As Easter is approaching, I can’t help but keep resurrection songs on repeat. Songs like: What a Beautiful Name, Hosanna, Shout to the Lord, Spirit Lead Me, and Mighty to Save. This led to reflection, weeping, and lamenting over the crisis that is enveloping Hillsong Church.
As a team, we began to chat, lament, and intercede on behalf of this organization and every person that has been adversely affected, directly or indirectly. Dan Crain, our Director of Groups and Mobilization, reflected over the triumphal entry. He stated, “As Jesus entered Jerusalem, He wailed over the city. He wept because the city would soon be destroyed, yes. However, He also wept because they never came to fully understand the way of the Kingdom, nor perceive that their Messiah was present with them.” Silence filled the (zoom) room.
Dan was referring to a story in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 19. For me, this is among the oddest chapters in the Bible. At the start you have the story of Zacchaeus, an unjust man, hanging from a tree to be noticed by Jesus. This story goes on to emphasize repentance, restoration, and reconciliation. If you fast forward to the end of the chapter, you see Jesus wielding a whip, he’s righteously indignant over the stewardship of His Father’s house.
Somewhere in the middle, Jesus commissions the theft of a donkey, because he has a need for it. He then makes the triumphal entry aboard a beast of burden… which preludes the darkest moments of Jesus’ life.
Where we were struck was in verses 41-44 (Luke 19:41-44)
“41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Jesus wept over Jerusalem…Better stated, Jesus publicly wails over the city which will be home to His eternal throne. These are not tears of joy, but tears of pain. Jesus knew the mass held misconceptions about who He was based upon the type of King/Ruler/Deliverer they longed to reign over them. Jesus understood that they were forcing Him into the image and shape of the idols they had erected in place of the true Messiah. The peace they longed for was present with them, yet they were gripped by delusion. They were missing it.
There is a clear parallel between the delusion of the people of Israel and the western church. It is this: we are missing our Messiah, though we claim to be found in Him.
This is evidenced in how we continually forsake the loving, compassionate, and just way of the Kingdom. We short sell it for self-aggrandizement, and gods we have fashioned after our image and desires. We claim to know Christ, but when the opportunity comes to bear witness to our Messiah, we miss it.
Let’s be clear, am I saying that the whole Church is adrift at sea? Am I saying the whole church is unloving? No. Am I making the mistake of believing that only an elite few take the command to love and do justice seriously? No.
I am saying that we have had some grand and very public opportunities to bear witness to the love and justice of Christ and we have blown these opportunities royally. This is where Hillsong and Holy week converge.
Spiritual Abuse and Church Hurt is Real
Tribalism, outrage, oppression of minority groups, and adherence to cancel and abuse culture have inundated our culture. Unfortunately, the institution, the Church, that can and should lead the way often bears a striking resemblance to the broader culture. It has been much the same regarding the situation surrounding Hillsong Church.
If you’ve been alive or in the Church in the past 3 or more decades you have been impacted by this organization, directly or indirectly. Recently, the church has come under fire because of impropriety, infidelity, and an unaccountable culture (culture of abuse). This is reprehensible and justice is needed to protect those being abused and adversely impacted.
However, what has been most disheartening is the response of other believers. In a moment when a grave evil against several people has come to light and a church community is troubled… What have we done? By and large, we have “victim-blamed,” discussed, critiqued, gossiped, and pointed out the plank in our siblings’ eyes. I can’t help but hear Jesus examining, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone…”
This is not to say that accountability or an in-house discussion isn’t necessary. Quite the contrary. It most definitely is. Church hurt is real. Abuse culture is real. And there are real people in crisis due to these painful realities. This is lamentable and must be confessed.
We must be sure to consider the witness of the Church and a watching unbelieving world. It would be a shame to either ignore the cries of the many people that have been adversely impacted and/or to gossip about and bash a local expression in the body of Christ. We need nuance here. This is a teachable moment. A massive opportunity to model love, compassion, and justice. If we are family, members of the same body, and the bride of Christ then we must care for those who have been adversely impacted: the local communities, the witness, and the character of the Church at large.
The Church should be so peculiar in this moment of crisis. On the one hand, we must love our neighbor, this looks like believing the victims and caring for those that have been directly and indirectly impacted. We, too, should love the perpetrators. We should pray earnestly for their repentance, restoration, and reconciliation. We must love those who have been oppressed, the perpetrators, and the local membership, as they are members of the body of Christ, and part of the capital “C” church.
Reconciliation: Reckon, Repent, Restore, & Forgive
Why write about Hillsong? Why would OneRace delve into the turbulent waters of this painful crisis? Because, we as believers, have been given the ministry of reconciliation. This includes vertical reconciliation, as in people coming back to God (gospel proclamation). However, it too includes horizontal reconciliation. Reconciliation is restoring equality, just dealings, and relational harmony to any relationship. The good news is that Christ has paid the ultimate price so that we can live out this reality. The hard truth is that we have to choose the way of humility, the narrow path is the only way to get there. Cruciformity is never easy, but in the end we will bear the resemblance of our Maker. Jesus said it this way, “…leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift… (Matthew 5:24) This is our responsibility as members of the body of Christ to be proponents of visible Kingdom flourishing through reconciliation.
What a shame it would be to exacerbate the injury of a fellow image-bearer. We must believe, and we must stand with. Keep in mind there are no rules of exclusivity in the body of Christ. We can love, support, and help heal the wounds of another, while interceding and holding to account those responsible for the conflict and trauma.
A Prayer for Redemption
Jesus, this easter, we look upon your cross for hope, restoration, and redemption. Help us, Your Church, to reckon with the pain and trauma of abuse. May all who have participated in or facilitated such hurt and pain repent, and cleave to the grace and mercy of God. We ask for restoration and healing for every person that has been adversely affected, directly and indirectly. May we emerge as a reconciled and forgiving people, that the world would look upon our oneness and inquire about our God in heaven.
May we be a people marked by peculiarity, in that we love friend and foe. We are the body of Christ. We are family. May we stop gossiping about Hillsong and start praying for Hillsong, and every person involved: victims, members, staff, and the local entity. God, redeem this story for your glory. That we would stand as a witness to the loving, compassionate, and just way of your Kingdom.
Josh Clemons is privileged to serve as the Executive Director for OneRace Movement. He has built a reputation as a lover of God, builder of people, and a reconciler of cultures. Serving as both an author, professor and leading a racial reconciliation movement, Josh shares his brilliance, wisdom, and practical instruction impacting audiences in both religious and secular communities. Presently, Josh is pursuing his Ph.D. at Fuller Theological Seminary. He loves living in Atlanta with his wife Lakisha and two sons, Langston Grant and Duke Ellington.