BBC Hillsong Documentary “God Goes Viral” Slammed by Megachurch
By Danielle Jarvis
August 2, 2021
Hillsong has been forced to defend its movement after a new documentary was released by the UK’s BBC.
According to the BBC, “God Goes Viral” details “the story of celebrity favorite and globally trending megachurch Hillsong. In a relatively short time it has grown explosively, from small family church to international phenomenon. Gaining rare access to the church it follows key church leaders and a number of its congregation, who tell personal stories of salvation and shed light on the current scandals within the church.
“Fashionably dressed in fedoras, leather jackets, tattoos and skinny jeans, their pastors are next-generation religious leaders. Inhabiting the world of Instagram influencers, they capitalise on the power of social media and popular entertainment to spread their message.” The documentary also places much of its focus on the church’s $150 million in revenue.
That’s the good part. The bad news, according to Hillsong, is that the documentary maker who approached them communicated that this would be a “fair portrayal and uplifting story about the impact of our (UK) ministries”. However, Hillsong states that they “interviewed several critics of our church, including many people who have not been a part of Hillsong in more than a decade and have made baseless claims.”
While the documentary explores the resurgence of spirituality and belief among millennials today, it also delves into that this “glossy” version of Christianity has to offer, and “at what price does salvation and transformation come?”
Hillsong has issued a statement on the matter, refuting many of its claims.” In 2016, a filmmaker approached the leadership of Hillsong Church U.K. to request access to capture footage for a documentary,” Hillsong stated. “The filmmaker communicated that this would be a fair portrayal and uplifting story about the impact of our ministries there. We accepted the filmmaker’s words in good faith and filming started in 2017.
“For two years, this filmmaker spoke with people who visited the church and traveled with various team members. Unbeknownst to us, he also interviewed several critics of our church, including many people who have not been a part of Hillsong in more than a decade and have made baseless claims.
“While the filmmaker expressed to us that he felt pressured to shift the focus to more controversial storylines and to avoid painting our church in an overly positive light, we now question if this project was ever intended to be fair or balanced. Though our staff in London felt they had established friendship with the filmmaker, it is clear to us that this project was misrepresented to us from the start.
“Much of the footage has been taken grossly out of context and sewn together to create storylines that simply do not reflect reality. Numerous other elements are either grossly exaggerated or intentionally skewed. Most of the footage that demonstrated the positive impacts of our church were relegated to the cutting room floor and erased from the final cut of the documentary.
“We strongly refute the many aspects of the film that fail to meet a basic level of journalistic integrity and a commitment to the truth.”
In its statement, Hillsong also addressed racial equality; Brian Houston’s father, Frank, and the royal commission; Hillsong’s financial accountability; Hillsong East Coast’s affairs, along with its volunteer policies.
Controversy surrounding the documentary comes off the back of the negative press the megachurch received last year as its pin up New York pastor, Carl Lentz, was fired for allegedly having multiple affairs. Then came cscandal after scandal in North America.
In addition to “God Goes Viral”, Hillsong is expecting more backlash, as Discovery+ has announced that it is producing a three-part documentary, in partnership with The New York Post, titled Breaking Hillsong. The US documentary will reportedly follow the rise and fall former Hillsong NYC Pastor Carl Lentz. The documentary will stream on the service as a limited series.
“The project will chronicle the headline-making world of global star-studded megachurch Hillsong and the downfall of its ultra-hip, celebrity senior pastor, Carl Lentz,” a press release stated.