The founder of megachurch Hillsong, Brian Houston, has been ordered to appear in court. According to police, he helped conceal his father’s horrendous sex crimes against children in the 1970’s, and it’s time to answer some questions. If true, it’s a horrifying revelation that one of the world’s biggest church leaders was complicit in hiding some terrible crimes against the most vulnerable. But what is Houston accused of doing, exactly? CELEB takes a closer look.
Police Order Houston to Appear in Court
Brian Houston is going to appear in court this October to answer allegations that he concealed his father’s crimes, perhaps to keep his name clean of more controversy. Houston has been in the US and Mexico in recent months, and it was here that he was served with papers to appear and be accountable for helping cover up horrible abuses.
People reports via MSN, “Houston learned this morning he has been accused of covering up abuse allegations lodged against his preacher father, Frank Houston, relating to events that happened more than 40 years ago.
PEOPLE confirms authorities in New South Wales started investigating Brian Houston in 2019 after receiving ‘reports a 67-year-old man had knowingly concealed information relating to child sexual offenses,’ according to a police statement.”
In the 1970’s, Frank sexually abused a young boy repeatedly over several years. Frank confessed to these crimes before his death in 2004. According to police, it would seem that Brian and other church leaders became aware of the abuse as far back as 1999, but did not report it to authorities and allowed the elder Houston to retire peacefully.
Hillsong leadership released a statement that deflected blame from Brian to the victim, saying that the formerly abused child was a 36-year-old when the allegations against Frank came to light and that the victim himself could have come forward. Brian has contended that the victim did not want to go public, an assertion refuted by the victim himself. It’s a disturbing abrogation of accountability, and Brian’s statement per USA Today isn’t much better: ““’These charges have come as a shock to me, given how transparent I’ve always been about this matter,’ Houston said. ‘I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges, and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.’”
The problem is that it does not to be an issue of whether or not he knew in 1999 and had a responsibility to act; it would seem obvious both that he knew and that he should have acted. Accepting accountability for that and explaining his thought process would go a lot further than pretending innocence for something that seems to be an accepted truth already.
Hillsong’s Other Scandals
Unfortunately, this new revelation is just the next in a long line of scandals for the global megachurch. Founded in the ’80’s by Brian and his wife, Hillsong is an evangelical church with pentecostal leanings that focuses on worship through song. It was first opened in Australia but grew to multiple other countries including South Africa, Russia, Canada, the United States and others. One of the biggest pop stars in history was a member at one point, Justin Bieber. But Bieber left the church after a big scandal rocked leadership as 2020 turned into 2021.
Prior to this year, most of the scandals involving the church were limited to their waffling stances on gay marriage, possible misappropriation of funds, a music collaborator who lied about having cancer, and occasional accusations of being a cult. But in late 2020, one scandal changed the landscape entirely.
Carl Lentz, leader of the first US church, was fired after it was alleged he was unfaithful in his marriage. Vanity Fair reports, “After Lentz’s dismissal, the church also decided to put the NYC branch he oversaw under investigation. In a statement to Vanity Fair, Hillsong clarified that decision, explaining, “Since last week’s announcement of a leadership change at Hillsong East Coast, we have heard from a number of people about their experiences and concerns. It is important that we establish the truth and then do everything we can to ensure our church is both a safe place and one that seeks to glorify God in all that we say and do.’
In December, a 2018 letter from ‘high-level volunteers came to light that claimed there were ‘verified, widely circulated stories of inappropriate sexual behavior amongst staff/interns’ at the church. Hillsong confirmed the existence of this letter to Vanity Fair, adding that after a three-month inquiry into the claims, it learned that “some of the allegations were true.’”
This scandal led to Bieber and others distancing themselves from the church.
But Hillsong is not alone in being a megachurch with a disturbing hidden past. In May, former members of a Christian leadership training program in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, say that a youth pastor for the megachurch put them through horrific abuses including back-breaking labor and occasional “fight nights.”
And Naasón Joaquín García, leader of a Mexican megachurch, was recently arrested for child rape and human trafficking.
Other churches have faced scandals involving their leaders over sexual assault, abuses of power and influence, embezzlement, murder, affairs, and sexual abuse of minors. The list goes on and on. But is there something in particular that makes megachurch leaders more likely to committ crimes? The repeated phenomenon probably has more to do with the culture created by a megachurch. Often times, the leaders are worshipped to a near-frightening degree. Seen as mentors, father-figures and shepherds for people’s souls, they’re given unwavering trust and access to people in vulnerable states. Megachurches are often rolling in the dough from enthusiastic congregations and their leaders are treated as infallible and powerful. Either that sort of influence goes to their head, or they join the leadership positions because they already posses a propensity for power.
The fact that Brian Houston seems to suggest that the victim should have been the one to legally handle his father’s crimes shows how disconnected he is from reality. In legal reality, if someone – especially someone powerful – is given information about crimes committed against children, they are expected to take the necessary steps to see justice done. More and more in recent years, society has turned towards the expectations that leaders should be held accountable. Houston will appear in court October 5th and maybe they’ll let him off with the excuse that it was someone else’s responsibility, but that seems unlikely.