In January, Brian Houston had already taken a leave to prepare his defence in a trial for allegedly covering up a sexual assault case involving his father.
Hillsong, the charismatic megachurch started in Australia almost 40 years ago, is in the midst of a major crisis after the resignation of its main leader, Brian Houston.
Houston was the global pastor of the church he and his wife Bobbie founded in Sydney in 1983. Hillsong Church became a ‘global church’ over the decades, forming a network in more than 30 countries with a weekly worship attendance of some 150,000 people. The church is known for its musical productions (many of its worship songs are sung in churches around the world) but its international conferences and theological seminary are also well known. In Europe, the church is present in fifteen countries, including the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy.
Brian Houston's resignation comes after it became known that the Hillsong was investigating two “breaches of conduct" of the pastor.
In one case, as explained by the church itself, the pastor allegedly entered a woman’s hotel room while he was under the influence of a mixture of alcohol and anti-anxiety medication. This happened in 2019, during a conference of the denomination. In the second case, which occurred 10 years ago, he allegedly wrote several text messages with affective-sexual content to a female employee, who later left her workplace in relation to this situation.
Last Sunday, 20 March, Hillsong’s interim global leader, Phil Dooley, made the situation known in a highly emotional worship service streamed online. He said the impact on the organisation of this case had been very strong, emphasising that the leadership of Hillsong Church has “repentant hearts”. “We’re a church community that desires that everyone who comes through our doors at any one of our locations will feel safe”, Dooley added, “and we will continue to respond to all that we are facing with love, grace and truth”. He emphasised: “Our church, as I said, is built on Jesus, not just on any one person – beyond a board, beyond an eldership”.
Brian Houston’s resignation was precipitated on 23 March after media outlets such as ABC Australia made public Hillsong’s internal investigation. In a statement, the church accepted the resignation of its global pastor, saying:
“We are extremely grateful for all that Brian and Bobbie have given to build His house. We ask that you continue to pray for them, and the entire Houston family, during this challenging time”. The church acknowledged that “change is needed” and that there will be and “independent review of our governance structure and processes, understanding that this is a time of humble reflection and we are committed to doing what is necessary to ensure God is honoured, and our eyes are fixed on Jesus”.
Houston had already been away from the front line of leadership for some weeks. In January, he announced that he was taking a leave to prepare for his trial (expected for the second half of 2022) for allegedly failing to report his late father's sexual assault of a young male in 1977.
According to the prosecution, Houston allegedly knew of the crime in 1999 but “without reasonable excuse” failed to report the facts to the police.
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