Reading about Hillsong certainly puts the WCG thing in perspective. Who'd have guessed that the prosperity gospel-soaked, tongues speaking types who gyrate to hypnotic worship music in the Assemblies of God have anything in common with Armstrongism.
But they do. Tanya Levin's book reminds us that religious servitude is no respecter of denominational distinctives. Beneath the happy-clappy lobotomised veneer the sociology and the psychology is nearly identical.
Armstrongism's day in the sun is long past, even if the news still hasn't reached a few of the staunchest old timers. The Elmer Gantry sideshows are still out there though, raking in the dough, but they're being performed in other ghettos on the fringe, though the key ideas are just the same.
Tithing for example, and the reign of misogyny. Emphasis on “family values” (where do you find that in the ministry of Jesus or Paul, or the New Testament as a whole?) and a jaundiced view of higher education. And glaring, blatant hypocrisy at the apex of the hierarchical food chain.
Hillsong is an Aussie phenomena with strong Kiwi connections. According to Levin, Pastor Brian Houston's dad, also a Pentecostal preacher, moved his family across the ditch when his moral failures became an issue here. A former NZ Prime Minister once remarked that emigrating Kiwi's improved the national IQ scores in both countries. It seems father Frank's flight could well be a case study in support of that notion. The details are there in the book and on the Web.
But forget the preening, strutting pastors. The parallels with WCG in the lives of the regular church folk are uncanny, and it was hard to know whether to laugh out loud or to just groan as Levin recounted her experiences and perceptions.
If WCG was a 1960s B movie in the theater of toxic religion, Hillsong appears to be a racier twenty-first century version with catchy music and expensive blue stage special effects. You can check out some You-Tube commentary over on Felix Taylor's blog.