(RNS) – The board of directors of Hillsong, the global megachurch and music empire co-founded by Australian pastor Brian Houston, released a statement Friday, March 18 addressing two complaints about Houston, including an allegation that the married pastor had spent time alone in a hotel room with a woman in 2019.
In the statement, which came as the story broke in the Australian press, said Hillsong’s board had “dealt with two complaints made against Pastor Brian in the last 10 years”, and said that each had been investigated by a member of the board of directors, or “a body appointed by the global board”, and treated confidentially.
The other complaint involved an accusation that Houston flirted with a staff member over text a decade ago.
Prior to the release of the statement, Hillsong reportedly held a video meeting with 800 Hillsong staff members around the world in which acting senior pastor Phil Dooley, who leads the church while Houston is on leave due to ongoing legal issues, discussed complaints for the first time with the church as a whole. Dooley explained the texts, according to ABC News in Australia, as being to the effect of “‘If I was with you I’d like to kiss and hug you’, words of that nature.”
The second incident, as reportedly detailed at the staff meeting, took place during Hillsong’s annual conference at Qudos Bank Arena in Homebush, New South Wales in 2019. According to ABC, Dooley said that Houston had been “drinking with a band.”
“Later that evening, Pastor Brian attempted to enter her room but did not have her room key and ended up knocking on the door to the woman’s room,” Dooley reportedly said. “She opened the door and he walked into her room.”
“The truth is, we don’t know what happened next,” ABC Dooley reported, telling staff. “The woman didn’t say there was any sexual activity. Brian said there was no sexual activity, but he was in the room for 40 minutes.
When asked for comment, Hillsong highlighted the council’s public statement.
The Hillsong board statement said Houston, 67, became “disoriented” after taking more than the prescribed dose of an anti-anxiety prescription, mixed with alcohol. “This led to him knocking on the door of a hotel room that was not his own, entering that room and spending time with the occupant,” the statement read.
The council’s statement said Houston was also under the influence of sleeping pills – “on which he had developed an addiction” – at the time he sent the inappropriate texts. The text messages ultimately led to the staff member resigning, the statement said.
At the staff meeting, Dooley allegedly said the staff member then complained to Hillsong’s managing director, George Aghajanian. After resigning, the staffer was unable to find employment immediately and, Dooley said, Houston personally paid “a few months’ salary” as compensation.
The board statement said Houston apologized to the staffer. “We also worked closely with Pastor Brian to ensure he received professional help to eliminate his addiction to this medication, and this was successfully achieved,” the statement read.
After the hotel room incident, the board said there was an investigation “by the Integrity Unit” and that, “although not all parts of the complaint could be supported, significant elements of the complaint stood and the conduct was of serious concern.”
The council’s statement also said they had agreed to return the money the woman had donated to the church, “to provide a solution in the spirit of love and care”, and to ” comply with his request for confidentiality”. The statement said Houston returned the money to the church.
At the time, Houston agreed to step down from leadership for a period of time and “take specific actions,” but ultimately, according to the statement, he failed to take all agreed-upon actions, “which led to council to take further action”. end of 2021.”
The statement did not say whether Houston would return to his position at the church.
The incidents are the latest controversy to engulf Hillsong, a Pentecostal powerhouse founded by Houston with his wife, Bobbie, in 1983. The church, which draws around 150,000 people to services in 30 locations, has also produced some of the most popular worship songs. most popular used in evangelical churches around the world, including “Oceans”, “What a Beautiful Name” and “Shout to the Lord”.
In January, Houston announced he was taking time off from pastoral duties in 2022 to prepare for his trial in Australia for failing to report sexual abuse.
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“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 Jan. 30. video ad.
Houston was charged in August 2021 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 not disclose this information to the police.
Houston has long denied covering up her father’s abuse.
“I think I’m a pretty tolerant person, but one thing I’ve really never had tolerance for is sexual abuse, and especially child abuse,” Houston said in a 2005 interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “So I don’t think you could have kicked me in the gut with a bigger punch, in some ways.”
According to Australian news sources, Houston’s trial will be held in late 2022.
RELATED: Another Hillsong East Coast pastor quits, this time for revealing Instagram selfies
More recent concerns have arisen over Houston and Hillsong’s handling of allegations of abuse within the church and the conduct of its pastors, some of whom are celebrities in their own right.
Carl Lentz, former senior pastor of Hillsong NYC, was fired in November 2020 for “leadership issues and breach of trust, as well as a recent revelation of moral failings.” Lentz later admitted to having an extramarital affair. Shortly after, Ranin Karim, a jewelry designer from Brooklyn, opened up about her relationship with Lentz on “Good Morning America.” The following month, comments by Brian Houston, in which he called Lentz “narcissistic”, suggested that the affair was not Lentz’s only transgression.
Six months later, a former Hillsong staff member claimed to have been the victim of “bullying, abuse of power and sexual abuse” during the seven years she worked as a nanny at Lentz’s home. Lentz denied the allegations.
Reed and Jess Bogard, senior pastors at the Dallas site, also resigned abruptly in 2020, causing the Dallas church to close for the foreseeable future. The couple had served in New York with Lentz and “failed to live up to the covenants and standards of the Hillsong Church”, church leaders later said.
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.
Anna Crenshaw, an American student who attended Hillsong College in Sydney, told RNS earlier this year that she was touched inappropriately by Hillsong staff member Jason Mays, the son of the head of human resources. of the church, at a party in early 2016. Crenshaw did not tell Hillsong management about the incident for two years and told RNS in May that she believed that 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.
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