with god and howard on our side
Church blessed by liberal handout
February 17, 2005 - 5:37PM
An evangelical Christian church with links to the Liberal Party has received almost $800,000 in grants from government departments in the past five years.
The Sydney-based Hillsong Church has received $473,588 from the Department of Family and Community Services since 1999, according to government answers to Labor questions on notice.
The Department of Workplace Relations also gave one of the pentecostal church's organisations more than $300,000 last financial year alone.
The money was given to fund various programs, including family workers, youth activity services and "emergency relief".
Hillsong, based in Sydney's north-western suburbs in a sprawling convention centre that acts as a place of worship, is known for its focus on wealth generation.
Its founding leader, Pastor Brian Houston, published a book in late 1990s called You Need More Money.
The government's relationship with the church, which has a congregation of more than 15,000, has been publicly warming since 2002, when Prime Minister John Howard opened its new 3,500-seat premises in Baulkham Hills.
Last year, Treasurer Peter Costello addressed more than 20,000 Hillsong devotees at its annual conference at Olympic Park's SuperDome.
A Liberal Hillsong parishioner, Louise Markus, won the seat of Greenway at last year's federal election - a Labor stronghold since 1984.
Hillsong is part of the fast-growing Pentecostal Assemblies of God denomination popular in the southern states of the United States and in South America.
In response to questions on notice from Labor MP Carmen Lawrence, Minister for Family and Community Services Kay Patterson revealed to parliament this week her department had handed the church funding of up to $130,000 a year since 1999/2000.
Dr Lawrence said she was concerned the government was closing the gap between church and state.
"I just think that there's a potential recipe for a failure to separate church from state," Dr Lawrence told AAP.
Hillsong was a "quite extreme" brand of Christianity, she said.
Dr Lawrence is asking all ministers to divulge how much their departments give to Hillsong.
So far, Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews has revealed his department gave more than $300,000 to one of Hillsong's business initiatives aimed at bringing indigenous people into mainstream training institutions.
As a church, Hillsong is exempt from paying tax.
A spokeswoman for Senator Patterson said the department gave grants to many organisations, including other religious institutions.
"This is a desperate attempt by the Labor Party to pick on a small group for political purposes," the spokeswoman said.
Comment was being sought from the church.
God as subsidiary of the coalition
Reviewed by Antony Loewenstein
February 20, 2005
God Under Howard
(Allen & Unwin, $29.95)
Many voters had never heard of the Family First party before the 2004 election. When candidate Steven Fielding won a Victorian Senate seat (due to an ALP preference deal gone wrong), many Australians thought that a far-right, Christian-based morality had suddenly landed in our political system. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Since 1996, John Howard's Liberal Party has been slowly importing US Christian Right values and our media has barely registered this profound shift in social and public policy. ALP Foreign Affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd recently wrote that the Liberal Party's newfound message is that if you believe in "family values" and "moral values", the Coalition is the only party for you. "It is based on the false proposition," Rudd argued, "that somehow God has become the wholly-owned subsidiary of the Liberal Party." Separation of church and state, the natural order under secular democracy, is being challenged from within.
Marion Maddox aims to examine this shift. She charts the personal story of Howard himself and reveals a man in love with the notions of monarchy, empire and conservative values couched in religious symbolism. It wasn't long before he embraced a love of God and the market. Together, a potent force was born. "Under Howard," Maddox offers, "the market has taken on divine qualities."
The religious right here has learnt many lessons from its American brethren; achieving power requires latching onto one of the two major parties. With Howard as Prime Minister, this was an inevitability. A few examples will suffice. His belief that heterosexual marriage is the "bedrock" of society, campaigns for "values-neutral" public education and encouraging women to be stay-at-home mothers, all create an environment where a 1950s past that never existed can be transplanted into a 21st century looking for stability amid the current twin bogeymen - terrorism and moral panic.
Howard's message is having an effect. Ian Worby is chief executive of the ever-growing United Christian Broadcasters. He appreciates a government that listens and acts for the Christian community.
"There is great concern that as Australia has become more secularised," Worby recently argued, "there has been a shift away from our early Judaeo-Christian values. There is a resurgence, some people might call it a revival. We've seen this in the last couple of elections and from some of the comments by the Prime Minister and Treasurer in public forums." God Under Howard makes it clear that this growing electoral base needs to be satisfied, policy-wise, and the Coalition is delivering. Maddox presents a persuasive argument that shies away from demonising individuals of faith. They are not her target. Instead, she highlights the ideological similarities between conservative churches such as Hillsong and Howard's Government. A denomination that celebrates wealth as God's blessing and supports personal satisfaction fits Coalition dogma perfectly. "Such theology is a neat fit," writes Maddox, "for a government that stresses market capitalism and privatised economics over social welfare and collective responsibility for one another."
The recently revitalised abortion debate provides ample support for Maddox's disturbing thesis. It is evident, despite the obsequiousness of those suggesting otherwise, that a number of conservative, Christian men in the Government are determined to make women's bodies their domain. Maddox warns us that unless we want to enter the realm of America's decaying democracy, where the line between church and state is hopelessly blurred, we must fight to reinstate our democratic traditions.