Hillsong’s mental illness link is no surprise to me

Tim Brunero

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 13 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.

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3 Responses to “Hillsong’s mental illness link is no surprise to me”

  1. adria franconi Says:

    Ive just read your article, I do not agree at all about what you are stating, your wording, like journalists, shows your contempt for the church.

  2. lol a couple of of the feedback many people distribute are kinda silly, in certain cases i ponder if they even read the subject matter and content before leaving your 2 cents or whether they mearly skim the post title and prepare the very first idea that pops into their heads. in either case, it’s enjoyable to browse sensible commentary occasionally rather than the same, classic post vomit which i almost always notice on the internet i’m going to have fun with a couple of rounds of zynga poker regards

  3. Church was always a pain between agnosticst and catolics.

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