Pastor defends ministry against cult claims
May 25, 2009
CELEBRITY evangelist Brian Houston has defended his Hillsong ministry against allegations it is a "cult-like" organisation as the Sydney megachurch opened a "campus" church on Brisbane's southside yesterday.
He also denied Hillsong had misspent Commonwealth grant money or recruited students in NSW schools.
Mr Houston and his wife Bobbie were installed as the new senior pastors of one of Brisbane's largest Pentecostal churches, the 1000-member Garden City Christian Church.
The church's governing board is now dominated by Mr Houston, pictured, and Hillsong appointees, and the church has been rebranded with Hillsong logos.
In an exclusive interview with The Courier-Mail, Mr Houston, credited the dramatic growth of the 21,000-member Hillsong to a need for fellowship and "the grace of God".
"It's also because people want answers to life," he said.
Criticism that Hillsong is overly focused on money, flashy entertainment and fund-raising, were rejected.
"We're big and because we're big people wonder what all this is about," he said.
Hillsong critics, including politicians who have been contacted by former Hillsong members, have accused it of cult-like behaviour, including psychologically abusing people who questioned the church's practices.
"Recruitment and fundraising is what it's all about," said Tanya Levine, whose book People in Glass Houses exposes her experiences with Hillsong.
"Fundamentalism is not open to free thought and questions."
But Mr Houston said Ms Levine was only a spectator.
"There's 21,000 people who attend Hillsong on Sunday in Sydney and I would say 20,500 or 20,800 have awesome things to say," he said.
Former ALP leader and long-time MP Carmen Lawrence, now teaching at the University of Western Australia, said there was not proper scrutiny of $600,000 in federal grant money Hillsong received for indigenous employment and hundreds of thousands more for other programs.
"One thing that worried me was whether they were using funds to recruit members for their church," she said.
Mr Houston said "absolutely 100 per cent" of the allegations were false, blamed people with "an agenda" for prompting the reports, and gave assurances the ministry had strict accountability for grant money.
Students in NSW were not being recruited by Hillsong in schools, he said, although Hillsong was active in schools, as other churches were.
He also said Hillsong members giving 10 per cent of their pre-tax wages to the church were not asked directly to do so.
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