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Mediawatch: Channel Nine takes on C3 Church

Channel Nine’s A Current Affair has launched a two-night attack attack on C3, Australia’s second-largest Pentecostal Church.

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It’s open season on Pentecostals right now, and while Christians from other denominations might feel simply relieved it’s not them under attack, Eternity’s view is that brotherly love is better than schadenfreude (taking pleasure at the misfortune of others).

Like other churches Eternity has looked at, C3 is pathetic at extracting cash from its followers.

Let’s start with the money. Channel Nine does. C3 tells Eternity they have 61,000 attenders in Australia (it’s a global network that began Australia), and revenues of $40 million.

Assuming 40,000 of these attenders earn incomes, and that they earn the average Australian annual income (which was A$85,982 in 2018), the total income of C3 attenders is $3,439,280,000.

This means they gave one per cent of their income to C3.

If one assumes only half the congregation earned an average income, the rate of giving rises to one and a half per cent. This places C3 attenders behind, for example, Hillsong and the Sydney Anglicans who, in terms of what percentage of income they give to Church, are all at 3 per cent or under.

This means that all the admittedly passionate appeals for money which the A Current Affair team edited together in the first part of their C3 investigation, get nowhere near a tithe (traditionally, ten per cent of income).

Like other churches Eternity has looked at, C3 is pathetic at extracting cash from its followers.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said in his Sermon number 50: “Having, First, gained all you can, and, Secondly saved all you can, Then give all you can.”

C3 is living into the tradition of its forbears in the Holiness movement but, as attested by some examples in the Nine report, perhaps drawing too tight a link between giving and receiving blessing. The history of the Methodists certainly shows that following Wesley’s prescription works to increase the prosperity of a people as a whole but not necessarily individuals.

Similarly with C3 property. Nine reported that C3 has $49m in assets. By contrast, the properties owned by the Catholic, Anglican and Uniting churches are measured in the billions. Pentecostal networks tend to be light on property.

A Current Affair seems shocked at the annual C3 conference costing $269 to attend. Other well-known Christian conferences also charge: the CMS Summer School in Katoomba, NSW, charges $180 or $225 for on-site (late) registrations; the Justice Conference in Melbourne charges $159; and, Hillsong’s Colour Conference is $250 a ticket.

By contrast, Channel Nine shares currently yield a dividend of 5.33 per cent – and a note to retirees, they are fully franked. (Full disclosure: I own a few hundred dollars of Nine shares left over from when I worked with Fairfax. I am glad I invested in them and not C3).

In a statement to Eternity, C3 describes the earnings of Pastor Phil Pringle this way: “C3 Church has robust governance policies in place regarding remuneration of Pastors which extends to the remuneration of Phil Pringle. All remuneration is set by an independent board of Directors and the quantum is benchmarked to organisations of a comparable size in the Education sector and he is paid the equivalent of a Headmaster’s salary.”

If C3 means a private school, Eternity’s best guess is that this indicates somewhere in the low to mid hundreds of thousands, most likely below $500,000. The best source of information – annual reports tabled in Queensland’s state parliament – show that some Australian principals are being paid between $380,000 and $540,000 a year.

But if C3 means a state school in NSW, a principal’s salary tops out at $176,696.

Australia’s best-renumerated person in a Christian institution is most likely Greg Craven, Vice Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University. He earns $1.25m a year.

The second night of the A Current Affair reports was dominated by reports of ministers’ misconduct. This included one pastor dismissed for having an affair with a congregation member, a paedophile case in Adelaide and a minister who failed to report another for the sexual abuse of a child.

These are all inexcusable cases of sin.

In the case of the pastor Anthony Shalala, who was reasonably high profile in the movement, C3 told Eternity: “In June 2018, a C3 pastor was removed from his Church after allegations emerged of marital infidelity. As soon as C3 Church became aware of these allegations, a comprehensive investigation was commenced and the allegations were confirmed as true. C3 Church acted decisively to remove the pastor from his role and to support people affected , with external counselling support.”

No other Christian institution is in a position to throw stones, though.

“C3 Church takes claims of sexual misconduct seriously and our primary concern in such matters is for the wellbeing of the person who has brought a claim to our attention.”

No other Christian institution is in a position to throw stones, though. Sadly, this record is all too typical and, in fact, C3’s is much shorter than the lists that attach to other Christian networks.

The National Redress Scheme – set up in response to the Royal Commission into the Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse – has led to most churches joining up. However, networks of autonomous churches such as C3 have had some institutional barriers to overcome.

The Commission called for a uniform national response from each denomination and while the Anglicans have set up a special company to handle redress, others such as C3 are still working out how to do this.

While noting the deadline to “opt in'” is June next year, the church tells Eternity: “C3 Church is evaluating the best way for churches within the C3 Church movement to meet best practice guidelines with respect to child protection, including but not limited to whether to ‘opt in’ to the National Redress Scheme.”

“C3 Church is in advanced discussions with its insurer, ACS Mutual, about a mechanism for individual C3 Churches to ‘opt in’ to the National Redress Scheme via ACS.”

If Nine has given C3 a nudge to move this along – it might be a positive from the A Current Affair reports.

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