Brian Houston, Hillsong, and Child Sacrifice

"Sacrificial Children" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Sacrificial Children” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

A royal commission has concluded that Brian Houston, and others, failed to report the repeated and numerous sexual assaults against children.

There’s a meme going around the internet mocking believers whose roots are in the Abrahamic tradition for believing in a god who would allow the sacrifice of children… such as what Abraham was willing to do.

But it seems to me that we don’t have to look back thousands of years for evidence of child sacrifice. Do we? In this news story we witness the modern-day sacrifice of our children.

What are they sacrificed to or for? Here’s just a short list: Keeping the peace. Protecting family and friends. Dodging bad press. Keeping up the good appearance. Guaranteeing continued income. Stupidly believing no real harm was done. Fame and fortune. Avoiding embarrassment. Assuming kids aren’t real people yet. Keeping the ball of success rolling.

No, it’s not just Hillsong. It happens a lot. Everywhere! But the church just seems to create and even nurture a rich culture for this to happen over and over again.

I do realize Houston was in a difficult position. But, in my opinion, now he’s made it more difficult.

Maybe the story of Abraham does teach us something… that sown into the DNA of the church is that it will do anything to be good with God. (EDIT: I do not wish to suggest that Abraham provides a model for child sacrifice. However, I do know that this story and others like it have been used, inappropriately, to encourage absolute sacrifice, even if it means the sacrifice of those we love. And to be clear, I do not mean literal shedding of blood, but the surrendering of the quality of life of ourselves and others.)


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22 Responses

  1. Adam Julians says:

    I am not sure if it is comparing like for like between Abraham and child “sacrifice ” happening “everywhere “.

    With Abraham God was testing him, what was more important, his child or God and God provided an animal for sacrifice in the end.

    That’s a little different to the “sacrifice ” of children for keeping up appearances etc. Don’t even the best parents do that sometimes?

    There is of course one argument made of “cosmic child abuse ” with God the father an Jesus the son and the crucifixion, but that is a whole other can of worms.

  2. Sabio Lantz says:

    I agree, it is everywhere.

    But when “God Talk” is used to sanctify it, the evil is amplified. “God Talk” is used to justify many things – for it shuts up others out of fear for the holy. I don’t care if it is child sacrifice, not coveting your neighbor’s wife or giving to the poor — using “God Talk” is simply a bad manipulative habit. We should recognize it both when it serves us and when it is used against us.

  3. Sabio Lantz says:

    “Child Sacrifice” is just one of many sick memes in the anthology Christians call “The Book” and hold in high regard. Time to recognize it for what it is and stop using it as a symbol of identity (as liberal Christians often do — those who admit it ain’t perfect.).

  4. Adam Julians says:

    I’m not sure what you mean by ” sick memes” Serbio.

    Can you explain, perhaps with an example?

  5. Sabio Lantz says:

    Sorry, Adam, you know what a “meme” is, right?

  6. Adam Julians says:

    Yes of course but I don’t know what you mean with regard to child sacrifice, Christians and “the book”.

    Can you point to what you mean specifically and what exactly it is that you allege is “sick”?

  7. Gary says:

    I have much beef with the institution of the church and do not hold the bible in the status of some sort of “Holy” book. However, to imply that it somehow promotes (or promoted) child sacrifice based on a story in which the opposite actually was revealed as the wish of god is…disingenuous.

  8. steve says:

    The story of Abraham is about God NOT requiring sacrifice (It is man that requires sacrifice) God provided a sacrifice for Abraham. That is Gods statement against child sacrifice and sacrifice in general.

  9. Ah! Gary… I edited my post just to make things more clear. I wrote it hastily this morning. I didn’t intend to suggest that Abraham IS a role model for child sacrifice.

  10. Gary says:

    Sorry David I was not clear…LOL. My comment was in response to comments suggesting such. I didn’t take your post that way at all.

  11. Sabio Lantz says:

    Oh, Steve seems to know what God is saying.

    Animal sacrifice was required by Yahweh (the Hebrew and Christian god).
    Later Jesus (a human) was offered as a better, final sacrifice.

    We also have the Jephthah story where he sacrifices his daughter.
    The listeners to the Abraham-Isaac story would not be surprised, it made sense to them.

    But indeed, many OT books speak against sacrifice. It is an anthology, after all. Lots of people’s opinions. It ain’t the homogenous opinion of some god.

  12. Pseudonym says:

    Sabio, you’re right that there are lots of opinions in the Hebrew scriptures, but the consensus among mainstream people who study this sort of thing is that the point of the Abraham story is indeed that Elohim (if you accept the documentary hypothesis, most of the story is probably from E, not J, so “Yahweh” is technically incorrect) does not require child sacrifice. Not everyone agrees, of course, but it’s the broad consensus. The Talmud also interpreted the story this way.

    The story of Jephthah and his daughter, incidentally, is clearly not about child sacrifice, even to a modern reader unfamiliar with Hebrew. It’s clearly about making rash oaths. The story seems designed to shock and disgust the reader.

    I’m not aware of any part of the Hebrew scriptures which indicates that child sacrifice is okay, let alone required.

    (On a personal note, I’ve always liked Kierkegaard’s take on the story.)

  13. In fact, it was THE pivotal story for Kierkegaard!

  14. Sabio Lantz says:

    Hey Pseudonym,
    Long time no see.
    I am not invested in the concept of the Abraham myth being about child sacrifice.
    Nor the Jephthah story.
    But I imagine you agree that animal sacrifice played a big part in Hebrew culture.
    And thus killing an innocent for others was a nasty meme — albeit universally so in the iron age.
    But tell me, do you think the early Church (and much of present Christianity), looks at Jesus as a Human sacrifice?

    If you get a chance, you may enjoy my post here comparing the Hindu story of Harischandra to both the story of Job and Abraham’s sacrificing Isaac. The stories were generated around the same time in history. Since sacrificing was assumed back then, they were not the point of the story — probably your point.

    Here is that post:

    But Jesus as a sacrifice is bizarre, don’t you think?

    I know there are a lot of atonement theories — I write about them here:


  15. Adam Julians says:


    I think you made an interesting comment about the early church and regarding Jesus as sacrifice. I’m still not sure where you are coming from with “sick”. My guess is that you allege that Christians that are OK with sacrifice either of animals or of Jesus is what you are getting at.

    If this is the case then my first comment on that would be that the sacrifice of animals was a Jewish observance, and I would ask why you would be linking that with Christianity.

    Second there might be some common ground between us with the idea of “Human sacrifice” and Jesus. Yes the language is much like that of animal sacrifice in “the book”. However to understand in ways that we can perhaps relate to what’s going on it’s difficult to think of it that way. I suspect this would mean more to a (largely) first century Jewish audience and much being lost in translation, time and culture since then.

    I wonder if it is helpful to think in terms of Jesus speaking in the synagogue at Nazareth and people being delighted with him talking of recovery of sight for the blind, release for the oppressed and the year of the Lord’s favour. Then trying to throw him off a cliff with him saying that a prophet is not welcome among his own people alluding to the rejection their ancestors had done with prophets.

    Then when he saw the gentile court in the temple being used as a marketplace for money changing, thereby denying gentiles worship, driving the money changers out and plots being made for his death. The religious authorities conspiring towards his death and this being carried out at the hands of the secular authority of the time.

    With him in an agonising death appealing to God the Father “forgive them, the don’t know what they are doing”.

    This seems to me to be an amazing testimony of love. And in a way, Jesus was willing to sacrifice himself was hes not for love rather than be given over to hate, fear, retribution etc.

    Some of us may know of anti-heros who have carried out loving acts at more cost than benefit to themselves?

    Doesn’t the world need this?

  16. Sabio Lantz says:

    Hey Adam,

    That was fun writing.

    I guessing you agree that the supposed biographies of Yeshua [Jesus] in the Christian “Biblia” [Books — since it is an anthology of different writers], are written for different agendas. The stories are full of various agenda, depending on the author. Mark portraits Yeshua as a simple, confused guy, as opposed to John’s Yeshua (written decades later) who knew everything and created the world. Matthew wants him to fulfill old Hebrew scriptures and twists the story for that.

    The version you have a Jesus in your mind is nobel, loving, giving, insightful, revolutionary and more. Yet these stories are created. For instance, if Jesus were truly an all-knowing god like the author of John would tell us, then he seems a coward to me.

    See my post here (maybe you aren’t reading the posts I link but anyway):
    Click here for “Was Jesus a Coward?”

    So sure, if a nobel story of Jesus or Mohammed or Mother Teresa or Buddha or even Genghis Khan inspires you, helps you fit in your culture and thrive, then great. But can bad memes be carried in these stories — sick ones? — I think so.

    Adam, I forgot if I have encouraged you to be a bit more open. I am very open — easy to see what I think and my history on my blog. Here is a way for you to be more open to readers of your comments.

  17. Sabio Lantz says:

    BTW, Adam, are you the funny guy at “The Bright Club” of stand-up academic comedians — who is a Theology scholar who lives with a small dog and torments Jehovah Witnesses? If so, very fun YouTube stuff up there by you. Loved it. You are fun!

  18. Adam Julians says:

    Yup that’s me. Glad you liked it 🙂

    Yes of course different authors write differently as we all would give different accounts of any event. I would use the term “perspective ” more than the rhetorical “agenda” but yes, I think we see things similarly.

    All stories / accounts of events have creative elements to them.

    I’m not sure what you mean about “coward “, but again as before I suspect that is down to interpretation. You seem to be open to a different conclusion than your own which is always a good thing.

    Good to chat 🙂

  19. Pseudonym says:

    Yes, g’day Sabio! Nice to see you again.

    “But I imagine you agree that animal sacrifice played a big part in Hebrew culture.”

    I’d agree with that broadly, but with provisos. It was a big part of temple practice, and that was a big part of Hebrew religious culture. That it was dropped fairly quickly after the destruction of the temple strongly suggests that it wasn’t that big of a deal.

    “But tell me, do you think the early Church (and much of present Christianity), looks at Jesus as a Human sacrifice?”

    Sacrifice, yes. Human… maybe.

    “But Jesus as a sacrifice is bizarre, don’t you think?”

    It’s bizarre to us today, but I don’t think it’s that weird in context. To the Hebrews, it made sense because it could be understood in terms of the familiar language of the Passover. But Paul’s use of sacrifice imagery for Gentile audiences was quite different; the Greek and Roman world still did sacrifices, and this was a good way to get them to stop (something that eventually got the Christians in a lot of trouble in Rome!).

    Having said that, it’s not like the concept of sacrifice is alien to us today. I’m not American, but the way that some Americans talk about capital punishment, an outside observer would be forgiven for thinking that they believed in human sacrifice to appease an angry god.

    I will read your post on Harischandra when I have a moment. Thanks for that!

  20. Yes it’s true that some culture believe in it, but it is inhuman!

  21. Kristin says:

    I realise I’ve come late to this discussion.

    I’m really surprised at how theological all the responses seem to be.

    This post is about the churches being a place of child abuse. How about we start with what Jesus said in the gospels about children? They are closer are to God, we are not to stop them from coming to him (abuse in a church context certainly does that – I can attest to it personally). He also said that what you do for the least of these you do for me. So this is abuse of those beloved to God, and thus of God too.

    Child abuse (of all kinds) in any context does enormous long-term damage, to the child and also frequently becomes multi-generational damage until it is addressed & help gained. I can attest to this too. If you are interested to learn more you might check out the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) studies.
    Or better still read “The Body keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk

    Personally I struggle enormously with the image of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Was it a test of his faith & trust in God? Or of his willingness to do what was wrong if he thought he “should”/must? I cannot imagine God genuinely wanting a child to be sacrificed to him, it is contrary to everything in my experience of God.

    PS Sabio I’ll check out your blog posts too – they sound interesting. I’m always open to learning more; including about other faiths, or viewpoints 🙂