Brian Houston resigns from Hillsong Church in wake of allegations

australia Mar 23, 2022

The announcement was made today at an all-staff Hillsong meeting.

Hillsong Church’s founder and long-time global pastor Brian Houston has today resigned following revelations in Crikey late last week that two women had complained about his behaviour.

IMAGE: PRIVATE MEDIA

Hillsong Church’s founder and long-time global pastor Brian Houston has today resigned following revelations in Crikey late last week that two women had complained about his behaviour.

The announcement was made at a special crisis meeting of all Hillsong staff called at short notice this morning and exclusively flagged in Crikey’s midday edition today.

The incidents occurred in 2013 and 2019 and involve allegations that Houston behaved inappropriately towards female members of the church.

It is understood that Houston, whose father Frank founded Hillsong, submitted his resignation at 4am this morning prior to a meeting of the church’s Australian board.

At Hillsong’s Sydney headquarters, senior pastor Phil Dooley — who has stood in for Houston from early this year — relayed a message to all staff from Hillsong’s global and Australian board.

The church was now committed to a review of its governance and structures, he said.

“Irrespective of the circumstances around this we can all agree that Brian and Bobbie [his wife] served God faithfully over many decades and that their ministry has resulted in millions of people across the world being impacted by the power and grace and love of Jesus Christ,” Dooley said.

“We are extremely grateful for all that Brian and Bobbie have given to build His house.”

“We acknowledge that change is needed,” Dooley added. “We have committed to an independent review of our governance structure and processes.” Crikey understands that Dooley yesterday spoke of the need to change the culture of Hillsong from its celebrity focus.

Crikey has been reporting on concerns about Houston and other senior leaders at the church since August last year.

Last week Crikey reported exclusively on an all-staff meeting last week during which Pastor Dooley discussed in detail the allegations about Houston, who was on anxiety tablets at the time of the incidents.

Crikey has today published the edited transcript of the audio recording leaked to us.

Houston stood aside as the leader of the global church last year pending a NSW magistrates’ hearing on charges that he concealed information about his father’s sexual abuse of a boy.

By David Hardaker

CONTINUED:

‘No meaningful inquiry’ into rape allegations against Hillsong pastor

Hillsong faces more explosive revelations as it is found to have promoted a pastor despite knowing of his affair with a young employee.

A high-ranking Hillsong pastor who allegedly raped a junior female staff member while conducting an extramarital affair was subsequently promoted to a position of more authority in the church, despite Hillsong’s leadership knowing of the affair.

IMAGE: PRIVATE MEDIA

A high-ranking Hillsong pastor who allegedly raped a junior female staff member while conducting an extramarital affair was subsequently promoted to a position of more authority in the church, despite Hillsong’s leadership knowing of the affair.

The revelation is contained in an internal Hillsong investigation obtained by Crikey.

The investigation, conducted by Hillsong lawyers in the United States and finalised at the beginning of last year, probed allegations from the young woman that she had not consented to sex with the senior pastor, Reed Bogard, at their initial encounter. Bogard was married at the time.

Law firm Zukerman Gore Brandeis and Crossman made a number of findings critical of Hillsong’s actions after it was made aware several years ago that Bogard had engaged in the extramarital affair with the junior female employee.

The firm found the church leadership had failed to conduct “any meaningful inquiry” at the time it became aware and that it appeared to “uniformly assume” the relationship had been consensual from the outset, even though it occurred between “a powerful church leader and a young, low-level staff person”.

The revelation of Hillsong’s flawed approach to investigating Bogard’s behaviour follows damaging disclosures made last week about church founder and figurehead Pastor Brian Houston. The revelations also raise further questions about the ability of Hillsong’s leadership to protect young women from abuse or the church’s willingness to discipline sexual transgressors.

The leaking of the confidential 30-page report to Crikey is also a signal of how determined some senior Hillsong figures have become to change a culture of protection around those who are close to the Houstons. They also want to see a change to the boys’ club mentality at Hillsong, where there are virtually no women in leadership roles.

The US investigation found the young woman who was then working at Hillsong’s New York church as an office assistant had “confessed” about the affair to a long-serving Hillsong global board member. She had said initially it was consensual. but several years later alleged that Bogard had raped her in their first encounter.

This led to an investigation that found that “no one at any time ever probed for more information, to try to discern how one of the most powerful men in the New York church could have found himself in a sexual relationship with a young, vulnerable junior staff member”.

“And no one appears to have questioned whether meaningful consent was possible let alone present, given the obvious power dynamic.”

The investigation also pointed to the nature of the sexual activity, which was dictated by Bogard, was marked by a lack of intimacy, and appeared to suggest that the acts were “designed to reinforce the power imbalance between them”.

It also found that Bogard had “used his position” to force the woman to sign a confidentiality agreement and non-disparagement clause “at a time that the affair was in high gear”.

Bogard had been part of the Hillsong team that established New York’s Hillsong church, working with celebrity pastor Carl Lentz. He was later promoted by Hillsong to establish a branch in Dallas, Texas, in 2019, after the church’s hierarchy knew of his affair with the young woman.

Bogard’s appointment soon ended in scandal. The Dallas branch was closed early last year and Bogard and his wife resigned amid allegations they had misused church money to fund a lavish lifestyle.

This happened shortly Lentz’s fall from grace at the end of 2020 when it was revealed he too had been involved in an extramarital affair.

The law firm concluded that it was “difficult if not impossible” to say with certainty whether “the initial sexual acts between … Bogard and [the young woman] occurred notwithstanding an express, verbal objection (“No”) uttered by [the young woman] in the moment.

“But there can be no doubt that given the extreme power imbalance between the two, as well as the ‘Don’t say no’ culture which permeated the New York church at that time, there was ample opportunity for … Bogard to take advantage of a systemic inability for [the young woman] to have meaningfully consented at the time in question.

By David Hardaker

CONTINUED:

Hillsong’s wall of silence points to a brewing scandal — which may be about to break

The trouble-plagued Hillsong megachurch has called an all-staff meeting for this morning, apparently in a bid to address a growing crisis.

UPDATE: During an extraordinary meeting this morning, senior Hillsong pastor, Phil Dooley, told church staff about two incidents involving former global pastor Brian Houston and his behaviour towards women.

IMAGE: PRIVATE MEDIA

The trouble-plagued Hillsong megachurch has called an all-staff meeting for this morning, apparently in a bid to address a growing crisis, with rumours of an allegedly significant moral transgression spreading rapidly within the church.

Crikey understands the all-staff meeting will be led by senior Hillsong pastor Phil Dooley and will address the rumours of a crisis which have gathered pace around the top of the organisation.

What’s it about?

Observing Hillsong, the megachurch of Scott Morrison’s pal Pastor Brian Houston, can be a little like watching the Kremlin. Or the Vatican. Sometimes you can only tell that a major ruction is on the way by a whisper here and a whisper there. The only evidence might be the unexplained removal of a close confidante from the inner circle of the ruler.

And don’t count on the organisation ever coming clean with full and frank answers for public consumption. Hillsong manages information as well as any large corporation, which is to say it is very good at controlling the narrative and minimising the damage.

Official silence might be the church’s tactic of choice, but elsewhere in Hillsong-land this week the whispers have become a roar.

The first casualty of the internal ructions appears to have been a decades-long Houston family loyalist, Dr Gordon Lee. Lee is a general practitioner from Sydney’s south-west who openly promotes his medical practice in these terms:

“To glorify God by building medical practices that deliver high quality holistic care. Values:

1. A love for God

2. A love for His Church

3. A love for People.”

Lee has always been there for the big moments, such as when eight so-called Hillsong elders (including Houston) met in late 2000 to consider “matters relating to the apparent moral failure by [Brian’s father] Frank Houston some 30 years ago”, as the internal minutes of the meeting styled it.

To translate the church code, the “moral failure” refers to Frank Houston’s sexual abuse of boys as young as eight. “Some 30 years ago” was the linguistic attempt to reduce the abuse to nothing.

But according to reliable sources, Lee has now stepped away from the Hillsong eldership over what Crikey understands to be his concerns over a moral issue involving the church which has only recently arisen. Crikey has sought answers from him but has been told that he “does not want to discuss it” because, as his receptionist relayed it, “Dr Lee says the church is his family.” (Our follow-up email with specific questions met a similar fate.)

Hillsong, too, has declined to answer Crikey’s written questions on the alleged moral transgression. Our sources have indicated there are non-disclosure agreements. Again, Hillsong is offering no comment on the strange disappearance from the Hillsong website of the entire list of elders — the Houston rusted-ons with “exemplary lifestyles” who have “spiritual oversight” of the church. These are the church’s most illustrious figures, with history dating back to the early days of Hillsong and its predecessor entities in the 1990s.

The changes — and the flurry of whispers — has come after a longish period of rolling scandal and crisis for Hillsong and its “global pastor”, Brian Houston.

The church has been beset by infidelity scandals in the US. It has been the subject of searing exposés by international news organisations. Crikey has covered the Houston family’s legal and moral travails here as well as the scandal of visiting American student Anna Crenshaw who was indecently assaulted by a Sydney-based Hillsong figure. That episode was only tardily pursued by Hillsong after police became involved.

On top of all that, earlier this year Houston announced he was stepping down as leader of the global church some months after being charged with concealing information about his father’s alleged child abuse. (He has strongly denied the concealment charge and has said he will vigorously defend it.)

Last week the wheel of justice took one more turn when a magistrate set a date in December for an expected three-week hearing.

Meanwhile at Hillsong the wall of silence has gone up. No one is returning Crikey’s calls or emails to confirm or deny the new scandal.

By David Hardaker

CONTINUED:

Drunk, in a woman’s hotel room

Revelations of Brian Houston’s behaviour threaten his hold on Hillsong

A number of major disclosures came during a highly emotional all-staff meeting this morning.

IMAGE: PRIVATE MEDIA

Earlier today Crikey reported that an all-staff meeting was set to take place within the Hillsong megachurch to address rumours of moral transgressions involving its former “global pastor” Brian Houston. Now we can report on what was said…

Brian Houston’s hold on the Hillsong church which he built over more than two decades into a national and international phenomenon is now, incredibly, under question following an extraordinary all-staff meeting which was hastily called today after rumours grew of moral transgressions involving the church’s most senior figure.

A number of major disclosures came during the highly emotional meeting. Senior Hillsong pastor Phil Dooley told the meeting of two incidents involving Houston and his behaviour towards women. Dooley also pointed to alcohol and Houston’s prescription drugs for anxiety as playing a role.

Dooley, who was appointed the church’s global pastor after Houston stepped down earlier this year, is understood to have been crying when he began today’s meeting.

In a recording obtained by Crikey, Dooley outlined an incident which apparently took place in 2019 at a hotel where a group of Hillsong figures was drinking, including a woman who was not on Hillsong’s staff. Dooley said Houston had been on anxiety tablets at the time.

“Later that evening he went to go to his room. Didn’t have his room key and ended up knocking on the door of this woman’s room and she opened the door and he went into her room,” he said.

“The truth is we don’t know exactly what happened next. This woman has not said if there was any sexual activity. Brian has said there was no sexual activity. But he was in the woman’s room for 40 minutes. He doesn’t have much of a recollection because of the mixture of the anxiety tablets and the alcohol.

“This woman had also been drinking so her recollection is not completely coherent.”

Dooley said the woman went through “a lot of conflicting emotions” and spoke to someone on staff. The incident ultimately came to the attention of Hillsong’s global board which appointed a four-person “integrity” unit, composed of long-serving Hillsong figures, to investigate. Two “outside” pastors had been brought in. All were men.

“It was decided Brian should take three months off from ministry but unfortunately he didn’t abide by that. He did conduct some ministry and he did consume some alcohol,” Dooley said.

The incident then came to the attention of the elders at the end of 2021. The board then decided Houston should take more time off. At the same time the board “discussed with Brian” his use of alcohol.

As a footnote, the woman involved in the 2019 incident had asked for her conference fee and a “kingdom builder” donation to the church to be paid back. Houston agreed that he would pick up the tab.

The 2019 incident followed an earlier incident “around 10 years ago” when Houston exchanged texts with a female staff member. The text messages had ended with what Dooley called an “inappropriate text message”, with Houston texting “along the lines of ‘If I was with you I would like to give you a kiss and a cuddle or a hug’, words of that nature”.

Dooley said the staff member was “upset by that”, felt awkward and went to long-serving Hillsong head George Aghajanian and said she wanted to resign.

The issue was handled by two senior Hillsong men. Others, including Dooley, had not been aware until the end of 2021. The staff member had been unable to find another job and she was paid “a couple of months’ salary” as compensation.

Dooley also raised the question of when do you publicly discuss someone’s sins?

“In light of the evidence before the global board, the decision was made to offer what I would call ‘grace’: not to cover up and not to expose,” Dooley said. “The idea was that Brian would use the time to get healthy.”

Dooley said some of Hillsong’s elders were unhappy with the situation and began to raise the issue publicly with congregants.

“There are victims here and we are deeply sorry for those victims,” he said.

In terms of governance and trust, Dooley said perhaps it was time to look at issues of accountability and who takes responsibility.

“We’re not about exposing people,” he said. “I look at the example of Jesus, at what does the Bible say about these situations.

“We acknowledge that Pastor Brian has made significant mistakes here and no one at a senior level wants to cover any of that up, but to come to a place of healing that involves honesty, that involves transparency, that involves repentance and an acknowledgment that mistakes have been made and a desire to make it right.

“We also want to pray for Pastor Brian and for Bobbie and the family. Sin is messy and it brings all kinds of pain.”

Also in the meeting today, Aghajanian took aim at members of the “eldership” for spreading rumours. He claimed they had acted beyond their authority. He also cautioned that some information being spread was false.

The crisis which has enveloped Hillsong and led to today’s extraordinary events has exposed deep splits between the management team and board on one hand and the group of 10 “elders” on the other.

The crisis certainly represents the most serious schism to hit Hillsong over its more than two decades as the dominant force in Australian Pentecostalism.

By David Hardaker

CONTINUED:

The Hillsong flock, lost and forlorn, looks to the Good Shepherd — as the young revolt

The beleaguered Hillsong church are trying to keep the faith, but sceptical and disenchanted cracks are beginning to show.

IMAGE: PRIVATE MEDIA

Three days on, the tears are still flowing at Hillsong Church.

Interim global pastor Phil Dooley has not been able to stop since last Friday morning when he tearfully told an all-Hillsong staff meeting of pastor Brian Houston’s errant ways with two women. Yesterday was the church’s first service since Friday’s revelations. And still Pastor Phil was unable to keep it all inside.

“I thought I was over my tears because I’ve cried a lot of them,” he told the uncharacteristically subdued Hillsong crowd. “But it’s not out yet. Maybe you feel the same.”

Pastor Phil is a parable in himself. Hillsong to his Gucci bootstraps, he hails from the church’s heartland in north-west Sydney. He began with the church 30 years ago. The very image of the hip pastor, with black beanie pulled down over blond hair that tumbles nearly to his shoulders, Pastor Phil spoke of the dash he had made back to Sydney last week from the United States where he had spoken with church leaders, presumably on the Brian situation.

Watching an inflight movie about the poignant story of the tennis-playing Williams sisters had triggered yet more tears for the already overwrought pastor. Meanwhile, Phil’s wife Lucinda was stuck in South Africa and couldn’t be by his side for this day.

It seemed truly that in Hillsong world, the meek with the most frequent flyer points would inherit the earth.

Pastor Phil’s tragic inheritance was now to front the church barely 72 hours after the savaging of Brian Houston — in the very church Houston had built. The trademark energy and bounce were missing as he addressed the doleful task of shepherding Hillsong through its darkest days.

“This has possibly been one of the hardest weeks of my life,” said Pastor Phil of the recent convulsions which have seen Houston sidelined, perhaps for good.

It fell to Hillsong’s head of creative, the normally effervescent Cassandra Langton, to grasp the nettle and reframe the day for the despairing believers. Cassie, as Pastor Phil referred to her, has one of the most important jobs at a Hillsong service: urging the flock to part with their money for the glory of the church. Today it was a task she hadn’t really wanted to do.

“(People) are asking me: ‘How can you stand up there and ask (for donations)?'” Cassie said, perhaps reading the minds of anyone who has watched the hypocrisy of the mighty moralist, Brian Houston, laid bare of the mighty moralist, Brian Houston.

But Cassie had woken up with a story to tell — a story about lost sheep and the Lord — which of course led directly to Psalm 23, and before long a new reality was taking shape.

“The Lord is my Shepherd,” Cassie declared — placing emphasis on the Lord, in seeming distinction to Pastor Brian, now cooling his heels far away in the USA, the purgatory of a man whose secret life has suddenly been prised open.

Now Cassie was tearful as she fought through the morass of doubt and angst to emerge clarified and clear of purpose.

“We will give out of everything that we have (sic),” she declared, before firing off a volley of ways the faithful could show their devotion.”We will offer our finances, our lives, our families, our homes, and everything to Jesus, because he is the Good Shepherd and he cares for his sheep.

“I have no worries in inviting you to share everything that you have with the Good Shepherd again this morning, because it is always him, and it will always be him. I’m going to pray for us. I’m going to invite you to continue to give your lives to the Shepherd. Jesus Christ, you are the Good Shepherd.”

The surge of optimism was catching. The Houston problem addressed, Pastor Phil too caught the wave. Wiping away the tears, he was soon promising that a better day was on the way.

“In this season, health and healing are our focus,” Pastor Phil said. “We will continue to build a beautiful, unified church. Continue to build, because that’s what we have been part of, so that here generations can come and stand strong and build together.”

And yet, not all were on board.

As Cassie and Phil saw a new vision, there were serpents slithering in the weeds of social media, via a live online chat which accompanied the YouTube video of the church service, allowing the faithful — and increasingly the not-so-faithful — to heckle from the bleachers.

“Is Brian in cuffs yet?” a member of the disenchanted threw in.

“How are we so happy with what’s going on?” asked another, incredulous at the hope now emerging.

“I am at one with you and Pastor Brian,” one supporter offered, only to be met with a question from a sceptic: “Yes, but are they at one with you?”

“Please let the truth come out,” one pleaded.

It was at this point, as Pastor Phil elaborated on a vision of togetherness and a new way for the church, that Hillsong’s invisible monitors swooped on the live chat and began to delete any message that questioned the new narrative.

“Why do you keep silencing us? Deleting our messages and not answering emails?” one dissident asked.

“Keep the focus on the Service,” ordered a Hillsong monitor.

Shutting down questions while promising a better day. It seemed at that moment to capture the hopelessness of where Hillsong has ended up.

And most particularly the social media revolt captured the new reality: there’s a younger brigade of believers who won’t have any more of the deceptions and the old authoritarian ways of the church which has delivered prosperity for an inner circle clustered around Brian Houston.

By David Hardaker

CONTINUED:

A culture of secrecy lies behind Hillsong’s malaise, and it’s starting to unravel

Revelations from last Friday's Hillsong staff meeting only serve to shine a greater light on the church's scandalous history.

IMAGE: PRIVATE MEDIA

It’s hard to know what is the most startling information to emerge from the extraordinary revelations made at last Friday’s all-staff Hillsong meeting, called to address mounting rumours around the behaviour of Pastor Brian Houston, as reported here by Crikey, drawing on a leaked audio recording.

Is it the disclosure that the church needed an “integrity unit” — so-called by senior pastor Phil Dooley — to check on the behaviour of its most prominent pastor? The National Rugby League has one… but a church?

Is it that the six-member “integrity unit” was composed almost entirely of men, most of whom are long-serving Hillsong figures with history with the Houston family stretching back decades? The unit, of course, was checking on claims brought by a woman about what happened over a 40-minute period in her hotel room after Houston knocked on her door, apparently confused by a combination of drink and prescription drugs.

Is it the inference that Brian Houston has only ever committed two transgressions with women, once in 2013 and once in 2019? The meeting held last Friday heard that a woman was aggrieved enough to complain and resign over text messages in 2013, and that the woman from the 2019 incident was similarly aggrieved and also took her complaint to management. So to believe that Hillsong has now come clean, we have to believe that Brian Houston’s only transgressions happened to be with women who had the courage and determination to go ahead with a complaint.

Is it that Hillsong thought it could float the idea that it was the sleeping tablets (in 2013) and the anxiety medication (in 2019) that played a role in Houston acting the way he did — and that he wasn’t really responsible?

Is it that Hillsong will solve serious claims of impropriety and push problems under the rug by paying some money to a complainant — and not much of it? The female staff member who resigned in 2013 was given two months’ salary to go and get on with her life. In the early 2000s Hillsong paid the princely sum of $12,000 to the victim of Frank Houston’s sexual abuse — a deal done in a McDonald’s restaurant.

Is it that Hillsong thought it was a sign of Brian Houston’s personal integrity that he paid money to the two women out of his own pocket rather than out of Hillsong funds?

Is it that Hillsong appears to have an ingrained culture of concealing and minimising serious allegations of sexual abuse and/or predatory sexual behaviour from the top?

Many of the men who were aware of and handled the allegations of sexual abuse of young boys made against Brian Houston’s father, Frank, in 2000 have carried on with senior roles in the church. The senior church figure who was party to paying off a man who was abused as a boy by Frank Houston was also part of the secret 2013 investigation into Houston’s inappropriate texts to the woman.

And how is it that the 2013 text incident — in which Brian Houston said he would “kiss and cuddle” a female staff member if they were together — ended up with the woman in question being paid off, without anyone else outside a close circle around Houston knowing for close to a decade?

Hillsong promoted last week’s all-staff meeting as the moment it would dispel the rumours and put forward the truth.

Yet that hasn’t happened. Far from it.

Instead it has led to more disillusionment, and it has powered a momentum for generational change and an overhaul of the Hillsong culture, particularly in relation to how it treats women.

Will there be a role for the Houstons in the future? Hillsong has been a family enterprise since its inception with Brian Houston, his high-profile wife Bobbie and son Ben, who sits on the church’s global board.

But if Hillsong thinks it has drawn a line under the Houston scandals, it may well be mistaken. It’s hard to imagine there isn’t more to come.

By David Hardaker

CONTINUED:

How do we move forward?

Edited transcript of Hillsong’s March 18 all-staff meeting

An excerpt from the meeting discloses Brian Houston's misdeeds, a call for compassion, and a damage control strategy.

IMAGE: PRIVATE MEDIA

Last week Crikey reported exclusively on allegations levelled at Hillsong’s figurehead and stood-aside global pastor, Brian Houston. Hillsong later issued its statement on what was said at the all-staff meeting but it omitted important details. To give you the full picture, Crikey is publishing a transcript of the audio recording which was leaked to us. It has been edited to remove extraneous material.

Pastor Phil Dooley, Hillsong’s interim global pastor:

At the start of this year, there was an announcement made by Pastor Brian that he would be stepping aside for 12 months, for the reason of his own personal health and emotional well-being and because of the court case that he is going to be dealing with at the end of the year. And Lucinda and I were asked to step into this interim role. And the reason why he took that step is absolutely the truth. That is why he took that step.

Prior to that, there are two incidents involving Pastor Brian that, as a board, we have had to deal with. And those incidents, firstly, involved something that happened approximately 10 years ago. [There are] two complaints against Pastor Brian and these allegations were treated very seriously. And I believe real significant steps were taken to investigate and resolve them.

The first incident involved Pastor Brian text-messaging with a female member of staff, which ended in an inappropriate text message along the lines of “If I was with you, I’d like to give you a kiss and a cuddle, or a hug”, words of that nature. That particular staff member was obviously upset by that and felt awkward and I think responded to that. [She] went to George Aghajanian and decided that she would like to leave staff because of that. And so she did. Brian was very apologetic for that. And I think, Pastor Brian, it was dealt with by George Aghajanian and Nabi Saleh.

I personally was not aware of that, as was the majority of the global board, until the end of last year, 2021. That was the first incident.

Along with that, this particular staff member came back because she couldn’t get work. Came back a few months later and said: “I’m really struggling to get a job. I feel it’s unfair that I had to leave my job the way I did, and I would like some compensation for that.”

And so it was decided that she would be paid a couple of months’ salary for what had happened to her. And so that is what happened in that scenario. Then Pastor Brian said: “I want to pay that personally, because I don’t think it’s fair on the church to pay that salary because it was my indiscretion.” So he personally paid that back.

So that’s the first incident.

[The second incident took place during the 2019 Hillsong conference.]

[It was] in the foyer, after one of the conference nights, drinking with a group, and [there was] quite a group there in the foyer of the Pullman [hotel].

And there was a woman there that from what I’m told he didn’t have any specific interaction with. And Pastor Brian had also been on anxiety tablets. What I neglected to mention is that, in the first instance with the text messaging, at that time Pastor Brian had also been struggling with taking sleeping tablets, and he’d been taking those.

And so it would appear that the sleeping tablets did contribute to his behavior, but he has taken full responsibility for that.

George Aghajanian, general manager Hillsong (interjects):

Sorry. Phil, can I just add one thing with regard to that? I’m sorry to interrupt you. He had a dependency on sleeping tablets back there, and through professional health we got him off those tablets. Totally off those tablets. So I just want to make sure everybody’s aware of that.

Pastor Phil Dooley:

OK. So, the second incident in 2019 was, like I say, the Pullman hotel, where there was a group drinking, and there was a woman [who was] part of that group who was part of our church. Not on staff or anything. And later that evening Brian had also been taking anxiety tablets. And later that evening, he went to attempt to go to his room. Didn’t have his room key, and ended up knocking on the door of this woman’s room. And she opened the door, and he went into her room.

The truth is, we don’t know exactly what happened next. This woman has not said that there was any sexual activity. Brian has said there was no sexual activity. But he was in the room for 40 minutes. He doesn’t have much of a recollection because of, he says, the mixture of the anxiety tablets and the alcohol. This woman had also been drinking. And so her recollection is not completely coherent. So, based on that, that happened. This particular woman then felt, obviously, a whole lot of conflicting emotions. She then went and spoke to someone on staff, who then spoke to someone. I think, ultimately went to Brian and Brian referred it to George. And it was brought to the attention of the global board.

The global board obviously takes these things very seriously and looks at it from the perspective of, what is our response to a matter of this nature. At this time when this happened in 2019, myself and I think majority of the global board were not aware of the earlier issue. And so, that was taken very seriously.

There was an integrity unit of four people sent to deal with this appropriately with Brian. And that was George Aghajanian, Melody Sarly, Phil Denton and Gary Clarke.

And again, this was something that was taken really seriously, and [taken from the point of view of] OK, what is the best way to deal with a situation of this nature? What does our governance say about this? We had previously been in the ACC [Australian Christian Churches], and it was: what is the ACC governance in an issue of this nature, of this category? How should this be dealt with? And it was decided based on …

And, sorry, also there were two outside sources, pastors, who were included in that [investigation unit]: Paul de Jong was brought in to be part of the process, and Chris Hodges.

And ultimately, through all of that, as you can imagine, not easy. The goal is always restoration. The goal is always health. Yes, discipline is required. But from the perspective and position of how does someone get healthy and healed from things of a sinful nature like this?

And it was decided that Brian should take three months off, and he would, in his own words, abstain from alcohol in that time. Three months from ministry work. Unfortunately he didn’t abide by that. He did conduct some ministry, I believe, on three separate occasions. And he also did, as he would say, consume some alcohol. And it was brought again to the board’s attention at the end of last year, when an email was sent to a whole group of elders. Elders are a group that are based primarily out of the Hills and the city campus in Sydney. They’re not part of the global governance. But they have been involved in processes of wisdom, prayer, counsel, all of those things.

They became aware of it. The Australian board was presented with this information. And so again, further discussion was had. And It was decided from all of that, that Brian needed to take further time off, which he did in December. And he has not conducted ministry from the beginning of December onwards.

And at the same time, it was discussed with him about his general level of health and the effect of alcohol. And his response was: “I understand. I need to deal with this, and didn’t get it right the first time.” And the board said: “Well, you need to take that extra extended time off,” which he did. And then in ongoing, it was decided, beyond that: “You need to get healthy. And so you need to take this extra time, because you’ve got the court case and because there are underlying issues here.” And that’s when I was asked — and Lucinda — to step into this role that we’re currently in.

There was a lot of conversation, discussion, back and forth, about how to deal with this, and also what statements to be made. And I think what’s happening now is, there’s people who are going: “Well, there was a statement that Brian made, that he’s taking time off, and it’s not reflective or mentioning these other issues. And therefore it could appear to be a cover-up.” I would say that I believe the board acted appropriately under the circumstances of the information that were given to them, and with a desire to see Brian healthy. And then look at, well, what does the future look like for Pastor Brian?

And so it was decided that a statement would be made that focused on where he was at with regard to his own health and emotional needs to get better, and the court case.

But in these situations, in light of what has happened, with the evidence that was before the global board, the decision was made to offer, I suppose, what I would call grace, and not to cover up but to not expose. And I think there are people who had different opinions about that, and I understand that. And the idea or desire was, if Brian would use that time to get healthy. And then, like I say, it would be considered what his future would look like. And we, I think as a church, we have always been a church that sees the grace of God expressed in Jesus. And that our desire is not to expose anyone but to give people room to be restored, and to give people room to repent, and to move forward, and to have the right people know, and the right people offer accountability and a process to move forward to health and community.

And so that is the situation with those two incidents. What has now happened is — although all the elders, the Australian board, and the global board agreed to this statement — it appears that some elders, once the statement came out, decided they don’t like the way it’s been stated. And so they have started to talk to other people. Which I suppose on one hand I understand. On another hand it’s disappointing, because that was confidential information. And I feel like if they weren’t happy with the first statement, then it would’ve been better to have said it then and worked it through then. But I suppose they would have reasons why they felt uncomfortable, or unable to do that.

So that’s where we are now. I wanted you guys to hear from me where we’re at. And I want to also say this couple of things I want to say. One is, there are victims in this. And we, as a church, are always looking out for those who feel like they have been a victim, and want to support them and love them and for them to feel safe. It’s important that anyone who comes to our church — on staff or in the congregation — feels that our church is a safe church, a church where they can come and not feel like they are going to be subject to any form of abuse or harassment. And it’s important that we all understand that, and we recognise that. And that doesn’t matter at what level someone is operating. As I say, from a senior pastor, right a way through, there are victims here, and we’re deeply sorry for those victims, and for what they’ve had to go through and what they’ve had to endure.

I think we also need to acknowledge that as a church, as a board, as a governance, we need to look at, are we doing things in the most healthy way — trustworthy? I believe we have a bunch of very trustworthy people, but as our church has grown around the world, maybe we need to look at some other things that can help us to be more careful in issues of governance and accountability and who takes responsibility. And consider where is there a power imbalance, and what we need to do to address that. So I think all of those things, I would say, are up on the table as we move forward. I would say my prayer is that we would continue to be a church that is a grace environment. We’re not about exposing people. We’re not about covering sin.

And I look at the example of Jesus, and I look at, what does the Bible say about these situations? And so that’s what I want us to keep coming back to. And we acknowledge Pastor Brian has made significant mistakes here. And no one — myself, I don’t believe anyone at a senior level — wants to cover any of that up but simply desires for him, like any one of us, to come to a place of healing. Which involves honesty, it involves transparency, it involves repentance, all of those things, and acknowledgment where there has been mistakes made. And a desire to make it right. And that has been Pastor Brian’s heart.

The only other thing is that this woman in the 2019 scenario, after this whole incident, asked for her conference fee returned and her Kingdom Builders [donation to the church].

And again, Pastor Brian with remorse said: “I don’t want the church to have to pay that. I will personally pay,” because of his desire to acknowledge where he’d made a mistake.

I just ask that we would all pray for anyone who has been a victim of any form of harassment or abuse, because it’s not right. It’s not fair. It’s not who we are as a church. And we want those people to feel like they are welcome, and loved, and cared for in our church.

But we also do want to pray for Pastor Brian, and for [his wife] Bobbie, and for their family. Because obviously there is a lot of pain associated with this. Sin is messy, and it brings all kinds of pain. My prayer is, as a church through this, we can look at ourselves honestly and ask ourselves where have we fallen short, and where do we need to repent, and ask for forgiveness, and ask God to guide us forward, in a way that is healing for those who may be hurting in this group and within our church. And my prayer is filled with hope that through all of this we can create a healthier environment, to build our church going forward. And pray that through all of this Pastor Brian will be in a healthy position, for his own life and his own future, and Bobbie also.

George Aghajanian, general manager Hillsong:

Thanks, Phil. I just wanted to just say a couple of comments here. There’s a lot of rumours around at the moment, and people are just accepting those rumours as fact. And I would encourage you to be very, very careful. And those rumours have originally started with a handful of people. A few of the elders. Not all the elders are on the same page as these few individuals. And they have talked extensively to people on our staff, and in our church, unfortunately. But they were never involved in the initial situation. They were never involved in the investigations that we conducted.

The global board is tasked with the responsibility of overseeing all of our pastors, the credentialing, the disciplining, the restoration process. Not the elders. The elders’ role is to basically pray for people, and to care for people spiritually. But beyond that they have no government’s authority in our church. And yet a very few of them are speaking as if they have a lot of authority. And the reality is that it’s the global board’s responsibility to make sure that when situations arise — whether it’s with any of our pastors or Pastor Brian — we abide by our code of conduct and our disciplinary restoration process. Which are documents that were instilled when we took over that function from the ACC several years ago now.

So I’m asking all of you to be very careful what you’re listening to, what information is shared with you. Because I personally have heard a lot of misinformation about what Pastor Brian has done, and it’s false. And I’ve heard of all sorts of information about “he’s paid hush money, and he tried to cover things up”. It’s not true.

And having voices from all around contributing into this equation is unhelpful.

Pastor Phil Dooley:

This is obviously the beginning of a conversation, and what I believe is going to help all of us. The goal is to, somehow through pain, [understand]: what is God teaching us? What are we learning? How do we move forward? And also to pray for all those who have experienced, like I say, any form of pain or harassment in any form, and continue to pray for Pastor Brian as well, and our whole church.

By David Hardaker

Brian Houston resigns from Hillsong Church in wake of allegations
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