In case you are not aware, Hillsong has been in the internet spotlight this week. In Hillsong NYC’s Women’s Conference, it was reported that a youth leader dressed up and appeared as the Naked Cowboy. Over in Hillsong London, concern has been expressed over a voodoo ritual being used in a segment of the 2016 Easter Special.
It is, as always, very interesting to read the comments, both for and against. In the “for” camp, these would argue for relevance and defend the creative freedom to share the gospel in any way that is effective. In the “against” camp, those who are bold enough to say anything about holiness and purity are promptly labelled as modern day Pharisees.
I wasn’t at either location or presentation so I don’t have the full picture of what really went on or how these came about. But still – Why have a semi-naked youth pastor on stage? Was the ritual just a creative portrayal of evil, or an actual offering of occultic worship? Were these necessary at all?
Apparently, the original Naked Cowboy, Robert John Burck, is an ordained minister; yes, a clergyman! According to a statement issued by his representative, “Mr. Burck is an Ordained Minister & would NEVER attend church in the house of the Lord in his Trade Dress and is EXTREMELY offended by this activity due to his deep Christian beliefs and respect for the process of gathering in the name of Jesus Christ and in the presence of God to worship and praise the Holy Father.”
Although Mr Burck would never appear “naked” in a church setting, he has no problem with being the Naked Cowboy in the streets of New York. I can’t help but wonder: Was he upset that nakedness was displayed in a Christian meeting? Or that the necessary permission was not sought and as a result, he wasn’t paid royalty for the use of his Trade (un)Dress?
This reminded me of something I encountered some years back which prompted me to write No Sports Bras in Church Please. Addressing the issue of modesty in a youth camp, the leader reminded campers to be appropriately dressed. Sounds right and commendable. However, the message that is being conveyed is: When in church or in a Christian setting, it is clear that certain things are out of bounds, not even to be considered. But when you’re out in the world, everything is fair game and par for the course. Sadly, we don’t realise it but we practise this often. No wonder Christians are often viewed as hypocrites.
By this, I am in no way advocating that we bring what is in the world into the Church, that we may appear to appear consistent and relevant. That said, I am all for recovering what has been lost to the enemy, to redeem music and the arts for the kingdom of God. But what does this really mean in practice? How far can or should one go in the name of creative and artistic licence? Is it ok as long as the name of Jesus is proclaimed? Does the Church need to try so hard to make the good news even better than it already is?
Unfortunately, the line has become so blurred that it is not quite as easy to determine when it is crossed. I know that this should not be the case at all, that it should be plain and simple, black and white. However, seeing how everyone has an opinion, and how everything can be justified these days, the only certainty is that the responses will comprise of varying shades of grey.
Note: Brian Houston, Senior Pastor of Hillsong Church, explains in Have You Heard The One About The Cowboy? that the appearance was “unauthorised” and that “It won’t happen again.”