Hillsong Church Emphasizes Justice as 26,000 Attend Annual Conference

Australia's most well known megachurch, Hillsong Church, began its annual five-day Hillsong conference on Monday, drawing together 26,000 Christians from all around the world.

Though the church is most well known for its music ministry, the focus of this year's conference is on justice and what Christians can do to reduce the sufferings that plague the world.

There are 19 different denominations from 68 countries attending the conference, and a major issue to be dealt with by all of them is AIDS and poverty in Africa, according to opening remarks by Gary Skinner, leader of Kampala Pentecostal Church and founder of Watoto Child Care Ministries.

"The world is on an accumulation binge," explained the Ugandan pastor to the large crowd, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. "God is not a grabber; He is a giver."

A main goal for the conference is to also dispel the criticisms that have surrounded the Hillsong Church in regard to humanitarian and social issues. Many leaders have argued that the church is too focused on the prosperity gospel and only personal enlightenment rather than aiding others. They have said that the church's focus is too outward and heavily founded only on music without substance as well.

According to Hillsong pastor Brian Houston, the church has always been concerned for justice and the well-being of everyone.

"God tells us that standing against injustice and speaking up for the disenfranchised is the responsibility of every Christian," said Houston at the event.

As an immediate gesture of action, the Hillsong community awarded a check worth $700,000 to Skinner. With it, he will be able to build a village in Gulu in northern Uganda to aid rescued child soldiers.

Despite the gathering's focus on world issues, the event organizers have shied away from making it political. For the second year, no invitations were sent to political leaders to attend. A scarce few are expected to attend for personal worship.

Typical of Hillsong Church, the night opened with a wave of praise. Hillsong's praise leader, Darlene Zschech, led an orchestra-sized ensemble to move the thousands in the audience at the Acer Arena, the location of this year's conference and a former auditorium built for the 2000 Olympic Games.

The conference is also expecting the attendance of a select few American ministry leaders including megachurch pastors Bishop T.D. Jakes of The Potter's House in Dallas and Ed Young, Jr of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, just north of Dallas/Forth Worth.

The conference will run until Friday.