are and we're going to show you how to be appropriate," Professor Kenny said.

"We don't have control of our physical characteristics. To emphasise that takes away from the autonomy of people as individual human beings. That runs completely contrary to what we know about adolescent development.

"We do want our young people to feel good about themselves, but what [they] need is help from professional counsellors."

Most of the facilitators who deliver Shine in Sydney classrooms have no university counselling qualifications, although Hillsong says they must have some qualifications or experience.

In some schools, Matraville Sports High included, the program is run by careers or physical education teachers. At other schools, including Alexandria Park, Glenwood and Cheltenham Girls, it is run by young recruits from Hillsong's leadership college.

Schools pay Hillsong to run the program, with parents asked to pay for books and materials such as hair spray and make-up.

"Over the last two or three years teachers have been coming to us with concerns about Shine," said the president of the Hills Teachers Association, Sui-Linn White. "It is the gender stereotypes that they are imposing. The focus on skin care, nail care, hair care - it objectifies women … These are things women fought against for centuries - they've got no place in a public school."

One teacher from a Hills district school, who asked not to be named, said Shine facilitators had run activities that undermined other teachers. "They were asking the kids to talk about which of the teachers they didn't like."

He said parents may not have been properly informed. "I don't know whether the parents, knowing what we know now, would have put their kids in. I don't know whether the school would have hired them in the first place."

Parents groups from Queensland and the Northern Territory have complained that their schools have tried to sneak Shine in almost unnoticed.

"In our view, this is a way of getting religion into schools through subterranean means," said one parent, Hugh Wilson. "The principal or the chaplain decides it's a good idea and, next thing you know, your kids are being taught about make-up by the Hillsong Church."

The church says parents have been overwhelmingly supportive of the program.


Search Strings

This page gets a lot of interesting traffic from search engines.

Here are some actual keyword web stats. They are are from the Past 30 Days (as of 17th April 2008). They are keyword/phrases have been used that has seen people land on this page.

I've removed names of people for the sake of privacy*.

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* I've taken the liberty of removing more than one persons actual name where it has associated them with what some might consider controversial. This is not to say that search strings are true or that they are allegations, just that they are merely a factual account of what people are searching for to end up on this page.

Gloria Jean's shortlist

The names of all four agencies vying for the Gloria Jean's creative account have been revealed, with a decision on the winner expected within the next three weeks.

Incumbent ReedMiltiadesKaye, an independent Sydney agency that also counts Starbucks among its list of clients, today confirmed it was part of the pitch for the Gloria Jean's account.

Industry sources reveal ReedMiltiadesKaye is up against SMART, 303 and M&C Saatchi as part of a four-way shootout for the high-profile account.

Creative agency Kindred, which was merged into SMART Sydney in September last year, created a TVC campaign for Gloria Jean's over a year ago as a one-off project, while the account was still sitting with ReedMiltiadesKaye.

The Australian-based cafe chain, which also sells its own brand of coffee beans, spent an estimated $2.7 million on main media advertising in the 12 months to January 2008, according to Nielsen Media Research, up significantly from the $800,000 it spent during the previous corresponding period.

Gloria Jean's confirmed the account had been put out to pitch last month, with an announcement on the winner expected in May. Although Gloria Jean's had not returned calls at time of writing, AdNews understands the pitch process is well on track, with a winner likely to be announced within the next two or three weeks.

Gloria Jean's came under heavy media scrutiny recently for its sponsorship of Mercy Ministries and association with the Hillsong Church. A spokesperson for Gloria Jean's, however, told AdNews last month the current creative pitch was unrelated to the recent controversy and had been called long before media interest spiked.


Hillsong Reacts to Idol's Shout to the Lord

Hillsong Church leaders say they are thrilled that their song "Shout to the Lord," was chosen for American Idol's Give Back broadcast that aired Wednesday.

But they also said they were not asked about the removal of the name Jesus in the broadcast performance.

"Hillsong Church was thrilled to see the song "Shout To The Lord" performed recently on American Idol," officials with the Australian church said in a statement issued late Friday.

"It received an incredible response and was the fifth most downloaded song in this week's U.S. iTunes charts," a church spokesperson said.

The show's eight final contestants from season seven first sang the song during American Idol's second annual charity drive Idol Gives Back. But during the broadcast, the opening line of the song was changed to remove the name of Jesus. The word 'shepherd' was inserted instead.

But in a reprisal of the song Thursday night, and in the downloaded version, "Jesus" was left in.

"Darlene Zschech and Hillsong Church were not asked, nor approved, of the name of Jesus being replaced," the spokesperson said. "We were pleased to see that the song was performed again with the correct lyrics."

Wednesday night's performance became the number one download from that night in the United States.

"Wow. I've never heard this song until they played it on Idol Gives Back," said one reviewer of the downloaded performance. "I really liked how it was giving praise to the Lord and was full of hope. It was beautiful."

On Wednesday, millions tuned in to the charity show to see the needs spread across the globe -- everything from hungry children to AIDS victims.

Numerous celebrities participated in the event to encourage viewers to donate, including Bono, Miley Cyrus, Brad Pitt, Billy Crystal, and Peyton and Eli Manning -- just to name a few.

Producers expect the event to raise $100 million.


Why Mercy Ministries was godsent for Hillsong

When the Hillsong Church introduced Mercy Ministries to the congregation, there was much excitement. There was finally somewhere that "girls in trouble" could go to keep their babies, or sort out other consequences of their sins while being pampered like a princess into a brand new life.

Pastor Bobbie Houston set up a Mercy register at David Jones, much like a bridal register, where members of the congregation could buy household goods for the girls at Mercy House: perhaps a washing machine or a dustpan and brush. It was like one big Hillsong wedding for the Mary Magdalenes they were forgiving. See how good God is to those sorts of girls?

But girls who have undergone the Mercy Ministries program say the experience did more harm than good, as the Herald reported yesterday. Rather than receiving psychiatric care and support, they were isolated from the outside world and given treatments which consisted of prayer reading and exorcisms.

To understand how this could come about, it is necessary to understand the relationship between Mercy Ministries and the Hillsong Church and the philosophy that unites them.

Hillsong has always been proud of the origins and progress of the Australian incarnation of Mercy Ministries. According to Hillsong folklore, a female congregant, unable to find help in Australia for an eating disorder, travelled to the United States for treatment at Mercy Ministries. Mercy Ministries was created by an American, Nancy Alcorn, who says she was frustrated in her role as a juvenile justice officer because of the injustices of the system. She determined to open a place for young women that would be independent of government funding and intervention, and free, so women would feel sincerely cared for.

While the Australian congregant was at Mercy Ministries, she was visited by a Hillsong pastor. The pastor was so impressed with the work being done she decided to bring the program to Australia.

Mercy Ministries was a godsend for Hillsong. Desperate young women who are violated by the world draw a sympathetic audience. It seemed a simple concept for Hillsong to mimic locally and it was presented as a utopia of female health. Hillsong is an organisation based on recruitment and fund-raising. Mercy Ministries was an opportunity to do both on a new and larger scale.

The founders of Mercy Ministries are fundamentalist Christians who are primarily obsessed with women's bodies and what they choose to do with them. The Bible is used to justify the supposed inferiority and intrinsic sinfulness of women and homosexuals. Hillsong teaches that a woman's purpose, as an afterthought of God, is as a helper and a companion at best, and with Eve as their ultimate matriarch, the cause of the fall of all mankind.

The teaching when I was at Hillsong included the lesson that women are attached to their offspring eternally. All the miscarriages, terminations and stillbirths a woman has during her lifetime grow up in heaven, waiting for their mother to join them.

But you will never see any of this on Hillsong pamphlets. All you find are photos of shiny, happy people holding hands. And inside the front cover is a promise that a truckload of love is waiting for you whenever you want it. It's only in the third dimension that you discover how much love costs. The love dries up when the money runs out or, worse yet, when you don't agree with the program.

Mercy, justice, liberty and compassion are concepts that evangelicals view as their own. They believe their God is the author of these values, and that with a monopoly on truth they have an imperative to administer them globally.

It is no surprise that the girls and young women who attended Mercy Ministries did not receive the psychiatric help they were seeking. Fundamentalist Christians are suspicious of psychiatry and psychology, unless prefixed with the word Christian. Psychotic symptoms such as voices are evidence of demons that medication cannot expel. I recall one Hillsong pastor proudly describing his own daughter's employment at Mercy Ministries. He said she could counsel by birthright, aided by her bible college wisdom.

Having worked in a women's refuge for five years, I know there are few social services out there. And such little love. It's hard for young women who are tired, frightened and hungry to distinguish love from opportunism. Something has to be done to advocate for the needy when fundamentalists can smell their blood.

Tanya Levin is a former member of the Hillsong Church and the author of People In Glass Houses.


The business of giving Mercy

Complex ties link Mercy Ministries to its supporters, writes Ruth Pollard.

Deeply felt ties bind Mercy Ministries, Gloria Jean's and the Hillsong Church, connected through a complicated chain of directors and former directors - as well as donations.

As they deal with allegations, revealed in the Herald yesterday, of inappropriate treatment of residents in Mercy Ministries' Sydney and Sunshine Coast houses, they insist the organisations are completely unrelated, despite sharing common board members and directors.

"Hillsong do not own or run Mercy Ministries … Hillsong are a financial supporter, as are many churches in Sydney and around the country," said Peter Irvine, who until recently was both the managing director of Gloria Jean's Coffees and a director of Mercy Ministries.

Mr Irvine is still on the board of Mercy Ministries and is responsible for its corporate sponsorship, and told the Herald he had taken a back seat at Gloria Jean's Coffees, although he is still a board member and shareholder.

He said there was no conflict of interest in holding the two roles, saying he had focused for the past year on publishing a book and consulting businesses on franchising rather than any day-to-day running of Gloria Jean's.

Mercy Ministries' accounts were audited each year, Mr Irvine said. However, it produced no annual reports and would not publicly release any financial information.

A copy of its financial statements and reports submitted to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission last October indicate it had income of $1.365 million in 2006, yet it is unclear how much of this includes transfers of Centrelink payments by the young women who seek out Mercy's help.

As to the women's allegations, Mr Irvine said: "In any program you will always get a few that are disenchanted because they do not get their way and then criticise everything.

"The girls are not forced to come into the program … our people go out of their way to explain and prepare them."

Two former directors of Mercy Ministries, Mark and Darlene Zschech, who brought the program to Australia from the US in 2001, have also been associate directors of the Hillsong Church's annual conference.

Darlene, described as "one of the key worship leaders at Hillsong Church", and her husband no longer appear to have any connection to Mercy Ministries.

Mercy Ministries' accountant, Stephen Crouch, is married to another organiser of the Hillsong conference, Pastor Donna Crouch.

The Hillsong Foundation, the church's charitable arm, supports Mercy Ministries to deliver the programs.

Gloria Jean's Coffees supports Mercy Ministries through corporate donations and fund-raising activities that include cash donation boxes in stores and an annual fund-raising weekend, "Cappuccino for a Cause", where 50 cents from each cappuccino sold goes to Mercy Ministries, a spokeswoman said.

However, information on how much financial support Gloria Jean's contributes to the ministry, support that has continued since 2003, was unavailable, she said.

And despite the swag of allegations over the Mercy Ministries program - including claims that young women with mental illnesses had been forbidden from gaining access to medical or psychiatric care unsupervised, or from doctors independent of the program, and claims of the use of exorcisms to treat health problems - the spokeswoman said Gloria Jean's would not be reviewing its sponsorship arrangements.

The Catholic Sisters of Mercy, who have long been involved in health care, education and social welfare programs throughout the country, have stressed that they have no connection with Mercy Ministries.

"All Sisters of Mercy in Australia wish to make clear to their co-workers, family members, friends and associates, current or potential benefactors and any other interested persons, that they have no relationship whatsoever with Mercy Ministries Inc," a spokeswoman said.


God's cure for gays lost in sin

Former residents say separation contracts, a ban on physical contact and teachings by an 'ex-gay' are part of Mercy Ministry's attempts to stamp out lesbianism in its flock, reports Ruth Pollard.

WHEN Mercy Ministries says it helps young women with "life-controlling issues", it means in part that it aims to teach them not to be lesbians.

In line with the Hillsong Church's strict doctrines teaching that homosexuality is an affliction that can be cured, Mercy Ministries is keen to ensure there is no lesbianism under its roof. It issues "separation contracts" to young women who make friends with each other and prevents any form of physical contact between residents.

"While I was there, we received much teaching on the evils of gay and lesbian lifestyles," said Naomi Johnson, who spent nine months in the ministry's Sydney house.

As someone with no issues about her sexuality, she was perplexed by the ministry's continuing focus on the issue.

"In particular, there was an ongoing teaching video series by Sy Rogers an 'ex-gay' - now reformed - married Christian," she said.

Rogers - an American who conducts speaking tours on Christianity and sexuality- spoke at Hillsong Church's Sense and Sexuality Workshop in Sydney last September and is due to address its Colour Your World Conference next year.

"Sy will bless you with his insights into identity and the heart," the Hillsong website says.

"Happily, homosexuality can be turned around," Mr Rogers says in a clip of his show, Turnaround, on "Homosexuality is out of tune with religion; it is not what God planned for human sexuality."

On its application form, Mercy Ministries used to ask young women if they had been involved in lesbianism, next to the question on whether they had been involved in prostitution. They changed that in 2006 to ask "have you ever been involved in any form of same-sex relationships?".

Another former resident, who did not wish to be identified, said: "Girls were asked on the application form, as well as in a telephone interview, if they have ever had lesbian or bisexual relationships. They asked if I had

been involved in drug abuse, witchcraft, or lesbianism. They bunched them in together like that."

In the house, residents were prevented from having any form of physical contact - no comforting hugs, no shoulder to cry on - and even though there were three young women to each bedroom, they were not allowed to change clothes if another person was in the room, she said.

Mercy Ministries denies it runs an "ex-gay" program, and Hillsong has stopped running its "ex-gay" program, called Living Waters, although both organisations remain staunchly conservative - anti-abortion and anti-gay.

The Herald asked Hillsong to explain its teachings on homosexuality. No response had been received last night.

One former member of Hillsong, who held several "leadership positions" in the church, revealed that he was shunned when he disclosed his homosexuality.

"The ostracising that occurred by fellow worshippers was severe," said the man, who asked not to be identified. "As soon as I came out my entire social network decided the best way to deal with the situation was to stop all communication with me.

"The only hope I had was my family and friends who were extremely supportive as they were not Hillsong members."

Hillsong Church taught that the devil inspired people to act on homosexual desires, he said.

"Hillsong believes that homosexuality is not normal and not a part of God's design for mankind - their belief is that it should be fixed and it's something that can be removed from someone's life."

One option presented to the man was to force himself into a heterosexual relationship. In the meantime, he was removed from his leadership role in the church and isolated.


Hillsong's mental illness link is no surprise to me

When I was deep in the hell of the Year 12 HSC a fellow student at Carlingford High School invited me to a ‘HSC Hype’ study camp run by the Hillsong Church. I had no idea what I was in for.

But after what I experienced I couldn’t possibly be surprised by today’s media allegations the Hillsong Church’s mental health arm ‘Mercy Ministries’ is little more than an amateur hour demon-exorcising clinic that leaves vulnerable mentally ill girls worse off than when they started.

Not after what I saw 15 years ago when I ended up with a hundred or so other 17-year-olds at a remote convention centre enduring, between sessions of study, a week of activities with a deep undercurrent of hard core Christianity.

A week that culminated in a late night ‘conversion session’ on the final evening.

We were all packed into a room and seated cross-legged on the floor. In strode Christine Caine, now a senior pastor at the outfit.

What followed was an exhausting two-hour marathon of fire and brimstone – a textbook example of extreme emotional manipulation.

At the end, when we were all pale and adrenalised, we were told to bow our heads. If we wanted to be saved, all we had to do was raise our hand.

We were told our thumping hearts was God knocking on our souls – a physiological response to stress dressed up as spiritual calling.

As meek hands were raised, we were whipped up further; “There’s more, I know it, Jesus may never knock again!” We were kept like that for over ten minutes.

Then those who had raised their hands were removed from the room. The whole disgraceful episode led to the church being banned from advertising such camps at our school.

As you can probably imagine since then I’ve kept a pretty keen eye on the church and watched its stadium like churches mushroom out of the sprawling estate they own deep in McMansion country in Sydney’s north west.

I’ve watched them spread their tentacles to the depressed suburbs of Waterloo and Redfern.

I’ve watched this organization, which pays no tax and files no financial documents with the ATO, grow in political influence.

Former PM John Howard opened their new convention centre in 2002, Peter Costello has addressed their conferences and federal politicians Senator Steve Fielding and Louise Markus are from amongst their flock.

I’ve wondered how much how much of the money they ‘tithe’ from their followers goes to ‘charitable’ projects like ‘Mercy Ministries’ and how much goes to bigger buildings, money making schemes like CD and TV sales around the world, and how much into senior pastors’ pockets.

I’ve wondered how people can buy their steroid enhanced form of worship where talking in tongues, exorcising demons and going into trances of religious ecstasy are the norm.

How people can attend their church services, which more closely resemble rock concerts, and not see they are primarily designed to bamboozle the senses.

And I’ve wondered how people can tithe 10 percent of their income to a church whose boss, Brian Houston, said last year raked in $50 million.

Where growing the church both in wealth and it numbers matters above all else.

In fact I wondered enough to go to their services to see for myself.

When I arrived a young welcoming committee rep, Rani, met me. Together we watch and sing along to a band, seven attractive young singers and a thirty-person choir.

Those on stage, none of whom were older than 35, have their eyes closed and hands raised in religious rapture as the concert style lights sweep the room and smoke machines puff away.

Two huge screens overlay the song lyrics about “surrendering to Christ” with images of the action on stage and close ups on the audience from multiple camera operators.

One girl two seats down with her eyes closed keeps singing the songs long after they’ve finished, clearly in a trance.

After the music stopped, an older man hit the stage, telling us he’d just read a book about the leaning tower of Pisa – built in 1173 as the belltower of a nearby church.

He said no one could remember who designed or constructed it – but they could remember who paid for it, an old woman who’d left 60 gold coins for the purpose in her will.

The moral of his story was this woman was remembered 800 years later, and if we gave to Hillsong we could be remembered in 800 years as well.

We were directed to the tithe envelopes on our seats, where we could put the recommended 10 percent of our income. Conveniently, we could pay with cash, cheque or credit card.

We weren’t really being asked, we were being told.

Next was a church news video presentation encouraging us to enrol in one of the many conferences, weekend retreats, or ‘diplomas’ in theology offered at Hillsong’s religious school.

At the end there was a conversion session exactly the same as I encountered at the ‘HSC Hype’ study camp.

Right at the end, people who were sick identified themselves. Others crowded around them placing hands on any available piece of flesh and muttering and mumbling away to themselves, talking in tongues.

On the way out, I saw a large Polynesian man. I was told he was Brian Houston’s bodyguard.

Rani informed me his presence was necessary as some people who don’t agree with the church’s teachings run up on stage during Brian’s performances.

I was amazed at the positive energy the feeling of community was great – it’s just a pity it costs so much.

I realised it’s this rock concert-like show, full of literal smoke and mirrors, together with their other hocus-pocus that gets people in.

And if that’s all they did, you could hardly complain, people should be able to believe whatever they want, however kooky.

But they really shouldn’t have to pay for it. And the Church shouldn’t really be trying to ‘cure’ mentally ill people with prayer and holy water. And they really shouldn't be targeting public school children to grow their church.

But at least after today’s news everyone now knows how these people work. And no one in future, from governments down, can pretend to be surprised.


They sought help, but got exorcism and the Bible

A secretive ministry with direct links to Gloria Jean's Coffees and the Hillsong Church has been 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.

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.

Mercy Ministries says 96 young women have "graduated" from its program since its inception in 2001. But many have been expelled without warning and with no follow up or support.

Three former residents who have felt the full force of Mercy's questionable programs are blowing the whistle on its emotionally cruel and medically unproven techniques, detailing abuse including exorcisms, "separation contracts" between girls who became friends, and harsh discipline for those who broke the rules.

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.

Only careful psychological and psychiatric care over several years brought them back from the edge.

Taking in girls and women aged 16 to 28, Mercy Ministries claims to offer residents support from "psychologists, general practitioners, dietitians, social workers, [and] career counsellers". These claims are made on its website, and the programs are promoted through Gloria Jean's cafes throughout Australia.

But these former residents say no medical or psychological services were provided - just an occasional, monitored trip to a GP, where the consultation takes place in the presence of a Mercy Ministries staff member or volunteer.

Instead, the program is focused on prayer, Christian counselling and expelling demons from in and around the young women, who say they begged Mercy Ministries to let them get medical help for the conditions they were suffering, which included bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and anorexia.

When the Herald asked Mercy Ministries representatives whether they told young women that the symptoms of their mental illness or eating disorders were due to demonic activity and that residents were forced into exorcisms, they offered no denial.

"Mercy Ministries staff address the issues that the residents face from a holistic client-focused approach; physical, mental, emotional. The program is voluntary and all aspects are explained comprehensively to the residents and no force is used," the executive manager of programs, Judy Watson, said in response.

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 Coffee - 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 per cent 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.

Not only does Mercy Ministries appear unconcerned by the allegations, it is mounting an aggressive expansion campaign. Peter Irvine, its former managing director, now director of corporate sponsorship, confirmed it was opening houses in Adelaide, Perth, Townsville, Newcastle, Melbourne and another Sydney house, in the southern suburbs.

Ms Johnson spent nine months in the Mercy Ministries house in Glenhaven before she was expelled. Close to committing suicide and her eating disorder worse than ever, she was admitted to a psychiatric unit and has spent three years trying to recover from her ordeal.

Ms Canham-Wright and Ms Smith tell similar stories from their time in the Sunshine Coast house, and all continue to suffer from the effects of Mercy Ministries' unconventional program.

They are concerned that as more houses are due to open, more women will be put at risk, partly because there is a desperate shortage of affordable services for people with mental illness.

"This could be really dangerous .. Mercy has the potential to be inundated with people … [who will] fall for the advertising and out of desperation reach for Mercy," Ms Johnson said.

"Here in Perth people with eating disorders are very limited when it comes to treatment. When you reach 18 there are no government-funded inpatient treatment options for anorexia, except for a general public psychiatric ward where there is no expertise on these issues."

The federal Minister for Human Services, Joe Ludwig, said the Government would investigate. "I am very concerned about these serious allegations, and I have asked Centrelink to investigate its payment arrangement," he said.

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.

Allan Fels, dean of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government and former chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, said if Mercy Ministries had made false claims about its services it would be in breach of the law and could face injunctions, damages and fines. "Both the federal Trade Practices Act and the relevant state fair trading acts would seem to apply to the situation since income is being received by Mercy Ministries. Both laws prohibit misleading and deceptive conduct."


Hillsong Church, Gloria Jeans linked to abuse claims

Young women suffering mental illness were treated with Bible studies and exorcisms as part of a secretive ministry linked to Gloria Jean's Coffees and the Hillsong Church.

Troubled young women signed over months of their lives to Mercy Ministries, which offered them little or no medical or psychiatric care, the the Sydney Morning Herald investigation found.

Three former ministry residents have blown the whistle on the program, claiming they were independent young women when they entered, but came out broken and suicidal, believing - as ministry staff had told them - that they were possessed by demons and that Satan controlled them.

The women have since been forced to undergo years of intense psychological and psychiatric care to overcome their treatment at the ministry.

Membership at the ministry required residents to sign over any Centrelink benefits, and it is believed the group also received a carers payment to look after the women, the Herald reported.

The Mercy Ministries website says the group takes in women aged 16 to 28 and offers them support from "psychologists, general practitioners, dietitians, social workers, (and) career counsellors''.

However, the three residents who have spoken out about the ministry said no professional medical services were provided, and instead the program focused on prayer, Christian counselling and expelling demons from in and around the young women.

"Mercy Ministries staff address the issues that the residents face from a holistic client-focused approach; physical, mental, emotional. The program is voluntary and all aspects are explained comprehensibly to the residents and no force is used,'' ministry executive manager of programs Judy Watson told the Herald.

Mercy Ministries, sponsored by Gloria Jean's and supported by the Hillsong Foundation, say they have a 90 per cent success rate from their programs.


Residents make a song and dance over Hillsong development

Angry residents claim Hillsong church members stacked a public meeting about a proposed Hillsong development at inner city Rosebery, which would include a seven-storey office tower and a 2700-seat auditorium.

The residents, who fear a large increase in traffic around the redeveloped site, said they were outnumbered by Hillsong church members who did not live locally.

"We were outnumbered by six or seven to one and I think that shows what will happen if the DA [development application] gets up," Rosebery Action Group spokesman Graeme Grace said.

The application for land on Rothschild Avenue includes a park as well as the auditorium and office tower. There would be a parking area for 650 cars - mostly underground - which would open from 7am to 10.30pm each day.

A spokeswoman for Hillsong, a Pentecostal church based in Baulkham Hills, said: "Hillsong and the people who attend the church are part of this community, so of course many of them attended the forum facilitated by Sydney City Council."

A City of Sydney spokesman said that since the February 14 meeting, the council had received as many as 592 submissions on the development application.

"This is in addition to the 170 objections and 63 letters of support received prior," he said.

"Submissions will be received up until the report is completed for consideration by the Central Sydney Planning Committee (CSPC) for determination."

The Hillsong spokeswoman said the church had held extensive voluntary community consultation.

"That resulted in valuable feedback that saw the proposal substantially redesigned to address concerns about traffic, parking and noise," she said. "It also included a 5667 square metre community park to increase the amenity of this development for the area."

The City of Sydney spokesman said the DA would be assessed by an independent external planner and a report would be presented to the CSPC in the next few months.


People In Glass Houses

“The eighties were my formative years, and while other teenagers were gyrating to rock’n’roll, we were praying for revival. We were taking communion, not cocaine. We treated virginity like a wedding present, not a cold sore.”—Tanya Levin

It’s difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t live in Sydney, Australia, the influence of the Pentecostal church known as Hillsong. From fairly humble beginnings on the north-western fringe of Australia’s largest city, this church has become the nation’s pre-eminent—or at least its best known—church. Its annual CD release of worship music tops the Australian album charts without fail. Senior politicians of both major parties have addressed their annual conference (attended by thousands of Christians from all over Australia), courting their influential support. In a largely secular, agnostic nation, it’s curious to see the cultural impact a young church can have.

Hillsong Pastor Brian Houston has achieved this remarkable growth in a similar way to many of his contemporaries in the United States—relentless positivity, slick production values, and a focus on material blessings and prosperity. Even Australian churches that eschew the blatant materialism of Hillsong (Houston has even written a book entitled You Need More Money) look to it for musical and stylistic cues.

Yet it is not without critics, both from within and without the Christian fold. Other major churches and leaders rail against its simplistic message, consumerist gospel, and shameless poaching of believers from smaller congregations. Secular Australians are troubled by the church’s political influence, its social conservatism, and its questionable financial dealings with Government agencies. Nothing this big can leave people indifferent.

Someone who was part of the church in its early days yet is clearly no fan is first-time writer Tanya Levin. As a teenager in the ‘80s, Levin attended the then Hills Christian Life Centre with her family. Adulthood brought with it doubts and distractions and Levin drifted from the church. Over time, she reflected on her experiences and those of people around her and she began to be increasingly concerned about Hillsong and its influence.

People in Glass Houses is the result of Levin’s reflection, a curious mixture of memoir and journalistic expose. In reality, it’s more like an exorcism than anything else.

As with the casting out of demons, Levin’s struggle is troubling to behold, but mesmerising. Levin is never less than compelling when she relates her story. Her prose is lucid, self-aware, and even transcendent in places. Few writers have captured the dizzying heights and soul-crushing lows of fundamentalist faith with the effectiveness displayed here. There is so much blood mixed in with every typeset letter, it’s difficult to consider the personal cost that it comes at. Levin is exposing herself and her journey to outsiders, with an equally brave and suicidal disregard for the consequences.

This is the book’s greatest strength and why it is one of the essential non-fiction reads of 2007. It is also its greatest flaw.

When the book moves beyond the personal to address the theological and sociological issues around the Hillsong phenomenon, Levin’s emotion comes through at the cost of accuracy and fairness. Levin is simply too involved and damaged by her experience to be even remotely objective. Her level of personal investment gives her story resonance but also robs her of the ability to sift and weigh evidence and argument. It feels as if she is in a violent row with someone—the church, Brian Houston, her teenage self—and is hurling every allegation and slur she can find without pausing to reflect on their validity.

In fairness, many of the criticisms she levels against Hillsong are well-documented and verifiable. The misuse of indigenous program funding by the church’s social action arm, Brian Houston’s father’s sexual offences involving children, and Pastor Pat Mesiti’s sex-worker scandal are all on the public record. But Levin’s allegations regarding Hillsong’s attitudes to women and homosexuals and her comparisons to mind-controlling cults seem hyperbolical. The examples provided simply do not go far enough.

Another difficulty is the amount of time that has elapsed since Levin’s significant involvement with Hillsong. The church has changed markedly from the fiery angels-and-demons Pentecostalism of the ‘80s to the slick, mass-marketed pragmatism of now. And unfortunately Levin’s critique is weakened by seeking to hit both targets with the same arrow. While she recognises the changes in the church, her criticisms relating to recent and historical Hillsong are not sufficiently distinguished. It was the rampant judgmentalism and insularity of the early years that did Levin the most damage and yet it is the corporate manipulation of today that incenses her. Both are deeply flawed models in need of criticism and analysis, but they require a more nuanced approach than we have here.

Every organisation has its embittered former members and it is for this reason that their views have to be subject to additional scrutiny. Their evident bias and generally emotive language force a serious critic to take a closer look. No one expects that someone’s ex-husband will provide the most accurate character assessment. Levin’s work is persuasive, but less so than a more impartial assessment may be. She may be entirely correct in all the particulars, but her polemical style cries out for skepticism.

Naturally, this is all unfair on Levin. Asking a survivor of a Soviet gulag to write a balanced and fair assessment of Stalinism would be a bit too much. Unfortunately, Levin has set the terms for assessing her work, by venturing beyond the (relatively) safe world of personal memoir and into the world of social criticism. The memoir component is an astonishing piece of literature—the broader swipe at Hillsong, somewhat less so.

So in the final analysis, People in Glass Houses is unlikely to add much to the debate around Hillsong. The newspapers and bloggers and commentators will continue to scrutinise its dealings and teachings. And hopefully its worst excesses will be curbed by increased accountability. But in the meantime, Tanya Levin has given the whole exercise a human face. And for that we should sing “hallelujah”.


The Chasers War On Hillsong

Ten wary of false idols - and rivals

Is an evangelical church stacking the Australian Idol vote? John Elder investigates.

ONE of Australian Idol's producers is so freaked out that the talent show is being taken over by the Hillsong church, that he secretly contacted Channel Seven's Today Tonight to blow the scandal wide open. This is the claim made by TT's executive producer Craig McPherson to The Sunday Age after days of God-bothering controversy.

"Whether the struggling show was after publicity or not," Mr McPherson wrote in an email, "we then made a series of checks and found (Hillsong and affiliates) were very much involved in the whole of Idol."

The idea that happy-clappers have been stacking the Idol vote in favour of Jesus-loving contestants has been around since Guy Sebastian won the first series. That Sebastian, a church-goer, was the most talented singer in that series is beside the point.

The point being: a Hillsong conspiracy of satanic proportions. Today Tonight ran two stories last week to prove the notion true. The show claimed that five of the nine finalists - Matt Corby, Tarisai Vushe, Daniel Mifsud, Ben McKenzie and Mark da Costa who was voted off last Monday - were Hillsong members. Not true. They might be Christians, but none is a Hillsong devotee - a fact that Idol's producers Fremantle Media claim to have told TT before the report went to air.

TT was unbowed. In its second report, headlined "Mind Control", the remaining four Christian contestants were said to belong to churches under the huge Assemblies of God umbrella - which boasts Hillsong founder Brian Houston as its national president.

Two former Hillsong members told how Hillsong pastors "pressured" the congregation to vote for Sebastian and Paulini in previous series. They made no mention of the current contestants or mind control.

Hillsong's media officer Maria Ieroianni told TT that Idol was never mentioned in church services - but she admitted to The Sunday Age that "some of our pastors would have known Guy (Sebastian)" and may have encouraged their spiritual underlings to give "the Fro" a go.

Says Ms Ieroianni: "But the whole idea that's what we're out to do (hijack the show) is ludicrous … Australian Idol is on at the same time that we're at church." She also denied that Hillsong were sponsors of the program despite Hillsong ads running during the series.

"It was two commercials out of a block of 100," she says. "We didn't know where and when they were running."

The response from media and culture analysts interviewed by The Sunday Age is … so what? John Schwartz, senior lecturer in media at Swinburne University, says Hillsong wouldn't be doing anything illegal or out of the ordinary if they were organising to support their own people or even actively promoting their participation. Country boy Shannon Noll was said to have done well because his home town picked up the phone and voted.

Mr Schwartz says: "If the rules are you can ring up and vote as many times as you like, you can't even call it manipulation. Family and friends would be doing what Hillsong are being accused of."

He suggests Channel Seven is "being hypocritical when you look at the Logies. The whole thing is obviously rigged by people at the networks who get lots of copies of TV Week and cut out the coupons and manipulate the voting … Technically they're not doing anything illegal. It just shows how the voting system is crap."

However, Mr Schwartz cautions: "It's when a church tells their parishioners what to do and how to vote ... when God says you have to hate the Labor Party, that's when it become contentious... It becomes a bullying situation."

Professor Gary Bouma, a Monash University sociologist who studies the management of religious diversity, laughed at Channel Seven's "mind control" claims.

"Even if a couple of pastors said it in a sermon to very large numbers of people, the idea that they march out and vote accordingly is completely insane," he says. "To have that kind of behavioural control you need a closed environment, a high level of surveillance and supervision, and a substantial lever of sanction. These are voluntary organisations. These groups have very little control over their members.

"Moral suasion sounds good but it's a pretty limited mode of behaviour-shaping of usual populations." That is, regular folk with jobs and extended family networks can't be turned into trained poodles. Professor Bouma also notes that if there was a Hillsong conspiracy, "you'd imagine there'd be email and text messaging evidence".

The longstanding implicit scariness of Hillsong, from a media perspective, is that they might take over the whole country. Professor Bouma thinks not.

"You might get a mob like Hillsong effectively voting on an issue … but all the evidence coming out of the religious revitalisation movement in America is they … have not been able to secure a significant voting bloc at an effective political level," he says.

Channel Seven publicist Susan Wood says: "In all my years I've never seen (the TV Week) coupon thing once."

Fremantle Media's Steve Murphy says: "We have a lot of contestants from a Christian upbringing … Church can be one of the few places where young people get to hone their skills. We welcome and encourage it."

Regarding TT's claims of an Idol producer claiming a Hillsong takeover: no comment.


Hillsong: Lets Talk About Sex

The good, clean, god fearing folk at Hillsong are turning their attention to the issue of sexuality this month with a series of seminars. But don't expect anything too liberal - one of the guest speakers is America's Sy Rogers - one of the leaders of the ex-gay movement, former executive director of Exodus International and one time pre-op transexual.

"For twenty years I've had the privilege of travelling often to Australia, investing God's message of sexual redemption in churches throughout the nation," says Rogers. "With regard to sexual and relational healing, I'll be sharing insights from my journey of almost three decades-and not just as a pastoral care specialist, but as a man who has to practice what I preach and teach to others."

So what has Rogers learned and what will he be preaching at these sell out events? According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Hillsong have stated that there won't be any ex-gay agendas being pushed - although we're not convinced - given that ex-gay sentiments sit at the heart of this organisation.

Recently the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that Frank Houston, a pioneer of Hillsong, used sexual abuse as one of his ex-gay techniques. Peter Laughton was one of his victims.

"My counselling sessions... were nothing more than sexual abuse disguised in the form of the need of a father's love and discipline," said Peter in early August. "Through my naivety, I endured the naked beatings, the eternal bum caresses and masturbating into bottles, among other things. I look [back] at it now and think, 'God, I was really naive to fall for that.' "

Scary, when you think that this organisation made $50 million tax free in 2004-2005.


Hillsong United Conference to Hit America

More than 5,000 pastors, youth leaders, worship leaders, musicians and students around the world will gather for the Hillsong United Conference in Orlando, Florida this autumn.

For the first time, the popular Australian modern worship band is bringing its popular youth events to North America. The Orlando event will be held November 9-10, 2007.

The Hillsong United Conference will feature two days of speaker presentations, teaching and concerts. The conference will focus on the subjects of worship and justice and equipping young people to bring both to their communities.

Australia’s Hillsong United is one of the most popular young modern worship bands in the world, and the various conferences they have hosted in Europe have drawn thousands of young people and their church leaders looking to immerse themselves in worship and gain a better understanding how to bring a lifestyle of worship to everyday life.

The Orlando conference will feature guest speakers including Hillsong Church’s senior pastor Brian Houston and youth leader Phil Dooley and the seminars will demonstrate how young people can transform churches and communities.

Some of the breakout sessions will teach song-writing; building a great worship team; youth ministry programming; evangelism; and using TV & media. The Hillsong United band will lead music at the worship events and will also be accompanied by Reuben Morgan.

Australia’s Hillsong United scored its first #1 album by landing atop the Billboard Top Christian/Gospel Albums chart with the release of their eighth CD All of the Above in May. The CD also debuted at #1 on iTunes’ chart of Christian music digital album sales and at #60 on the Billboard Top 200 of all albums, not just Christian/Gospel.


Thousands to gather in London for Hillsong Conference Europe

Thousands of Christians from 42 nations representing 29 denominations will gather at the Excel Conference Centre in London for three and a half days as part of the annual Hillsong Conference Europe.

In its second year in Europe, the Hillsong Conference is hoping to again attract pastors, worship leaders, musicians, community workers and individual believers representing hundreds of churches.

The Conference is an extension of Australia’s largest annual conference, which just celebrated its 21st year, in July with over 26,000 delegates.

“The mandate of the conference is, and has always been, to champion the cause of the local church,” Senior Pastor of Hillsong Church, Brian Houston said.

“It is this cause that attracts people from around the world, and it’s a message that transcends geography, culture and denominations.”

More than 70 per cent of delegates are expected to come from the United Kingdom, however people will make the journey from nations as far as Egypt and Thailand, with a significant number coming from the Netherlands, Switzerland and Norway.

Some of the most celebrated Church leaders and Christian musicians will join the Hillsong team this year, including one of the World’s leading Bible Teachers and New York Times’ bestselling author, Joyce Meyer. Others confirmed to attend include acclaimed singers and songwriters Michael W Smith and Israel Houghton.

“We never take for granted the commitment and effort it takes for people to position themselves here,” Houston said. “Our aim is to equip, inspire and empower people and churches to make a positive difference in their communities.”

The conference will focus on ‘justice’ and the responsibility it infers.

Delegates are scheduled to hear from the Watoto Choir about the plight of AIDS orphans and child soldiers in Africa, and child sponsorship organisation, Compassion, will encourage people to change a child’s life.

“God tells us that standing against injustice and speaking up for the disenfranchised is the responsibility of every Christian. The conference will help highlight the impact we can make if collectively we decide to take this responsibility seriously.”

The conference will cover areas such as Pastors & Church Leadership, Worship & Creative Arts and Evangelism & Community Action, and this year there will also be a Kids Programme for children to join.


Vote stacking, Hillsong style

Ten, Hillsong refute Australian Idol talk

Channel Ten has denied any affiliation with the pentecostal Hillsong Church following allegations the church has been vote-stacking talent show Australian Idol.

Of the eight remaining contestants, Matt Corby, Tarasai Bushe, Daniel Mifsud and Ben Mackenzie have been revealed as Hillsong members by a Channel Seven program.

A Ten spokesperson said the large quota of Hillsong finalists was a coincidence.

Hillsong responded to the allegations: "No Australian Idol contestant has received any mention at Hillsong Church this year, but we wish them all well."


Extra Sauce:

Hillsong - the church with no answers

When a former member of the Hillsong congregation started asking hard questions, she was thrown out, writes David Marr.

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."

Enough Rope 1 of 2

Thousands pack churches for Easter Sunday services

A new search for meaning in the modern world had been the catalyst for bumper attendances at Australian services this Easter, church leaders said yesterday.

Thousands of people packed cathedrals across the country on Easter Sunday to mark Christ's resurrection.

There were full houses in churches across Sydney as thousands of Christians gathered to celebrate the true meaning of Easter Sunday.

A 5000-strong congregation packed the pews at St Mary's Cathedral, in Sydney's CBD, where the Catholic Archbishop Cardinal George Pell gave his Easter sermon.

More seats had to be found for the early risers who braved the drizzle to attend Wesley Mission's Sunrise Service, held on the steps of the Sydney Opera House just after first light.

At the heart of the Anglican diocese, St Andrew's Cathedral, in Sydney's CBD, there was another full house, where Dean Phillip Jensen spoke of the meaning of Easter.

"It's interesting more and more people are coming for that," he said.

"We didn't come here to celebrate family this morning, we didn't give out Easter eggs and there was no mention of the bunny."

Mr Jensen said the increasing popularity of religious elements of Easter was indicative of a cultural shift in Australia.

Several hundred people attended each of the two Easter Sunday morning services, an increase of about 10 to 15 per cent from last year, Mr Jensen said.

"This is happening across the board, it's not just here," he said.

"Christmas and Easter is a time where, I guess, people who want to regain their cultural moorings will come, rather than every week."

Members of Sydney's Jewish community and Reverend Bill Crews's Exodus Foundation helped feed homeless people a hot Easter Sunday lunch in Ashfield, in Sydney's inner-west.

Another gathering walked from Town Hall to Hyde Park in the city for the annual march of celebration.

In Melbourne, Catholic Bishop Christopher Prowse said worshippers attended Easter services like never before.

"I think people today are searching for a deeper sense of religion in their lives," he said.

In Queensland, the Australian Gospel Music Festival in Toowoomba attracted 40,000 people to its worship-themed rock, pop and blues celebration dubbed the Christian Big Day Out.

Festival spokesman Wes Jay said the vibe was one of joy, with many people attending after church .

Perth's Catholic Archbishop, Barry Hickey, used his Easter message to urge people to remember Jesus Christ was the "light of the world".

"If we get to know Him and follow Him, each of us can be a candle, a torch, a ray of light, in the darkness of a world in the grip of violence and cruelty."

Hillsong Church's Pastor Brian Houston said Jesus's resurrection could be neither explained or discredited by science.Prime Minister John Howard went to church in Canberra, and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd went to a Noosa service.


Work to do on franchising

FOR more than a decade franchising has been a high-performing industry, but for a small minority of participants the effect on their lives has been like a gun to their head. Problems in franchising, as in any business, can come from many directions, but at the end of the day I subscribe to the maxim: let the buyer beware.

Mind you, as small business editor for The Australian for more than a decade I have been petitioning federal governments to create a franchising ombudsman with the power to convene consumer claims-style tribunals so the facts of a battle between franchisor and franchisee can be aired openly.

Politicians seem to lack the resolve to protect franchisees, or maybe it has been over-cautious, penny-pinching public servants protecting the bosses' butts. In any case no one wants to ride to the aid of franchisees.

On the flip side, some franchisors need protection from dud franchisees, who complain about the franchise when in fact the failure of the business should be put down to their own shortcomings.

Of course, franchisors generally have more resources and can pay for legal ruffians to bounce troublesome franchisees, who may then run to the media. But there are only a small number of franchisees who win this way. Gerry Harvey recognised the flaw within franchising and introduced the model of not charging anyone for a franchise -- simply giving it to them. If the franchisee didn't measure up -- according to the franchisor -- he could take it back and replace them.

Harvey had one big advantage over many franchisors: he didn't need the money. Most franchisors use the money to increase the number of outlets across the country and even the world, but it means that many get into the business of simply flogging franchises. That's when problems can set in.

I have found franchisors that don't see critical mass as others do, and have an overwhelming belief that more and more of their coffee shops, juice bars, newsagencies, furniture shops and car service outlets can be sold. Many are deluded.

I have a long list of franchisors who are experiencing troubles with franchisees. My guess is that the causes of these disputes include poor franchisee businesspeople, over-flogged franchises, poor site selection by franchisors, tyrannical shopping centre management, new competitors and even the odd crooked franchisor.

John Farrell, who heads up the National Federation of Independent Business, is crusading for small businesses battling bigger businesses and has at least one franchisor in his sights.

He calls it the battle of Hillsdale versus Hillsong, with a Gloria Jeans franchisee from Sydney's Hillsdale in dispute with the franchisors, who are very religious men and members of the evangelical Hillsong church.

This is a media frenzy waiting to happen and it shouldn't be that way. The franchising industry has a mediation process, but if one party goes into it in an adversarial way, mediation fails and the dispute ends up filling the pockets of lawyers. Alternatively, the franchisee folds and it often gets flogged to someone else, and the story can go on and on.

Recently, the federal Government made some useful changes to make franchising safer, but the dispute process remains a concern.

In 2006, the franchising sector grew by nearly 13 per cent, with 960 franchise systems. Franchisors have been operating their businesses for an average of 16 years and franchising them for 10.

Griffith University's Franchising Australia 2006 survey shows that the franchising sector turned over an estimated $128 billion -- or 14 per cent of GDP. This is up from 10 per cent of GDP in the 2004 survey.

The survey also finds that most disputes involve two franchisees in a particular franchise. The proportion of franchisees in dispute with franchisors across Australia is less than 4 per cent.

That's great news, but some franchises have no disputes and others have lots, because there is something wrong. We can live with a second-best solution, but if franchising is so important, why shouldn't it have the very best?


Easter message leaps borders of faith

IN THE brightened stadium, the central message of Easter Sunday was distilled to a comparison between an old Kingswood and an Aston Martin coupe.

Jesus Christ gave his life so that believers might enjoy an abundant life, a Hillsong executive pastor, Joel A'Bell, told the congregation of 2000 who gathered for a high-energy Resurrection Sunday service.

On a recent visit to Hillsong London, the pastor said, he had gone for a spin in an Aston Martin and marvelled at its performance.

The Cross, he said - the word crucifixion was rarely used - enabled believers to trade in their clapped-out, messed-up body for a shiny new one, or, to use a contemporary metaphor, their trusty Kingswood for the coupe.

With Pastor Brian Houston ill and out of action, Mr A'Bell, in pointed white patent leather shoes, talked of Christ offering, if not the Rolls-Royce, then the Aston Martin of the spiritual showroom: peace, riches, healing and forgiveness for those who approached the Cross.

"Don't live your life less than the life purchased for you," he said. "There is a difference between the way you drive a Kingswood and the way you drive an Aston Martin. You shouldn't park your life just anywhere."

Thousands flocked to Easter services in Sydney yesterday. While Hillsong was rock music and multimedia presentations, the Catholic Archbishop Cardinal George Pell spoke to a packed St Mary's Cathedral amid choirs and incense.

Wesley Mission's sunrise service included testimony of the power of forgiveness and personal transformation from Nesan Kiset, whose father died in the Port Arthur massacre.

The mission's superintendent, Reverend Keith Garner, said history hinged on the early morning encounter of Jesus' empty tomb.

"However delicious a chocolate Easter egg, however amusing the Easter bunny and attractive our Easter clothes, they all fall short of the real meaning of Easter," he said.

Hillsong's youthful congregation and hand-raised-to-heaven affirmations were a world away from the pulpit-thumping sermon of the Dean of St Andrew's Cathedral, the Very Reverend Phillip Jensen. Beneath soaring stained glass windows Mr Jensen dwelt on resurrection, not as a passport to an enriched life, but as the lone way to reconciliation with God and eternal life.

He baptised two babies - Xiao Yan Yuan and Shoamei Liu - into the Anglican Church as a symbol of new life.

Easter was not about dying and going to heaven, or about the soul joining with the universe or reincarnation, Mr Jensen said. Taking aim at resurrection sceptics, he said the Resurrection was both real and physical - the Bible writers believed it to be so and if it was not, Christians could be ridiculed as feeble and pathetic.

Mr Jensen said every Easter was heralded by some scandal to disprove Jesus' resurrection: The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Tomb of Jesus and the Gospel of Judas.

He took issue with the Herald's Good Friday editorial, saying that to suggest that the Easter faith had nothing to do with the fate of Jesus' physical remains and was more about his transcendence was anti-Christian.

"Year after year we are told why Christianity is not true. The evidence is available to all who will investigate," he said.


3000-seat Hillsong bid fires chorus of discord

PLANS by the Hillsong Church to build a 3000-seat auditorium and a 900-space car park have run into community opposition.

Green Square Active, a community action group representing more than 4500 residents in Beaconsfield, Zetland and Rosebery, in Sydney's inner-south, is seeking an urgent meeting with Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore to discuss traffic and overdevelopment concerns.

Originally, the old Roads and Traffic Authority site had development consent for 66 townhouses, but Hillsong is trying to change its status after purchasing it in June for $28 million.

Green Square Active has started a petition campaign to fight the project and collected more than 300 signatures in the first few days.

"The stadium and massive car park proposed by Hillsong are definitely not in keeping with the unique community in the Rosebery area," spokeswoman Belinda Clark said.

"We are going to see thousands of cars in our area coming to Hillsong and we want Clover Moore to take a clear stand on this massive overdevelopment as our quality of life is under threat.

"We were led to believe that we were going to get a few townhouses on the site. Instead we're getting an auditorium that could stage a performance on the scale of the chariot race from Ben-Hur."

The Rothschild Avenue development in Rosebery is only slightly smaller than the church's stadium in Baulkham Hills, in the city's north-west, which was opened in 2002.

It is intended to replace premises at Waterloo, where seven services are held every Sunday.


Hillsong church goers 'stung for millions'

Members of Sydney's Hillsong Church lost millions of dollars in an illegal property investment scheme, a court has been told.

The businessman behind the project, Robert John Orehek, is accused of illegally issuing securities, and of using investor funds to buy his $3.05 million harbourside home.

Orehek faced a committal hearing in Downing Centre Local Court today on 31 charges, including 27 counts of illegally issuing securities under the Corporations Act.

He began formulating plans in 2000 to capitalise on Sydney's then booming property market by buying and developing real estate sites across Sydney's north.

Orehek raised funds by issuing securities to private, unsecured investors, promising them annual returns of up to 35 per cent, the court was told.

The majority of investors were fellow members of the evangelical Hillsong Church, based in Sydney's north-western suburbs.

They knew Orehek through his connection with Hillsong or were introduced to him by family, friends or associates within the church community.

Individuals ploughed as much as $335,000 into the scheme, but almost all of them failed to recoup their capital and interest, Magistrate Daniel Reiss was told.

The issuing of securities requires a disclosure document, such as a prospectus, to be lodged with the Australian Investments and Securities Commission, unless it is limited to 20 investors or raises less then $2 million in a 12-month period.

But Orehek allegedly raised almost $4.6 million by issuing debentures to 34 investors between November 2001 to November 2002.

His failure to disclose his levels of borrowing, or the progress of the property developments, meant investors could not make an informed decision about their investment, the court was told.

The 44-year-old also faces four criminal charges of fraudulently misappropriating $253,912 from investors.

In 2002, Orehek allegedly used $150,000 of investor funds to make a downpayment on his $3.05 million Balmoral apartment.

It's also alleged he misappropriated funds to pay back an existing investor.

The property scheme operated through Orehek's group of nine companies, which went into liquidation in April 2003.

The former company accountant, Virend Nath, told the committal hearing that new investor funds had been used to pay out existing investors "so that they can keep quiet".

Orehek has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

His five-day committal hearing continues tomorrow.


Putting faith in politics

Labor wants its share of the Christian vote, Howard hangs the churches out to dry when it suits him. All is not as it seems when religions go lobbying.

WHAT precisely do the "Christian" political lobbies stand for and what is their political scorecard to date? Despite all the colour and movement of the Pentecostals, the clapping and swaying and the number of CDs in the charts, the traditional churches are still the main religious game in town. Their attendances may have plummeted, but their hit rate as lobbyists in the arena of the public purse has gone from strength to strength. Their successes and failures tell an impressive story of influence and calculation.

When focusing on social justice, the mainstream churches have advocated a softening of Government policy on refugees, especially in regard to the incarceration of women and children. They have opposed the war in Iraq and spoken out against the new industrial relations legislation as inequitable and harmful to family life. But in all of these areas they have met with a singular lack of success, brushed aside by a Government that has accused the bishops of meddling in areas beyond their expertise.

Where the churches have been markedly successful is in lobbying for an economic agenda that is about maximising government funding of the churches' own infrastructure through tax exemptions, along with direct subsidy in the areas of education and welfare. This is a kind of socialising of church costs that relies on a canny electoral blackmail that has nothing to do with moral crusades. So successful has this campaign been that in the eyes of its fiercest critics it has engendered a back-door dismantling of the boundaries between church and state.

There has always been a tendency among militant secularists, whose position tends to the view that all religion is iniquitous, to go into downward spirals of moral panic about any incursion of religious sentiment into politics, but such incursions are unavoidable. In a free country, religious lobbies have a right to speak out, and it's how these incursions are managed in a democracy that counts. It is here, in the area of public subsidy to church operations, that the contribution of the religious lobbies to manifest social inequity is most evident, especially in regard to the privileging of wealthy church schools.

All the rhetorical fire-and-brimstone may be about abortion and homosexuality, and to a lesser degree euthanasia and stem-cell research, but the real deal is who gets what from the public purse. If this seems an unduly cynical position, look at the results to date. Despite the fact that the ALP espoused policies that were closer to the publicly stated positions of the churches on almost every issue - Iraq, refugees, industrial relations, social welfare - this was not enough of a moral incentive to override the perceived threat to church finances, and in the 2004 election, the bishops spoke out against Labor on the basis of Latham's policy of reducing state subsidies to the wealthiest of the church schools.

Meanwhile, the Coalition parties remain largely untroubled by arguments over church and state. That many of the Coalition leaders have genuine religious convictions is not in doubt, but this only makes it easier for them to trade in the religion market to optimise their electoral profits. They play the Christian lobbies in an artful and cynical way, using them for political purposes where convenient - state aid to church schools, Mark Latham's atheism, family values and Family First preferences - and rebuffing them when they are not.

John Howard's dismissive response to statements on social justice from Cardinal George Pell and Anglican archbishops Phillip Aspinall and Peter Jensen have been too well documented to need rehashing here. As with the churches' opposition to the war in Iraq, these eminent clerics were dismissed as naive interlopers out of their field of expertise. Where they do not suit the Howard agenda, the churches are hung out to dry: Howard sucks up the moral conservatism and spits out the rest.

Liberal Catholic priest Frank Brennan describes Howard's policy as "cherry-picking the bishops". He writes: "A majority of John Howard's senior cabinet ministers are now Anglicans or Catholics. They wear religious affiliation on their sleeves more readily than did the senior ministers of the Hawke and Keating governments. And yet they have pursued policies on asylum seekers and the Iraq war contrary to the position adopted by most of their church leaders."

Where does this leave the Labor Party? Largely in response to the emergence of Family First, Labor's Kevin Rudd has made efforts to establish himself as a spokesman on the Christian Labor view. On May 8 last year, Rudd "came out" on ABC TV's religion program Compass in an interview with Geraldine Doogue. "My fear is that Christianity will become identified with the Liberal Party," he said. "I've got a responsibility for the tradition of Christian politics that I come from." Rudd cited the early Christian influences in the formation of the Labor Party, where Methodists especially were strong, and the long European tradition of Christian socialism. "Up until now we've seen religion as a private matter," but now Christians in the ALP "have to stand up and be counted".

Rudd believes Family First preferences cost the ALP three to five seats in the 2004 election and claims that at no time did Family First offer the ALP a chance to negotiate for its preferences. In response he has convened the Faith, Values and Politics group within the federal ALP's caucus, a group that, according to one of its members, Peter Garrett, is working on "opportunities for real dialogue with people of faith in the coming months". Presumably this will include Family First and the new Pentecostalists. After all, Family First senator Stephen Fielding spoke up against aspects of the industrial relations reforms, and the promised family impact statements on all proposed Government legislation have not been forthcoming. Given this, it's easy to see why Rudd might ask of Family First and Christian voters generally: what is it that you get from the Liberals that you can't get from Labor? If there is no hidden agenda in the Family First wing of the Christian right, why not go with the party with the best record on social justice?

The answer to these questions may be latent in Fielding's website, the one where he spells out in detail the number, and names, of Labor members who voted for greater public access to the RU486 abortion pill. Yes, it was a conscience vote, but a greater proportion of Labor members voted for it than did those from the Coalition, something that creates a perfect excuse for Family First not to direct its preferences to Labor at the next election.

Abortion may be only one issue among many, but one excuse is enough. Senate preferences, in the end, are all that Family First is likely to be able to deliver, and so far they appear to come cheaply. Commentators on the right rushed to acclaim Fielding's election as the harbinger of a new political force, while commentators of the centre and left highlighted his statements on social justice.

Labor is treading cautiously. Rudd and Garrett are reputed to have warned members of the Labor caucus against public criticism of the Hillsong Church and to have made overtures to assist Fielding in the Senate on matters of procedure, even where they disagree with him.

Sensibly, Rudd doesn't attack Hillsong and the Assemblies of God, a tactic that would merely play into the right's hands and its attempt to brand the Labor Party as godless.

For now, the important thing for Labor is that Christianity doesn't become identified with the right in general and the Liberal Party in particular, not just because such an identification undermines Labor but because it is untrue.

There are dangers here for the ALP, however, if it allows the attack-dog strategy to panic it into what looks like a policy of appeasement in regard to fundamentalism.

How valid is the social gospel and how far can it be prosecuted in the political sphere as a strategy of the centre left? Is it, as Rudd argues, a path to social justice, something that might legitimately be reintroduced into Labor's side of the public debate? Certainly it has its theological rationale among so-called spiritual progressives and one of its more interesting proponents is the publisher of Jesuit magazine Eureka Street, Andrew Hamilton. In his favourable review of Marion Maddox's God under Howard, Hamilton offers a specifically Christian critique of the current "family values" rhetoric. "Broadly speaking," he writes, "there are two accounts of what is central in Christian life. The first emphasises the domestic sphere as the place of fidelity, with the result that domestic relationships and their emphasis on personal honesty, faithful and controlled sexuality, and respectful child raising, have the central place in their ethic. The family is the household of God.

"The second emphasises the following of Jesus in his mission to the excluded and the stranger. Kindness to strangers, and particularly to those whose dignity is most assailed, will be paramount. Family will be regarded with some suspicion, as it is in Mark's Gospel, because preoccupation with family so easily distracts from the universal and radical following of Jesus."

Labor sceptics, however, will remain dubious about the value of importing any kind of theology into political debates. They may prefer the words of Justice Michael Adams of the NSW Supreme Court, a former member of the Uniting Church (NSW Synod) Board for Social Responsibility and, from 1996 to 2005, chairman of the NSW Law Reform Commission. In a detailed paper delivered to the Inaugural Australasian Christian Legal Convention in 2001, Justice Adams argues that almost every major reform in modern history, including the much-vaunted Christian opposition to slavery, was opposed by the organised churches and most individual Christians.

At the very least, Christians were heavily divided. In surveying humane changes to the law over four centuries, he writes: "(It) seems impossible to escape the damning conclusion that the church contributed almost nothing to the cause of justice, let alone kindness … with the possible exceptions in the USA of the extension of civil rights to Afro-Americans in the 1960s and 1970s and the changes to the Australian constitution concerning indigenous Australians in 1967."

Citing a long list of instances, including relations between the church and the National Socialist state in Germany, Justice Adams concludes that churches have generally reflected the dominant notions of the societies in which they operated.

Stand by for more talking up of a Christian revival as part of the ongoing culture wars. For any conservative politician in a liberal democracy, the art of religious wedge politics may in the end prove to be a giant finesse of the electorate's gullibility; to talk big and do relatively little. In the culture wars the most telling political art is that of propaganda - to succeed in framing the debates in your terms while artfully exploiting the gap between the rhetoric and the reality. It's a lesson not lost on either the Liberal Party or on those in the ALP who are out to reframe the "faith and values" debates on more neutral terrain.

In the meantime, people in the community will go about their moral adjudications as they always have, on the basis of liberal humanist values and without need of instruction from the Christian right.

Nothing is more annoying to non-Christians than the Christian presumption that without religion, morality would cease to exist. With the incursion of Family First into national politics, these people are now both alert and alarmed. If a fundamentalist groundswell does gain momentum, one thing is certain: it will eventually generate its own reaction.


At Church, an 'ATM for Jesus'

Pastor Marty Baker's 'Giving Kiosks' are catching on. Members say they use credit cards for everything else -- why not tithing?

Pastor Marty Baker preaches that the Bible is the eternal and inviolate word of God. On other church matters, he's willing to change with the times.

Jeans are welcome at Stevens Creek Community Church, the 1,100-member evangelical congregation Baker founded 19 years ago. Sermons are available as podcasts, and the electric house band has been known to cover Aerosmith's "Dream On." A recent men's fellowship breakfast was devoted to discussing the spiritual wages of lunching at Hooters.

It is a bid for relevance in a nation charmed by pop culture and consumerism, and it is not an uncommon one. But Baker has waded further into the 21st century than most fishers of American souls, as evidenced one Wednesday night when churchgoer Josh Marshall stepped up to a curious machine in the church lobby.

It was one of Stevens Creek's three "Giving Kiosks": a sleek black pedestal topped with a computer screen, numeric keypad and magnetic-strip reader. Prompted by the on-screen instructions, Marshall performed a ritual more common in quickie marts than a house of God: He pulled out a bank card, swiped it and punched in some numbers.

The machine spat out a receipt. Marshall's $400 donation was routed to church coffers before he had found his seat for evening worship.

"I paid for gas today with a card, and got lunch with one," said Marshall, 30. "This is really no different."

Baker came up with the kiosk idea a couple of years ago. He had just kicked off a $3-million building drive, but noticed that few people seemed to keep cash in their wallet anymore for the collection bag.

So he began studying the electronic payment business. He designed his machine with the help of a computer programmer who attends Stevens Creek, and found ATM companies willing to assemble it for him. In early 2005, he introduced the first machine at his church.

Since then, kiosk giving has gradually gained acceptance among his upper-middle-class flock. The three kiosks are expected to take in between $200,000 and $240,000 this year — about 15% of the church's total donations.

"It's truly like an ATM for Jesus," Baker said.

This summer, Baker and his wife, Patty, began selling the devices to other churches through their for-profit company, SecureGive. They are its only employees, but a handful of contractors help them custom-tailor the machines for churches.

The kiosks can let donors identify their gift as a regular tithe or offering, or direct it to building or missionary funds. The machines send information about the donation to a central church computer system, which shoots the donors an e-mail confirmation.

The Bakers charge between $2,000 and $5,000 for the kiosks, which come in a variety of configurations. They also collect a monthly subscription fee of up to $49.95 for licensing and support. And a card-processing company gets 1.9% of each transaction; a small cut of that fee goes to SecureGive.

So far, seven other congregations have installed or ordered the machines. All of them are Protestant, and most are in the South. If the idea takes off and makes the Bakers rich, Patty says they will thank the Lord — and give a significant sum to their church.

The concept is in its infancy, but it is part of a broader attempt among houses of worship to boost donations using modern technology. Among the most popular are "e-tithing" systems, which allow churchgoers to set up automatic contributions from their bank accounts — much as they would their Netflix dues.

But Baker — a 45-year-old preacher who grew up in the Pentecostal churches of South Carolina — sees a more dramatic change afoot in the culture of church giving, as Americans increasingly turn to plastic for their everyday expenditures. That has certainly been true outside of church: Six years ago, debit cards were used in 21% of in-store transactions; today they account for a third of them, according to the American Bankers Assn.

At church services, Baker said, the next few years could be comparable to another upheaval centuries ago, when offerings of grain and animals were replaced with what was then the newfangled medium of money.

"I'll bet that caused a stir, too," he said, chuckling.

Baker assumes many churches are not yet ready to change. The need to generate earthly revenue can be a sensitive topic for the clergy; lampooning their less subtle solicitations has been a sport for generations of critics, from Chaucer to heavy-metal bands.

The Bakers have heard naysayers at trade shows mutter disapproval of the kiosks: Some church leaders apparently fear that a technology so closely associated with commerce might come across as crass.

"Not in our church," Baker recalls one group saying as they passed a SecureGive display.

Those kinds of reservations emerged in Baton Rouge, La., before Baker went into business. About three years ago, the Roman Catholic diocese there worked with a Canadian company to produce a machine that would accept bank card donations from churchgoers. Church officials hoped to place it in the Cathedral of St. Joseph, an imposing Gothic Revival building near the banks of the Mississippi River that dates to the 1850s.

It's not an Aerosmith kind of place. Church officials eventually changed their minds.

"I think that when it actually came time to put a kiosk in the back of a cathedral, it just wasn't quite, well — I'd like to say 'kosher,' but we're Catholic," said Mark Blanchard, the stewardship director for the diocese.

When the board of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church considered buying one of Baker's machines more recently, the issues were both generational and doctrinal. Nate Gibson, chief financial officer of the Tipp City, Ohio, church, is 25 and reckons he'll live to see a post-cash society. He was an early fan of the kiosk. But it took a vigorous debate before older members of the church board decided it was appropriate.

The board had another concern: The kiosk accepted both debit and credit cards, and Ginghamsburg advises its members to avoid credit card debt. So the Bakers said they would tweak the machine to accept only debit cards.

Ginghamsburg's machine was delivered late last week, and Gibson expects it to be rolled out for use in the next few days. He said that with 5,000 weekly visitors to the church, his only regret may be that he didn't order two: Debit cards hardly seem like a passing fad.

"Things are not going backward," Gibson said. "We're not going to sit here in 10 years and say, 'Dang, we shouldn't have put in a debit card machine because no one's using them anymore.' "

The churches that have installed the machines are noting the changes in the way people give. At Family Church, an evangelical congregation of 700 in West Monroe, La., some members choose the kiosk because they can earn bonus airline miles when they charge their donations, accountant Kristi Young said.

At Stevens Creek, volunteers such as Jeff Asselin still pass around the wooden-handled collection bag. But Asselin said it is considerably lighter these days — although some people who donate at the kiosk drop their receipts in the bag as a vestige of the old ways.

"The Bible talks about bringing your offerings to the church, and they like the feeling of dropping their offering in the plate," Patty Baker said. "And we also believe that your offering is part of worship, so that's how they participate."

Asselin and his wife normally donate to the church by writing a check. But he said they had been experimenting with the kiosk — and modifying their traditions accordingly. In the past, they would pray over their check together, asking God to ensure it is used for good works. Now those prayers are offered in the glow of the kiosk monitor.

At the Wednesday service, 27-year-old Sally Rice chose the traditional method of giving. As a Gap Kids store manager, she's more familiar than most with the way debit and credit cards work. But she hasn't made the switch at church.

"I still balance my checkbook the old-school way — I write it all down," she said.

Rice, however, said she had no qualms about the machine itself. She said she might make the switch when she runs out of checks. "I think it's cool."

The Bakers figure most people will give up on checks before they give up on their faith. The question is whether churches will adapt.

If they do, the Bakers say they will be ready with their next idea: donation machines that attach to the backs of pews.


Hillsong emerges to serve jobless

The welfare arm of the Hillsong Church will be the biggest non-government provider of services to unemployed people in NSW under a new Federal Government welfare-to-work program.

Hillsong Emerge will be paid by the Federal Government to counsel people who are stripped of their unemployment payment for eight weeks under tough rules that came into effect on July 1.

The biggest charities have refused to take part in the program to "financially case manage" the most vulnerable unemployed, including sole parents and disabled people, who will be left without income.

Hillsong Emerge registered to carry out the work and was approved to service clients referred by Centrelink offices in some of Sydney's most disadvantaged suburbs. These cover Baulkham Hills, Blacktown, Redfern, St Marys and Mount Druitt, where the greatest number of social security penalties have been imposed.

Because of the boycott by the big charities, unemployed people and parents with dependent children in most parts of Sydney and NSW will have to be managed by Centrelink officers. Only 13 other small organisations, mostly regional neighbourhood centres, have been registered.

A spokesman for the Welfare Rights Centre, Gerard Thomas, said many people might be reluctant to be sent by Centrelink to a welfare agency associated with an evangelical church. Hillsong Emerge, under other names, has provided welfare services since 1989, and has previously won Federal Government contracts.

Its chief executive, Leigh Coleman, addressed a public meeting in Waterloo last November of citizens concerned about the possible blurring of its welfare and evangelical work.

He admitted some of its volunteer "street teams" may have overstepped the boundaries, but its professional workers did not.

It was stripped of a $414,479 federal grant this year amid claims it obtained the funds by deceiving the Aboriginal community that was supposed to be a beneficiary.

About 18,000 people a year are expected to lose their benefit for eight weeks for infringing job search rules, compared with about 3800 a year under the old rules.

About 4000 of the most vulnerable who lose their benefits, the Government says, will be eligible to be case-managed.

The Government will pay charities $650 to manage each eligible unemployed person it assigns to them. It wants charities to assess the person's essential expenses and notify Centrelink, which would then decide whether to pay the bills.

Most charities strongly oppose the policy of stripping all income from unemployed people as morally unjustifiable.


Questioning claims bin Laden threatened evangelist

German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke wows crowds with the story that Osama bin Laden threatened him to not hold a crusade in Sudan. But did this threat really happen?

German evangelist and faith healer Reinhard Bonnke recently told 35,000 people at a conference in Sydney, Australia that he cancelled a 2001 crusade in Sudan because of direct threats received from Osama bin Laden. This isn't the first time that Bonnke has made such claims.

Attendees at the July 3 - 7 Hillsong 2006 conference, the largest annual event of its kind in Australia, initially appeared to take Bonnke at his word.

Carrie, a blogger at Captivated, wrote "all the speakers were truly amazing. reinhard bonnke was so goood!! and seeing the short clip of his campaigns in africa gob-smacked me! all you could was ppl. everywhere. its amazing the way he reaches the millions. he told a story of how he received a threat from osama bin laden!!! crazy! not just any threat either - a death threat!! you know your doing something right when osama bin laden wants you dead. hhehe. good thing us god wants him alive so much more so the devil hasnt got a chance. *na na nana na*."

Those thoughts were mirrored by Matthew at his blog Multiply, who said that on the "5th day, we decided to stay the whole day as it was the last day, wif Reinhard Bonnke speaking in the 9am and 4:30pm service.. Reinhard Bonnke is one of those remarkable evangelist and speaker that is so enthusiastic into helping ppl accept Christ.. he is from Germany, and his life experiences are quite interesting, from helping 1 mill ppl accept Christ in 1 day, to receiving a letter from Osama Bin Laden that warned him not to come to Sudan when he wanted to hold a christian crusade or else the terrorists will bomb that place.. true enuf although Reinhard Bonnke did return to Sudan, the crusade did not go on and the police force found 13 landmines at the site, so God stopped the disaster from happeningXD shame on u Osama."

However, away from the confines of the Hillsong 2006 conference, Australian bloggers began to question Bonnke's claims.

The Hillsong 2006 conference is linked to the mega church Hillsong Church, which in 2005 had over 18,000 people attending its Sunday services. The church is best known for its entry into the religious music industry and has satellite churches in London, Paris and the Ukraine.

Who Is Reinhard Bonnke?

Reinhard Bonnke a German Pentecostal has recently come to prominence in the Western world because of his affiliation with TBN, the world's largest television network based out of the United States.

Bonnke is best known for his healing and evangelist crusades that he started in Africa in 1967. Besides claiming to have raised Daniel Ekechukwu a Nigerian pastor, from the dead in November 2001, Bonnke says he converted 10 million people between 1995 and 2000, and 38 million between 2001 and 2006.

Despite those claims and numbers, Bonnke has for the most part moved below the traditional media's radar - except for when a riot broke out between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria in 1991. Following the riots, Bonnke was banned from the country until 1999 when he held a crusade in Benin City, and where 16 Nigerians were crushed to death and hundreds injured in a stampede.

Bonnke has not had the success in the Western world he claims in Africa.

Bonnke's mass mailings and crusade attempts in Europe and the UK prompted an article by the German Association of Protestant Churches and Missions, and available for church leaders and media that had never heard of his brand of evangelistic crusades.

Apologists have also examined Bonnke's theology and claims, however, since he rarely responds to critics and most of his work until recently has been in Africa, Bonnke has not often caught the attention of traditional media. That said, Bonnke's evangelization arm, "Christ for All Nations," has garnered some attention. Christ for the nations does not report income to any financial accountability groups, and was the subject of a US investigation.

According to Wall Watchers, "On November 18, 2003, Securities and Exchange Commission Litigation Release No. 18470 named Torsten Thomas Henschke among several individuals and business entities indicted for securities fraud and money laundering in connection with the unregistered offer and sale of "'joint venture agreements' to evangelical Christian leaders, members of evangelical congregations, and affiliated organizations."

Among the SEC's allegations are "that the defendants deceived investors, promising to generate investment returns that would benefit Christian ministries through merchandising and manufacturing businesses; but in fact, according to the Commission, the defendants invested little, if any, of the investors' money in that way, and instead used it to make ponzi payments to other investors and support their own extravagant lifestyles…"

Henschke was the Executive Director of Christ for All Nations and, as of November, 2003, reportedly continued to occupy a seat on its governing board."

What About Those Osama Claims?

Skeptical Australian bloggers began to question Bonnke's Sudan claims. Signposts held an open post so Australians could post their thoughts about Hillsong 2006. The Osama bin Laden claim was picked up by DogfightatBankstown.

"And if Bonnke has made this claim, and reckons it's the truth, I would like to know just how, when and where he received the threat, why he was sure it was Osama bin Laden and to which authorities he reported it, and if not, why not." July 10, 2006 (DogfightatBanksTown)

"Am still waiting for an explanation of Osama's alleged threat to Bonnke." July 17, 2006 (DogfightatBankstown)

Hundreds of comments by Australians are under many of these posts, most defending various controversies regarding Hillsong, but no one was able to verify Reinhard Bonnke's claim that he or any of his staff were threatened by bin Laden.

Tracing The Bonnke Trail

As far as Osama bin Laden, it is known that he was in the Sudan from 1992-1996, but by 2001 it was widely reported that he was in Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have amply documented the clashes and unrest between Muslims, Christians and north-south conflicts, and the Archbishop of Canterbury even wrote a letter of protest to the Sudanese government in April 2001.

As for rumors of landmines, checks of landmine monitoring sites and Sudan government sites have not reported any landmines in Khartoum, mines are common in the conflict in the South.

Spero News traced the first mention of Bonnke's Osama bin Laden threats to a 2001 UPI article that appears to have been picked up by a German religious TV - and a now defunct website - called Open Book.

To follow the story, we attempted to contact various people who were involved in the original reporting of that 2001 article: former UPI religions editor Uwe Siemon-Netto, IDEA's editor (Information Service of the Evangelical Alliance) Wolfgang Polzer, and Steven Mutua, a Christ for the Nations worker in Kenya. Polzer and Mutua have not responded to our requests.

The German article states: "Bonnke called for his part the service off. The Sudanese government actually withdrew permission for the planned, large free air meeting. Instead the prayer service in a small church in a Khartumer slum area should be held. The German Prediger preferred it however after written and telephone threats to call the mass prayer off."

The UPI article indicates who received death threats and how: "This year, an even larger crowd was expected. But then the threats came in. Radical Islamic groups announced that they would disrupt the gathering by force. Pastor Steven Mutua, Bonnke's representative in Sudan received threats by e-mail from bin Laden, reported IDEA, a German-Protestant wire service."

Uwe Siemon-Netto worked in Washington for UPI from 2000 to 2005 as religion editor. In 1993-1994 he managed IDEA.

While Seimon-Netto said he does not have any documentation for the April 2001 story, he told Spero News that his contact for the 2001 Bonnke Sudan story was Wolfgang Polzer.

Siemon-Netto says he believes he received the information on the Osama bin Laden threats from Polzer by phone or email.

Spero News asked Seimon-Netto how he verified the information received from IDEA, to which he said he believes he may have contacted Freedom House.

IDEA and Simon Mutua of Christ for All Nations fed the Osama bin Laden threat story to UPI, which continues to be repeated by Reinhard Bonnke. At this stage it is impossible to prove direct threats from Osama bin Laden existed - without responses from Wolfgang Polzer and Steven Mutua.

Questions Still Abound

Given the above, and the original UPI report, claims that Osama bin Laden directly threatened Bonnke at this stage lacks documentation - something that will continue until people who can verify the alleged Osama bin Laden emails, phone calls or letter step forward.

Additionally, it would be interesting to know:

1) What authorities were notified in 2001

2) What are the dates of these Osama bin Laden threats

3) Why were these threats not made more public

wow! another man of the cloth twists the truth and tells a few... parables. lol.


God's 10 core policies

PETER Costello as prime minister would keep the Australian ship of state sailing in much the same direction, except for a slight softening of our social conservatism.

Like his boss John Howard, Mr Costello believes in small government, individual liberty and is perhaps even more devoted to changes in industrial law than the Prime Minister.

He also has shown signs of a stronger commitment to free markets, frowning on concessions to agrarian socialists who demand financial props for failing farms.

The Treasurer has recently signalled a determination to recast federalism, calling it an antiquated notion from 1900.

He wants national regulation of ports, rail, roads, gas and power.

As prime minister he would attempt to centralise more power in Canberra, making the states service deliverers working as partners on national objectives rather than independent operators.

On social issues, despite a strong Christian ethic, Mr Costello is more liberal than his boss. He does not support stem-cell research or gay marriage, but he defied Mr Howard and voted to allow the abortion drug RU486 into the country.

Unlike Mr Howard, he is a baby boomer who grew up watching television, once wore his hair long and listened to popular music..

Mr Costello's Christian faith has been an important part of his life, so much so that we may have to swot up on the Ten Commandments if he becomes prime minister.

The would-be PM once told a Hillsong convention that it was time we renewed our commitment to God's 10 core policies announced on Mount Sinai.

He breaks one himself regularly (working on the Sabbath) and, to be fair, Mr Costello – despite an occasional lapse into Old Testament mode – is far removed from the stone-faced Christian fundamentalist.

He is funny, was addicted to the off-the-wall television series Get Smart and can even display a mildly risque streak.

During the May Budget lock-up, he jokingly offered to get a female journalist "in the family way" after she mentioned there was nothing in the Budget for childless singles.

Asked recently by Julia Baird on ABC Radio to sum himself up, he said: "I enjoy company, I love a joke, I am extremely protective of my friends and my family because they mean so much to me, and I'm very proud to be an Australian."


Hillsong Launches 20th Conference, New Album

The Hillsong Church has been recording live worship albums for 15 years. Now their latest project, Mighty To Save, will release this week, coinciding with the 20th Hillsong Conference (July 3-7).

Hillsong Church Worship Pastor Darlene Zschech played a vital role in the creative direction of the album, which was recorded in March this year at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, where more than 10,000 worshippers gathered to worship God wholeheartedly and without reserve.

“The whole church gathers in downtown Sydney to worship God and I’m always overwhelmed and inspired to see all these people who represent lives that God has touched and impacted, give thanks to Him,” Zschech said. “The presence of God was powerfully evident throughout the night as His name was lifted high.

“As always, this project is a snapshot of what has been taking place in our church over the last 12 months, and these new songs are infused with life, energy and a heartfelt adoration for our Savior.”

Since 1992 the live recordings have become a key annual event for the church, and these recordings have subsequently brought hope to many around the globe.

Last year, the live worship DVD “God He Reigns” received a number one chart award from ARIA (Australian Record Industry Association), and during the past 15 years Hillsong Music Australia has been accredited with more than 30 gold and platinum sales awards worldwide.

Hillsong Music is currently distributed in more than 80 countries and territories, and the Mighty To Save album and DVD will be released around the world over the next few months.

“How amazing is our God - He is truly Mighty To Save! When we understand this statement in its fullness, our lives and the lives around us are changed forever,” said Brian Houston, senior pastor of Hillsong Church.

“Our prayer is that you would be inspired to worship in spirit and truth as the message of God’s unfailing love and power is declared through these songs," he said.

The Hillsong Conference this year will include renowned keynote speakers and artists including Rick Warren, Delirious?, Israel Houghton, Louie Giglio, and more.


Singing Off-Key

There seems to be a little tension between the politicians and the Happy Clappers of Baulkham Hills, otherwise known as Hillsong.

One year after five federal ministers, eight Liberal backbenchers, two Nationals Senate leaders and the former NSW Premier attended the 2005 annual convention of Sydney’s biggest evangelical congregation, and the whirlwind romance between vote-hungry pollies and the growing army of JC cheerleaders seems to be momentarily souring. Brian Houston, the church’s senior pastor, has not renewed any official political invitations for this year’s mega-event.

Truly, Houston is a sharper, more astute political operator than many of our elected representatives. In the face of a backlash against the growing influence of the Rancid Religious Right in both state and especially federal politics, he is making a strategic attempt to present a façade of political impartiality and bipartisanship. And with Hillsong having recently come under intense scrutiny for dodgy application grants – even losing a federal grant through its dishonesty – it is not currently the hot accessory politicians seek to have by their side. As professor of sociology at Monash University, Gary Bouma, suggests, “I think both politicians and Hillsong have been a little burned by being too close together.”

This isn’t to say, of course, that Hillsong will now fade away or that its grip on our governments will loosen. Don’t forget that one of its counsellors, Louise Markus, is now the Liberal member for the federal seat of Greenway. And Family First, whose senator Steve “less than 2% of the vote” Fielding wields an appallingly disproportionate amount of power in the Senate, is largely funded and operated by the Assemblies of God, the evangelical network of which Hillsong is one of the largest components.

The fact remains that Hillsong is a growing industry, a beacon centrally located in the rapidly expanding western suburbs of Sydney, where the McMansion reigns supreme. Labor and Liberal can only ignore this neo-fundamentalist pop sensation at their peril, although to his credit NSW Labor MP Ian West has worked hard to expose Hillsong’s behind-the-scenes political manoeuvering and intimidation tactics. Sadly, however, he is in the minority of a sea of politicians from both sides more eager to soothe Hillsong’s Bible-thumping extremism than to identify and condemn the dangerous, anti-democratic propaganda concealed beneath the bright lights and euphoric tambourine players.

Houston’s ingenious move should not dampen our vigilance. Despite this year’s official lack of invitation, Hillsong has made clear that politicians who are members of the church are free to attend in a private capacity. This in turn will be an excellent means of “outing” politicians sympathetic to Hillsong and keep an eye on them for any future attempts to legislate in favour of the broader Hillsong agenda.


Hillsong's 20th Conference Encourages Over 35,000 Delegates

Championing the cause of the local church, Hillsong has gathered more than 35,000 delegates from 71 nations this week to its 20th anniversary conference where some of the world's leading church leaders have been exhorting thousands for God-inspired leadership.

"Today, more than ever, the Church needs strong, spirit-filled leaders who are driven by the Cause of Christ," said Hillsong Senior Pastor Brian Houston. "These are men and women of God who are passionate about the Word and can lead the people of God with purpose, wisdom and unquestionable integrity."

U.S. megachurch pastor Rick Warren opened the first morning rally on Tuesday telling the large crowd of the meaning and purpose of the local church.

"You cannot grow as a Christian without the Church," he told them. "To say you love Jesus and not the Church is an insult to God. If you don't like local church, you won't like heaven."

Author of best-selling book The Purpose-Driven Life, Warren was featured as one of Newsweek's "15 People Who Make America Great." Labeled as "The Innovator," the evangelical pastor has transferred his success and influence to try to mobilize the 2.3 billion people who claim to be followers of Jesus.

This year's guest speakers also include evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, megachurch pastor Bill Hybels, best-selling author Matthew Barnett, pastor and author Frank Damazio and others.

Special guest artist Delirious?, one of the most influential Christian rock bands in the world, stepped onto the stage Tuesday night encouraging the crowd to be "history makers."

"This is a new day and we're not going back," said band leader Martin Smith. "The way forward is when we join hands across denominations."

Twenty-one church denominations and affiliations are represented at the 2006 conference.

The first Hillsong Conference had 150 delegates and has grown to become the largest annual conference in Australia. Senior Pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston expect this year's anniversary conference to be an "historic, landmark event." The 2006 conference opened July 3 and will culminate on July 7. Hillsong conference night rallies are open to the public with reservation.


Believe in your brand

WE live in vacuous world of repetitive and empty messages perpetuated by self-deluded and risk-averse corporations which ensure that anything or anybody interesting that challenges the norm has a poor chance of survival.

That's the gist of a new book by advertising guru Simon Hammond, BE Brands, in which he espouses the need for companies to stop telling customers what they are and to actually be something if they are to stand out in today's market.

"Business is taking the wrong cues of risk-aversion and fear, and not looking to lift people's spirit through story-telling, leadership and beliefs," Hammond says.

In the book he explains that BE brands are those with "belief" that customers want to "belong" to and that inspire core emotional "behaviours". Loyalty is important among these.

Creative director of Melbourne-based advertising and marketing company SEE, Hammond formerly ran frequently controversial ad firms dare and The Edge. But it was his first career as an investigative journalist that provided him with an insight into what makes people tick.

Hammond says it's often not what we'd like to think it is, and that most companies today just wouldn't have a clue.

They are far too preoccupied with selling the illusion of sophistication along with other efforts to hoodwink consumers into believing something they otherwise wouldn't, often because they themselves can't define and articulate what it is they stand for.

"We feel in a veneer-type way sophisticated but underneath that are all the things we do that aren't sophisticated," Hammond says.

Take screaming at the referee on the weekends, or even more popular, attending events like Sexpo: hardly an indication of class.

"These mass-market phenomenon indicate our real level of sophistication."

And companies shouldn't feel the need to apologise. Hammond cites advertising renegade John Singleton as someone who understood the value of trying to understand what customers want, instead of telling them.

"If there was ever a bloke in the advertising world who understood the common bloke, it was Singo."

These days it's the likes of Body Shop, Nudie, Apple Computer, Virgin, Google, Harley Davidson and chocolate iconoclast Max Brenner that Hammond sees as showing the way forward. Even charismatic church Hillsong gets a guernsey in the book for creating a new style of Christianity, one of the great stories seen to have lost its way from time to time.

But while people might be attracted to the story, even groups like Hillsong have to manage the bottom line.

"Marketing and branding has never been harder," he says. "It used to be easier when we could just buy market share."

Nowadays the quality of the message is a key factor. Getting it right demands feel and intuition, qualities Hammond expects to make a comeback, especially as powerhouses like China make it harder for companies to compete on price and other bland business tangibles.

Corporate scandals and insurance fears are among just some of the culprits in today's watered-down, insipid business world, Hammond says.

He'd like to see more risky and colourful people.

"We're now in an age where kid's role models aren't as easy to pick as they used to be."

Often these complex, fascinating leaders are infused into the brands: Steve Jobs of Apple and Virgin's Richard Branson, even the late Kerry Packer. The company's story is partly their story, all which gives consumers something to relate and belong to.

Hammond says the best examples of BE brands are rock bands.

"People like Robbie Williams, Bono, Sting and Geldof are the true influences because they are perfect BE brands."

Is it any wonder that singing and guitars are, for better or for worse, a part of the Hillsong story?


Darlene Zschech: God is BIG

I am writing this column literally on the eve of our 20th anniversary Hillsong Conference, which thousands and thousands from around the globe have registered for, and the expectation we are experiencing at the moment is quite phenomenal.

Hillsong Conference started 21years ago as primarily a worship and music conference, gathering like hearted musicians, singers , writers, producers, tech guys etc from around our nation to encourage each other in our passion for the arts within the context of local church.

If you read any of the great historians write about church, culture and the arts... you’ll see that the greatest muso’s etc were mostly the church guys, who lived with a conviction that music and art, and all creative expression within the House of God should be as glorious as we could possibly imagine. Just check out some of the European cathedrals, the hymns written in that day, the Sistine Chapel, the architecture, and some of the ideas played out within local church context were, and still are, standing as altogether breathtaking today.

For a few hundred years it was pretty obvious that we kind of lost our creative soul, leaving it all to others to bring the new sound and the new song.... and as the Word says... ”if you won’t bring me praise, well then the rocks will cry out in your place’..... for we were designed to bring glory… not receive it, but to bring it... Rev 4, ’you are worthy O Lord to receive glory, honour and power for You created ALL things...’.

Beautifully however, a new season has begun... and although it has taken many years... I feel like we are totally on the verge of the greatest revival of creativity and truthful worship that has ever been experienced. Humanity is aching for it, the artisans of the earth are ready for it.... but it must be done with sincerity, with great passion… in Spirit and Truth. I have found that whenever you sow of yourself, your time, your energy, your talents, your finance... basically the best of you... it is incredible how God watches and knows... AND honours, and upholds. Even if your experience of church and the giving of yourself involves disappointment or rejection.... you’ve got to learn how to let go and trust God with your future, and allow the experience to build and shape your character, rather than allow it to bury you.

Our methods, our styles, our personal musical loves will differ... but learn to use and value all that’s been entrusted by Heaven to you... to bring Glory to His name. Worship is NOT a style, but the stance of the heart..... you can play, sing, create, and more importantly… LIVE YOUR LIFE to the Glory of God. If you are younger… you worship your way, engage your heart and soul… and worship loud and hard… ALL your heart, ALL your mind, and ALL your strength. If you are a little older... just make sure everything you are bringing is not because you have to, but because you are even more passionately in love with Christ than ever... and that your life, your music and your language reflects that.

God is BIG... He is not shocked by differences… He created us just like that..... for how will we ever be able to praise the fullness of God if the facets of His creation are not being expressed in their unique but no less vitally important ways.

Love you guys and totally believe in you....

Darlene Z


Go forth and make a buck but for God's sake don't keep it

THERE is nothing wrong with being Christian and rich, says the Californian preacher Rick Warren, just so long as you give most of your wealth away.

"It's not about you," he told a Sydney crowd last night. "The purpose for your life is far greater than your personal happiness, your personal fulfilment. It's not about passions, possessions, positions or power."

Selling the message of God is Warren's business. This week marks 20 years of the annual Hillsong conference. Having begun in 1986 with 150 delegates, Warren is now addressing 16,000 Christians representing 71 nations and 21 denominations.

The conference's opening last night at the Acer Arena, Homebush, was more rock concert and religious revivalist gathering than the political-style rallies of the past, with political leaders being dumped from centre-stage.

But spotted in the audience were federal Liberal MPs Bruce Baird and Louise Markus, and state upper house MP Fred Nile, plus a NSW police chief and 17 rugby league players.

Missing this time was the cascading waterfall backdrop and the James Morrison solo trumpet piece, but all the elements of high-energy contemporary worship for which Hillsong is renowned were there - music to rival any secular rock concert and a positive, upbeat message.

As if to meet criticism that Hillsong preaches a brand of Christianity lite, the conference was full of scriptural references and proclaimed "The Church of Jesus Christ".

Warren, the founding senior pastor of one of the biggest congregations in the US, implored the audience to take on the "stewardship of affluence and influence" and suggests Christians should be more attentive to the poor and sick.

"I don't think it is a sin to be rich, it's a sin to die rich," he told the Herald earlier. "I want people to make as much money as they can as long as they give it away as much as they can." He is the author of The Purpose Driven Life, a 40-day strategy for spiritual transformation that is reputedly the biggest-selling hardback in American publishing history.

Warren, a conservative, says he has led by example and has given away 90 per cent of his royalties, and has returned every cent paid to him by his own church. It doesn't make him a poor man - his royalties run into the millions - but he says it makes him a better man.


Hillsong avoids the politicians

TODAY'S opening of the annual convention of Sydney's largest evangelical congregation is to be a politician-free zone.

A rollcall of five federal ministers, eight Liberal backbenchers, two Nationals Senate leaders and the then NSW premier turned up to the high-energy religious gathering last year.

But amid disquiet about the political influence of the Christian right, the senior pastor of Hillsong Church, Brian Houston, has not renewed the invitations.

The office of the Treasurer, Peter Costello, a Hillsong regular who took to the stage in 2004 and 2005, confirmed he would not be there. Nor will the NSW Premier, Morris Iemma.

For its 20th anniversary conference, the church decided on Rick Warren, a best-selling Christian author and founding pastor of the Saddleback Church, one of the largest in the United States, to open the five-day conference.

But it will not stop politicians who are members of the church from attending in a private capacity, a spokeswoman for Hillsong said.

Hillsong, whose congregation in north-west Sydney has grown to almost 20,000 people, has been increasingly courted by politicians of all persuasions.

The church has come under intense parliamentary scrutiny, particularly from federal and NSW Labor for its use of federal grants for indigenous business start-ups and crime prevention.

Hillsong insists all its projects have been run successfully and with probity, but it lost a large federal grant amid the controversy.

Mr Houston said it was decided long ago that its conference would focus elsewhere.

The professor of sociology at Monash University, Gary Bouma, said Hillsong appeared to be treading more carefully in the ways it sought to influence society.

"I think both politicians and Hillsong have been a little burned by being too close together."


40,000-strong makes a merry throng at Hillsong

SEVENTY-ONE countries and 21 denominations are represented at the evangelical Christians' Hillsong Conference in Sydney this week.

Rubbing shoulders among the 40,000 delegates at Homebush are Catholics, Orthodox church followers and Messianic Jews. The Salvation Army is there too.

Passionate evangelist Christine Caine believes the denominational unity has been forged through a simple common belief -- helping others.

"A lot of people don't realise what the church is doing at large, not just Hillsong," Ms Caine told the Daily Telegraph yesterday.

"We have a passion to help hurting people, the poor, the oppressed, marginalised and people who are not only spiritually poor, but emotionally or physically poor.

"When it comes to 'churchianity' people usually say, 'What is that all about?'. But compassion and social justice is the language the world understands."

"Hillsong is all about encouraging churchgoers not just to sit on pews on Sundays, but actually go out and help people in their community."

Ms Caine said Hillsong is involved in hundreds of community programs, specialising in young women who are hurting, men and women who have been abused, kids at risk, educational programs, addiction programs and street welfare programs.

An army of volunteers -- 4313 of which help out at Hillsong week -- ensure those programs run smoothly.

Volunteer Jag Ludher, a 50-year-old accountant, takes holidays from work to be able to help out at the conference.

"I love serving and meeting so many difference people," he said.


Hillsong spends $28 million on new digs

Hillsong Church has paid $28 million for a former RTA site in inner Sydney to build a base for its expanding membership. The church is expected to settle on the property - in Joynton Ave, Rosebery - within the next fortnight.

"We are awaiting settlement on a property in Rosebery and any future development will exist to serve and benefit the community, and will be done with comprehensive consultation," Hillsong's community relations officer Maria Ieroianni said.

Hillsong has reaped millions in tax-free dollars from donations and its followers due to its charitable status.

Ms Ieroianni said Hillsong had outgrown its Waterloo base.

It was planning on building a larger church nearby to cater for its burgeoning inner-city following, which has been growing by about 15 per cent a year.

Close to 20,000 people attend the Hillsong churches across Sydney each weekend - including its enormous Baulkham Hills headquarters, which boasts a 3500-seat auditorium where Prime Minister John Howard, Treasurer Peter Costello and former New South Wales premier Bob Carr have addressed the crowd.

Followers of the church, led by the most influential pastor in Australia's Pentecostal movement, Reverend Brian Houston, are encouraged to donate a pre-tax 10 per cent weekly salary tithe.

Figures show that Hillsong reaped $15.3 million in 2004 from donations and salary tithes while merchandise, including books, CDs and DVDs, brought in close to $7 million.

Total church revenue is now more than $50 million while the organisation also attracts donations from businesses, including the Gloria Jeans coffee chain.

However, the church has been embroiled in negative publicity about its growing coffers most recently after the Labor Mayor of Blacktown, Leo Kelly, accused Hillsong of trying to tone down his attacks on the church's use of public funds.

Restrictions on Hillsong's church in Young St, Waterloo, have forced it to look for a larger site, Ms Ieroianni said.

"We have seven services a weekend at the Waterloo campus," she said. "As the congregation has grown we are stretched for space."

Joshua Charles, managing director of commercial and industrial real estate agency CB Richard Ellis, which negotiated the sale, refused to divulge any details.

A Hillsong spokeswoman said the $28 million figure was "about right" and the RTA confirmed it was selling a site in Rosebery but refused to comment further as negotiations were still in progress.

"The RTA is in the process of disposing of a property at Rosebery which formerly housed a motor registry and a number of support and administrative functions," a spokesperson said. "As the transaction is due to settle in the middle of June the RTA will not provide commercial details."


Piety not much of a vote-winner

Fears that Christian fundamentalism is influencing politics are misplaced, reports religious affairs writer Jill Rowbotham

The bad news for the politically active among Australia's Christian Right is that their influence is overrated. The mainstream churches are still the main game, according to a new analysis of religion and politics.

Writer Amanda Lohrey, in her Voting for Jesus, published in the Quarterly Essay series this week, says religious lobbying has always been with us. "This is sometimes perceived as sinister, although arguably it is no less or more so than the efforts of other interest groups seeking to influence public policy," she says.

Her examination of the nature and effectiveness of this lobbying takes in a wide range of elements, including the crowd-pulling power of Sydney's Hillsong Church, the significance of the Family First party, bids by professional politicians to manipulate the Christian vote and the role of the Exclusive Brethren sect.

She sees political influence operating in two ways. There are attempts to exert a broad influence via the public debate in which church leaders take issue with governments over policy or make pronouncements about the direction of society, as Archbishop of Sydney George Pell occasionally does.

Then there are specific instances, such as the Exclusive Brethren's funding of anti-Left or anti-Greens advertising in election campaigns, or the question of the influence of conservative Catholic and NSW upper house member David Clarke on the state's Liberal Party.

For someone who remembers the bitter sectarian divisions of the 1950s, the only surprising element in the modern scenario, Lohrey says, is "the collaboration between Catholic and Protestant in a way that would have been unthinkable in former times".

"Fundamentalists in all Christian denominations now have more in common with each other than with their more liberal and progressive church brethren," she says.

However, she questions whether there is a growing Christian political constituency, given reliable statistics show the Christian vote stands at about 5 per cent and church attendance is about 9 per cent and declining, despite pockets of growth among Pentecostal churches. However, the mainstream churches are still a force with which to be reckoned.

"Their attendances may have plummeted but their hit rate as institutionalised lobbies in the arena of the public purse has gone from strength to strength," she says. "Their successes and failures tell an impressive story of influence and calculation."

Although they are dismissed by the federal Government when they argue for softening refugee policy, against the Iraq war or against the industrial relations laws, they have been successful in "maximising government funding of the churches' own infrastructures through tax exemptions, along with direct subsidy in the areas of education and welfare".

"This is a kind of socialising of church costs that relies on a canny electoral blackmail that has nothing to do with moral crusades."

Compared with them, the conservatives she describes as the Christian Right do not have real political power. According to her, the apparent manifestations of influence noted at the 2004 federal election have been overstated. Referring to Hillsong members and federal MPs Louise Markus and Alan Cadman , she says: "It's too soon to tell what part (their) religious affiliations and public proclamations of faith played because their success is part of an overall drift of the so-called aspirational voter in Sydney's western suburbs away from Labor to the Liberals."

She is also sceptical of Family First's seeming appeal, despite it providing crucial preferences to Coalition candidates in some marginal seats. "Does anyone imagine that the majority of those who gave their first preference to Family First were not likely to be Coalition supporters in the first place?" Family First senator Steve Fielding's election in Victoria was as much the product of miscalculation by Labor machine-men who thought they could "finesse the Liberals and the Greens out of the sixth Senate seat" and win it by preferencing Family First as it was because of "any uprush of Christian political insurgency among voters".

But Christian right-wingers have been wildly successful in one area: generating publicity. "Arguably the most distinctive feature of the Christian Right in Australia is its proselytising zeal, and when zealots like Brigadier Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby seize every opportunity to talk up a Christian political revival, this begins to look like a strategy to manufacture the appearance of a Christian groundswell. After all, such organised public noisiness is guaranteed to bring a certain cheaply won media profile with the potential to become self-reinforcing."

This is helped when politicians lock on to the loaded words family and values, as federal Treasurer Peter Costello did in 2004 when he told a Hillsong congregation, "we need a return to faith and values, which have made our country strong".

"What it does, effectively, is whistle up the fundamentalists," Lohrey writes. "In other words, it's all about marketing ... The Christian Right have demonstrated that they are masters of marketing in all spheres."

But the Christian Right has not had it all its own way: witness the failure of attempts to use abortion as a wedge issue. "So crucial is the pro-choice position to women's experience of themselves in the postmodern world that it continues to defy attempts to take us back into the past," she says. "No amount of strategic framing qua family values - and the selectively tuned pro-life slogan - has succeeded in altering this fact, as the RU486 debate demonstrated."


Rocking to Aussie gospel

It's not very often that a South African crowd cheers on a group of Aussies by screaming "We want more!" at the top of their voices.

But at the Hillcrest Christian Fellowship church on Monday night it was no ordinary group of Australians on stage when a hyped-up crowd of four and a half thousand demanded more.

Hillsong United, a very loud and energetic gospel group, had fans, who included Jonty Rhodes and Shaun Pollock, in a frenzy. The Durban event had been completely sold out for weeks before the group even arrived in the country.

After performing in Johannesburg and Rwanda last week, the group rocked Hillcrest on Monday night during the Durban leg of their "Tell Africa" tour.

And they all agreed that they should have come to South Africa sooner. Thousands of teenagers ran to the front of the church once the doors were opened and made themselves comfortable on the floor near the stage.

And when Hillsong United, led by Marty Sampson and Joel Houston, eventually took to stage, the jumping, dancing, screaming, singing and praying began.

The group made it very clear that what they were doing on stage was not entertainment, but a "worship session".

And to the fans who sang along with songs such as One Way, All Day and Tell the World, it definitely was a worship experience.

With heads bowed, hands raised up, and some with tears in their eyes, those who had packed the Hillcrest Christian Fellowship were led into an intense praise and worship session - proving it was not all about the music.

To the delight of the crowd, the group said the Durban crowd had been the "loudest" and "best" on the tour.


United We Stand

To see Christians moshing seems weird at first, but you’ll find it very difficult to sit still when faced with the energy and sincere worship of Hillsong United, the youth band of Hillsong church in Sydney, Australia.

Every year Hillsong United hosts a three-day worship event, dubbed ‘Encounterfest’. On the last evening of the event, everyone gathers for a worship evening and the result is captured and released on CD.

Raw, energetic, emotional, and heart-aching — these are all words that fail to accurately describe these recordings, and their latest offering, ‘United We Stand’, is arguably their best project to date.

‘United We Stand’ has a more electronic undertone, reminding one of Coldplay and U2, but still represents Hillsong United at their best.

Notable songs include ‘From God Above’ — a rock anthem second to none — and ‘The Stand’, which is a love song to God that rips the heart asunder: "So I’ll stand, With arms high and heart abandoned, In awe of the One who gave it all".

‘From the Inside Out’ follows this same theme of love and intimate worship: "Lord let justice and praise, Become my embrace, To love you from the inside out".

As an added bonus, South Africans can look forward to seeing Hillsong United live in South Africa in June, with concerts in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Pretoria, although you’ll be hard pressed to find any tickets as they all sold out within days!

If you’ve not yet discovered this band, then you’re in for a treat. It’s live worship at its best.


New Pentacost wave rides high after 100 years

This year marks an important anniversary. I'm talking about the centenary of the birth of Pentecostalism - commonly associated with a revival that took place in Los Angeles between 1906 and 1908, and remembered simply as "Azusa St".

These days everyone's heard of Pentecostalism. And not just because of Guy Sebastian, Family First or the senior politicians seen jigging for Jesus at the Hillsong church.

Just about everyone who isn't (or hasn't been) connected to a Pentecostal church knows someone who is (or was). But as recently as the 1960s, respected religious commentators still regarded Pentecostalism as a marginal movement that would soon be exhausted.

Only in the 1980s, did social analysts twig to the significance of the contrast between the growth in Pentecostal churches and the decline in mainstream churches.

It's estimated that there are about 500 million Pentecostal adherents worldwide, with its great centres of strength in Latin America and Africa. That makes it the world's second largest Christian grouping after Catholicism.

In Australia, 194,592 people identified with one of the Pentecostal denominations in the 2001 census. That's much smaller than the number who identified with the Catholic (more than 5 million), Anglican (nearly 4 million) or Uniting (more than 1 million) churches. But here's the rub: 74 per cent of people who identify with a Pentecostal church attend worship weekly.

That's far more than Catholic (15 per cent), Anglican (5 per cent) or Uniting (10 per cent) church affiliates.

So now, on any given Sunday, the largest numbers of Protestants attending worship in Australia are Pentecostal.

And it all began 100 years ago.

In late April or early May, 1906, the deserted African Methodist Episcopal Church on Azusa St was taken over for the meetings that had begun to overflow from a small house church. For several weeks, black and white Christians had been meeting together (a scandal in itself) to pray for "baptism with the Holy Spirit" (another kind of scandal).

The core of the Azusa St message links the reality of the supernatural in daily life, certainty about the threat of hell and, especially, the imminence of the return of Christ and the end of history. It's that, in particular, that the gifts of the Spirit are a sign of - speaking in tongues, prophecy, and other supernaturally acquired knowledge or ability.

This was a very anti-modern, anti-liberal message; directed as much at the mainline churches as it was at the emerging secular culture. It still is.

The spirituality of this "new Pentecost" is equally counter-cultural. It involves a strong sense of the presence, guidance and intervention of God in daily life. In this light, some of the more unnerving quirks of Pentecostalism can make more sense to outsiders - making significant decisions on the basis of supernatural insight, allowing faith to supplement (or even replace) medicine or insurance or career as a source of security for the future, before-tax tithing, celibacy before marriage, not to mention all that smiling.

It's not such a chore to forego the guarantees and pleasures of modern secular life for the sake of a more satisfying life with God now and in eternity. And if (or when) it does become a chore, and supernatural help and consolation fail before the rigors of life in the here and now, you'll probably just leave.

It's almost as rare for Pentecostals to be nominal as it is for Catholics to be practising.

The old building is long gone from 312 Azusa St and the centennial's hardly rated a mention. However, it would be a good idea for the rest of us to wake up to Pentecostalism's importance and to try to understand this peculiar religious movement.

* Dr Andrew Dutney is principal of Parkin-Wesley College and associate professor in theology at Flinders University.


Hillsong salaries paid by taxpayer

The Federal Government paid salaries and office subsidies to Hillsong Church's benevolent arm for indigenous development programs that generated only a trickle of funds for Aborigines.

The Government has admitted that Hillsong Emerge chief Leigh Coleman received $80,000 of federal indigenous development funds to top up his salary, despite having only indirect involvement in the projects.

It also paid Hillsong Emerge $82,500 to fit out its office in the Sydney suburb of Redfern. Mr Coleman uses the office to run the Christian Business Directory, which touts for advertising worth up to $2000 an item.

The revelations were contained in answers to questions on notice in federal parliament and prompted the Opposition, which is suspicious of links between Hillsong and the Liberal Party, to question the funding arrangements.

Labor spokesman on indigenous affairs Chris Evans told The Australian: "Mr Coleman has paid himself a surprisingly large portion of the grant, for someone clearly occupied elsewhere with other responsibilities. This, and the other grants, raises the questions of whether taxpayers have been funding the activities of the church."

Mr Coleman would not take calls from The Australian and Hillsong spokeswoman Maria Ieroianni did not return calls or emails.

The new material shows Mr Coleman received $80,000 in annual salary for his part in administering two indigenous business development programs. Hillsong Emerge's federal funding in both programs, by Indigenous Business Australia, was discontinued this year after revelations in federal parliament that only a tiny portion of the millions of dollars in taxpayers' money reached the Aboriginal community.

The vast majority of the funds went to employing Hillsong Emerge staff, including $315,000 to cover the salaries of seven workers in Redfern.

In one year, the program made just six "micro-enterprise development" loans to Aborigines, which were worth an average of $2856 each.

The discontinuation of the IBA funding programs came only weeks after Hillsong Emerge was stripped of a separate $415,000 federal grant for community crime prevention.

NSW Labor MP Ian West had alleged in parliament that Hillsong misused and misled a local Aboriginal community to get the money for itself. Hillsong denied Mr West's allegations. It insists all its projects using federal funds were run successfully and with probity.

Liberal MP Louis Markus, a Hillsong church member who once worked with Mr Coleman, won the seat of Greenway in Sydney's northwest at the last election with the campaign support of Hillsong members. Labor MPs have alleged in federal parliament that the commonwealth grants to Hillsong Emerge were a reward for Hillsong's political support.

In a Senate estimates committee hearing in February, IBA assistant general manager Ivan Parrett admitted that part of the IBA funds had been spent on Mr Coleman.


Aussie group gets souls grooving

It’s no secret that churches that put an emphasis on appealing to and involving young people are not just investing in the future, but reaping rewards in the present.

While Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, is known worldwide for its praise and worship music, primarily led by singer Darlene Zschech, there’s a youth movement at that Down Under church that is also causing waves — soundwaves — around the world.

The church’s youth group is called United and the musicians who play for those services have a band called United Live, which just released its sixth album since 1999. The CD is titled "United We Stand," released on the Integrity Music label.

The 13 songs achieve a rare balance of energy and reverence, driven by electric guitars and thundering drums without losing the focus of worshipping God.

Songs like "Take It All" and "From the Inside Out" will get teens and twentysomethings jumping up and down like pogo sticks, while "None But Jesus" and "The Stand" are gentle, slow, and prayerful.

Packaged with the music CD is a bonus DVD that shows United Live performing the songs from the CD in concert, but also includes a fascinating 30-minute documentary on Hillsong Church. Founded in 1983, Hillsong draws more than 17,000 people to its four services in two locations every week — in a nation where an estimated 3 percent of the population attends church.

"I guess I always wanted a type of church that had a freshness to it," said the Rev. Brian Houston, senior pastor. "We always wanted to have lots of young people."

Phil Dooley, Hillsong’s youth pastor, says on the DVD: "I guess in some ways, our United youth hasn’t changed from 10, 15, 20 years ago. It’s still about passionate young people … doing ridiculously silly things on occasion, and loving God and loving Jesus and loving the church in the process."

The motivation for every gathering of young people at Hillsong? "Youth group cannot be boring," one pastor says.


Hillsong threatens MP with lawsuit

The NSW MP who alleged in parliament that Hillsong Church's benevolent arm had misused a huge federal grant aimed at Aborigines has offered to censor himself to avoid a potentially massive lawsuit.

But Labor MP Ian West has refused demands made through Hillsong Emerge's lawyers that he give up his right to speak on the issue in parliament.

In a speech to parliament in November, Mr West alleged that Hillsong Emerge had "misused the Riverstone Aboriginal community to get taxpayers' money for its own purposes".

Hillsong denied the allegations, but the federal Government withdrew the $415,000 grant to Hillsong Emerge for community crime prevention after Mr West's remarks sparked a widespread controversy and the Aboriginal community in question refused to co-operate with Hillsong.

Hillsong Emerge also recently parted ways with two larger federal grants for indigenous business development, in one case because Indigenous Business Australia discontinued it, and in another because Hillsong made a late decision not to reapply for funding.

Hillsong Emerge has threatened to sue Mr West over a column he wrote for a NSW union website, Workers Online, in which he canvassed some of the allegations he had raised in parliament.

He also mentioned the Government's revelation that Hillsong Emerge had spent $315,000 in federal funds to cover the salaries of seven of its staff, who in one year provided only six loans to Aborigines worth an average of $2856 each.

Law firm Abbott Tout wrote to Mr West this month on behalf of Hillsong Emerge, claiming the article was defamatory. It is understood that the letter demanded he not repeat his claims, even in parliament under parliamentary privilege.

Mr West declined to comment yesterday. But it is understood that he has responded by saying that while he does not agree the article contained the imputations claimed, he was prepared to curtail his remarks outside parliament, ask that the article be removed from the website and issue an apology.

He said he would not, however, give up the right to speak in parliament.

The backbencher has no ministerial protection, under which the state Government would defend a defamation case against him, and it is understood he is fearful of losing his house in an expensive court case.

Hillsong spokeswoman Maria Ieroianni did not respond to calls and emails.


Hillsong dumped from funding arrangement

The Hillsong Church's benevolent arm has been dumped from a second federal funding relationship amid claims it spent indigenous development grants on itself, rather than on the Aboriginal entrepreneurs for whom it was intended.

Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) has announced it would cease funding a "micro-enterprise development" program that paid Hillsong Emerge $965,421 to administer $280,000 in loans, The Australian newspaper reports.

The news comes after Hillsong Emerge was stripped of a $414,479 grant for crime prevention after claims it obtained the funds by deceiving the Aboriginal community that was supposed to benefit from it.

NSW Labor MP Ian West said IBA's decision to stop funding the program was "a good start".

"IBA and taxpayers shouldn't fund Hillsong's hubs either - we should ask for our money back," he was quoted as saying.

Hillsong spokeswoman Maria Ieroianni told the paper Hillsong Emerge respected IBA's decision to terminate the funding relationship.


Church's benevolent arm stripped of grant

Hillsong Church's benevolent arm has been stripped of a $414,479 federal grant following allegations it obtained the funds by exploiting and deceiving the Aboriginal community that was supposed to benefit from it.

Federal Justice Minister Chris Ellison, who approved the grant under a community crime prevention program late last year, withdrew the offer this month following exposure of the controversy by The Australian.

The backflip follows a growing row over the millions of dollars the Federal Government provides to Hillsong Emerge for a range of programs, with claims the money goes mostly into the pentecostal church's administrative coffers.

Hillsong's auditorium in Sydney's Hills District was opened by John Howard, and a leading member, Louise Markus, won the outer Sydney seat of Greenway for the Liberals from Labor at the last federal election.

In the NSW parliament last November, Labor MP Ian West detailed allegations that Hillsong Emerge first applied for a $498,620 grant with the support of the Riverstone Aboriginal Community Association in Sydney's northwest.

That application did not go ahead, but Hillsong Emerge submitted a second, successful application for $414,479 on its own, allegedly without the knowledge of RACA but using its ideas and letters of support.

Mr West told parliament at the time: "Hillsong Emerge has misused the Riverstone Aboriginal community to get taxpayers' money for its own purposes."

When, at a meeting with Hillsong officers, RACA threatened to take the matter to the media, Hillsong Emerge chief executive Leigh Coleman wrote a letter on the spot offering RACA $280,000. Mr West told parliament Mr Coleman made the offer to RACA to buy its silence - but Hillsong denied this, saying it was an act of goodwill.

A budget attached to the successful application showed most of the money would go to funding a Hillsong Emerge project officer and administration.

Senator Ellison had previously told The Australian he had been informed that the $414,479 grant complied with requirements.

But answering questions on notice from Opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Chris Evans, Senator Ellison said the offer of the grant - announced in August with some fanfare by Mr Howard - had been axed.

Senator Ellison said his department had recently asked Hillsong Emerge for "details of how the partnership proposed for the project would operate".

"On 1 February, 2006, the department wrote to Hillsong Emerge Ltd advising them the offer has been withdrawn," hesaid. A spokeswoman for Senator Ellison said the department had withdrawn the offer because Hillsong was "unable to deliver the project as originally proposed".

Riverstone community leader Vilma Ryan said a departmental officer had tried to persuade the community to accept Hillsong's administration of the grant, or face losing the money altogether.

"The fact is, we weren't going to buckle. We weren't going to work with Hillsong," she said.

Mr West claimed vindication last night but said Senator Ellison's statement that the matter was now closed was not enough.

Hillsong Emerge spokeswoman Maria Ieroianni did not return calls or emails.


Church 'spent indigenous grants on staff'

Indigenous development grants to Hillsong's benevolent arm have gone almost entirely to employing and providing offices for church staff, with only a trickle reaching Aborigines.

In one case, Hillsong Emerge spent $315,000 in federal funds employing seven of its own staff in Sydney to administer a "micro-credit" project that made only six loans to Aborigines worth an average of $2856 each.

Hillsong also failed to enable a single Aborigine to become self-employed under a $610,968 federal grant to encourage indigenous entrepreneurship.

The revelations are contained in answers from senator Eric Abetz, representing Employment Minister Kevin Andrews, to a detailed series of questions on notice from Labor's indigenous affairs spokesman, Chris Evans.

They show that far more funds are spent on Hillsong staffers and administration than actual service delivery. One federal grant paid $965,421 to Hillsong Emerge to administer $280,000 in loan funds.

Senator Abetz said that when it came to the $610,968 Hillsong Emerge received to run indigenous "enterprise hubs" in Redfern and Mount Druitt in Sydney, Hillsong had advised that "to their knowledge, none of those assisted have moved to full self-employment".

When The Australian visited the Redfern "enterprise hub" in December, it found flyers in the foyer encouraging local businesses to pay up to $1800 to advertise in the Christian Business Directory published by Hillsong Emerge, but no information on how Hillsong could help Aborigines.

The $610,968 grant was approved in just three weeks, and Hillsong faced no competition since it was the only applicant.

Labor figures have expressed suspicions about the grants and the Liberal Party's links with Hillsong.

Liberal MP Louise Markus, a Hillsong church member and former Hillsong Emerge officer who narrowly won the outer Sydney seat of Greenway from Labor at the last election with the help of Hillsong Church members, wrote a letter of support for a separate $414,000 grant.

The Federal Government will come under further pressure this week, with the Opposition planning to grill it over Hillsong at Senate estimates hearings.

Senator Evans yesterday told The Australian that the micro-credit program, "has so far been deeply flawed in its execution".

"If the Government's agenda is to help disadvantaged indigenous Australians start their own businesses then Hillsong needs to be held accountable for what is, on the face of it, a very poor outcome," he said. Senator Evans said there had been "no transparent, public evaluation of the pilot program - just academic articles before it began and Hillsong promotional material".

A portion of the $610,968 grant was devoted to Hillsong's Shine program, an activity directly associated with Hillsong Church.

In Senator Abetz's answers, he said part of the Shine Basic program "focuses on values of worth, strength and purpose" and includes "journalling", described by the senator as "writing down dreams, goals, plans".

Hillsong Emerge has repeatedly refused to answer questions about its indigenous development programs.

Yesterday, spokeswoman Maria Ieroianni referred all questions to the federal body responsible for administering the grants, Indigenous Business Australia.

IBA's deputy general manager, Ian Myers, said the funds covered pilot programs, that the programs had been reviewed, and that a decision would be taken by IBA's board as to whether to proceed with further funding.


Is depression a supernatural spirit straight from the devil?

The Weekend Australian Magazine of 29 April reported on the Hillsong Church in Baulkham Hills in Sydney. In particular it quoted the Hillsong Church web site, and the quote they gave stated that 'depression is a supernatural spirit straight from the devil'. The interesting thing about this is that this quote disappeared off the Hillsong web site within 24 hours of The Weekend Australian Magazine revealing it. If you go to it now and try to get there, it states that this page does not exist. Fortunately for us, my Senate colleague Andrew Bartlett went looking for it as soon as he saw the article in The Weekend Australian Magazine and captured it, and he has it on his blog site. I want to read the entire quote, as follows:

"Depression is a supernatural spirit of destruction straight from the devil, and as such, needs to be treated like an enemy. We must take a strong stand against it and deny it any power in our lives. Depression stems from an underlying root of unbelief in God's care, His goodness, His faithfulness, or even His ability to get you out of seemingly 'impossible' situations."


Hillsong at a Glance

Hillsong Church (formerly Hills Christian Life Centre) is a Pentecostal Christian church. Its primary location is in Australia, where it is headquartered at its "Hills" campus near Castle Hill, to the north-west of Sydney in Baulkham Hills' Norwest Business Park. It also has a congregation designated the "City" campus which is located in Waterloo, near Sydney's central business district. Hillsong recently announced its intentions to develop a significant area of land on Rothschild Avenue, Rosebery into a new City campus. The Church intends to move from the Waterloo campus when this development is complete.

Hillsong's international off-shoots include Hillsong London, in the United Kingdom, Hillsong Paris in France, Hillsong Kiev in Ukraine and (since March 1st, 2007) in Moscow, Russia (as a weekly service of Hillsong Kiev). Established by Pastors Brian Houston and Bobbie Houston, it is a member of the Assemblies of God movement. A new 3500-seat convention centre at its main site was opened on October 19, 2002, by John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia.


How do you feel about Hillsong? Here's your chance to refute, defend or just plain vent...

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    • h1story profile image


      8 years ago

      @delwilliams: You must have skimmed through the entire page to write off three quarters of it having zero to do with Hillsong.

      A little is about the AOG/ACC, a lot is about Houston, and Hillsong, or people directly connected with Hillsong.

      Take off the blinkers.

      Or leave them on. You seem to be quite comfortable with them on.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Considering three quarters of this had zero to do with Hillsong, this seems to just be a person compiling pieces to fit what they want to say. The good thing about God is we don't have to believe as others do, but I take issue when someone calls this an investigative piece when it is just a blatant rant against a particular way of thought. no worries though, you're a dime a dozen.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I stopped reading after you got to the part that the gifts of the spirit are unbiblical and not for today. You can be as Apollos and preach brilliantly before he had knowledge of the Holy Ghost, but the body of Christ is in a battle for saving the world. We need all the help we can get through physical healing, the breaking of demonic strongholds, opening of prison doors, praying in the spirit, and manifestations such as those found in the book of Acts. The Assemblies of God started during a time when those of faith started believing that miraculous works are possible today. So be it unto you according to your faith. But just as the 10 tribes did not understand what the 2 1/2 were doing when they built an altar at the Jordan so the 10 would remember they were one body, I would urge you to understand before gathering all of your numbers at Shiloh. We need to persecute the real enemy, not each other.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thks alot for this informative article.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks For Helpful Information.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Wow. I've seen Houston on some major American evangelicals have Houston on their programs. I've tried to watch him but like you say he rants and raves like a lunatic to the point he foams at the mouth. After reading all this, I'll stick to my first reaction and steer clear. Thanks for the research.

    • profile image


      8 years ago


      I like your lens, very useful and inspiring. thank you.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      wow, this is great information!!! Thank you for writing this :)

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      One thing is always sure when a man or a church really, truly live for God and follow Gods plan for them ( which will not deviate from the bible ) the good things that Jesus Himself did will be evident .

      Next there will an inspired strategy from the devil,to stop .....or try and stop ...Gods good work for the good benefit of people . They did it to Jesus and it wil happen to people with a TRUE heart for God . Gods people will make mistakes along the way .But the greatest mistake is to sit on the fence and be a spectator or judge . instead we need to ALL INDIVIDUALLY chose Christ as Lord and saviour . Because at the Final curtain God will point to my own sins and what excuses I thought I had for them , instead of anothers misgivings

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow so much detail on this lens that it shall take a couple of visits to absorb it all. Great Work - Fab Lens!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      A great lens.Thanks for sharing with us

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      i love the music ...but it always seemed a bit extreme for me as a church... i have been in many "so called charismatic churches" in Germany and got in contact with many us-aog pastors etc. The AOG itself is NOT cultist at all...the problem is I guess that they are so big already that they cant control what some "pastors" do in their private life until its publicly seen. I met many sincere really pastoral hearted pastors with a real desire to help their"sheep". The basic problem is always the abuse of power over people who look for help and guidence. You see that in every cult / religious etc groups...

      And of course- those "pastors" who violate the laws need to be judged after the law. The level needs to be equal to "sin".

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Ajit Randeniya what a sad piece of social/theological commentary, Im not a pentecostal but your brief attempt to put a mainstream Christian denomination into the CULT strata is laughable.

      I for one have never met a collective group of Australian Christians so fustratingly apolitical in my life, which is contrary to your perspective. Quit what you think you know from internet forums and meet some more pastors my friend.


    • Cari Kay 11 profile image


      9 years ago

      I grew up in an AOG church and with a mother entirely seduced by prosperity theology. I cannot even put into words the healing that had to take place in my life from these heretical teachings. Thank you for your lens on Hillsong. For this Christian, it is an important one.

    • profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago

      Excellent points Myn! You seem to know a bit about The Church.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      if you have an addiction to pornography, you don't need to hide it with a fantastic story about a terminal illness. You hide it simply by keeping all the videos and magazines in one box under your bed, or keeping all your images in one folder on your computer. Or you just get over the guilt complex and simply enjoy it (as long as it is in fact legal).

      i suspect that the lie was unravelling and they needed to spin a new story that would be easily swallowed by the gullible flock. They'll "rehabilitate" him and "restore" him and before you know it Mike will continue his career as a successful anti-porn advocate with his song about being healed from pornography.

      i think though that while his Adelaide church has welcomed him back with open arms that Hillsong is none-too-impressed. Word is that they've recalled all the CD's and DVD's from stores and will re-release the album without the Healer song on it.


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