60 minutes scores a direct hit on fringe Pentecostal church, but the rest of conservative Christianity is collateral damage

60 minutes City Builders story

Nick Mackenzie, one of Australia’s best journalists, has uncovered a tale of pastoral and spiritual abuse if the allegations against City Builders church based in Sale Victoria are true. 

“Praying for Power,” Mackenzie’s 60 Minutes story, with other articles in the Nine papers, links tales of church abuse, and the political ambitions of Renee Heath daughter of City Builders Church lead pastor Brian Heath. Renee Heath remains on the top of the Liberal Party ticket for the Eastern Victoria electorate for the Upper House. She is a virtual certainty to get a seat in Saturday’s election, but Opposition Leader Matthew Guy has said she will not be welcome in the party room.

The stories allege that Heath set up his other daughter, Clare Heath-McIvor to marry a gay man, Patrick McIvor, attempted exorcisms of LGBTQIA people, and usurped the position of parents for members of the church youth group asking the kids to regard them as their “real parents”

“In my opinion, Brian [Heath] deliberately groomed each of us they’re away from our parents,” Patrick McIvor tells 60 Minutes. “A lot of young people have been drawn away from their parents. I’m encouraged to call him their father instead. Some even call him Papa now.”

Clare Heath-McIvor recalls her father set her up to marry Patrick McIvor. “In the case of Patrick and myself, Dad actually made the approach. Neither of us made the approach… he suggested me to Patrick. And then after Patrick said yes to that, he suggested Patrick to me.”

These are examples of abuse, authoritarian pastoring, and a lack of accountability for the church leaders. As  Clare Heath-McIvor notes on 60 minutes these are the attributes of a cult.

And it has left Clare with a deconstructed Christian faith.

A dominionist church

City Builders does not belong to any of the major Pentecostal networks in Australia, but to a group called the ISAAC (International Strategic Alliance of Apostolic Churches) network headed by Malaysian pastor Jonathan David

In October Pastor David issued a prophecy that President Trump had the “Cyrus Anointing” a reference to King Cyrus who was used by God to aid the Israelites. http://www.jonathan-david.org/prophecy-for-america-2020/ 

Speaking of Trump. Pastor David prophecised“He will discover by revelation God’s Assignment for himself. God will redefine his position showing him how his life can be the turning point for many in the USA and the Nations of the world.

“The more they understand his policies, the more they will be able to discern he is God’s appointed President in this hour. He is God’s man for another term.”

Latching on to an overseas network enables a church to claim global status without any of the accountability of belonging to an Australian-based denomination.

The ISAAC network is dominionist – seeking political power for Christians, reinstituting the office of apostles as part of growing the church’s influence and seeking “churches with an apostolic mentality to co-ordinate the region for a divine attack on the nation’.

City Builders lead pastor Brian Heath is quoted on 60 Minutes: “We’re not only a massive church, but we have a whole lot of people involved in the political not just one party, but many parties and that’s a good thing.” That is an exaggeration. City Builders is not C3 or even the current Hillsong. But the aspiration for political power is clear, and Heath according to 60 Minutes is Vice President of the Liberal’s Morwell branch. 

Although City Builders church belongs is in a fringe category of Pentecostals, it is of concern that Pastor Jonathan David is reported by Nick Mackenzie to have preached at Horizon church in Sutherland, NSW, home church to Scott Morrison, and an ACC church. 

Modern Australian Pentecostals will have exposure to movements like Dominionism, but generally, pragmatically filter out the more extreme elements keeping what works. For example, openness to contemporary music was arguably inherited from the Latter Day Rain movement/New Apostolic Reformation but not much of the dominionist elements of that movement, or its overwrought “last days” emphasis survives their pragmatic filter. Is your local Pentecostal church trying to take over the world? No.

In the Liberal Party

There’s been hand-to-hand combat between groups of Christians and their ideological opponents within the Victorian Liberal party for years. As a result, some branches will sign Christians up, others will not.

There is a blurred line between joining a political party, even in an organised group because you have a genuine interest in the party, compared with joining it just because someone, maybe a pastor, tells you to. As MacKenzie notes on 60 minutes, Christians have every right to be politically active. The City Builders issue is not that members joined the Nationals or the Liberals but the authoritarian structure of the church leadership, which will tell them how to vote in party meetings rather than allowing people to be genuine party members making up their own minds.

It is not unlikely that the church leaders in turn will get played, and their numbers are used by others. However, Renee Heath got to the top of the local Liberal Ticket for the Victorian Upper House. She has every right to stand. The Liberal Party has every right to kick her out of the party room.

The question is whether the issues of abortion, transgender rights and conversion therapy are being conflated in the party with the other allegations against Citybuilders. 

The 60 minutes shorthand

The triad of opposition to abortion, transgender rights and conversion therapy is a motif of the 60 minutes story. It is used to position Citybuilders as “extreme”. It mirrors the Essendon Thorburn story of positioning traditional Christianity outside society’s mainstream.

The use of this triad of scorn means 60 Minutes lumps fringe groups like City Builders and mainstream evangelicals like City on a Hill (Thorburn’s church) and mainstream Pentecostals like the Australian christian churches.

In one sense all these groups are socially conservative, so the description is accurate to an extent. But it leaves mainstream Christian socially conservative churches pushed together with movements they will want to be critical of such as Citybuilders.

The Citipointe effect

The 60 Minutes story is of legitimate interest. The allegations of cult-like behaviour have news value. Whenever the media focus is on religion the danger is always that the outlandish will get coverage at the expense of the less flamboyant.

The Citipointe Christian College story earlier this year was another example of how the mainstream of a movement (in this case the Christian schools’ movement) can be undermined by a fringe actor. Just as the schools were saying they don’t want to expel students on the basis of their sexuality, Citipointe issued a new student contract at the start of the year that made sure the school would have the right to expel students who disagreed with their statement of faith and socially conservative stance.

Both Citipointe and City Builders are examples of a media focus on examples that are not in the mainstream. However the City on a Hill or Thorburn saga does involve a mainstream evangelical church

Christian and churches should not take doctrinal decisions influenced by what the world thinks. But just occasionally – as in the City Builders case – we should stop and think, “will this cause outsiders to honour the God we serve?”