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May 28, 2012 | by  | in Features |
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Ice Cream, Waffles and the Kingdom of God

The sinister small-print of the Huge! doctrine.

If you love free food, you’ve probably run into Huge! From free waffles at your hostel, ice-cream and candy-floss at clubs week, or real coffee near exams: Huge! provide a lot of free stuff, including hear and makeup “for the girls” and Xbox “for the boys.” They’re also the young adults of Arise church.

There are many Christian groups on campus. You’re innocently eating your Krishna when Student Life asks if you have time to talk about Jesus. You’re trying to steal their lollies when the Christian Club hands you a bible. On their websites, they say they exist to live out and share the gospel of Christ on campus.

Huge! are Christians too. But they don’t hand out tracts like the more evangelical groups.

A SUNDAY NIGHT TRIP

It’s Sunday night at Arise church and the Michael Fowler Centre is packed with young people. The auditorium is dark except for sweeping coloured spotlights and a band on stage. As the drums build momentum and the flashing lights swirl, arms raise and people start ‘moshing’ down the front.

“Today no one can stop us, we’re ready, we’re fired up to take back what is yours today! Let freedom ring!”

Arise are a Pentecostal Church, a subset of Christianity that emphasizes the direct experience of the presence of God. It’s not just believing that Jesus died on the cross. Pentecostals believe they are driven by the power of God that lives within them when they are “baptized in the Holy Spirit.”
The pastor motions everyone to follow his actions, and everybody plunges low from side to side, knees bending right, arms going right, left, right.

After the worship, Pastor John Cameron introduces tonight’s speaker, his “new best friend”—Obed Martinez, a megachurch pastor from California—who launches straight into God’s approval of Arise’s leadership.

“Your pastor carries the prophetic anointing… the mandate of God. He’s a man ahead of his time. You’re not a church but a movement—never look back.”

The older folk are the next to be told they have ‘prophetic insight and carry the spirit of Elijah’. He encourages them to give money to fund the youth ministries.

“When you give money you help win the university for God.”

“Wow!”

“That’s right!”

Men’s voices yell from the crowd. It doesn’t stop. He then confronts those who don’t ‘feel like worshipping’ or want to hold back giving tithes because they’re struggling financially.

“You need to change the way you think. Stop acting on what you see. You were created to worship God.”

Salient called Arise Church to ask for a statement of their beliefs. Huge! leader Brad Page hesitated, saying they weren’t really “based on doctrine” and he needed higher authority to send me anything. This is worrying—doctrines are just the articulation of what is taught—no religious group should ever hide what they believe. Although clearance was given to receive their statement, it was never sent.

According to Obed Martinez’ website, his church’s youth ministry aims to “summon the youth of the nations to their individual purpose and corporate responsibility as a movement of revolutionaries imposing the Kingdom of God.”

Arise Church clearly supports Martinez: they are flying him over from the States again in August for ‘Appointed’, their annual conference.

So think a moment. Revolutionaries imposing a kingdom? The songs that declare no one can stop them taking back what is God’s? This is a long way from candy floss and ice cream, ‘Life is Good!’ t-shirts and a waffle machine. This is young people being recruited en masse by leaders who believe God is literally speaking through them to change the world.

EVERYTHING IS (NOT) SPIRITUAL

Religious Studies Professor Paul Morris says there is a danger in the connection between the emotional ‘buzz’ that people feel in the service then being used to justify the accuracy of what is being spoken from the front.

‘‘It’s a carefully orchestrated experience, and we’re designed to feel emotions collectively. Collective effervescence is when you’re most open… you’re high. And then someone explains the buzz to you. The problem is when the emotions, which are real, become the sole validation for theological claims.”

Young Adults Pastor Ben Carroll says it’s not emotional manipulation: “It could have been God touching them. You can’t judge what people say they feel.”

But what happens when what people ‘feel’ in a service leads to them taking on ‘truths’ in the moment that can have serious consequences for their health or wellbeing?

Along with his messages to give money to fund Huge! at University, most shocking were Martinez’ assertions about mental health, which were greeted with more applause.

The girl who commits suicide because she doesn’t think she’s beautiful—it’s because she’s “lost her dominion.” The depressed who have lost their power—they’re “unaware of how God sees them.”

Professor Morris describes it as “spiritualising” things that really aren’t spiritual. He offers an example where a girl from another Pentecostal church stopped taking her medication because she was led to believe she needed spiritual healing.

It’s not intentional, but the conclusions taken from the message above—that when you become aware of how God loves you, you won’t be depressed anymore—can be harmful to those with depression and other mental health issues.

“It’s not that people were lying to her,” Morris emphasises, but it was a “misdiagnosis”—one which led to a mental breakdown.

Arise believe they’re bringing freedom to people “in chains.” When asked about homosexuality, Pastor Ben Carroll responded: “What would Jesus do? We’d open our arms to anyone, but no, someone living that lifestyle couldn’t lead in the church. We’re working through with some students at the moment who are struggling with that issue.”

His suggestion that one’s sexuality can be “worked through” is hugely problematic. Any suggestion that sexuality can be altered is very worrying: it’s simply not grounded in any evidence. Yet it’s advice that students at Arise will hear when they talk to their Youth Pastor, if they seek his help after another emotionally charged Sunday evening.

END NOTE

On Saturday, they did your hair and gave you coffee. On Sunday, thousands sing that no one can stop them taking ground for God.

By working their way into places like hostels–in a process Professor Morris refers to as “Stealth Christianity”—they’re putting vulnerable students, those who are maybe just after a coffee and someone to chat to, at risk.

So go along to Huge! and see for yourself Feel the music and watch how people respond to what’s being said. Take a friend for support and ask questions about what people believe about the things that matter to you. Go along. Just don’t leave your brains at the door.

 

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  1. Saint John of the Cross says:

    Fantastic article Sonya. Hard hitting but intricately balanced.

    ‘Young Adults Pastor Ben Carroll says it’s not emotional manipulation: “It could have been God touching them. You can’t judge what people say they feel.”’
    Of course he would say this. He has probably been desensitized to the emotional manipulation going on around him.

    “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” What is true love? Once you think about it, are these people actually Christians, and more importantly,are any of the modern church following him?

  2. Simon says:

    Good article. I’m not one for Dawkinsesque Christian-bashing, but I do strongly believe that the “Christianity by stealth” movement needs to be exposed. If they are unwilling to publicly state who they are and what they believe in, one can only assume motives that are less than pure.

    • ayla says:

      what the? Huge! and arise churxh always state we are christians, we are not ashamed of it! it is not our mission to spread the word and love of God by being ‘stealthy’ and hiding our beliefs

  3. Alex says:

    We have entered dark times when free icecream no longer means free icecream. Let’s liberate ourselves from the shackles of secretive reciprocity, and start giving to each other for the sake of giving. All orientation week events should feature icecream that is given free of ulterior motives; no questions asked, no preaching given. It’s time for wholesome pure icecream to be given solely for iceceam’s sake!

    Our humanity depends it.

    I rest my case.

    • Frances says:

      Huge! don’t give out ice-creams & free stuff to drag people to church. Huge! give out free stuff because we want to love on people genuinely & outwardly & make someone’s day that much better. There’s no alterior motive. That’s it :)

  4. Charlotte says:

    But I still get free ice cream right?

  5. Getting around the system says:

    They came to our hostel last year under the pretense of free waffles and coffee, only conveniently when it got to the discussion of God part we had to leave to watch the latest Harry Potter movie… It was a good day.

  6. Violet says:

    This article is well written and spot on, absolutely spot on.
    Guilt-tripping for money, self-promotion and condemnation of others is not what Christianity is about.

  7. SinbadTheSailor says:

    This article couldn’t be more accurate. I spent about 2 months at that church. You do get sucked in, but then you hear some of the members talking down other religions as though their new-found belief gives them the right to do so. There are some wonderful people that are a part of it, but the slandering of other religions starts from the top and trickles down. On two separate occasions a senior Pastor belittled other religions and their followers in a sermon. To hundreds of impressionable minds. That was enough for me to know that this ‘Church’ isn’t what a church should be.

  8. Harriet says:

    Sinbad, in your opinion what should a church be? And how has that opinion come to be, what is it shaped by?

  9. Harry Evans says:

    I think Sinbad would want a church to be about good vibes and love and not prioritising yourself above others because you think you have some divine knowledge. Not blaming people for their mental illness or gender or sexual orientation or using outdated doctrine to scare others in to faith for insurance against hell.

  10. Danielle says:

    What’s kind of sad is, it seems like you went to Arise with the sole purpose to criticize the people and that you didn’t even go in with an open mind, I am a member of Arise and the people there are the most genuine, loving people I have ever met, it’s sad that you didn’t really give Arise or the people there a chance, but I wish you all the best :)

  11. Jake says:

    I’m not really sure what Huge! Is but this article sounds pretty slanted. Maybe it’s the editors or the writer, either way the amount of sarcasm intertwined in the subtle atheistic views are pretty intense. I would just like to see an article that’s not so slanted for once. I myself study phsyc and rel.

  12. Harriet says:

    Unless Sinbad is you, Harry, I’ll wait to hear his answer :)
    I’d hope it would be a little more educated and a little less accusative of the international church and their supposed “blames” and “divine knowledge” you claim to know all about.

  13. ayla says:

    speaking as a christian and a member of Huge! and arise i can tell you that we do not force people to give money it is optional for people who understand that God will prosper those who give, and we do not in any way tell people to not go see a doctor or not take their medicines, we just believe our God can heal so we do pray for healing of sick people.. i for one am a sufferer of depression who is the happiest ive ever been since becoming a christian. you have taken things the pastors have said and warped it into your own views. As for saying we are just being emotionally manipulated as a non christian you cannot say how we feel, and that ‘buzz’ is in my everyday life not just on a sunday, God is with me and i feel him everyday of the week, call me crazy if you want but i know what i feel and see.. and Huge! in no way make you come to church or even listen to their views when handing out the free stuff, we are just proud to be christians and to shine Gods light. Maybe if you opened up your heart to the Lord then you could enjoy an arise service and realise we do not leave our brains at the door..

    • Zachary says:

      @ Ayla. Ah I wish people would stop preaching that giving money will make God bless you. We don’t give money to pay for blessings. Tithing or giving money is to remind us that what he have is not ours to keep, but belongs to God. Remember that Jesus said it is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. When you are giving to be “prospered” you are missing the point entirely.

  14. Frances says:

    Probably one of the most arbitrary articles I have ever read, Sonya Clark. I’m sure many more people would appreciate, as Jake mentioned, a not so slanted article that doesn’t attack every aspect of Arise through your own misunderstanding & judgment. Let’s not forget that this is your own world view being applied to this article – and that’s fine – but to feed other people lies about the Church is pretty low.

    I would just like to say…

    “This is young people being recruited en masse by leaders who believe God is literally speaking through them to change the world.” Quite the false statement. Firstly, church-goers aren’t ‘recruited’, we attend Arise by choice. Secondly, yes we do believe God is speaking through our leaders & us. God speaks through anyone who’s open to him. You may understand if you opened yourself up to God too… but until then….

    Also, “Pastor Young Adults Pastor Ben Carroll says it’s not emotional manipulation: “It could have been God touching them. You can’t judge what people say they feel.”” – Exactly. You can’t judge what people say they feel, in any regard.

    “The depressed who have lost their power—they’re “unaware of how God sees them.” Is this statement wrong? Do you know how God sees His children? How people see their identity & self-worth plays a huge part in depression. This statement is merely pointing out the fact that God loves His children to an unfathomable degree. When you know how much God loves you simply for who you are as a person, you cannot possibly stay in a state of depression because it’s so freeing.

    And finally, not one single member of the church is forced to give any type of money. I think we’re all adult enough & wise enough to make our own decisions. It seems you have forgotten that we are in fact normal people who make normal choices based on our own judgement. Our faith merely takes the limits off what we would normally be restricted by in every day life. So to judge me for giving to my church because I would rather invest in God & loving on people than on drugs & alcohol? That’s up to you but I do agree with letting people see and feel God for themselves instead of a brainwashing article dissing Christianity.

  15. Woh says:

    “we do not force people to give money it is optional for people who understand that God will prosper those who give”. bahaha.

    Switched depression for delusion. At least you are happy.

  16. Valentine says:

    I’m reading this and I just realised there are no points.
    What does Huge giving free food out got to do with guest speaker Obed Martinez?
    Why would Christians be open to give bibles create a presence, but not be open to give free food?
    Huge isn’t strong with beliefs because we don’t want to comment on our beliefs?
    Everyone is welcome at Arise. Homosexuality is just one of a million traits someone can have. It’s not our right to judge homosexual people, but it is our privilege to guide them and welcome them in.
    Christianity isn’t about forgetting about the bad stuff that we do.
    Jesus Christ didn’t die for sin so that we would be perfect and that we would get out of jail for free.
    Yes, we are saved and the debt is paid, but at a large cost.
    In terms of tithing (money), yes, Arise does emphasise giving. They emphasise it a lot. Just like we emphasise new believers.
    The money is our way of giving. Yes, running Arise Church is expensive. But you’re missing the point here. We’re not paying for a service. We are the church. We give money to invest into people, not an organisation.

    Does not it say in the bible that we should give and also to spread the word and baptise people across all nations?
    Should we just accept some of the Bible and reject the rest?
    Is the Bible contradictory? No. Even if you’re non-Christian, you should be able to see that it fills the gap in the New Testament, and circumstances change. God doesn’t change though.

  17. Murray Clark says:

    Heavy Handed and Manipulation do not fit with the Love of God, Worshipping God is Living a Life that pleases him not doing certain things in church, I turned away from the Faith in my Younger days for 9 years because of the type of stuff that Sonya talks of, but there are Genuine Christians and Churches about, Attitudes say alot about people, steer clear of Churches and people where there is No Acceptance, Respect,and Trust which is How I Measure the True Meaning of “Love”.
    If you look for Acceptance, Respect,and Trust and find it, then in my Experience you Have Found Love

  18. Mugen says:

    This article is so unnecessary.
    To point out some things that “you” think is odd or wrong gives you no right to slander someones church they love so much.
    I am not Christian, Buddhist, Atheist or any Belief for that matter any longer but I believe every boby needs their “thing” and how they get there may it be “ice cream” or “waffels” is their journey and theirs alone whether it is right or wrong it becomes another stem in their tree of life.

  19. mighty says:

    As an ex-long standing member of Arise church, I totally agree with Sonya. I won’t fully support the thought of ’emotional manipulation’ because what else is spirituality? – well the modern sense of spirituality anyway. The biggest reason I left Arise church, was because I decided to step back, and what I saw was a dictatorship of emotion.
    100s of young people, with maleable minds toyed with by coldplay-esque atmospheric/anthemic music followed by an Anthony Robbins reincarnate promoting happiness and joy, but i’ve always been an advocate of reality.
    Over the years that I was there, there was unnatural evolution in people around me. One day they were my brothers/sisters, the next day they were clones of the core leadership team. I was always looked down upon or seen as “not one of them” even though they wouldn’t say it.

    I ask everyone, especially attendees of Arise to enforce reality. Arise has become a corporation, and more so, biblically unethical. It has become an institution of religion. God wants you, but then so does Arise. I’m sure God (if you do believe in him) Has better motives.

  20. hannah says:

    I believe this article makes some good point but would also critique it for not going far enough about what really is wrong with “prosperity theology.” The whole “God will prosper those who give” is just simply about return. Furthermore, it implies God’s love is for sale, a message I find offensive.

  21. beks says:

    It is disappointing that an article can be published in a magazine that is written with such ignorance. Salients version of free speech is apparently synonymous with discrimination.Why the need to bash religions, namely Christianity? It is obvious that the author has a poor understanding of the bible, and does not understand the use of metaphors and analogies in public speaking. A person who visits a church only a few times cannot have a strong understanding of the morals, values and environment of that church, therefore is not in a good position to pass judgment.
    If the issue was based on ‘faith’ where are the articles on other religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism?

  22. Bridget says:

    Hi all

    This article I agree appears to be slanted. Which is unfortunate as it therefore really is not a fair argument.

    As a christian, I would first like to explain that ’emotional manipulation’ is not how christians are created. There is only one way to become a christian, and that is through the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. No amount of church going, moshing, guest speakers, pep talks, emotional manipulation or the like will ever differ the fact that salvation is a gift, given by God out of his pure grace. We literally do not make a choice to believe, God chooses us. Therefore – whether or not ’emotional manipulation’ is taking place, it does not change the will of God, I firmly believe that if God has chosen someone to be saved, nothing will stop him from doing so. My only concern however with this notion of ’emotional manipulation’ is that if indeed this is taking place, in any church for that matter, then the true gospel has been forgotten, and that really is not ok. A christian church should always strive first and foremost to present the truths of the Word (bible), in context, without alteration to their congregation.

    I am not a member of Arise, but having been to Arise church services a handful of times, I can understand that on appearance, it can be loud, and energetic, and full of people, and perhaps even overwhelming. This does not make their church any less legitimate than any other christian church. As a christian, I still struggle with not pointing the finger and passing judgement, but I understand that as a christian, it is my duty to seek to love my brothers and sisters in faith no matter which congregation or denomination of church they are part of. For someone who is not a christian there will always be reasons to doubt the authenticity of christianity, and I do not blame you for this – I would be likely to do the same were I not a believer. My point is – would you hold the same views of christianity were you to go to another christian church? Would you still pin speakers are being emotionally manipulative? Would you be outraged at their statements?

    It was unfortunate that Arise were unable to give a clear statement of their church values, and mission statement. I myself tried looking to their website for information and did not find the in-depth answer I was after. The fact that an answer was not given is not a green light for wielding accusations that Arise church are hiding the truth of what they believe, or that they have sneaky motives etc. I would have liked to see a lot more research put into this article – actively asking to meet with one of the leaders of Arise, and sitting with them to discuss things. I am certain, had Arise known you wanted to write a piece on them, that they would have loved to have had the chance to explain their views.

    I read through the comment section, and was pleased to see a few members of Arise had seen the article and responded. I have friends who are members of Arise, and after asking them about their church on many occasion, I can see no fault in their want to serve their community. The campus team really are honestly there to serve, through the means of ice cream, or waffles, or whatever. They do not want to hand you an ice cream and then force the bible into your bag as you try to walk away! They are simply offering ice cream, with the open option of asking questions about christianity. A lot of the time people are shy, but want to know more, and the campus team are providing one of many ways for people to learn about christianity.

    So I encourage anyone who wants to know more about Arise, to go along, and ask questions, and meet people. Don’t be afraid to approach the campus team either, or the christian club, or student life and have a little chat.

    And lastly to Sonya, Im not sure if you read the comments or not, but I would really love to meet with you and discuss things, and my email is there should you want to do so.

  23. confused says:

    mighty,
    I am curious… you left arise but you said you stayed for a few years…what took you so long? Any corporation that so blatantly wanted my money I would run in the opposite direction from. Also how did you manage to when it is an organisation I think that would not really let you leave..

  24. Mary says:

    @ Confused. Honestly, Me and a friend are sitting here reading this article and are also both long-standed (ex)members of Arise, over 5 years or so. You ask Mighty why he stayed so long like leaving was easy? My simple answer to you, is that you get sucked in biiiiiig time. Everyone is so open and happy and welcomes you into their ‘family’ meanwhile your relationships with people outside of church begin to dwindle and you are encouraged to spend more time with friends from Arise, instead of your own friends and family (if they ‘aren’t willing to be influenced’).

    I am not sure you understand the extent of it… When we both left (at different times) it was a massive decision. I myself had literally one or two friends outside of Arise. I didn’t know how to interact with the real world. I thought sex was a taboo bad thing, I looked down upon people who drunk etc. I was literally a f’wit. It took months to adjust to what life is actually about – being happy and making the most of it, as life is so fleeting – I think it is very hard for the people who commented on this article to have a clear understanding unless you’ve experienced both sides properly. As a leader at that church I committed 6 out of 7 evenings (and ALL day Sunday) to that church with leaders meetings, lifegroup, church services, other organisational meetings etc etc etc and was put in a situation where all my spare time was Arise. It was my life. It is how you are sucked in and then have no out.

    There is no way I would ever go back. And I think the really sad thing is, is it has completely tainted my view of religion in general, where I have become cynical to other denominations of christianity, and different religions altogether. It’s not because I am a negative person, I would like to think I am the opposite. But that church literally sucks you dry and when you begin to think for yourself and question things like I did, you are ostracized as questions are discouraged.

    People who were my ‘best friends’, stopped having anything to do with me as soon as I left, meanwhile people outside of church were so accepting with no hidden agenda. This has shaped my view now that non-christian people are far more like Jesus than any person inside this church.

    I may sound really cynical. But you just don’t understand the extent of damage it does to a person’s wellbeing.

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