Over the last two years Hillsong has had a rolling list of scandals and accusations made against them that have – beyond affecting leadership and the church as an organisation – left thousands of church members caught in the crosshairs of ugly revelations.
How do they process that?
Where do you take the questions that arise when a place you’ve called “home” doesn’t feel safe anymore? Is everything people are saying true? What do these failures mean for my faith? Are they connected?
Benjamin Hastings has been a long-time member of Hillsong’s globally recognised and 11 x Dove Award-winning band UNITED, touring with them extensively over the years and writing some of their biggest hits including Highlands and So Will I.
In 2022, Benjamin released his self-titled solo project, Benjamin William Hastings (And Then Some) with 25 songs (39 on the newly released extended edition) that gradually unpack the emotions he felt around the church’s failings and the conversations he had with God as a result.
One of the most pointed songs is Cathedrals of the Nelder Groves which begins:
They stripped the paint from our cathedral
Found concrete cancer in the walls
Look, I don’t care about the failings
‘Cause I’ve got plenty of my own
But the inclination to conceal it
Well, that doesn’t sound like church at all
I’ve heard Hell is out to get us
Some unrighteous grand assault
I could argue it’s the devil
But I could make a case for God
Another of Benjamin’s most vulnerable tracks is Dancing with My Shadow where he sings:
It’s two of me in tension, didn’t know I had depression
Come watch me dancin’ with my shadow
I’m tryin’ to figure out the steps
Between the man you think you follow
And the man I really am
I’m out here singin’ to the bright light all night
With all this darkness in my head
So come watch me dancin’ with my shadow
Can’t you see that I can’t dance?
“I was scared to say some of the stuff,” Benjamin said.
“It was hard in that sense to write. I wasn’t really over it yet.
“The emotion lingered so long and the process of the whole thing, I never was able to fully move on from it – until I was able to move on from it.
“It was hard in that sense to write. I wasn’t really over it yet,” – Benjamin Hastings
“But I’m glad I did [write these songs] because all the things I was scared to say seems to be what people have resonated with.”
In many ways Benjamin’s album is a guide to others who may be reeling with the same emotions and is a rare, honest, insight into the life of a songwriter who – by virtue of the church he goes to – has been alongside one of the most tumultuous seasons in Australia’s church history.
Detailing the difficulties of touring away from family and the tension of being a worship leader inspiring millions, while also navigating his own faith, the album is weighty but not without hope.
That’s the Thing About Praise is the song Benjamin describes as “a resolve” to the emotional scope of the album.
Featuring Blessing Offor, the pair sing about the gap between where you are and where you want to be and life’s unexpected storms, declaring that “sometimes the only way through it is a hallelujah” which Benjamin said “was the summary [he] was looking for”.
“[This song] put a seal on the album that’s optimistic and hopeful but the resolve isn’t ‘everything’s fine now, life’s good’,” he said.
“It’s ‘we’re going to make it when you put God in the right place within your circumstances.”
It offers closure to a time in Benjamin’s personal faith that’ll surely have enduring impact, but that doesn’t reflect his headspace now.
“I’m not really sure at what point it happened,” Benjamin said.
“Probably it was in processing and writing a lot of the songs, [but] I was able to step into a new place and put to bed some of the wrestles and doubts and things that I’d been fighting with.”
Already looking toward his next album Benjamin’s “excited about the next collection of songs, because they’re lighter”.
“They do still have that aspect of vulnerability, but they’re not from the place I was in, they’re from the place I’m in now.”
Benjamin’s album Benjamin William Hastings (And Then Some) is out now.
Listen to the full interview with Benjamin Hastings in the player above.