The Aussie Invasion: Hillsong Hits America's Shores

The Australians in the form of the global Hillsong churches, are coming.  Actually, they are already here.

Let's take stock.

Just after Memorial Day weekend 2016, the massive Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN) invited Hillsong church to begin its own channel, calling it the Hillsong Channel.  I have been watching them since then and lead global pastor Brian C. Houston's preaching for a number of years now on his own half-hour show.  He is better than most TV preachers.  For starters, his accent is charming, and he's needlessly a little defensive about it.  He elides the "r," as in chu'ch, just as one example.  It doesn't sound exactly British, but it is not American, either.  It's proudly Australian.  Houston is also positive – and here he is unusual for a man of English heritage.  In my experience, Aussies, Kiwis, and Britons can be sour and negative among church folks.  In contrast, Americans are optimistic and bubbly. And so his upbeat slogan fits an American outlook: "Your best is yet to come!" Finally, to match the slogan, he has a nice smile. Americans like big smiles.

The imaging and edits at Hillsong Channel are first-rate.  The creative team behind their promos – cool trombones and syncopated drumbeats, guys! – is modern and upbeat.  Their montages of white horses, people on beaches or in church with their hands raised, of the Christ statue in Brazil, of people smiling and dancing and leaping and hugging, and solemn worshipers – are all marvelous and attractive.  It projects the youthful cool factor.  And of course, their worship ministry, their mainstay, is of the highest quality.  It is also a huge money-maker – $300 million is one figure thrown around.  Their original programs are deep, but simple enough for the new convert to understand.

Is Hillsong political in the American sense?  As far as I can tell from its TV broadcasts, it is not, and that's one of its most attractive features.  I heard Pastor Houston only barely refer to Trump shortly after the election, and he merely said he was surprised that people reacted so strongly one way or the other.  Wise.  The Aussies appear to be blissfully naïve about such matters.  Now we can watch them without feeling tense or angry.

I got a shock when for the first time I recently visited Hillsong, L.A., right in the degraded city center next to the tall showcase skyscrapers.  In the foyer, I saw posters stapled to wooden sticks as if they could be used for marches.  February is Black History Month, so the images on the posters were of black leaders throughout American history, like Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. – and even extra-controversial and hard-left Jesse Jackson.  I didn't look closely enough to see if hate-filled Malcolm X or anti-Semitic Muslim Louis Farrakhan were included.  It is a good thing to honor men like Douglass and King (though one wonders whether King could withstand scrutiny in the current climate of anti-sexual harassment, since he committed adultery often enough).  King's personal foibles aside, he and Douglass contributed nationally to improving black life.  Fine.

Consider this, however.  Did any of the ancestors of Hillsong Aussies mistreat aborigines?  What would happen if the Australian Christian left incessantly brought it up – in the name of justice, of course – in numerous Hillsong church services back in Sydney and their satellite churches around Australia?  It would be a benefit to acknowledge the past and reconcile, but to listen regularly to the mistreatment after the acknowledgement and reconciliation would surely get tiring.  Guilt-tripping people about the past is manipulative, not the gospel of freedom.

It may be difficult for leftists generally and the Christian left specifically to believe, but Hillsong America had better realize soon that leftist social policies ≠ justice.

Certainly not always.  A short list follows: abortion and the attempt to redefine marriage and burning down buildings of business-owners who did nothing wrong and suppression of free speech on college campuses.

Rather, Hillsong needs to preach the inclusive gospel for everyone, even conservative Republicans.  Who knows?  Maybe they have some intelligent ideas to share about how to make the world a better place.  And they are the main ones who sustained TBN by giving generously – perhaps a cumulative total that exceeds a billion dollars over four decades, certainly hundreds of millions.  As it happens, Paul Crouch was very conservative.  Many times in 1988, while Reagan was leaving office, Crouch would publicly say he wished he could clone the president.  Would Hillsong, L.A. or Hillsong Channel put up an image of Reagan on his birthday (Feb. 6)?

If Hillsong, in its apparent innocence and blissful ignorance, were to allow the American left to dominate it as if the left alone were concerned with justice, then Hillsong would soon be shoved aside into restricted relevance and shortened outreach.  It's best to remain neutral about such things, left and right.  Be international, like the gospel of the kingdom.

One final word about relevance.  Youngish Americans, soon to reach middle age, who have joined the Hillsong movement and are often on TV have adopted the hip-hop subculture – its accents, demeanor, gestures, and slang. "Yo!  What up, home dawg?"  Being culturally relevant is not wrong, and it can even be entertaining on some level, but imagine that Brian Houston today projecting an image of the American hippie, heavy metal subculture dude of the 1970s, wearing bell-bottom jeans and psychedelic shirts and scraggly hair.  "Peace, maaan!"  He would appear ridiculous.  Soon the extra-super-cool American aging pastors will age out of hip-hop.  "No yo!"  Then what?

One of the most refreshing aspects of the Aussies is that they don't indulge in quickly fading American subculture fantasies.  If the Aussies tried it, they could not pull it off.  They would look laughable.  Instead, their style is wonderfully streamlined and straightforward and international.  It will stand the test of time.  I hope they stay that way, too.

The Aussies should keep coming over, and they should stay.  They are a breath of fresh air in a narcissistic America stuck in her past and old politics and wacky subcultures.  If they rise above it all, then people of all backgrounds here will love them for it, and their outreach will be cross-cultural and huge.

James Arlandson's website is Live as Free People, where he has posted Christian scientists comment on young earth creationism and Adam and Eve-olution.

The Australians in the form of the global Hillsong churches, are coming.  Actually, they are already here.

Let's take stock.

Just after Memorial Day weekend 2016, the massive Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN) invited Hillsong church to begin its own channel, calling it the Hillsong Channel.  I have been watching them since then and lead global pastor Brian C. Houston's preaching for a number of years now on his own half-hour show.  He is better than most TV preachers.  For starters, his accent is charming, and he's needlessly a little defensive about it.  He elides the "r," as in chu'ch, just as one example.  It doesn't sound exactly British, but it is not American, either.  It's proudly Australian.  Houston is also positive – and here he is unusual for a man of English heritage.  In my experience, Aussies, Kiwis, and Britons can be sour and negative among church folks.  In contrast, Americans are optimistic and bubbly. And so his upbeat slogan fits an American outlook: "Your best is yet to come!" Finally, to match the slogan, he has a nice smile. Americans like big smiles.

The imaging and edits at Hillsong Channel are first-rate.  The creative team behind their promos – cool trombones and syncopated drumbeats, guys! – is modern and upbeat.  Their montages of white horses, people on beaches or in church with their hands raised, of the Christ statue in Brazil, of people smiling and dancing and leaping and hugging, and solemn worshipers – are all marvelous and attractive.  It projects the youthful cool factor.  And of course, their worship ministry, their mainstay, is of the highest quality.  It is also a huge money-maker – $300 million is one figure thrown around.  Their original programs are deep, but simple enough for the new convert to understand.

Is Hillsong political in the American sense?  As far as I can tell from its TV broadcasts, it is not, and that's one of its most attractive features.  I heard Pastor Houston only barely refer to Trump shortly after the election, and he merely said he was surprised that people reacted so strongly one way or the other.  Wise.  The Aussies appear to be blissfully naïve about such matters.  Now we can watch them without feeling tense or angry.

I got a shock when for the first time I recently visited Hillsong, L.A., right in the degraded city center next to the tall showcase skyscrapers.  In the foyer, I saw posters stapled to wooden sticks as if they could be used for marches.  February is Black History Month, so the images on the posters were of black leaders throughout American history, like Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. – and even extra-controversial and hard-left Jesse Jackson.  I didn't look closely enough to see if hate-filled Malcolm X or anti-Semitic Muslim Louis Farrakhan were included.  It is a good thing to honor men like Douglass and King (though one wonders whether King could withstand scrutiny in the current climate of anti-sexual harassment, since he committed adultery often enough).  King's personal foibles aside, he and Douglass contributed nationally to improving black life.  Fine.

Consider this, however.  Did any of the ancestors of Hillsong Aussies mistreat aborigines?  What would happen if the Australian Christian left incessantly brought it up – in the name of justice, of course – in numerous Hillsong church services back in Sydney and their satellite churches around Australia?  It would be a benefit to acknowledge the past and reconcile, but to listen regularly to the mistreatment after the acknowledgement and reconciliation would surely get tiring.  Guilt-tripping people about the past is manipulative, not the gospel of freedom.

It may be difficult for leftists generally and the Christian left specifically to believe, but Hillsong America had better realize soon that leftist social policies ≠ justice.

Certainly not always.  A short list follows: abortion and the attempt to redefine marriage and burning down buildings of business-owners who did nothing wrong and suppression of free speech on college campuses.

Rather, Hillsong needs to preach the inclusive gospel for everyone, even conservative Republicans.  Who knows?  Maybe they have some intelligent ideas to share about how to make the world a better place.  And they are the main ones who sustained TBN by giving generously – perhaps a cumulative total that exceeds a billion dollars over four decades, certainly hundreds of millions.  As it happens, Paul Crouch was very conservative.  Many times in 1988, while Reagan was leaving office, Crouch would publicly say he wished he could clone the president.  Would Hillsong, L.A. or Hillsong Channel put up an image of Reagan on his birthday (Feb. 6)?

If Hillsong, in its apparent innocence and blissful ignorance, were to allow the American left to dominate it as if the left alone were concerned with justice, then Hillsong would soon be shoved aside into restricted relevance and shortened outreach.  It's best to remain neutral about such things, left and right.  Be international, like the gospel of the kingdom.

One final word about relevance.  Youngish Americans, soon to reach middle age, who have joined the Hillsong movement and are often on TV have adopted the hip-hop subculture – its accents, demeanor, gestures, and slang. "Yo!  What up, home dawg?"  Being culturally relevant is not wrong, and it can even be entertaining on some level, but imagine that Brian Houston today projecting an image of the American hippie, heavy metal subculture dude of the 1970s, wearing bell-bottom jeans and psychedelic shirts and scraggly hair.  "Peace, maaan!"  He would appear ridiculous.  Soon the extra-super-cool American aging pastors will age out of hip-hop.  "No yo!"  Then what?

One of the most refreshing aspects of the Aussies is that they don't indulge in quickly fading American subculture fantasies.  If the Aussies tried it, they could not pull it off.  They would look laughable.  Instead, their style is wonderfully streamlined and straightforward and international.  It will stand the test of time.  I hope they stay that way, too.

The Aussies should keep coming over, and they should stay.  They are a breath of fresh air in a narcissistic America stuck in her past and old politics and wacky subcultures.  If they rise above it all, then people of all backgrounds here will love them for it, and their outreach will be cross-cultural and huge.

James Arlandson's website is Live as Free People, where he has posted Christian scientists comment on young earth creationism and Adam and Eve-olution.