Beyond the Scandal
The Secrets of Hillsong draws on the reporting that exposed misconduct at the Hillsong megachurch. The docuseries goes beyond the headline scandals to explore patterns of abuse engrained in Hillsong’s history and asks what rebuilding looks like in the aftermath of scandal.
WHEN POPE FRANCIS visited Canada in July 2022, he said he was “deeply sorry” for the abuses inflicted upon peoples from First Nations by more than a century of Catholic-run residential schools. Francis decried the ways “many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the Indigenous peoples,” which resulted in “cultural destruction and forced assimilation.”
To his credit, the pontiff acknowledged that his apology was not “the end of the matter,” and that serious investigation of what was perpetrated and enabled by the church was necessary for the survivors of the schools “to experience healing from the traumas they suffered.”
In the United States, the Seneca Nation is paving a path toward that healing process in their homelands, in particular from harm caused by a Presbyterian-run residential school.
A month after the pope’s apology, Matthew Pagels, then-president of the Seneca Nation — which historically inhabited territory throughout the Finger Lakes and Genesee Valley regions of New York — announced a new initiative to compile and catalog a list of residential school attendees.
To lead the effort, Pagels tapped Sharon Francis, a member of the Wolf Clan of the Seneca Nation and program coordinator at the Seneca Nation crime victims unit. Her passion, she said, is helping her communities heal from personal, intergenerational, and historical traumas.
RELIGION PROMOTES WHAT is good in humanity — mercy, wisdom, charity, justice, compassion. These are fundamental to most religious traditions. But religious institutions and movements consist of humans capable of both good and evil, truth and lies, peaceableness and violence. Most Americans have positive feelings about the role religion plays in American life, according to recent surveys. But more than 75 percent are against religious organizations endorsing political candidates or getting involved in partisan politics.
Religious zeal and political power can be an explosive combination — which is why the First Amendment promotes the separation of these powers. Yet the heart and faith of voters impact their choices in the polling booth — and the emotions and imaginations of voters can be swayed by media, social groups, and targeted manipulation to impact an individual’s vote.
One form of manipulation is through conspiracy theories — and conspiracy theories that manipulate religious and social imaginations are particularly potent. They are not new — recall the early U.S. grassroots movements, such as the Anti-Masonic Party and the Know-Nothings, who fought against perceived threats to Protestant Christian values, as well as the John Birch Society’s modern links to the Christian Identity Organization.
As conspiracy theories, disinformation, and populism become more mainstream, one less-understood conspiracy is having an outsized impact on immigration laws: The “great replacement theory” promotes the idea that nonwhite people are brought into the United States and other Western countries to “replace” white voters as part of a godless, liberal political agenda.
The 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, reminded many Americans that the horrors of organized hate were not something in the past. The refrain by white nationalists of “You will not replace us!” recalled virulent antisemitism and anti-immigrant rhetoric of earlier eras. The media repeated the slogan as it tried to make sense of how domestic terrorism, spurred on by online rhetoric regarding the removal of Civil War statues, could have culminated in such social violence and the murder of Heather Heyer by neo-Nazi James Fields Jr. It was a traumatic moment among many in America.
I’m proud to say that I benefitted from affirmative action. These policies, sometimes called “race conscious admission policies,” allow colleges and universities to address unequal access to educational opportunities by taking different aspects of a student’s background, including race, into account among other admission factors. But even with affirmative action in place, in 1994 I joined fewer than 25 other Black men in a freshman class of over 1,000 students at Emory University.
MY DAD HAD a very mixed relationship with America. Based in his experience of and feelings concerning white supremacy in America, I was never sure he loved America and knew with certainty that he hesitated to call it “home.” America was never holy ground for him.
On Jan. 6, 2021, while I was watching the Capitol insurrection on TV, he died in his hospice bed. My screen view of the Capitol mob’s recitation of “hang Mike Pence,” in rhythmic incantation to bring forth the blood-boiling hate, was reminiscent of the ritualistic lynching of thousands from 1870 to 1940, particularly and almost exclusively African Americans.
I also had a screen view of my dad. Given the threat posed by COVID-19 exposure upon his chemotherapy-treated and compromised immune system, we were not able to visit him as we would have liked. My sister had installed a camera system to get a visual. I noticed that he was not moving. I earnestly studied his lack of motion and noticed that his mouth was wide open. This was the death posture. I instantly knew he was gone.
Trying to come to grips with the death of my father, while staring with glazed-over eyes at the Capitol riot, I said to myself: “The insurrection took my dad out of here. He had enough of white supremacy in America.” During the chaos of the insurgency, my dad became an ancestor. In the stark reality of his death, I realized he had been in search of holy ground for a long time.
IN 2011, I took a course at my Christian college about the personality type system known as the Enneagram.
The Enneagram is a system built around nine personality types, with each type providing a unique perspective on how we navigate our relationships, emotions, and the world around us. The Enneagram draws on both spirituality and psychology, which distinguishes it from many other personality indicators.
A primary question that emerged for me from that college class: Does the inner work that the Enneagram encourages manifest itself in the outer world through justice work, or is the Enneagram primarily a tool meant to encourage people to focus on individual healing, career, and spirituality?
Throughout history, questions about how and why each human has a unique set of behaviors, motivations, emotions, and cognitions have preoccupied philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, religious thinkers, and Buzzfeed quiz creators alike. Indeed, in the 21st century, “know thyself” is less of a thought-provoking ancient Greek aphorism and more of a cultural imperative lauded by the self-help industrial complex and career coaches. We are assured that by unlocking our “true selves,” we will ultimately be unlocking our true potential, which will drastically improve our fortunes.
But the Enneagram was never meant to simply measure our potential or provide a definitive answer to the question of human personality. This is contrary to some of the most popular personality indicators such as Myers-Briggs or CliftonStrengths (formerly StrengthsFinder), which became popular because they promised to help employers tap into human potential and productivity. The Enneagram originated as a tool for contemplation but has come to emphasize how self-growth and inner work prepare us for the outer work of building community.
In their book The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, Catholic priest Richard Rohr and Lutheran minister Andreas Ebert point to a 4th-century Christian Desert Father, Evagrius Ponticus, as the first to use, loosely, the nine-pointed symbol to highlight vices that he believed interrupted one’s inner peace and relationship with God. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, inspired by a theory originated by Bolivian philosopher Oscar Ichazo, used modern psychology to develop a theory of nine distinct personalities — or “enneatypes” — that highlighted the vices, virtues, and core motivations of each type.
The Enneagram is sometimes treated as just another personality test that can help us purchase the things that “match” our personalities, find romance, or unlock our “true potential” so we can make more money — part of our culture’s obsessive focus on self-improvement. But at its best, the Enneagram not only emphasizes making peace with yourself and a higher power, it also offers tools for learning how to be in community and build a more just society.
To help me sort through my questions, I interviewed three Enneagram experts: Chichi Agorom, an associate faculty member with The Narrative Enneagram and author of The Enneagram for Black Liberation; Jessica Denise Dickson, a life empowerment coach and Enneagram guide who uses the Enneagram in anti-racist workshops; and Abi Robins, a queer, trans Enneagram teacher, coach, and author of The Conscious Enneagram. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity. — Josiah R. Daniels
IN 1991, FOUR Los Angeles police officers beat Rodney King, a 25-year-old African American man, nearly to death. It was caught on video. All the officers were acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon. The acquittals were followed by six days of rebellion with more than 50 associated deaths. At that time, I and many other white Christians fixated on our desire to see “peace” restored. Even in the face of graphic police brutality, I was unable to see the pernicious racial injustice that created the context for the riots. The white Christianity of my upbringing did not equip me with a biblical lens through which to discern the truth about racial injustice in the U.S. It would be nearly a full decade before I could finally begin to perceive it.
Nevertheless, in light of the role white Christian nationalists played in the Jan.6 riot, the number of pastors who preach against Black Lives Matter and critical race theory, and the deafening silence and stubborn inaction of many white Christians in the face of explicit cries for racial justice, I have to ask: Will this generation of white American Christians be just another in the long line to embolden racial injustice?
Where do we turn to find hope, inspiration, and guidance to help white Christians finally commit to our God-given vocation to do justice instead of holding tightly to our idolatrous commitment to white supremacy? I look to the little-known biblical prophet Zechariah and how he called a generation returned from exile to live out God’s call to do justice.
During his recent visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, President Joe Biden announced changes to border enforcement and the asylum process — the legal process that allows people fleeing danger to seek safety in the U.S. One of the most concerning changes was an expansion of Title 42, a public health policy invoked by former President Donald Trump that weaponized the pandemic to turn away many Black and brown migrants looking for asylum.
CLARENCE L. JORDAN died on Oct. 29, 1969, at 57 years old. The radical Southerner who dedicated his life to farming, sharing the gospel, and imploring his neighbors to actually follow Jesus is not widely remembered. Jordan died as simply as he lived — buried in a wooden box used to ship coffins, in an unmarked grave, and wearing his overalls. In early 2020, a little more than 50 years after Jordan (pronounced “Jurden”) died, I came across his work and was enamored. I began reading anything from or about him I could find. Jordan’s Georgia roots and love for the South mirrored my own. His charm and cutting humor were irresistible. Most appealing was Jordan’s stubborn commitment to radically following Christ, which led him to reject and rebuke the practices of racism, capitalism, and militarism in the U.S.
On the podcast Pass the Mic, writer Danté Stewart put a name to what I found in Jordan. “The reason why white [siblings] are struggling in this moment is because most of their models have been violent white supremacists,” Stewart said. “White [siblings], they don’t have models of liberation and love, so therefore they’re struggling in this moment.” Clarence Jordan was a “model of love and liberation” that we can learn from now. The dehumanizing forces of racial capitalism and militarism are no weaker in the U.S. today than in his lifetime, and many white Christians are avid proponents of both. Jordan’s resistance and radical theology did not die with him; instead, they can evolve and grow with the times. We should engage Jordan without idolizing him and advance his core commitments with a critical eye, honestly appropriating them for our modern struggles.
A judge sentenced Travis McMichael to life in prison on Aug. 8 for committing federal hate crimes in the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man shot while jogging through a mostly white Georgia neighborhood in a case that probed issues of racist violence and vigilantism in the United States.
Rohrer’s resignation as bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Sierra Pacific Synod, followed months of conflicts that destroyed reputations and livelihoods, permanently severed relationships, and left a church worshipping in a rainy parking lot. Sources within the ELCA told Sojourners that Rohrer’s resignation prompted sadness and denial, anger and celebration.
While reducing the prevalence of guns in our society is essential, I am wary of religious gun control efforts that focus primarily on federal gun legislation because laws ultimately rely on frameworks of punitive justice, criminalizing anyone who breaks the law. A holistic approach to gun violence should imagine new alternatives for a safer society — alternatives that go beyond the criminal legal system and gun control laws. To imagine these alternatives, we can turn to the lessons of the transformative justice movement, which seeks to address violence without relying on state violence, police, or prisons.
Before the public outcry dies down — and isn’t sad that we all know it will? — we must boldly and unequivocally denounce the great replacement theory and instead live out the great commandment. The great replacement theory draws on the worst of our nation’s history, falsely implying that nonwhite people are threats to our nation’s future. But the great commandment offers the best of our civic and religious values, reminding us that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves; it lends itself to a moral vision of multi-racial democracy in which everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, and religion, is equally valued.
“That was an evil, racist, white supremacist,” Reverend Darius Pridgen said from the pulpit at True Bethel Baptist Church on Sunday. “He literally looked for a zip code that had the highest concentration of African Americans.”
Wipf and Stock Publishers confirmed today that it has initiated the removal and ceased distribution of Jennifer M. Buck’s book, Bad and Boujee: Toward a Trap Feminist Theology, after days of criticism directed at the book.
Hawley's accusation that Jackson is soft on crime reveals a troubling perspective on people who enact harm. Hawley is one of several Republican senators who sorts the world into two types of people: People who are evil and, if given the chance, will commit horrific, reprehensible crimes over and over again, and people like the rest of us, people who need to be protected from the evil people. According to this line of thinking, ensuring this protection shouldn’t rule out the harshest measures of isolation and punishment the state can enact. We separate “them” from “us” by forever marking them as dangerous.
As Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann has reflected, the imprecatory psalms put words to our thirst for vengeance. In praying these psalms, we process our rage and give our violent impulses over to God. “O God, break the teeth in their mouths,” one psalmist prays; “let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime” (Psalm 58:6, 8). I’m all for this kind of prayer. I’m all for praying the entire range of the psalms — even the ones that sometimes make us uncomfortable or aren’t necessarily welcome in church. And if there is any occasion for an imprecatory psalm, certainly Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in all of its brutality and sheer horror, is one of those occasions.