Seventy-two minutes of froth: SBS show The Kingdom is an exercise in narcissism

The SBS documentary, The Kingdom, deals with – well, I thought it was about the church known as Hillsong until I watched it. Turns out that this isn’t the case; it’s actually about Marc Fennell, the presenter, and his quitting of the church. It is narcissism at its very best.

Marc Fennell. Courtesy SBS
Marc Fennell. Courtesy SBS

This would become apparent to the perceptive viewer right at the start of the 72-minute documentary when it opens with a view of Fennell’s chubby face. Such views are common, with the camera sometimes favouring his visage from the left, at others from the right. Not to mention views of him walking purposefully down some street or the other in a T-shirt that is a few sizes too small for him.

But if the documentary had been named Marc Fennell’s Hillsong experience or How one man grew disillusioned with Hillsong, it probably would have attracted much less attention than having a title like The Kingdom [a title that was used for a 2007 film about Saudi Arabia]. At least, one is inclined to think so.

All of what Fennell details in this documentary are events that have already transpired. The only ongoing matter is a case against Brian Houston, the former head of Hillsong, which is still in train.

The church, one of the bigger evangelical organisations in Australia, has been a subject of controversy due to its preaching what is called the prosperity gospel: give to God and you will receive back more than you give. That isn’t what the Bible teaches, but hey, using the name of Jesus as a form of commerce is something made into an art-form by American pastors first, and their compatriots from many other countries soon after.

Houston has also been criticised for his close links to politicians, including at least two prime ministers. And then the sexual controversies around the church, starting with the fact that the founder, Brian’s father, Frank, was a kiddy-fiddler, have been many and varied.

The case referred to earlier concluded in Sydney on June 15 and the verdict is due on August 16. Brian stood accused of concealing his father’s sexual abuse of children in order to protect his own power and reputation.

That fact does not come from Fennell’s documentary, which was made before the case concluded. No, the 72 minutes are taken up by various aspects of Fennell’s interactions with people around the church and is devoted to him and him alone.

But despite having so much time to provide detail on at least some aspects of his relationship, and then his split, with the church, Fennell hardly gets into any detail. Indeed, that is one of the primary faults of this documentary: it is extremely superficial.

But then given that Fennell is the presenter it is probably to be expected. Every program he presents is superficial, never going below the surface, maybe because it is not possible for him to think to that level.

The very first article about Hillsong that I read in the Australian media was one titled Praise the Lord and pass the chequebook written by journalist Greg Bearup in 2003. As the title indicates, it focused on the Hillsong practice of raising money from its members, using any means possible to convince them to part with their hard-earned.

This was an aspect of Hillsong that Fennell could well have delved into; my understanding is that during the well-attended Sunday meetings, there are umpteen appeals to the congregation to give to the church, some of them couched in extremely emotional terms.

But then Fennell quite clearly had self-promotion as his ultimate aim for this documentary – as he does for practically every program he presents. It is unlikely that anyone will criticise Fennell for this kind of superficiality – made partly at the expense of the taxpayer, for SBS receives a decent portion of its funding from El Governmente. But hey, that’s what public money is for, right?

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