Is Hillsong really that bad?

Anson L (Year 11)

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve seen/heard about Hillsong in the news… And before you come after me saying, “Anson, we’re not as sad as you are. We don’t read the news!” then note that it’s also all over TikTok, Instagram and every social media platform you can think of (even LinkedIn). But all the echoing of the word Hillsong from some news anchor to a politician in a federal chamber gets really confusing right?  

Personally, I’ve attended Hillsong services and events a few times, mainly 2-3 years ago. As a ‘new Christian’ back then, Hillsong gave me a pathway to faith. I mean the music, mosh pits, dazzling lights and games, elements of many contemporary churches. Even if these elements are not themselves core parts of faith, who wouldn’t want to experience such excitement at Hillsong on a Friday Night? 

Now at 17 (with slightly more wisdom) I look back at my ‘Hillsong days’ and wonder how such a church filled with amazing worship and loving people also is always the talk of the town, or, more accurately, the media. We all know that the media likes to play it in their favour, so what’s really going on? 

One of the longer-running stories on news media about Hillsong is about the founder’s father’s child sexual abuse scandals. Frank Houston was involved in sexually abusing a 7-year-old boy in 1969. According to the Royal Commission Hearing, 3 pastors and a Hillsong Business Manager would know about such an incident before Brian would find out in October 1999. Frank Houston would confess such acts to a small senior leadership group of the AOG (a group of Pentecostal Churches). It would later be found out that Frank Houston had committed similar acts previously.  

Brian Houston, who was the President of the Assemblies of God (AOG), upon hearing about such almost immediately informed everyone on the board of the AOG as well as suspended his own father’s ministry credentials. Nevertheless, in August 2021 he was charged with concealing a serious indictable offence of another person 

Many media sites report that Brian did not go to the police because he was trying to protect ‘his church’, Hillsong. Whilst I believe that this may be true, it’s important to remember that Brian never tried to hide such a crime, informing the Board that he was leading at the time about his own father. It should also be noted that according to Hillsong’s statements, Brian was told by the victim to not go to the police and Brian never stopped anyone from going to the police.  

In my opinion, the unnecessary media attention has caused false information to spread. Whilst I will never stand up for any actions of any form of abuse, especially child abuse, the leadership that Brian has shown in standing up to his own father should be noted.  

That, however, is not the end of Hillsong’s scandals. There have been other cases of abuse within the walls of the church. A report by 7news highlights a girl named Piper (13 years at the time) who use to attend Hillsong’s youth group and was asked to send sexual photos by a leader of the youth group. This story hits a little close to home for me personally. To imagine one of my own youth leaders possibly doing such an act, I can’t even. The culture of building relationships with young people to connect them with Jesus is important but child safety must always be the priority. It seems that Hillsong has misunderstood the boundaries of this culture.  

It hurts to even begin thinking that a place like a church is meant to be a ‘safe’ place is instead being misused by grown and mature adult leaders. Whilst everyone is bound to fall into the temptations of sin, leaders should always be held to a higher standard and never (and I mean ever) misuse the powers gifted to them by the church. 

During my time at Hillsong, my youth leaders were able to message and call me freely one on one. Whilst I believed this was a norm, I was quick to discover at my current church that any youth leader, regardless of gender, must never call and only text in a group where there is three or more because of Safe Ministry, a program enforced by the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. It should be noted that Hillsong does have a safe church framework however, given the size, I understand the difficulty to enforce such strict protocols. I pray that Hillsong and other churches facing similar issues would demonstrate the care for children and continuously strengthen such child safety programs to stop such actions from happening.  

Another story that has recently appeared is about Hillsong being accused of money laundering and tax evasion. Mr Andrew Wilkie MP has used parliamentary privilege to showcase leaked documents from a whistle-blower showcasing potentially $80 million of unreported income. Other allegations also include those members of the Houston family (Brian Houston who used to be Senior Global Pastor) had spent $150 000 of church money on a holiday in Mexico as well as “using private jets like Ubers” costing around $159 000 in a three-month period. Mr Wilkie has also alleged that Phil Dooley (the new senior Global Pastor) had spent tens of thousands on business class flights for himself and his daughter.   

If all this is true, and that the money they work tirelessly to donate knowing that there’s someone who needs it even more, it is not going to the poor, but to fund the luxurious lives of senior leadership. This would mean that the people of the church have been lied to. Even if leaders of the church were using ‘personal’ funds, God calls us to live humble lives (2 Corinthian 8:9). Private jetting and staying at top-of-the-line resorts and hotels do not suggest living humble lives. Whilst you and I cannot judge the actions of others given we are sinners and live in the top 2% of the world, I still find it hard to believe leaders of a church that continuously screams the importance of gifting to the poor would be so tempted to spend on such ‘entitled’ lives.  

Every action comes with a consequence. When leaders of a church partake in such acts, whether they know it or not, the congregation will be hurt. This doesn’t just apply to Hillsong, it applies to every single gathering of God’s people out there, big or small. The gathering of many sinners into one place will inevitably cause darkness and temptations. God calls us to live lives with him and clearly, we fail to do so every day. To anyone who has been hurt by the church, I’m sorry. I’m sorry we couldn’t do any better. It is important however to remember that when you have been hurt by the church (not just Hillsong, any church), you have not been hurt by God. God has sent Jesus to save us. 

After many years of scandals and allegations, Hillsong has recently undertaken change. The stepping down of Brian Houston leaves Hillsong under the leadership of Phil and Lucinda Dooley. Recently clear goal setting and admitting to not-so-great leadership in many aspects of the church before has shown that the values of being a church still exist.  

Only time (and God) can truly tell what happens in the future. Hillsong, like every other church, is an institution made by humans, but for all Christians, there is a hope of perfect community and fellowship under the reverence of Christ in Heaven, the one and true universal church. I pray for ever-occurring change in churches around the world to allow them to be a place of safety and a place of true worship as my 13-Year-Old Self Imagined.  

I encourage you to leave your opinions on this issue using the comments section (Right Hand Side).  

Below are the resources I utilised to create this article, do check them out!