Hillsong United – Live In Miami: Welcome to the Aftermath (Hillsong)
By Scott Creney
I attended youth group for several years when I was a teenager, an atheist lured by the promise of endless trips to the beach and loads of pizza (also, two of my best friends were already involved). During that time, I fasted in the desert and heard God speak to me. I sang all kinds of songs in fellowship. Our youth director was the first person I ever met who could play the guitar, and was a big part of me learning to play music. I once taught an entire year of Sunday school. And if it hadn’t been for the pro-life talks and raging sexism/homophobia in the church itself, who knows where my spiritual life might have led.
Oddly though, I never accepted Christ into my heart, not in the official sense. I entered the church a confirmed atheist and left it with an immense respect for the Gospels and a love for Christ. But I refused to align myself with organized religion — which I saw, and still see, as a vehicle for controlling other people, as corrupt and tainted as the (all too human) people who run it. Weddings and funerals aside, I haven’t been back in a church since.
But I’m not here to mock anyone’s religion. For all its flaws, Christianity has given strength to the abolitionist and civil rights movements. It has helped people triumph over their addictions, believe they could overcome unimaginable obstacles, and win countless major sporting events.
Christianity is no better or worse than the people who practice it. The fact that recent years have seen the church publicly defined by sex abuse scandals, bigotry towards homosexuals, and legislated sexism says nothing about Christ or his message, but it says a great deal about humanity. Let’s remember that the secular world isn’t exactly free from sexism, or homophobia, or sexual abuse either. John Phillips allegedly fucked his own daughter (his defense — it was consensual). That shouldn’t be used to dismiss the value of music.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Christ said that. I’m not sure how Hillsong United feel about those verses, but then He also told His followers to, “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”, so, you know, I guess Christ didn’t really care what we did. One wishes that people would take Christ’s contradictions into account before they judged others, but then not many people get into Christianity because they love to forgive people.
As for me, I’m finding it hard to forgive Hillsong United for their music. Regardless of the sermon attached to it, their music embodies the worst parts of rock and roll — overblown, male, preening, and tedious.
And the message it’s attached to isn’t especially profound either. It’s a Disney version of Christianity, singing about revelation with no more depth than a commercial jingle. The songs are big on emotion but short on specifics. Lots about salvation and walking with God, but not so much about the struggle. It’s a two-dimensional version of a four-dimensional experience. Giving your life away for Christ is all well and good, but Hillsong lyrics aren’t very interested in what that means, or conveying the actual ordeal of trying to live within the teachings, the discipline and contradictions of the savior, every single day of their life. And the quality of their music as well as their sermons suffer as a result. I’ve seen more profound struggles of faith in a greeting card.
None of which is to belittle the sincerity of the band-members’ faith. But if sincerity was all it took to make great art, then every single person at every single open mike night in the world would be a great artist. Hillsong United make music, and music is a type of art. But then I suppose a self-help book, which is ultimately what Hillsong is selling, qualifies as art because it’s a book.
The Bible says, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but everyone who humbles himself will be exalted”. If their dazzling website is anything to go by, Hilltop United is due for a big fall. Be sure to check out their merchandise page. Only thirty dollars for a t-shirt? Not including shipping and handling? Praise Jesus!
Well, I suppose Hillsong United aren’t the first music group to try and reconcile art and capitalism. And they certainly aren’t the first musicians to try and reconcile their Christianity with wealth.
History shows us there are infinite interpretations of Christ and his message. And if all this ‘power’ and ‘glory’ shit makes me uncomfortable, if $30 t-shirts and $15 souvenir tour drumsticks make me feel like flipping over the tables in their stadium temples, then maybe Hillsong and I have just read The Bible differently.
Because, in my subjective opinion, the whole thing — the videos, the merchandise, the piousness, the preening self-righteousness — makes me sick. It has nothing to do with Christ as I recognize Him. The group violates so many teachings of Christ they might as well just start selling indulgences and be done with it. But being a Christian is not about being perfect; it is about the struggle to try and achieve perfection in a fallen world. It is about engaging with one’s demons in an attempt to overcome them. I don’t doubt Hillsong United’s sincerity, or that the members are truly trying to do God’s work. And I doubt I’ve brought up any issues they haven’t already thought about. I just wish that Hillsong would allow this struggle to enter into their music. For one thing, it would make for more interesting art. And for another it might help them resolve some of their glaring contradictions.
Or hell, maybe they’re just in it for the money. They’re going to be participating in a conference in Sydney next week. It’s only $279. Praise His name. In Christ all things are possible. Shit, the church made 40 million dollars in 2004. If that doesn’t convince you God exists, then nothing will.
But then I’m sure everyone involved with Hillsong Church has prayed on this issue extensively.
Oh yeah. And after writing this article and trying really, really hard not to be cynical, I had to go and do a little bit of research on Hillsong Church. Read this and watch your toes curl. If you’re interested in Christ, you don’t need any of this stuff. Pick up a Bible — it’s free. Go read the Gospels. Read Ecclesiastes. Don’t take anything in the Old Testament, or any of the books written by Paul, too literally. Go find the Gospel of Thomas. Talk with your friends. You don’t need what Hillsong is selling to have a relationship with God. It’s everywhere all around you. And it’s free.
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