Hillsong Church has a program to boost young women’s self esteem, called ‘Shine’, which the Sydney Morning Herald wrote about today (Saturday 26 July 2008 ) in Hillsong’s Beauty Gospel.
The stated goal of the program is to boost self esteem in young women. Naturally, most of us will expect that it is also an outreach, a means of bringing the gospel into the lives of these young women if possible, whether that is the stated goal or not.
Teachers have criticised the program for being run by unqualified people. The article states, “Most of the facilitators who deliver Shine in Sydney classrooms have no university counselling qualifications, although Hillsong says they must have some qualifications or experience.” Some of the facilitators are graduates of Hillsong’s own leadership programs.
Psychologists are quoted in the article with concerns that the teachings objectify women, with their emphasis on appearance.
As a female Christian, I am concerned about churches promoting such programs. The New Testament teaches us not to measure people by external measures, whether they be appearance, gender or race. If a church emphasises these things, or teaches them as a means of raising self esteem, then they risk encouraging people to base their sense of self worth upon their physical appearance, which is unbiblical. While we have total freedom to get our hair done, take an interest in fashion, or do our makeup, I would hope that those things have no connection to our true sense of value in Christ.
If we we are taught to associate our self worth with these things, most of us will always fall short of some external ideal. If we base our own worth upon these things, we may also start to judge others the same way. Again, not Christ’s way.
Rather than fixing the outside, to give an appearance of self esteem, how much better to work on the inside, and practice accepting people regardless or in spite of appearance. If the outside is ‘fixed’, and the young woman still feels dreadful, does she then feel even more of a failure? Is the only thing she learns ‘how to fake it’?
Why not present a course on grooming for those who are interested, and completely separate that from self esteem? Why risk the association of the two, and its potential misdirection? Self esteem may be reflected in grooming, but for many of us it may be a matter of cleanliness and hygiene, without particular concern for added extras, except where they fit in an appropriate social context.
I am not a psychologist, but if a program is claiming to raise self esteem, I would want it to have the support of respected psychologists, rather than have it arouse their concerns. Particularly if it is likely to have women with low self esteem referred to it for help.
Its hard to comment on courses like this, in a way, as the motives sound good, if true. But the concerns raised are convincing, and are ones that Christians would normally agree with, including those raised by non-Christians who are educated in the areas taught.
Is it appropriate for churches to teach ‘self esteem’ or ‘grooming’ at all? If they intend to teach self esteem through Christ, should that be made clear to all participants? Should churches use people with recognised qualifications in mental health areas, regardless of how well meaning their volunteers are?
Not all responsibility lies with Hillsong, who are not forcing the course on anyone. What kind of discernment or policies should a public school use when paying for a course to take place on their own premises for their students?