Cowboy Controversy

Charles Spurgeon once said, “A time will come when instead of shepherds feeding the sheep, the church will have clowns entertaining the goats.” This statement has been quoted when Christian critics see something going on in church they deem “worldly.” Recently a women’s conference at Hillsong NYC featured people on stage dressed as various characters including “The Naked Cowboy”, a popular Times Square street performer who wears only boots, a cowboy hat and briefs strategically covered by his guitar. The cowboy at Hillsong was portrayed by its youth pastor Diego Simila.

Over the years Hillsong Church has been a frequent target of heresy hunters. Therefore, I wasn’t quick to pass judgment on them but hoped to see an official statement explaining what happened. That eventually came from Hillsong founder Brian Houston. As I suspected, it was a lapse of judgment by the conference organizer. Houston pointed out, “He [Diego] was wearing proper shorts, not underwear, and he had a flag draped over him – perhaps inappropriate, but certainly not naked...It won't happen again.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Brown wrote an article expressing his concerns about the controversyOne thing that caught my attention was a response from a woman who attended the conference. Amber Grace commented, “…And what this post does not mention is the hundreds of women who heard the gospel and surrendered their lives to Christ for the first time. Or, the hundreds of children who were sponsored through Compassion International.” 

Thank God He still uses us in spite of poor decisions we might make.

Amber also talked about how at the conference the women were encouraged to pray for one another. She went on to say, “How are we ever going to beat the real enemy if we keep attempting to destroy our fellow workers? I applaud Hillsong. They reach the ones that others aren’t. You may not agree with their methods, but to the unchurched they have influence and that is our focus. Why don’t we unite against the enemy instead of each other? We don’t all have to agree on everything, but we can still spread love and share that there is one name by which people are saved…Jesus. We have a world to change together!”

It’s often said believers are to be “in the world but not of it.” Perhaps the leadership at Hillsong will use better discernment regarding what they do at future conferences. Their London church experienced a similar backlash after their pastor dressed up on stage as the womanizing movie character Austin Powers. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV) does say, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”

Then again, the Apostle Paul also wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” Christians can be creative and have fun parodying contemporary culture without selecting suggestive characters to imitate. Three years ago I attended a special meeting honoring the pastor’s 70th birthday. Five of his associates dubbed themselves “Mac Dynasty” and sang birthday greetings mixed with riffs from ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” (the original “Duck Dynasty” theme song).

Whether you like Hillsong or not, let’s choose to believe the best about each other and focus on obeying the Great Commission.

“Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” - Romans 14:4

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