I want to say thank you to Church Watch for inviting me to write about my experience protesting Brian Houston’s deception at Hillsong Melbourne today. I hadn’t been planning to do so, but the exercise was useful for me in processing my own experience. Also, I just want to be really clear that I’m not a Christian, do not attend any church, and am not affiliated with Church Watch, but instead have graciously been asked to write a guest post.
For a bit of background, feel free to read my post about my experience of being deceived by Brian Houston, Australia’s most powerful celebrity pastor, here http://burningreligion.com/2015/07/07/my-experience-of-being-deceived-by-australias-most-powerful-celebrity-pastor/ . In short, I spearheaded what grew into a massive media campaign in Australia to protest Hillsong Church giving misogynist and abusive ex-megachurch-pastor Mark Driscoll a gigantic public platform at Hillsong Conference in Sydney a couple of weeks ago. Under gigantic pressure, Hillsong’s senior pastor Mr. Houston agreed to not have Mr. Driscoll appear at the conference. Then he went ahead and interviewed Mr. Driscoll at the conference anyway. In retrospect, one can see that his public announcement that he was cancelling Mr. Driscoll’s appearance was very carefully worded so as to lead protestors and Australian media to believe Mr. Driscoll would no longer be appearing at the conference at all, whereas hidden in the details of his deceptive and misleading language was a loophole he’d left himself whereby he could interview Driscoll on camera, offsite from the conference, and then broadcast the interview at the conference and still not have technically “lied”.
I found this obvious deception quite outrageous, and given that I’d actually shown up at Hillsong Melbourne services with a gigantic “Thank you for listening and cancelling Driscoll’s appearance” sign, I felt I really couldn’t just let the deception go, but for my own sake, and because I want to live in a world where popular spiritual leaders can’t just completely get away with lying to the public, I felt I had to go back one more time to retract my thanks and publicly say “Brian Houston lied to me”. Some friends of mine in Melbourne, 3 Christians including one pastor, also found the deception outrageous and agreed to join me in protesting it. So the four of us stood outside Hillsong Melbourne Worship services this morning with our protest signs. Here’s a photo of us.
The fourth member of our little group, my wife Meg, is taking the photo. Here’s another including her.
Here’s the protest signs right after they were made the other night
And here’s the other very silly one referencing Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” we made a bit later.
As you can see, we intended to protest with good humor =).
Some things I realised/noted/learned:
- One thing that struck me today was the gigantic gulf between the take of so many people I know, who found Mr. Houston’s deception quite outrageous, and the take of every single Hillsong insider to whom I spoke today, which involved justifying and minimising and denying Mr. Houston’s deception. My brilliant friend Alister Pate helped me understand this gulf in terms of M. Scott Peck’s framework from “The Road Less Traveled”, which proposes 4 stages of human spiritual development.
- As at my previous protests at Hillsong, 98%+ of people going into and out of Hillsong services basically entirely ignored us. I’m trying to understand this from their perspective, and it makes sense to me. I think most people probably just aren’t in the psycho-emotional space, most of the time, to engage with protestors. I mean I think the vast majority of Hillsong Church goers are probably reasonably nice people who are involved with Hillsong each for their own reasons, and that likely most of these reasons are fairly excellent and reasonable. Most people just aren’t like me. If I see a protester at something, I’m instantly overwhelmed with curiosity, and massively attracted to that person, whatever they might be protesting, because I see in them a kindred spirit who has the psycho-emotional capacity to be an unafraid outspoken outsider. It takes a certain amount of fortitude and energy to do this sort of thing and ask people to engage with you when you know most of them are going to disagree. I’m okay with most people being different from me and not wanting to engage.
- My other realisation, about myself, this morning, is that I’m totally done with Hillsong/Mr. Houston now. I’ve spent the last 10 weeks or so engaging with them, to the best of my ability–first in asking them not to give this abusive ex-pastor, Mr. Driscoll, a platform, then in saying thank you when they acquiesced, then finally in publicly calling them out when it turns out they lied. This has sucked up a lot of my energy and time, and a chunk of my money as well. I thought for a long time that Hillsong/Mr. Houston and I were having a civil conversation of sorts. But when Mr. Houston lied, and then when all the insiders I spoke to at Hillsong Melbourne this morning (the <2% of folks who did engage) mostly spent the conversation defending, minimising, and denying Mr. Houston’s deception, as well as trying to proselytise me, psychoanalyse me, tell me I was robbing myself, and changing the subject, I realised I’m no longer willing to keep trying to have a civil conversation with these folks. I’m very happy to gently cut them right out of my life, in order to create space for more delicious, engaging, authentic folks. So you likely won’t see me writing/posting about, protesting, or otherwise engaging with Hillsong Church any further for the foreseeable future, unless something changes quite radically on their side of the conversation. I’m usually fairly happy to, as my friend Jim Henderson (author of “Question Mark, Why the Church Welcomes Bullies and How to Stop It”, which I highly recommend) puts it, stay in the room with difference. But not indefinitely with toxic difference.