How Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston’s fall from grace played out over five days

ABC Investigations / By Lorna Knowles

a man standing behind a lectern holding up his hand
Brian Houston founded Hillsong Church in 1983 and steered it through global success and controversy.(Supplied: Facebook Hillsong Church)

Three years ago, Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston tweeted: “Failure is never wasted if you are teachable, humble and transparent enough to grow and change.”

Yet it was a lack of transparency from Hillsong that has sparked a major rift within the mega-church and led to the unravelling of Mr Houston’s legacy.

Mr Houston and his wife Bobbie established the church in 1983 in Sydney’s north-west.

Today, it is a global empire with ministries, a 24-hour television channel and colleges across six continents and has attracted celebrity worshippers such as Justin Bieber, Chris Pratt and Kylie Jenner. 

In January, the 67-year-old announced he would step aside as the church leader to defend a criminal charge that he had concealed his father’s child sexual abuse.

He made no mention at the time of two women’s complaints about his own inappropriate behaviour. 

This angered a group of Sydney-based church elders, who believed it amounted to a “cover up” by the board.

Last week, one elder resigned after reading a letter from one of the female complainants to his leadership team.

Unable to contain the leaks, acting Hillsong senior global pastor, Phil Dooley, decided to act.

On Friday, he called an emergency meeting of 800 global staff to detail what he described as Mr Houston’s “indiscretions”.

The revelations were extraordinary and have sent shock waves through the church, with some asking why Mr Houston was permitted to resign and was not sacked.

During the emotional Zoom conference, Pastor Dooley denied any allegations of a cover-up, stating the board acted appropriately under the circumstances.

He said the decision was made to offer “grace”.

“We have always been a church that sees the grace of God expressed in Jesus and that our desire is not to expose anyone,” he said.

Pastor Dooley and the Hillsong Global Board said an investigation into two incidents involving Mr Houston — almost a decade apart — found he breached the church’s moral code for pastors.

The church said Mr Houston engaged in conduct of “serious concern”, and offered an unreserved apology to his “victims”.

In a detailed letter sent to members, the church said Mr Houston sent “inappropriate text messages” to a female staffer in 2013. 

Pastor Dooley said the texts were along the lines of: “‘If I was with you, I’d like to kiss and cuddle you, words of that nature”.

The female staff member was “obviously upset and felt awkward” and complained to Hillsong general manager George Aghajanian before resigning.

Mr Houston apologised immediately and later paid the woman a few months salary as compensation.

a man in suit surrounded by reporters
Brian Houston leaves the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse hearings in 2014.(AAP: Mick Tsikas)

The church said at the time, Mr Houston was under the influence of sleeping tablets, which he had developed a dependency on.

Though the church has since helped Mr Houston kick his dependency, medication would later play a role in another incident at an annual conference opened by his friend Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

In 2019, Mr Houston “became disorientated… following the consumption of anti-anxiety medication beyond the prescribed dose, mixed with alcohol”.

The church said Mr Houston was drinking with a group of people and after being locked out of his hotel room, ended up knocking on the door of a woman who he met earlier in foyer of the Pullman Hotel.

The woman, who was not a member of the church, opened the door and Mr Houston went into her room and spent 40 minutes there.

Pastor Dooley said “no sexual activity” was reported, but the woman raised it with the church’s leadership team.

The investigation did not uphold all parts of her complaint but “important elements of the complaint were sustained and the conduct was of serious concern”.

“Ultimately, the board found that Brian had breached the Hillsong Pastor’s Code of Conduct,” the global board said in a statement published on the weekend.

It was decided that Mr Houston would take three months off, during which time he would abstain from alcohol. Pastor Dooley said he unfortunately did not keep his promise.

It was brought to the board’s attention in December — just before he announced he was stepping aside due to the court case.

Yesterday, Pastor Dooley called another emergency meeting to inform staff Mr Houston had resigned

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Play Video. Duration: 1 minute 52 seconds
Hillsong pastor Phil Dooley announces the resignation of founder Brian Houston.

Former Hillsong members who were shunned by the church for “moral failings” told the ABC they were devastated by the findings against the church leader.

Though the church apologised for his behaviour, it thanked Mr Houston and his wife for their commitment and service to Hillsong and said it would pray for their wellbeing.

Pastor Dooley said announcing Mr Houston’s resignation was one the hardest days of his life.

At the helm of the country’s dominant Pentecostal force, Mr Houston steered Hillsong through scandal after scandal, including allegations of worker exploitation, misuse of grants and anti-gay stances.

But yesterday was the final fall from grace for the embattled pastor, who has remained silent from his home in California since the complaints were aired.

He is not expected to return to Australia until his criminal trial begins in December.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is yet to issue a statement about his friend Mr Houston, who he thanked in his maiden speech to federal parliament in 2008.

A man in a suit with grey hair and glasses looks solemn.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is yet to make a public statement about Mr Houston’s resignation.(ABC: Adam Kennedy)

Mr Houston made global headlines in 2019 after the Wall Street Journal revealed that Donald Trump’s White House rejected repeated requests by Mr Morrison’s office to include him on an exclusive guest list to a state dinner.

Pastor Dooley will remain in the top job until a successor is found, and has acknowledged a “change is needed”.

In the meantime, the church board says it will review its governance structure and processes to prevent a repeat of past mistakes.

As Pastor Dooley told his followers on Friday: “Sin is messy”.

About Editor, cairnsnews

One of the few patriots left who understands the system and how it has been totally subverted under every citizen's nose. If we can help to turn it around we will, otherwise our children will have nothing. Our investigations show there is no 'government' of the people for the people of Australia. The removal of the Crown from Australian Parliaments, followed by the incorporation of Parliaments aided by the Australia Act 1987 has left us with corporate government with policies not laws, that apply only to members of political parties and the public service. There is no law, other than the Common Law. This fact will be borne out in the near future as numerous legal challenges in place now, come to a head soon.

Posted on March 24, 2022, in ABC, churhes, General and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. In response to Jo, no one was forcing people to be a part of the Hillsong Christian community.
    They chose to be there, as it was.
    Imperfect like all of them.

    On that basis, this latest announcement will be disappointing for a good many.
    For the ‘sheep’, but not so much the ‘goats’.
    In a church that big, you have both.

    It seems that there have been those who have remained relentless in their pursuit of a Megachurch that touched people’s lives for good on some level.

    As lindesymonds has noted….will they ever get to the bottom of it?
    Probably not.

    He said. She said.

    I don’t defend Houston. I wasn’t there.
    He answers to his God, not me.

    Destroy the Christian Church. Destroy the Family. Destroy Nationalism.
    It’s important to know (((their))) mantra…
    (Albert Pike)

    When they achieve (((their))) goals, we will all pay the price.

    The world just becomes a darker place.

    Like

  2. I get it that in a Post Christian society the leaders of the Church, Christian denomination, Christian congregation, faith community, meet-up or what-have-you are always assumed to be paedos, corruptos, degenerates, running-a-religion racket, god-bothering moralizers and do-gooders. And some of them are, no doubt. Read the Book of James. So it always pleasing to see the Tall Poppy ground.

    For the anti-Christs nothing is going to change it that a lot of people want to be Christians and we want to be organised as Christians. So the conflict along these lines will continue.

    What do we have here ? Brian Houston built a Hillsong megachurch empire that was worth millions and attracted celebrities. He has been charged with covering up his father’s sexual abuse. It goes without saying that people are usually not open and transparent about their sexual indiscretions – let alone crimes of abuse. They take great pains to conceal these.
    So the cover-up layer of a sexual abuse trial netted Brian and he stepped down as church leader to defend a criminal charge. Very good.

    And this brings things out of the woodwork which had probably been lying in wait for the Tall Poppy. Namely female complainants. This is such a convention in any series of unfortunate life events it deserves to be a card in the Illuminati Card Game.

    The Church Elders will never get to the bottom of these complaints, innuendoes and victim support networks.

    Like

  3. once, just once, I would love to see one of these evil, narcissistic, psychopathic, scumbags end up behind bars – trial in December? what a charade

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Prime Minister Scott , well is also guilty he did know what – and still is going on… And many who want, and need to speak up, but are very afraid…

    Like

  5. “a church that sees the grace of God expressed in Jesus” and act accordingly would be most desirable.

    Unfortunately, falling from grace seems to have become a habit of the “modern Christian shepherds” that are pretending to lead their “sheep” towards Jesus.

    Hillsong ministries” is just another “Christian” church that exchanges money for blessings and false promises. An money spinning industry ever expanding while building an international empire “in the name of God or Jesus as the son”.

    To spread the completely made up modern American gospels of health and wealth including the demand for “donations” to the church “while remembering that God will reimburse you tenfold”, Christian (Mega) churches have become multi billion dollar industries – but NOT in the name of God or Christ but of the same money changers that Jesus once vehemently opposed.

    The last “church” founded that saw the grace of God expressed in Jesus was founded by Francesco d’Assisi in 1210 AD and where “riches from this world” had no place among their followers. “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps” was the foundation of the Franciscan order. Completely opposing the “modern American” versions of Christianity that have influenced and furthered “spiritual decay” in man and a money changing grip on the worldly realm and the human soul.

    Houston, Morrison & Co have never walked in Christ’s footsteps, but are both poor images of mankind that perfectly fit into what our world has become.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “There won’t be a WW3. Ed”

    That’s a great relief Ed. I’ll pass that info onto Putin, the Private Dancer & the US/NATO so they can all relax.

    Like

  7. In response to robirobrobyn, it is likely all churches will be “looking at their governance structures” at the moment.

    This “new governance structure” will be looking to embrace a One World Religion led by the National Council of Churches.
    With the Pope’s blessing.
    In which case churches will quite possibly “govern” quite differently in the future.
    You could see that coming.

    Hillsong has undeniably been a target for quite some time.
    Those who sought to bring it down (yet again) must be salivating at the mouth.
    Despite having planks in their own eyes.

    Sadly we all know that alcohol is good for breaking down inhibitions.
    Particularly the non sexual ones flirting ones.
    But a Pastor should know better.
    A little wine for the stomach sake was all the good Lord ever recommended.

    “sin is messy”?
    I’m still trying to work out how it’s a Criminal act to not report suspicion of sexual abuse as a private citizen.
    If you can actually get anyone to believe you.
    Particularly in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

    Does that count for Parliamentarians too?
    Historical cases?
    A Criminal Act to not report them?

    I hope so.
    More planks in more eyes.

    Like

  8. Quote
    In the meantime, the church board says it will review its governance structure and processes to prevent a repeat of past mistakes
    Unquote

    In other words patch up the leaks so no more leaks will happen in the future..

    Like

  9. There won’t be a WW3. Ed

    Like

  10. Oh come on, what a beat up! Talk about ‘much ado about nothing – or next to nothing.

    I never have, or will, set foot in a Hill Song Church and believe the entire set-up is. let’s say, a bit sus.

    But people are dying of covid jabs, we’re on the brink of WW111 and this bloke did what?

    Get a grip.

    Like

  11. Mr Morrison should follow….

    Like

  12. What a fucken charade. Thank God He is not the god they worship.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. They are all in it together.
    How many people have been arrested from Jeffrey’s Island crew?
    Where did the Bloke disappear to that had historical child abuse claims about Slowmo?
    Who are the 28 paedophile Government officials who have been superseded for 99 years?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Keen to see where this now leads…

    Liked by 1 person

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