Hillsong Church

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Group.png Hillsong Church  
Hillsong Church logo.png
Founder• Brian Houston
• Bobbie Houston
HeadquartersNew South Wales, Australia
Australian Christian sect with political connections to both main parties. Sexual assaults, etc.

Hillsong Church, commonly known as Hillsong, is a global Christian megachurch based in Australia.[1] The church, originally called Hills Christian Life Centre, was established in 1983 in Baulkham Hills, New South Wales, by Brian Houston and his wife Bobbie. Hillsong is primarily known for its worship music.

Hillsong Church reports 150,000 regular attendees in 23 countries.[2] In Australia, the denomination reported 30 churches and 43,000 regular attendees in 2018.[3]

Political influence

Hillsong Church has attracted support from high-profile politicians, especially from the Liberal Party of Australia, but also from the Labor Party. In 1998, Brian Houston met with the prime minister of Australia, John Howard, and most of his cabinet at Parliament House in Canberra before sharing prayers.[4] In 2002, Howard opened the Hillsong Convention Centre at the Baulkham Hills location.[5] In 2004 and 2005, the Treasurer of Australia, Peter Costello, spoke at its annual conferences. Mark Latham, the Leader of the Opposition, declined Hillsong's invitation to the 2004 conference,[6] although Bob Carr, the Premier of New South Wales (from the New South Wales Labor Party), attended the 2005 conference.

Hillsong's high-profile involvement with political leaders[7] has been questioned in the media, and publicly, the church has distanced itself from advocating certain political groups and parties, including the fledgling Family First party.[8] Brian Houston has replied to these criticisms by stating, "I think people need to understand the difference between the church being very involved in politics and individual Christians being involved in politics."[9]

In 2008, Sydney inner city publication Central Magazine stated that Hillsong had donated A$600 to a Member of the Legislative Council, Kristina Keneally (ALP), for the tickets of a fundraising dinner, featuring the New South Wales' planning minister, Frank Sartor (ALP), as a guest speaker one month before the 2007 state election,[10] despite Hillsong's own statement of corporate governance declaring that "Hillsong Church does not make financial contributions to or align itself with any political party or candidate."[11] A Hillsong staff member, Maria Ieroianni, said that no donation had been made and that the dinner was not a fundraiser. Hillsong also issued a statement on their website denying that the money was a donation.[12] According to the Central Magazine article, Keneally has described the dinner as a fundraiser and the money from Hillsong as a donation. The article also states that these descriptions are confirmed by the records of the NSW Electoral Commission.[13]

Prime Minister Scott Morrison opened the 2019 Hillsong annual conference, shortly after the May 2019 federal election.[14][15]

Founder's lack of reporting of child sexual abuse by his father

Frank Houston, the father of Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston, was a pastor in New Zealand and Australia who sexually abused boys over the course of his ministry.[16] One of the nine identified victims was routinely subjected to sexual abuse in the 1960s and '70s when he was 7 to 12 years old.[17][18][19] In 1999, his mother reported the abuse to the Assemblies of God denomination. Although Brian Houston, then National President of the Assemblies of God denomination in Australia, was legally obligated to report the crime, he did not do so. Brian Houston stated that he felt it a reasonable excuse not to report the crime when it came to light at such a time that the victim was an adult, and at a time when the victim themselves did not want the crime reported (an assertion that was denied by the victim).[20][21] The victim later testified to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that Frank Houston offered him AU$10,000 as compensation at a McDonald's in the presence of Nabi Saleh.[22][23] During an internal church investigation, Frank Houston eventually confessed to the crime.[24] The commission also heard that he was involved in the sexual abuse of other children in New Zealand.[25][26] Frank Houston resigned from his church in 2000, which now lacking a pastor, was merged into Hillsong Church.[18][25][27] A further internal investigation by Assemblies of God in Australia, in conjunction with the Assemblies of God in New Zealand, found six additional child sexual abuse allegations that were regarded as credible.[28][19] On 5 August 2021, NSW Police issued a warrant for Brian Houston to attend the Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney on 5 October, alleging that Houston concealed child sexual abuse by his late father, Frank. Houston was in the United States at the time of being charged. He has denied the charges[29] and his lawyer stated he intends to plea not guilty.[30]

Media sexual assault coverage

In early 2021, Vanity Fair, the Christian Post, and News.com.au reported that a female student at Hilsong Leadership College named Anna Crenshaw had been indecently assaulted by a Hillsong employee named Jason Mays. In January 2020, Mays had pleaded guilty to indecent assault and received two years probation and mandatory counselling. Though Mays received a 12-month ban from ministry, he was subsequently reinstated to his ministry role and volunteered with singing at worship services. Crenshaw criticised Hillsong's leadership for downplaying the incident and not holding Mays accountable for his actions.[31][32][33] Hillsong founder Brian Houston subsequently apologised for a Tweet questioning Crenshaw's version of events.[33] That same month, several Hillsong Leadership College students penned a letter criticising the church leadership for allowing Mays to remain on staff despite his indecent assault conviction.[34]

In September 2021, 60 Minutes aired a segment called "Hillsong Hell" featuring Crenshaw and a second woman known as "Katherine". The Melbourne-based "Katherine" alleged that she had been raped by a fellow church member on church premises in 2018. Both women alleged that Hillsong had ignored their complaints and tried to downplay the incidents.[35][36][37] According to 60 Minutes, Hillsong see themselves as the victims when they are criticised and care more about protecting themselves than investigating accusations, noting that Mays pleaded guilty to assaulting Crenshaw and was sentenced to two-years probation, though retained his job at Hillsong and afterward shared a social media post questioning her version of events and gave an interview with Eternity portraying the church as the victim of allegations.[38]

Hillsong criticised the 60 Minutes report, saying it was "factually wrong, sensationalised, unbalanced and highly unethical". Hillsong stated that it had investigated both incidents and reported the indecent assault on Crenshaw to police in May 2019. Hillsong defended its decision to retain Mays on the grounds that the magistrate had described the offence as "low-level", that Mays had expressed remorse for his actions, and that Crenshaw's account was contradicted by other witnesses. Hillsong also claimed that "Katherine" had been unwilling to provide details about the date the alleged rape occurred and the identity of the alleged perpetrator, and was unwilling to take the matter to the police.[35][36][37]

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  1. https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/video/1079197763797/What-is-Hillsong
  2. Hillsong Church, About Us, hillsong.com, Australia, retrieved 30 May 2020
  3. https://hillsong.com/policies/annual-report-australia/
  4. Houston, Brian; Houston, Bobbie (2003). The Church That I See.…. Hillsong Church. p. 122.
  5. Houston, Brian; Houston, Bobbie (2003). The Church That I See.…. Hillsong Church. p. 142.
  6. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/10/18/1097951626689.html?from=storylhs&oneclick=true
  7. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2005/07/04/1120329387287.html
  8. http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2004/s1154131.htm
  9. http://www.smh.com.au/news/National/Church-expands-horizons/2005/05/03/1115092503070.html
  10. http://www.redwatch.org.au/media/080312cena?searchterm=hillsong+keneally
  11. https://web.archive.org/web/20060128111148/http://www2.hillsong.com/church/default.asp?pid=16
  12. https://web.archive.org/web/20080901200145/http://www2.hillsong.com/church/default.asp?pid=2001
  13. http://www.redwatch.org.au/media/080312cena?searchterm=hillsong+keneally
  14. https://christiantoday.com.au/news/a-call-for-rain-pm-scott-morrison-leads-prayers-on-the-first-day-of-hillsong-conference.html
  15. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/pm-asks-for-more-prayers-more-love-at-hillsong-conference
  16. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/19/sex-abuse-victim-pursues-hillsongs-brian-houston-over-crimes-of-his-father
  17. https://www.9news.com.au/2018/11/19/07/18/sexual-abuse-survivor-describes-his-ordeal-at-hands-of-pedophile-pastor
  18. a b https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/in-depth/royal-commission/father-of-hillsong-founder-given-retirement-package-after-child-abuse/news-story/ee980a698634cb3dcd224684fe51331b quote=Frank Houston's resignation letter to the City Hillsong Church in November 2000 makes no mention of the allegations. 'I hereby wish to tender my resignation ... as I feel it is time for (his wife) Hazel and I to enter retirement', says the letter.
  19. a b https://ghostarchive.org/varchive/youtube/20211222/4g2FgAu1NYw
  20. https://www.preda.org/2019/hillsong-founder-brian-houston-refused-to-answer-questions-over-fathers-child-abuse-police-told-mps/#:~:text=October%2030%2C%202019-,Hillsong%20founder%20Brian%20Houston%20refused%20to%20answer%20questions,child%20abuse%2C%20police%20told%20MPs&text=death%20in%202004.-,Brian%20Houston%20has%20defended%20not%20reporting%20his%20father's%20confession%20to,to%20go%20to%20the%20authorities. |website=Preda Foundation, Inc. quote=Brian Houston has defended not reporting his father's confession to police, stating he had a 'reasonable excuse' because he said Sengstock had said he did not want to go to the authorities. He also said that because Sengstock was an adult when the abuse was first reported, it was his prerogative to report it. Sengstock has denied telling Houston not to go to the police.
  21. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/28/sexual-abuse-victim-of-hillsong-founders-father-blasts-pm-for-supporting-brian-houston quote=In an interview with 2GB host Ben Fordham on Thursday, Brian Houston said Sengstock told Houston he did not want the police informed, at the time the church leader found out about his father's abuse. 'He told me that he didn't want the police involved,' Houston said. 'And the reality is that the law itself actually spells out that very circumstance – that if an adult victim doesn't want the police involved, that's a reasonable excuse for not including the police.' Speaking to the New Daily later on Thursday, Sengstock denied he had said that.
  22. https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/royal-commission-sex-abuse-inquiry-censures-hillsong-head-brian-houston-20151123-gl5esn.html
  23. https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/hillsong-leader-brian-houston-breaks-silence-on-paedophile-father-it-was-wrong-not-to-report-him/news-story/6530b4352962bc835e8fb2f906d657cf
  24. http://childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/downloadfile.ashx?guid=e61d7a26-4426-4c6b-81eb-afe03dd000f1&type=transcriptpdf&filename=Case-Study-18:-Submissions-of-Counsel-Assisting-the-Royal-Commission&fileextension=pdf quote=Pastor Brian Houston said that his father spoke to him over a number of years about assuming the position of Senior Pastor at Sydney Christian Life Centre. In May 1999, Frank Houston suddenly retired from the position of Senior Pastor at Sydney Christian Life Centre and asked Pastor Brian Houston to take over his position. Pastor Brian Houston was the only nominee for Senior Pastor put to the Board of Sydney Christian Life Centre for approval. From May 1999 Pastor Brian Houston was the Senior Pastor of both churches for a period of 18 months. In that year the two churches merged and in 2001 were renamed Hillsong Church. Today Hillsong Church is an affiliate of the Australian Christian Churches, successor of the Assemblies of God.
  25. a b http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-07/royal-commission-child-sexual-abuse-investigates-hillsong/5795308 quote=AHA said he saw a television address by Brian Houston, who was now the senior Pastor of the church, around the year 2000 when he told the congregation that his father had been involved in a minor indiscretion in New Zealand 30 years ago. He said he was appalled that Brian Houston did not reveal the extent of allegations against his father, including his case. 'He avoided using the term paedophilia', AHA said. 'I thought it was corrupt that he had used the phrase "involved in a minor indiscretion". 'As far as I was aware Pastor Frank was still preaching at this time and was also doing seminars.'
  26. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/nov/23/hillsongs-brian-houston-failed-to-report-abuse-and-had-conflict-of-interest-royal-commission
  27. http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/church-failed-to-follow-procedure-for-sex-abuse-allegations-royal-commission-hears-20141009-113hwq.html quote=Frank Houston, the founder of the Sydney Christian Life Centre, which merged with his son Brian's Hills Christian Life Centre to become Hillsong Church, wrote to churchgoers in November 2000, informing them of his resignation due to 'retirement'. 'I hereby wish to tender my resignation from the staff and eldership of the City Hillsong Church as I feel it is time for (my wife) Hazel and I to enter retirement', he wrote. 'It has been a privilege to minister in the church and to work with you all.' Minutes tendered to the commission show that at a November 2000 meeting of the senior ranks of the Assemblies of God, now known as Australian Christian Churches, it was agreed that Frank Houston should be thanked for 'his immeasurable contribution to the church'. The provision of 'financial support' for Frank Houston and his wife was discussed at the same meeting.
  28. https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/sites/default/files/ACC.0001.001.0004_R.pdf
  29. https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/hillsong-pastor-brian-houston-charged-for-allegedly-concealing-child-sexual-abuse-by-his-father-20210805-p58g7z.html?instance=2021-08-05-17-14-AEST&jobid=29323648&list_name=5DEA52C4-9053-4732-AD2E-AED0B6AE8078&mbnr=MjAyODEwMzM&promote_channel=edmail&utm_campaign=pm-news-smh&utm_content=TOP_STORIES&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_term=2021-08-05
  30. https://web.archive.org/web/20211005002139/https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/hillsong-co-founder-brian-houston-will-plead-not-guilty-lawyer-tells-court-20211005-p58xag.html
  31. https://web.archive.org/web/20210509041655/https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2021/02/carl-lentz-and-the-trouble-at-hillsong
  32. https://web.archive.org/web/20211011065320/https://www.christianpost.com/news/after-assault-by-hillsong-church-administrator-she-fought-back.html
  33. a b https://web.archive.org/web/20211008071451/https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/news-life/hillsong-abuse-victim-slams-heartbreaking-response-from-brian-houston/news-story/c65f0124eed1d908529e8589daa17d94
  34. https://web.archive.org/web/20210918212922/https://www.news.com.au/national/nsw-act/hillsong-students-blast-church-over-anna-crenshaws-assault/news-story/cbe1a0f370988640b8439331e56e33b2
  35. a b https://web.archive.org/web/20211005233554/https://www.news.com.au/entertainment/tv/current-affairs/hillsong-hits-back-at-60-minutes-story-labels-it-gutter-journalism/news-story/36e380433e9540d5396d928b86e21fcf
  36. a b https://web.archive.org/web/20210922124224/https://www.christianpost.com/news/60-minutes-airs-new-allegation-of-rape-at-hillsong-church.html
  37. a b https://web.archive.org/web/20211007113925/https://www.christiantoday.com/article/hillsong.church.responds.to.documentary.on.rape.and.assault.allegations/137421.htm?internal_source=ct_most_popular
  38. https://web.archive.org/web/20210921060818/https://9now.nine.com.au/60-minutes/60-minutes-hillsong-members-tone-deaf-response-to-assault-allegations/a465f265-f4f3-4590-a81d-c9f78a484cc5
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