Hillsong, a megachurch founded in Australia by Brian Houston, has since gained a global presence because of its novel approach to Christianity. Investigation Discovery’s ‘Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed’ has the creators delve into the church’s rapid rise and the various issues surrounding the organization. Brian, the founder, has recently been in the news because of an upcoming court case and his stepping down from a leadership role in the organization. So, if you’re wondering what led to this turn of events, here’s what we know.
Who is Brian Houston?
Growing up, Brian was taken by his father, Frank, who was also a pastor in New Zealand. The family moved to Australia in the 1970s, and in 1983, Brian set up Hills Christian Life Centre, which later took on the name of Hillsong. From early on, music played a significant role in increasing Hillsong’s reach and bringing in new members. As per the show, beginning in the 1990s, Hillsong started to license its music to Christian organizations worldwide, and the church’s popularity took off from there.
As the founder and later, the Global Senior Pastor of the church, Brian was well-connected. Over the years, Hillsong set up congregations in more than a hundred locations across the world. By combining theology with mainstream music genres, Hillsong reached and attracted a far younger crowd. Hillsong’s popularity in the United States was further bolstered by pastor Carl Lentz, who studied at Hillsong’s college in Australia. Apart from charities and welfare, Brian’s organization also conducted several conferences in the United States.
However, in recent years, Hillsong has been mired in several controversies. There have been reports of volunteers overworking themselves without compensation, placing a heavy burden on them. One Hillsong employee said that volunteers were seen as laborers performing these strenuous tasks for free, providing a higher margin for church profits. If they worked without complaining, they could grow to take up a better role in the organization.
Then, Frank made a bombshell admission in 1999. He admitted to sexually abusing a child during his time as a minister. A Royal Commission investigation in Australia in 2015 found that when Brian found out about this, he suspended Frank from church activities. However, Brian never informed the authorities about the abuse. The report stated that Brian failed the victim, who was molested since he was seven years old for many years.
Then, in 2020, Brian ousted Carl, the popular pastor, and his wife from the church after his admission that he had been unfaithful to his wife. In a statement, Brian said, “They have a heart for people, and we are confident that after a time of rest and restoration, God will use Carl in another way outside of Hillsong church. In terminating his tenure, we in no way want to diminish the good work he did here.” In August 2021, Brian was charged with concealing child sex abuse in relation to Frank’s alleged incident. While he denied the charges, Brian stepped down from ministry responsibilities in January 2022 to defend himself in court.
Where is Brian Houston Now?
Brian was in the news yet again recently after an internal investigation found he breached the church’s code of conduct for pastors. Almost a decade ago, he sent inappropriate messages to a female staffer, talking about wanting to kiss and cuddle her. The church claimed that Brian had taken some sleeping pills that might have affected his judgment. Then, in 2019, he walked into the hotel room of a woman at one of Hillsong’s conferences.
While no sexual activity seemingly occurred, Brian stayed in the room for almost 40 minutes, and the woman later raised a complaint. Hillsong claimed that Brian had been drinking and had taken anti-anxiety medication at the time, making him disoriented. Amidst this controversy, Brian resigned from his position of Global Senior Pastor in March 2022. The church also committed to an independent review of its governance structure as a result. From what we can tell, Brian is taking time off and spending time with his family in Sydney, Australia. His wife, Bobbie, and three children are all involved with Hillsong in some capacity.
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