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Year End 2005   
F E A T U R E S

Interview: Back to the Future
James Gallaway collars Unions NSW secretary, John Robertson, on threats, challenges and opportunities.

Unions: A Real Page Turner
Jim Marr glances through Workers Online’s 2005 news stories and finds there is more one way to skin a Rat

Industrial: The Pin-Striped Union
Rachael Osman-Chin profiles a white collar union that is having some almighty blues.

International: Around The World In 365 Days
It was a year of online activism, as LabourStart's Eric Lee reports

Legends: Terrific, Tommy
Jim Marr tackles a champion.

Your Rights At Work: Worth Fighting For
The Your Rights At Work campaign has been a big part of this year and, as Phil Doyle reports, it is making a difference.

Politics: The Year That Was
Frank Stillwell looks at year that saw the politics of fear; and finds many reasons to be very afraid.

Economics: Master and Servant Revisited
Evan Jones asks if the Neo Liberals are taking us back to the future

Culture: 2005: The Year of Living Repetitively
Nathan Brown ignores Oasis and decides to look back in anger after all

Bad Boss: The Bottom Ten
Nathan Brown digs through his voluminous dirt files and comes up with the top 10 grubs of the year.

Religion: Hymns from a Different Song Sheet
James Gallaway on the Way, the Truth and life according to Brian.

C O L U M N S

Predictions
The Crystal Ball
Workers Online consults a raft of leading psychics to find out what readers can look forward to in 2006.

The Soapbox
The Things People Say
It was a year of quotable quotes, reports Phil Doyle.

Parliament
The Westie Wing
Ian West checks the rear vision mirror on 2005, and plants his foot down

The Locker Room
The 2005 Workers Online Sports Awards
After years of being overlooked by selectors at club, representative and national levels, Phil Doyle and Jim Marr, agreed to hand out our 2005 sports gongs.

Postcard
Postcard from East Timor
In East Timor entertainment also spreads an important message into the community

E D I T O R I A L

Waves of Destruction
2005 was the year book-ended by two waves of destruction - the first causing untold suffering across the Indian Ocean; the second reawakening our darker angels on beaches closer to home.

N E W S

 Melbourne Burns AWAs

 Corporates Defend Costello

 Speaker Won't Talk

 Bank Pays on Dodgy Contracts

 Plan to Save Jobs

 Harper's Bizarre Excuse for Failure

 It's Not Fair: Business

 Workers Walk As Warnings Wiped

 Teenager Hit With Shrapnel

 Pay Day “Unlawful”

 Tassie Rail Win

 Professionals Fear for Their Kids

 Boss Pings Rorters Charter

 New Ways to Take a Share

 An Hour of Need

 Boeing Steals Christmas

 Trouble at the Mill

 Activists What's On

L E T T E R S
 Pension Pinching
 Free to Rat
 Tax Cuts and Cockroaches
 Proportion, Not Distortion
 Corp That!
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Religion

Hymns from a Different Song Sheet


James Gallaway on the Way, the Truth and life according to Brian.

Religion is politics. Never mind what the Australian Constitution says about the separation of church and state, the two are inextricably intertwined around the power levers of our society. When church leaders went out into the broader community this year to comment on the new industrial relations legislation they were sure of their ground in a debate about work, family and society.

When it was time to speak, all the major Christian denominations decried the Work Choices legislation in extensive and detailed terms - all, that is, except one. The major exception was the Hillsong church. Hillsong's Pastor, Brian Houston, who is also President of the Assembly of God in Australia, was positively ambivalent about the legislation. Strange as it was that one Christian church was out of step with the others, a deeper look at Hillsong's political supporters and the values preached during services there reveals to us that Houston's ambivalence is actually very sound in political - rather than spiritual or moral - terms.

Of the other Christian denominations, it was the Reverend Poulos, from the Uniting Church, who was most strident in her comments, describing the government's changes to unfair dismissal laws as "immoral". In a detailed critique of the legislation she wrapped up her comments in a media release she titled, "Industrial Relations Reforms set to Hurt Workers".

Anglican Arch Bishop, Peter Jensen, declared himself alarmed at how the "proposals shift the differential of power in favour of employers" and cautioned that vulnerable workers would need to be protected from the unintended effects of the reforms. Cardinal George Pell, was a little more subdued than the others but managed to express a "concern that minimum wages would be pushed lower in real terms."

Hillsong's Brian Houston, on the other hand, launched into the debate to declare his support for church leaders - rather than working people - in a statement that began by championing the rights of clergy to comment on the direction of the nation. Later, he found time to suggest that analysis of the reforms was important but added that we should always be open to change. He said we should, "protect workers against injustice and provide an avenue for recourse in genuine unfair dismissal cases, whilst still being fair and workable for employers," and, in case there was any doubt this fence sitter was teetering either way, he added, "Employers and employees each have rights."

Houston had his reasons. In part, Houston is caught up in the way that religion and politics have changed so considerably over the past century. Houston's Hillsong is a revealing example of how far we've come.

In the Victorian era Christian socialists were the more politically active in arguing the rights of working people. Back then, churches saw the quest for social justice in terms of a Christian message of loving one another and looking out for your neighbor. This perspective held together in the broader church community through to the 1950s and 60s of the last century, to the extent that it was often said that you could count on a worker's allegiance to the Catholic Church and the Labor Party.

Times have changed greatly. Hillsong congregations listen to a slightly different message. The congregation is made up of the same ordinary working people attending to their spiritual needs but they gather in crowds of over 18 000 in Sydney each weekend while membership of older mainstream churches is declining. Membership of the Australian Labor party is somewhere south of 15 000, if that.

The values that are preached at Hillsong - values that differ considerably from the social justice message you might expect from a more traditional Christian church - offer clues as to what draws in the larger crowds.

Often referred to as 'Happy Clappy Christians' Hillsongers are famous for using music to entertain and raise the spirits. Inside a feel good stadium that's big enough to accommodate the wingspan of a 747, parishioners watch a warm up comedian before the light show and music begins. Through all this a pastiche of images runs on two screens the size of billboards at either end of the stage. Younger church members run down to the stage and slam dance to God rock while images of John Howard (he opened the new Hillsong church) and Brian Houston are blasted around the auditorium.

Thirty minutes in, Houston comes on stage, looking and sounding a lot like Elvis without the big collars and rhinestones, as he chants in a deep baritone promising miracles will happen that night. And that, essentially, is the message on offer. He reads letters from the faithful describing prayers to God that helped turn a business around, secure a $100 000 a year job - with a mobile phone and car - and turned prisoners at a detention facility into regular viewers of Hillsong's television broadcast at six every Sunday morning.

It's still Christianity, but it leans more heavily on a philosophy known as the prosperity gospel: you pray to god, he gives you lots of money and with the success you're able to help others: a trickle down theory that uses holy water. Hillsong does give some portion of the millions it makes tax-free every year, but exactly how much is never disclosed.

Politically, Houston has supported the movement of Christians into politics. One of his regular attendees at Hillsong and member of the church, Louis Markus, is the Liberal federal member for Greenway, and a declared supporter of the Howard Government's Workchoices legislation.

The problem Houston has is that as President of the Assembly of God church he is also aligned to the Family First party. Family First's Federal chairman, Peter Harris, has been a member of Paradise AOG for ten or fifteen years, on his own account, and, for at least the last five, has been on the church board. All of this is a worry for Houston because Stephen Fielding represents Family First in the Senate where he voted against the Workchoices legislation because he has concerns that it was detrimental to family life.

This is why Houston has been so subdued and equivocal about the legislation.

All is not lost, however, because Houston may even turn at some point, depending on which way the political and social winds are blowing and subvert the dominant paradigm of preaching at his church. At a Hillsong conference early this year Bob Carr was one of many to address the assembled. Houston has also been prepared to take part in a debate organised by the Fabian society on the topic of religion and politics.

In fact, there are a number of Christians in Australia (following the lead of Jim Wallis in the United States) who are questioning the focus on individualism in right wing Christianity to bring back ideas of compassion and concern for our neighbors. This may be an area where Kim Beazley - a commited Christian - can make up some ground as his predecessor, Mark Latham, was invited to Hillsong but declined to appear.

In any case, there is a road back to a genuinely compassionate 'Christian' faith as long as we move away from the current distortions. It's a rescue operation that is even more crucial now, as a deepening social crisis begins to develop in the world the new industrial relations legislation will create.


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