Rhys Muldoon writes in the Sydney Morning Herald…
“I am that rarest of beasts: A member of the “broad left”, an artistic type, a sports lover and, yes, a believer in God.
Don’t leave me just yet, you Dawkins worshippers, I have a tale to tell.
A number of years ago, I decided to give church attendance another go. I had never found a church I felt comfortable in. A church that was theologically sound, yet asked difficult questions. A church that was not about the preacher, was not about the church itself as a brand, was not about ego or empire building, was not just about joy and happiness, but could embrace sorrow and pain. THAT kind of church. Then I walked into Hillsong.
I didn’t know it was “Hillsong” at the time. It was just a medium-sized, reasonably modern-looking building close to where I was living in Surry Hills and was a church.
As a somewhat promiscuous type as far as churches go, I thought I’d wander in and see what it was like. I was met at the door by shiny, happy people in “neat but casual” clothing that screamed “notthreatening”.
There were people of many different nationalities arriving, many having been dropped off by little buses with Hillsong written on the side. I liked that. Many nationalities is a good sign. It wasn’t just white bread. I wandered in and took a seat. The room was decorated in a “corporate chic” way that also screamed “non-threatening”.
There were no crosses or religious paraphernalia. The stage was large and well lit. Professionals had been consulted. There was a band on stage playing the kind of bland “Christian rock” that makes me start to think of the truism that “the devil has the best tunes”.
This was Christianity as “kinda cool”. At this point, let me say two things. 1. There is no “kinda cool”. Something is either cool or not cool. Kinda doesn’t come into it. 2. Church/Christianity will NEVER be cool, and I like it like that. But enough of aesthetics and my taste, let’s get to the service. There’s a few songs. Songs in the key of oxymoron: soft rock. Everyone sings. Many raise their hands to the sky. I find this very unsettling. Firstly, I’d never seen it before, and secondly, and I don’t mean to be deliberately inflammatory, but it looked a bit “Nuremberg rally” to me.
Then the preacher came on and spoke of prosperity, both spiritual and financial. It turns out this is the church’s basic ideology. If you give you get. I don’t disagree with that as a principle, but I wasn’t sure that my giving had to be to that church alone. They disagreed.
It was to Hillsong that I was to give to, and I could pay by credit card. Now never in all my days had I heard of a church that took credit cards. God takes Amex? Wow. Don’t leave earth without it. As the cash buckets were passed around, I don’t think I heard the gentle chime of coins at all. I remember when I was younger, small coins were known as “church money”. Not here though. Coins didn’t seem to be welcome. Poor little bastards. It seems Jesus didn’t want to be a mere carpenter, he wanted to own Bunnings. The disciples didn’t want to fish, they wanted a supertrawler. Prosperity baby, can you dig it?
The preacher then read from the Bible a bit, gave a few “real life” examples of how they relate, and we were out the door, as there was another service to run.
The next week (yes, I went back) was almost identical, as was the next. The only difference was, one of the preachers had been sacked for rooting a woman who wasn’t his wife, and the head of the church’s dad had been done for kiddy fiddling. Apart from that, it was the same. The following week the INCIDENT occurred.
It was the day after the 2004 election. Admittedly, I wasn’t that jolly. Anyway, the usual, soft rock followed by cash grab went on, and then the preacher hit the stage. He was particularly excited. He said “praise the Lord” a lot. Then he said: “You’ll be happy to know, John Howard and the Liberal Party have won the election with an INCREASED MAJORITY!” There was much applause. I then stood, alone and booed. It was like I had farted loudly in a lift.
The room looked to me as the source of all that was sulphuric. This room had never heard “boo” before, that was clear. This room was about ascension, not dissention. I felt about as comfortable as a feminist at the Summer Nats.
It was horrible. I took my seat and waited for the service to end. I approached the preacher and said I believe that mixing church and state is a profound mistake, that churches should be above politics etc etc.
He looked at me with a mix of hatred and pity, then spoke to me so dismissively and so rudely, I still regret I didn’t punch him in the face. I walked out and never looked back. I then turned, not into a pillar of salt, but to the street that led me home.”