Faced with Lawsuit, Brian Houston Steps Down as Hillsong Global Senior Pastor

(RNS) – Brian Houston, co-founder of megachurch and media empire Hillsong, has announced he is stepping down as global lead pastor, telling congregants via a pre-recorded video played during the service of the Sunday morning at Hillsong headquarters in Sydney, Australia. that he would take a leave of absence from the church until the end of this year.

Citing a ruling by Hillsong’s board of directors and outside legal counsel, Houston, alongside his wife and co-founder, Bobbie, said “best practice” dictates that he step away from executive management altogether. the church as he stands trial for allegedly failing to report sexual abuse. . Court proceedings, he said, “are likely to lengthen and take up most of 2022.”

Brian and Bobbie Houston in a screenshot from a video announcing that he is taking an extended leave from the leadership of Hillsong, the global megachurch the couple founded. January 30, 2022

“It’s been an unexpected season, and we’re grateful for all of you and for the community we share,” Houston said on the video released near the end of the service. “I never tire of praise and miracles, especially those that commit to Jesus.”

Houston’s furlough comes after more than a year of scandals that have rocked the church in Australia and abroad and amid Houston’s own legal troubles at home. Houston resigned from Hillsong’s board of directors in September.

“The result is that the Board of Hillsong Global believes it is in my interest and that of the church for this to happen, so I have agreed to step down from all ministry responsibilities until the end of the year,” Houston said in the Jan. 30 video. announcement.

Houston, 67, was charged in August with covering up another person’s serious criminal act. Police say her late father, Frank Houston, also a preacher, indecently assaulted a young man in 1970. Court documents allege Houston knew of her father’s abuse as early as 1999 and ‘without a reasonable excuse’, did not disclosed this information to the police.

Frank Houston died in 2004 at the age of 82.

His lawyers told the court in October that Houston would plead not guilty, but his trial has been repeatedly delayed, according to Perth Now.

In her statement to the church on Sunday, Houston said the allegations came as a “shock”. He said he planned to ‘fight the prosecution and seize the opportunity to set the record straight’, and that he had to ‘commit fully to the preparation and engagement in the case. “.

The board is supportive, Houston said, and they “have spoken about the effects of the situation with my father, which goes back many years to the current court case, and the impact that has had. on me emotionally.”

Phil and Lucinda Dooley, the senior pastors of Hillsong Church Cape Town, will step in as acting world senior pastors, according to Houston. His wife, Bobbie, will remain “fully committed to church life” and her leadership positions, he said.

“It is 50 years this week since I started a Bible college in New Zealand, so with five decades of active ministry behind us, rest assured that we will make the most of this season to replenish ourselves spiritually, emotionally and physically.” , Houston said.

Houston, originally from New Zealand, founded Hillsong Church with Bobbie in 1983 in the suburbs of Sydney. An evangelical church affiliated with the Pentecostal Network of Australian Christian Churches, Hillsong now has 30 locations worldwide, with an average global attendance of 150,000 people per week. Two Hillsong College campuses, in Sydney and Phoenix, Arizona, offer “Bible Training” and “Ministry Experience.”

The church’s growth was, in part, spurred by its hugely popular worship groups and their music, now nearly ubiquitous in churches around the world.

Although accusations of covering up her father’s alleged abuse have dogged Houston for much of her career, more recent concerns have arisen over the way Houston and Hillsong have handled allegations of abuse within the church.

Anna Crenshaw, an American student who attended Hillsong College in Sydney, was inappropriately touched by Hillsong staff member Jason Mays, the son of the church’s head of human resources, at a party at the early 2016. Crenshaw did not inform Hillsong management of the incident. for two years and told RNS in May that she believed there was “a lack of institutional accountability” and a cultural tendency at Hillsong “to value those who are ‘higher up’ or more connected”.

Crenshaw said that while Hillsong executives took his accusations seriously, they were slow to act, and that Houston initially seemed to despise Mays’ behavior, saying Mays was “just young, drunk, stupid, and in a bad place.”

Mays pleaded guilty to indecent assault in 2020 and received two years probation and mandatory counseling. A church spokesperson told Vanity Fair magazine that Mays was banned from the ministry for 12 months, before being reinstated in his administrative role and as a volunteer singer.

Elsewhere, the mega-church, famous for attracting celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Chris Pratt, has been criticized for treating pastors like ‘royalty’ and allegedly favoring high-profile attendees while asking volunteers to work from long hours, which left many complaining about ‘the Hillsong’. hangover” after the weekends of church service.

And, in May 2021, a former Hillsong church staffer in New York advanced allegations that former pastor Carl Lentz subjected her to “intimidation, abuse of power, and sexual abuse” for seven years while working as a nanny. in Lentz’s house.

RELATED: Carl Lentz’s former nanny sexual abuse allegations shine a light on Hillsong culture

In a statement at the time, the Houstons praised the staffer for coming forward and said they welcomed the “opportunity to grow in what is a growing societal problem.”

Lentz, who had founded Hillsong Church in Manhattan with the Houstons’ son Joel, had been fired about six months earlier for “moral breaches” and admitted to an adulterous affair. In the aftermath, Hillsong conducted an outside investigation into Hillsong East Coast and Lentz which Houston said found “significant ways” that the New York church “failed to reflect Hillsong’s global culture”.

While the investigation was ongoing, Reed and Jess Bogard, senior pastors at the Dallas location, abruptly resigned during a Sunday morning service. Houston later said the couple, who had served in New York with Lentz, “failed to live up to the covenants and standards of the Hillsong Church”, and the Dallas location has since been closed for the foreseeable future.

In April 2021, Darnell Barrett, pastor of the Montclair, New Jersey, Hillsong campus, resigned after sharing revealing photos of himself on Instagram Stories to a group of friends that included a woman who had once volunteered for him at the church in New Jersey.

RELATED: Carl Lentz and the “hot pastor” problem

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