Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How did I stop being a Christian?

 A couple people have asked me this lately.  I thought I'd try to write about it.

This seems like a very boring thing to write about.  Never mind.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Protesting Mark Driscoll at Hillsong Melbourne City Campus

  Today I went down to the Easter Sunday service at Hillsong Church Melbourne City Campus to quietly hold this sign and chat with people about the fact that Hillsong has invited uber-bully Mark Driscoll to speak at their two Hillsong Confrences this July in Sydney and London, at each of which he'll be put on a stage and given a microphone in front of nearly 30,000 people.

  I'd like to acknowledge that Hillsong has already acknowledged the problem to some extent by downgrading him from speaker at the conferences to simply Mark and his wife Grace being interviewed. Nevertheless, he's still being allowed to speak to all those people. Doing so at the very least will boost his book and media sales and will re-victimise the many people who he abused and bullied to whom he still hasn't even begun to make any amends.

  Also, briefly, if you're new the whole subject and have no idea about what I'm talking, you can read more at some of these links:

Alright.  So I arrived at Hillsong City Campus at Dallas Brooks Centre and found I was rather a lot more nervous than I had thought I was going to be, and also found that there were two entrances on opposite sides of the building, and I had to choose which one. I ended up choosing the sort of "main" entrance, which turned out to be a mistake as it's located behind the building's privately owned car parking lot. The "back" entrance is located right on a public street with a public sidewalk. It turns out more-or-less each entrance ends up getting used by about half the congregation.

I unfurled my sign and stood quietly to the side at the bottom of the stairs, smiling at people and wishing them good morning. About 99% of people just read the sign and kept going into the service. The service officially started at 10:30, and I unfurled my sign at 10:05. 

A lovely fellow named M (this is M number 1) came down and chatted with me for a while. He seemed like maybe he was very much a church insider. He projected an air of relaxed confidence. He was wanting to know what Mark had done, and why did I care, and he listened with curiosity. In the end he said maybe Mark would apologize at the conference, and it would perhaps be useful for the many Christian leaders at the conference to hear about what he had done wrong, and that he trusted Brian Houston to deal with it well. This was a theme I heard from several people with whom I chatted.

At maybe 10:25 a handsome young fellow whose name I didnt' get who had on the volunteer uniform (a black t-shirt with white lettering VOLUNTEER across the front) came down to the bottom of the stairs and tried to stand in such a way that he was blocking the view of my sign. We ended up doing a funny game of I move, he moves to block, I move again, for a couple minutes, after which he kind of gave up.

At about 10:35, a very handsome hillsong-leader-looking fellow who looked to be about age 30 showed up at the top of the stairs with two Wilson Security guards. Wilson Security provides security for the Dallas Brooks Centre, where the services were being held, and also for the parking lot, which is run by them. This handsome fellow was looking and pointing at me and then the two security guards came down and told me I'd have to move as it was private property. Pretty much everyone had already arrived anyway, so it worked out well, as I shifted around to the "back" entrance, and so when everyone left the services just after noon, all the folks who use that entrance got to see my sign as well.

Around at the back entrance I got into a brief conversation with M (This is M number 2), who was standing out there waiting for his sister K. M2 was really engaged and wanted to know about my story, and why I was no longer a Christian. I really liked him. But we didn't get to talk for long as finally K arrived and they went into the service.

I started chatting with Younger M (aged perhaps 22?) (hereafter YM), who was a volunteer and was standing on the porch greeting folks as they arrived. She and I were there more or less alone as everyone had pretty much arrived, so I rolled up my sign and stuck it in my backpack and went up to stand on the porch to chat with her. She was very willing to share with me her story of how she grew up in a Christian family, but went away from God, but had come back and had been at Hillsong for three years. She thought I was kind of way off base as her take was that she herself had experienced a lot of hurt, but she'd worked through it and forgiven those people, and that was important, and she was trusting God to take care of them.  I tried to have a little chat with her about justice, and tell her a story Brian McLaren told me at a conference years ago about the importance of stopping abusers not out of anger, but out of love for both them and their victims, but YM very much didn't want to hear much of anything I had to say.  While we were chatting, security showed back up and told me I had to stay on the sidewalk. I asked would I be allowed to come into the service if I got rid of the sign completely?, and they said no, they'd been asked to make sure I didn't come on the premises at all. I asked who asked them, and they refused to give any details.

After that, I packed up and went for a little bike ride, and came back at the end of the service. As people were coming out, I had a number of really great conversations with people. Brother/sister pair M2 and K, whom I'd briefly met earlier, came by to chat a bit more. K. shared that she suffers from agoraphobia and lots of anxiety, and that she'd found the sermon very helpful and peace-bringing. I told her I thought she was super brave to have come to church, and she said yes it was really hard. She and M2 were by far the favourite people I met today. I'd love to connect with them again.

Actually I ended up running a sort of small discussion group with 4 or 5 people there on the sidewalk. New people kept edging up wanting to join the conversation, and I kept inviting them in introducing them to everyone already there. I was really delicious. I was holding my sign all the while. I got to explain a bit about Mark Driscoll and why I was personally invested being from Seattle and having friends who had been hurt, and how I really hoped Hillsong disinvites him from the conference.

Finally after most people had left, I ended up in a conversation with D, who looks a lot like Rick Warren (he laughed when I told him that) and J, a lawyer. These two stood and listened and asked questions and shared for maybe 10 minutes--I really enjoyed talking with them, although their take was quite similar to that of M1 and YM. In fact they kind of gently challenged me--D said "Couldn't you have just emailed the leadership to let them know of your concerns? Don't you think it's a bit disruptive to be out here--these people just want to have their experience of worshiping Jesus on Easter morning!".  I told him certainly hoped it was disruptive, as my hope was to get Mark disinvited to speak at the conference, and these people are the very people who create the power structure that will be giving Mark a giant voice in July. He said that seemed a bit conspiracy-theoryish to him, so I told him about Hannah Arendt's theory about the banality of evil.

Finally, I wrapped up with D and J, and as I was unlocking my bicycle and getting ready to take off, M3, a lovely lady who looked to be perhaps 30, kind of surreptitiously approached me and said she wanted to let me know that she massively agreed with me about Mark Driscoll, and she thought I was super brave to be out there with my sign. She said she wouldn't want church leadership to find out she was talking to me and she certainly couldn't bring up the subject of Mark Driscoll at the conference with them herself, as she would then be labelled a "troublemaker" and as someone "not on board with the vision". She said she really loved the people of the church, but the sermons felt not-enough-grace and way to much do-do-do and do-harder-do-harder-do-harder.

Overall, I really enjoyed myself, although I felt kind of emotionally and psychologically wrung out the whole rest of the day. I realised I felt a bit on edge/adrenalin-y the whole time I was there. Don't really know that I'd be up for this sort of thing on a regular basis, although I suspect that feeling gradually goes away, as with anything new and slightly fear-inducing =).

Thanks for reading =)