Category Archives: Uncategorized

Abuser’s church to close


The ABC reports…

“The South African-based Acts Christian Church is closing its only Australian branch after revelations the leader was involved in a paedophile ring.

Pastor David Volmer is one of eight West Australian men accused of sexual crimes against a 13-year-old girl over a period of two years.

The 41-year-old has pleaded guilty to 12 offences including drugging and raping the girl.

Originally from South Africa, Volmer moved to Australia and set up a branch of the Acts Christian Church in Perth’s northern suburbs in 2013.

Church leader Reverend Peter de Fin, whose grandfather founded the church, said he was shocked by the charges.

“This is the first time we’ve had to deal with such a case,” he said.

“We were very disappointed and of course we are not happy our church is associated with such a crime or incident.

“We don’t make any excuses for a minister of the church behaving in this way.”

The Perth parish had about 50 members attending at one stage and was the church’s only branch outside South Africa and Mozambique.

It is now in the process of being closed.

Reverend de Fin flew to Perth this month to speak to parishioners.

He was not able to meet with the victim but said he wanted to apologise on behalf of the church.

“We wanted to offer counselling and also apologise to her and her family,” he said.

Reverend de Fin said the church had failed the young victim.

“The church upholds moral standards and in this way the church has failed,” he said.

Volmer was also the manager of the WA Prison Fellowship, a Christian ministry that visits jails, runs camps for children and supports victims of crime.

Prison Fellowship Australia chair Michael Wood declined to be interviewed by PM but said Volmer was asked to resign as soon as the organisation was made aware of the charges against him.

He said Volmer was not involved in running camps for children and his offences were not connected to his work with the fellowship in any way.

Volmer was charged as part of Operation Ripstop.

WA Police on Wednesday revealed they had charged eight men with more than 500 offences.

It is alleged the victim’s father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, allowed the men to abuse her over a period of two years.

Police believe the victim’s father is the only link between the alleged offenders.

WA Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan described the case one of the most disturbing investigations he had encountered.

“I was just staggered. I can’t remember … something like this in Western Australia,” he said.

“Really bizarre and really disturbing from my perspective. It’s just an awful situation.”

“It’s important that people do stay switched on,” he said.

“It’s important people understand what their children are doing online as well because there are cyber predators out there that will groom children online or even try to meet them.

“This is a terrible case but it is a reminder there are people out there who will prey on our children.

“We’ve just got to make sure that we are vigilant, particularly with online matters.”

The girl is being cared for by the WA Child Protection Department.

“Child protection is everyone’s responsibility,” said Emma White, director-general of the department.

“You may have the smallest piece of information about a young person that is in fact really, really important.

“Don’t wait to make your own determination about what’s happening. When in doubt, act.”

Volmer has been granted bail and will appear again in the Perth Magistrates Court next month.

Seven other men are due to appear in court in the coming weeks.”


Gunshot evangelism


Florida News Time reports…

“A Texas pastor shot and wounded a would-be burglar robber who broke into his church, and then got him to recite a sinner’s prayer as he lay in his own blood.

Benny Holmes took the law into his own hands when Lee Marvin Blue Jr, 27, entered the Church of New Beginnings in Baytown on Tuesday.

Holmes, who made headlines last year for pointing a gun at a grandmother who stole parcels from his front lawn, was asleep inside when the suspect kicked down the door.

Benny Holmes took the law into his own hands by shooting Lee Marvin Blue Jr, 27, when he broke into the Church of New Beginnings in Baytown on Tuesday

He woke up when he heard someone moving inside the church and grabbed the weapon. 

‘I commanded him to stop twice, and he didn’t. So fearing for my life, I did what I had to do,’ he told ABC 13.

After gunning him down, Holmes went over to Blue and started to talk to him.

‘I led him through the sinner’s prayer while he was on the floor. He repeated the sinner’s prayer after me. And that was about it. I’m going to go visit him.’ 

Blue has an extensive criminal history dating back to 2005 – including trespassing, burglary of a vehicle, and assault.

He was taken to hospital and police believe he will survive the injuries. 

When he finishes his treatment, he will face burglary charges.  

Baytown police do not anticipate charges against Holmes.

In September 2014, Holmes directed his firearm at 57-year-old grandmother Laurie Ferguson when he caught her snatching packages off his Baytown porch.”


Church snake-handler dead


WKYT reports…

“A man died after he was bitten by a snake Sunday during a church service, according to the Bell County Sheriff’s Office.

John David Brock, 60, died after a snake bit him in the left arm and he refused medical treatment, according to the Bell County Sheriff’s Office. Brock was handling a snake during a church service at Mossy Simpson Pentecostal Church in Jenson.

A church member says Brock was bitten by a rattlesnake. Brock refused medical treatment and went to his brother’s house where he died four hours later. Bell County Coroner Jay Steele was called to the residence and pronounced Brock dead.

Steele says Brock’s death is under investigation. He said Brock had other health problems.

The coroner said an autopsy will not be conducted, and Brock’s official cause of death will be determined using medical records.

Brock, who believed in the Holiness faith, had been a coal miner for 36 years, according to his obituary.

Snake handling at religious services is said to date back to the early 1900s, when a Tennessee preacher connected it to Mark 16:18 (NIV), which says:

“They will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

Stoney Fork is a small community in Bell County where people say faith is very important and for some that means handling snakes during a church service.

“Certainly people take it literally … the verse where it says people take up deadly serpents or poisons,” Jack Green of Stoney Fork said.

Green says he doesn’t believe in handling snakes but stopped short of criticizing those who do.

“It is people doing what they believe. It isn’t anything to sneer at,” he said.

Most snake-handlers are found in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. The practice is actually illegal in Kentucky, but rarely enforced. A state law passed in 1942 that bans the use of any kind of reptile during religious services, punishable by fines.
It is estimated that as many as 300 churches nationwide still use snakes in service.

Brock is the second person to die from a snake bite during a Bell County church service in more than a year.

Jamie Coots, a snake-handling Kentucky pastor who appeared on the National Geographic television reality show “Snake Salvation,” died in February 2014 after being bitten by a snake. Coots refused medical treatment and later died.

In an interview in 2012, Coots told WKYT that he knew snake-handling might eventually kill him but he said it was how he preferred to go. Coots said he believed the venomous snakes couldn’t hurt him as long as he had the power of God.”


The full Brian Houston interview with Mark Driscoll


The Christian Post reports…

“In perhaps the most humbling reaction to his controversial exit from Mars Hill Church less than a year ago, co-founder of the now defunct Seattle-based megachurch, Mark Driscoll, revealed in a tearful video interview with Hillsong Church’s Brian Houston that it was God who told him and his wife, Grace, to resign from the church because a trap had been set.

In the nearly hour-long interview where he addressed issues such as his domineering leadership style, his views on the role of women in the church and longtime online comments Driscoll and his wife revealed that the initial plan wasn’t to resign from the church.

Driscoll explained that after an evaluation was conducted at the church he was asked to work on the issues of pride, anger and his domineering leadership style with an expectation to return to the pulpit in January 2015.

The Lord, he said, had other plans.

“Our plan was to come back as volunteers. On that Monday night, I was in the bedroom, Grace was in the living room. He (God) spoke to me and He spoke to her in a supernatural way that neither of us anticipated or expected,” Driscoll began in explaining how God change his course.

“So Grace walked in and said, ‘I feel like the Lord just said what we are supposed to do.’ And I said ‘I feel like the Lord just spoke to me and said we’… it’s not what we wanted,” Driscoll noted prefacing his comments with a hint of pain.

“It’s not what we agreed to and it’s not what we planned for, and so I asked her ‘What did the Lord say to you?’ Because I didn’t want to influence her and she said …”

“We’re released from Mars Hill,” interjected Grace fighting back tears.

“She said ‘Well, what did He say to you?’ I said ‘the Lord revealed to me a trap has been set, there’s no way for us to return to leadership.’ And I didn’t know what that meant or what was going on at the time. He said we’re released and we need to resign.

“This is not what we anticipated and a lot of people thought ‘maybe he’s got another plan.’ We didn’t, we didn’t know what we were doing and Grace fell to the floor and she was just sobbing uncontrollably. I’d never seen my wife like that, she was devastated,” explained Driscoll who tried unsuccessfully to hold back his tears.

He said that even after what they felt was strong direction from God and what they were to do, they went down in prayer and consulted with trusted leaders before resigning.

Before that revelation Driscoll, who revealed that he started his ministry at the age of 25, admitted to making a lot of mistakes in his leadership of the church. He also said he was “devastated” over the people he hurt during his time at Mars Hill.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes and one of them was going too fast. There’s the Lord’s calling and then there’s the Lord’s timing. And I should have waited longer; I should have been under godly spiritual authority — for Grace and I to be under a godly couple that was senior pastor, so that we can learn and grow. My character was not caught up with my gifting and I did start too young,” he said.

“I believe God called us to start the church and He was very gracious to us, but had I to do that over again I would not look at a 25-year-old and say ‘Do what I did.'”

In her reaction, Grace said having to leave Mars Hill was difficult, especially for their children.

“It has been a hard year and we’ve seen God’s faithfulness amidst the trial and we are thankful for that. There’s been a lot of loss. We love our church and we loved being a part of it. And felt honored that God would call us to help lead such an amazing group of people. So that has been hard, and watching the kids and the pain they’ve had to experience in the grieving process,” she said.

Driscoll explained that since their exit from Mars Hill and the public eye they have been spending a lot of time with older, more experience spiritual leaders and in retrospect, he has seen many ways in which he can improve in ministry.

“I hope whatever the Lord has for me in the future is that I will draw people and not drive people. My empathy level will increase,” said Driscoll, who developed a reputation for being a bully in his ministry.

He said that reputation was a by-product of his driven personality and admitted to being that way at times, but he is now learning to manage it differently with help.

“I think for sure on occasion, yeah. I think on occasion, strong leaders there’s a line, you’re wanting to advance a mission and everybody to be aligned with that and there are other times where there’s a lack of grace or empathy. One of the things that has been really helpful in this season for me is godly older families have opened their lives to us … there’s a more parental leadership style,” he said.

Driscoll added if he had to do it all over again he would have focused more on the emotional health of the people in his ministry and said that his lack of empathy at the time was also due to unresolved issues in his own life.

“I would have paid more attention to emotional health and well-being and any bitterness in my own soul so that there wasn’t anger or hurt or defensiveness that was driving some of my motivation,” said Driscoll.

“I would have been more keen to draw Grace out so that we could work through some issues in our past so that we would have been more aligned and better friends early in the ministry. In more recent years we’ve really worked on the friendship. And we’re very close but the early years we didn’t have that kind of connection that we do in more recent years. And that contributed to my tone and my anger, and it affected my disposition negatively and that’s my fault,” he continued.

Houston, who listened intently as Driscoll spoke, said he could see some hints of his own evolution as a leader in the former Mars Hill pastor.

“I think over the years my perception of strong leadership has changed dramatically. What I thought was strong then was probably hot-head … so I can identify to a point,” he told Driscoll.

In a recent post on his website, Driscoll also revealed that he and his family had moved to Phoenix, Arizona, after reconciling with a number of former leaders at Mars Hill.

“After meeting with many former church leaders for reconciliation and closure in Seattle, our family is in the midst of a new adventure as we have moved to the Phoenix area,” he said.

“There are no concrete plans for ongoing local church ministry as of yet. This remains a calling and desire, but my plan is not to rush into anything. Instead, caring for each member of our family, seeking the wise counsel of pastors we are walking with, and building local relationships with Christian leaders to help build churches locally and globally is our focus. Beyond that, we will see how the Lord leads. If anything more develops we will let you know,” he said….”


Church factions court fight


News 24 reports…

“Members of two factions of the Shembe church exchanged blows outside the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban on Monday, over who could enter the courtroom to attend a hearing, eNCA reported.

In a video recorded outside the courtroom, members of the church are seen fighting one another. They then stand at what appears to be one of the entrances into the courts, forcefully removing a police officer standing guard at the door.

The men continue to fight among themselves and what appears to be a liquid is sprayed at one group, by the other.

The church has been embroiled in a leadership battle since the death of Vimbeni Shembe, who was the leader of the largest faction. Last year, the court heard that, according to a will, Vimbeni chose his cousin Vela Shembe as his successor.

However, some senior leaders of the church wanted Vimbeni’s son Mduduzi to take the reins. After failing to convince the church’s elders that Vimbeni had nominated him, Vela took the matter to court in 2012.

According to the SABC, members of one faction was making its way to court in a peaceful march on Monday morning when it came across the other faction. Chaos then began outside the court. 

The church is known to be among the richest in Africa with assets worth hundreds of millions. These assets would remain frozen until the leadership dispute was resolved, SABC reported.”


JW’s did not report abuse to Police


The Guardian reports…

“Jehovah’s Witnesses destroyed notes about child sexual abuse to stop them falling into the wrong hands and to “protect their wives”, a church elder has told a national hearing in Sydney.

The opening day of a royal commission hearing into abuse within the church has heard how 1,006 allegations of child abuse since 1950 were dealt with internally and never reported to police.

It has also heard that victims were made to confront their abusers and left feeling as if they had sinned.

Max Horley was an elder for the Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Narrogin, Western Australia, in the late 1980s when a woman, known as BCB, was interviewed about her relationship with another church elder, Bill Neill.

On Monday, BCB, 47, told how Neill, who is dead, groomed her from the age of 15. She said he would molest her and spy on her when she was in the shower.

She was friendly with Neill’s daughter and spent a lot of time at their house, where “uncle Bill” would tongue kiss her.

When the abuse was revealed, BCB was asked to attend meetings with two elders and Neill, who joked about what he had done. At meetings BCB said she felt guilty and found it hard to detail the abuse.

Neill denied any intentional misconduct.

Horley said Neill was later stood down as an elder because the allegations cast a shadow over his qualifications to teach the word of God. Horley, an elder in the church for more than 30 years, said notes about sexual abuse allegations were not kept in case they fell into the wrong hands.

“We do not want our wives knowing our stuff – what sort of things we are dealing with,” Horley said.

He also said they destroyed notes because they wanted to limit the number of people in the congregation who knew about the abuse.

Horley also said he did not realise at the time the abuse was a criminal matter, and it was not the church’s practice to report allegations of sexual abuse to police.

The elders would go for advice to the Branch – the body that oversees congregations in Australia – if they had any hesitation about how to proceed “legally and scripturally”.

In an opening statement, counsel advising the commission Angus Stewart said the organisation, which has 68,000 members in Australia, had dealt with all allegations internally. He said the church was preoccupied with sin and sinning.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and interpret it literally. He said that documents would be tendered which showed the elders considered the spirituality and seductiveness of the complainant in determining the allegations against Bill Neill.”



Too much Forex for pastor


The Cape Town Sunday Times reports…

“Only God can provide the cure to our sinful human nature, Pastor Colin Davids posted on his Facebook page this week.

Apart from using the social media platform to dish out moving spiritual messages that allude to the darker side of life, Davids utilises it to punt his allegedly illegal foreign-exchange trading business.

But the charismatic Cape Town clergyman may soon be singing from a different hymn sheet after the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) this week seized goods worth R138-million on suspicion that Davids is running a pyramid scheme.

Among the goods seized were upmarket homes in Plattekloof and Hermanus, several bank accounts and seven cars, including three top-of-the-range BMWs, two Jaguars, a Range Rover and a Volvo.

His luxury lifestyle is aptly summed up in his quotes on his Facebook page: “Don’t wait for things to happen – make it happen. You are destined to be a success. Be good, do good.”

The AFU said Davids, a sole member of the company Platinum Forex, allegedly lured unsuspecting victims to invest in a pyramid scheme with promises of as much as an 84% return on their foreign-exchange investments. But because of the unrealistic returns, the scheme collapsed.

Davids, who is alleged to have collected more than R100-million since he started the scheme in 2013, is a pastor at New Direction Grace Church in Parow. His wife, Charlyn, is due to launch her debut gospel album next month.

Coincidentally, notorious Hard Livings gang boss Rashied Staggie visited Davids’ church in May to ask for forgiveness. Staggie was released on parole recently after serving a lengthy jail term for gang-related crimes committed on the Cape Flats.

The AFU, which falls under the National Prosecuting Authority, brought an application to have Davids’ assets frozen after a probe by the Financial Intelligence Centre, the Financial Services Board and the Hawks.

The High Court in Cape Town granted the preservation order on Monday pending an AFU application to have the assets forfeited.

The court will appoint a curator to compensate scheme victims if the order is granted.

The Hawks are also investigating a criminal case against Davids and his company.

NPA Western Cape spokesman Eric Ntabazalila said the court order had saved hundreds of people from falling prey to Davids’ alleged scheme.

“Davids [allegedly] used some of the investors’ funds to pay for two immovable properties, in Plattekloof and Hermanus, motor vehicles for his wife, Charlyn Anthea Davids … and household expenses from retail stores such as Woolworths, Checkers and Pick n Pay. These assets are regarded as proceeds of unlawful activities,” Ntabazalila said.

But Davids this week derided the NPA’s claims and vowed to defend himself in court.

He said his business had never purported to be an investment company and he had communicated this to the Financial Services Board numerous times.

He said his company did not get money from investors, but from creditors as loans, which it then used to trade in the forex market, using the profits to pay off the debt.

“It is basically a very vicious attack to discredit and derail a sound business because they haven’t done their homework properly and don’t have facts and information together.

“We have very strong proof. We have put a case together to show that the NPA’s case is just replete with erroneous information, that it is trying to discredit a healthy and normal-functioning business.”

In a testimonial letter written in March in support of Davids’s application for an operating licence from the Financial Services Board, Davids’ spiritual leader, “Apostle” Peter Barnes, described him as a generous giver to the church.

“I know him as a person of high morals, impeccable character and a person of great integrity,” said Barnes.

“He has a strong belief in community transformation and has a very generous heart towards community upliftment.”


Megachurch loses millions in inside job


Courthouse News Service reports…

“A New Jersey megachurch claims in court that its accountant bilked it of $5 million and spent the money at casinos and luxury cars.

Agape Family Worship Center sued Donald Gridiron Jr. and the Western States Golf Association on Wednesday in Federal Court.

Agape says it hired Gridiron, an “expert in church-related accounting matters,” in 1992. It says it paid him $5,000 a month, and raised it to $5,500 a month plus expenses in 2009.

Agape describes itself in the complaint as “a large, nondenominational church with approximately 4,000 members.” It was founded in 1990 as The Love Church by the Rev. Lawrence Powell.

Gridiron, of California, traveled monthly to the Agape campus in Rahway, N.J., to work with its bookkeeper, review books and records, and meet with Powell and others.

Agape says its chief financial officer left in 2007 and was not replaced. That’s the year when Gridiron began pocketing church funds, Agape says.

“In 2007, Gridiron began writing unauthorized checks to himself and third parties drawn on AFWC’s bank accounts, and sending unauthorized wire transfers to himself from AFWC’s bank accounts,” the complaint states.

Agape claims Gridiron made 800 unauthorized transactions from its bank accounts, from 2007 to 2014.

“Unbeknownst to AFWC,” it says, Gridiron also was accountant and treasurer for the Western States Golf Association, and had “exclusive access and control” of its bank accounts.

The WSGA, based in Corona, Calif., is an association of golf clubs in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Created in 1954, the WSGA provides college scholarships and sponsors an annual golf tournament for its members.

The church claims that Gridiron transferred $3 million from Agape accounts to himself, $1.9 million to the WSGA, and $40,000 to Gridiron’s personal American Express account.

The lawsuit does not say why Gridiron sent money to the WSGA.

It claims that Gridiron, 50, confessed the thefts to the Rev. Powell in March 2014, “but significantly misrepresented the total amount stolen.”

Weeks later, the complaint states, Gridiron filed for bankruptcy. His financial affairs statement claimed more than $4.8 million in gambling winnings, “almost the exact amount that AFWC identified as funds stolen from it by Gridiron,” the church says.

Federal agents arrested Gridiron in Los Angeles in December 2014. He was charged with wire fraud. “Gridiron is a criminal defendant in Case No. 14-6082-SCM; United States of America v. Donald Gridiron, Jr., pending in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey,” according to Agape’s lawsuit.

The church says it was “shocked and disheartened” by the embezzlement.

“We were betrayed by a trusted certified public accounting professional who without authorization, secretly accessed our church financial accounts, improperly took millions of dollars, and then took systematic steps to cover up his dishonesty,” Powell said.

“I feel betrayed because this man used to be my friend,” Powell said. “It hurts, but we serve a God who will get us through this.”

Powell said he and his congregation would pray for Gridiron.

Gridiron also provides, or provided accounting services to one or more large churches in the Los Angeles area, the lawsuit states.

The WSGA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Agape seeks punitive damages for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, negligence, civil theft, money had and received, unjust enrichment, and receipt of stolen property.

It is represented by G. Michael Jackson with Jones, Davis & Jackson, of Valencia.

Agape is Greek for brotherly love, as opposed, or distinguished from, eros.”


Hill$ong hoovers up pounds and pence

Hill$ong Church video reports…

“The backstage corridors of London’s O2 arena are a hallowed place, lined with pictures of Jay Z, Beyonce, The Who and Dolly Parton — legends who have packed the venue and left a signed picture or hoody as tribute.

Tonight I’m here for a different kind of star. Past a soundstage packed with volunteers are closed doors flanked by security. Inside is Hillsong’s lead pastor, Brian Houston.

He’s just stepped off stage from a sermon at the church’s annual Europe conference where 15,000 devotees have come from 20 countries to hear him speak at opening night of the three-day event that is translated into eight different languages.

“One thing I do know is that Hillsong church and Hillsong conference isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I’m fine with that,” says the charismatic 61-year-old New Zealander. “I don’t feel like everyone has to do it the way we do it. But there is a lot of other people …. who really love this and who want to be a part of this.”

He’s talking about the incredible growth of a church from Sydney suburb Baulkam Hills that has morphed into a global mega-brand attracting millions of followers.

Earlier, the reason for its success became clear with a full-blown rock concert with professional lighting, sound and visual effects. The opener included a lone pianist in a Daft Punk-style helmet playing a cover of Mad World as drone-like workers trooped around the ‘land of the forgetful’. Then Hillsong United, the band led by Houston and wife Bobbie’s son Joel and singer Taya Smith, got the audience rocking with not a single twerk or nip-slip in sight.

The rockers set the scene for Houston’s rousing introduction where he welcomed visitors and said over the next three days those with trouble in their work, finances, marriage, relationships or health could get the answers they need. Broken hearts can be fixed, anxieties can be washed way. As the only nonbeliever there, I started to wonder if I was the one missing something.

Then came the pitch: “A lot of people assume with this many delegates this conference just pays for itself,” he told the crowd who paid £140 ($298) for an adult ticket.

“Giving is never a ‘have-to’. You don’t have to do anything,” he reminded them. “People give out of their heart because they want to. When you have to it’s really not giving at all.”

Outside the south London venue, delegates appear straight out of a Uniqlo ad: Fresh, young and healthy with gleaming trainers and artful quiffs. Selfie sticks are definitely not banned.

Luke recently returned from bible college in Sydney. He joined the church at 19 after trouble with drugs, alcohol and police and says Hillsong provided him a new lease on life.

“I’m now a lot happier and more content. I used to be depressed. I don’t have depression anymore and I’m not an addict anymore,” he says, adding that his friends are happy for his turnaround. “They don’t necessarily see that it’s for them but they respect that it’s been a really good thing for me.”

Nigerian-born teens Kaldora and Zaneta grew up watching the DVDs at home and follow the leaders on social media.

“You always feel like you’re the only one, especially being our age, but when you come here and you see everyone else who is there because they want to be, it’s really good,“ Zaneta said. Young pastors Nathan and Laurence say the music and fresh approach has engaged a new generation.

“They’re willing to take risks and to break out of what people expect church to be. To focus on the next generation and to be ruthless with that,” said Laurence.

During Houston’s 50-minute sermon, the captivated audience tapped notes as he spoke of how faith allowed the church to grow from renting a venue slated for demolition for $1 a month to selling a Sydney campus for $41 million. It’s recently bought a factory in Melbourne and have venues planned in Kiev, Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo while expansion into Asia is also on the cards.

“Where the church should be young and relevant and contemporary and full, so often it’s old and empty and irrelevant and I don’t think it has to be like that. We like to think about keeping the message, which is sacred, but being very open to changing the methods,” Houston says backstage.

These new methods include everything from kids and women’s conferences to documentaries, albums and books, all artfully packaged into a cohesive experience. Want to stay close to Jesus on the road? Get Hillsong United’s album for your car. Stay up to date while travelling? There’s an app for that. The business of believing is booming.

Australian National University sociology researcher Matthew Wade said Hillsong’s genius is the combination of being consumer savvy and multi-platform that has given people a “digital entry point” to the brand.

“Your average ‘seeker’ is incredibly unlikely to simply turn up at the Baulkham Hills church on a whim, rather they will likely learn about the church through a news story, a shared song,” he said.

Not to mention the attendance of celebrities like Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner and Selena Gomez, which has showered the brand with global attention. Mr Wade said the PR team doesn’t get enough credit, however Houston denies it’s a marketing ploy, saying it’s all part of their “faceless to famous” philosophy.

“I think [Justin Bieber] is genuinely trying to find help, he’s just trying to change the foundations in his life. I think he’s got a long way to go because he went straight from there to putting up a naked photo of him in Vanuatu or something!” he joked.

Hillsong’s success has led to inevitable criticism, specifically over its finances and whether or not it should be paying tax. Houston has also had to testify about his father, Frank Houston, to a Royal Commission inquiry into child sexual abuse (he has repeatedly condemned his father’s conduct).

More recently, the church dropped controversial US preacher Mark Driscoll from the bill after he called women ‘penis homes’.

Anti-violence campaigner Natalie Collins protested outside the O2 in support of those she says are “seriously damaged” by Driscoll. “There are people who are going to be in therapy for the rest of their lives because of what he’s done so I’m just here making a statement,” she said.

However for Houston, the reason the church is “treated with suspicion” is because he believes it’s misunderstood.

“It breaks all the rules – everything says that churches shouldn’t be like that. In Australia, religion is on the decline and churches are empty. For a church to be young and full and relevant and alive, people don’t understand that and what they don’t understand, they tend to criticise.”

As the concert wraps with a prayer and people head off into the night, it’s clear Hillsong’s mission is far from complete.

“All I have to do is walk down my little street where I live in the Hills District in Sydney and there might be one or two houses that come to our church or any church but the vast majority don’t. So to me the mission is huge,” he said.

“I’ve always been a visionary. I wanted to pastor a visionary church.”


Iglesia ni Cristo crisis


The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports…

“A brief plea for help posted on YouTube on Wednesday night exposed cracks within the family behind the politically influential and formidable Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) and what appears to be a power struggle within the century-old indigenous Christian group.

On Thursday, in response to the post, INC expelled Cristina “Tenny” Villanueva Manalo and Felix Nathaniel “Angel” Villanueva Manalo, mother and younger brother of the group’s executive minister Eduardo V. Manalo, allegedly for trying to divide and seize power in the third-largest religious group in the Philippines.

Eduardo is the first child of the late INC executive minister Eraño Manalo with Cristina “Tenny” Villanueva. Their other children are Felix Nathaniel, Marco Eraño, Lolita, Erlinda and Liberty.

In July 2014, Eduardo led INC’s centennial anniversary celebration, with the unveiling of the 55,000-seat, $200-million Philippine Arena-declared the “largest mixed-use indoor theatre” by Guinness World Records-in Ciudad de Victoria, Bocaue town in Bulacan province.

What appeared to be a family feud became public on Thursday with the expulsion of Tenny and Angel. The expulsions came as INC prepared for its 101st anniversary on July 27.

Marco Eraño Villanueva Manalo and Lolita “Lottie” Manalo Hemedez, brother and sister of Manalo, were also expelled, but it was not clear why.

It was also not immediately clear what happened to them, but Tenny and Angel, on the 1-minute-55-second video they posted on YouTube on Wednesday night, appealed for help, saying their lives were “in danger.” Mother and son said there were threats to their lives and some ministers had been “taken.”



“We are appealing to you because our lives are in danger. We hope that you can help us,” said Angel, who opened the video message.

He introduced himself as the son of Ka Erdy (Eraño Manalo), who headed INC for 46 years until his death in August 2009. He is the younger brother of Eduardo, who took over the INC leadership after Eraño’s death. “I hope that you also listen to the appeal of my mother, Sister Tenny Manalo,” Angel said in Filipino.

In her plea, Tenny gave scant but telling clues about who were behind the alleged threats to her and her son’s lives.

“I’m appealing to our brethren in the church to help us because there is a threat to our very lives. Please help my children Angel and Lottie and their companions,” Tenny said.

She called for help for at least 10 INC ministers “who were taken and until now have not yet been found.”

“Let us show mercy to them and to their families,” she said.

Her voice quivering, Tenny appealed to her eldest son: “And to my son Eduardo, I hope to talk to you.”

She ended with another call to INC followers: “Dear brethren, may the Lord God help us all. Many thanks to all of you.”

Sought for comment on Thursday, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the Manalos’ plea for help had not reached her office.

“No such information or report,” De Lima said.

The Philippine National Police said it was looking into allegations by some INC members that some ministers of the group had been kidnapped.

Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, spokesman for the PNP, said the PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG)and the Quezon City Police District had been ordered to check out the allegations and the appeal for help by Tenny and Angel Manalo.

“We are giving this due attention. The AKG and the QCPD are verifying the situation,” Mayor told reporters.

Senior Supt. Roberto Fajardo, AKG chief, said his unit had not yet received reports about the kidnapping of INC ministers or of members of the Manalo family.

He said his unit would take action once it received a complaint.

Several INC followers gathered at the gate of the Manalo home on Tandang Sora Avenue, Quezon City, trying to find out what had happened to the expelled family members.

Shirley and Roel Rosal, who were expelled from the group in June allegedly for trying to expose corruption involving INC ministers, said rumours of a schism in the Manalo family had been going around for a long time, but added that they believed the talk of division was being encouraged by a “third party” within the group’s administration.

Shirley Rosal said she went to the Manalo home because she had seen the video and she was heeding calls for help on social media.

She said she had seen a sign inside the house that read “hostage.”

“There was a drone [a while ago] and there were people monitoring us,” she said.

Supt. Ariel Capocao, chief of the Talipapa police station that has jurisdiction over the area, said no complaint had been received from the Manalo home.

“They have internal security. If there’s any trouble, they would have already contacted me,” Capocao said.

Sarah Manuel, 34, one of the INC followers gathered at the gate of the Manalo home, said she had learned that the water and electricity to the family home had been cut.

“We don’t want a fight. I saw the video last night where they were asking for help. Our initial reaction, as people who love the Iglesia, is we just want to help. We want to give them food and drink, and offer to bring them to their family elsewhere,” Manuel told reporters.



“I don’t know what happened to them. I’ve always thought the Iglesia was doing fine. I don’t know what’s wrong. I just saw the video,” she said.

Bienvenido Santiago, INC general evangelist, told a news conference on Thursday that Tenny and Angel were expelled for posting the video, claiming their lives were in danger and some ministers had been kidnapped.

“Although it is painful for Brother Eduardo Manalo, the general leadership decided to expel those who are causing division in the Iglesia,” Santiago said.

“They allege that some ministers have been kidnapped. They want to make it appear that Iglesia is involved. That’s not true,” he said.

“Our reading of their message on YouTube last night is that they want to get the support of members who sympathize with them so they can get what they really want-to have a say in the running of the Iglesia,” he said.

“All should know that Iglesia is not a family corporation. It is a religion that follows the teachings of God found in the Bible. Brother Eduardo Manalo and the general leadership cannot allow meddling by anyone,” he said.

Santiago said Tenny and Angel tried to divide INC and the group applied its rules of discipline to them.”