Hillsong’s Brian Houston resigns from megachurch

Resignation comes after internal investigations found Houston engaged in inappropriate conduct ‘of serious concern’.

Hillsong’s founding pastor, Brian Houston, has resigned from the megachurch he founded in Sydney two decades ago after internal investigations found he had engaged in inappropriate conduct of “serious concern” with two women.

Houston stood down last Friday, but following another emergency staff meeting on Wednesday the Sydney-based church issued a brief statement announcing his resignation.

“We would like to advise you that Pastor Brian Houston has resigned as Global Senior Pastor of Hillsong Church and the board has accepted his resignation.

“We understand there will be much emotion at this news, and we all share these feelings. Irrespective of the circumstances around this, we can all agree that Brian and Bobbie have served God faithfully over many decades and that their ministry has resulted in millions of people across the world being impacted by the power, grace, and love of Jesus Christ.”

Over two decades, Hillsong grew from a small church in Sydney to a global brand with over 150,000 weekly attendees at its churches in 25 countries. Its brand of Christianity, which focused on rock concert-type services and attracting celebrity parishioners, proved enormously popular.

Wednesday’s statement noted that Hillsong Church “was birthed” out of Brian and and his wife, Bobbie’s “commitment to the call of God” and asked congregants to pray for the entire Houston family “during this challenging time”.

Last week Hillsong confirmed in a statement and in an extraordinary meeting involving 800 staff members that it was investigating two complaints about inappropriate conduct involving Houston, one from a decade ago and another from 2019.

The statement revealed that alcohol and prescription drugs had also been implicated in the behaviour.

“We have sadly been dealing with two complaints made against Pastor Brian over the last 10 years,” the board said last week.

At the time Houston had already stepped down from the board and from the ministry, citing unrelated reasons.

In a statement on Saturday, the church said the first incident “involved inappropriate text messages” sent to a female member of staff. The woman subsequently resigned.

“At the time, Pastor Brian was under the influence of sleeping tablets, upon which he had developed a dependence. He immediately apologised to the person. We also worked closely with Pastor Brian to ensure he received professional help to eliminate his dependency on this medication, and this was achieved successfully.”

According to the statement the second issue involved a complaint received in 2019. Following an in-depth investigation, it was found that Houston became disoriented after a session at the Hillsong conference following the consumption of anti-anxiety medication beyond the prescribed dose along with alcohol. This resulted in him knocking on the door of a hotel room that was not his, entering this room and spending time with the female occupant.

“The investigation by the integrity unit appointed by the global board found that although all parts of the complaint were unable to be sustained, important elements of the complaint were sustained and the conduct was of serious concern,” the board said

“Ultimately, the board found that Brian had breached the Hillsong Pastor’s Code of Conduct. We apologise unreservedly to the people affected by Pastor Brian’s actions and commit to being available for any further assistance we can provide.”

Houston was a close friend and spiritual guide to the prime minister, Scott Morrison, a fellow pentecostal. Morrison thanked Houston in his maiden speech to parliament and more recently was asked about whether he tried to get Houston an invitation to a White House dinner while he was in Washington.

Wednesday’s statement said Hillsong had committed to an independent review of its governance and structure and processes.

The statement said the church was praying for Houston.

Comment is being sought from Houston.


Story first published on The Guardian

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Anne Davies, The Guardian