The founder of Hillsong, the global megachurch that has attracted celebrities and young people, has resigned after an internal investigation determined he behaved inappropriately towards two women.
Brian Houston, the Australian pastor who co-founded the Sydney-based church with his wife Bobbie, had already stepped down as the director of all Hillsong boards in January. Houston said he needed time to defend a criminal charge that he concealed child sexual abuse by his father, who was also a pastor.
However, on Friday, the global board of the church stated that it had also been dealing with complaints from two women about Houston. An internal investigation determined that he had breached the church’s code of conduct.
The acting head of the church, Pastor Phil Dooley, announced at an emergency all-staff meeting Wednesday that Houston had resigned as global senior pastor of Hillsong and the board had accepted it, Australian media reported.
The church issued a statement online, saying it had committed to an independent review of its governance structure.
“Hillsong Church was birthed out of Brian and Bobbie’s obedience and commitment to the call of God and we are extremely grateful for all that Brian and Bobbie have given to build His house,” it stated. “We ask that you continue to pray for them, and the entire Houston family, during this challenging time.”
The church also apologized for Houston’s actions.
“We apologize unreservedly to the people affected by Pastor Brian’s actions and commit to being available for any further assistance we can provide,” it stated.
The first incident the church investigated, from 2013, involved “inappropriate text messages” sent to a female staff member that resulted in her resigning, the statement said.
“At the time, Pastor Brian was under the influence of sleeping tablets, upon which he had developed a dependence,” the statement continued. “He immediately apologized 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.”
The second complaint was received in 2019. In that instance, the board said Houston became disoriented after consuming anti-anxiety medication beyond the prescribed dose and mixing it 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 statement said.
Although Dooley said the woman reported “no sexual activity,” Houston spent 40 minutes in her room. And he was “extremely remorseful,” the church stated.
The scandal was yet another blow to the reputation of the church, which has faced a string of controversies involving its pastors, including accusations of racist and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and exploitative behavior towards volunteers.
According to its website, Hillsong has churches in 30 countries and on six continents. It’s famous for appealing to young people with its upbeat atmosphere and music. According to the church, its worship tunes are sung by an estimated 50 million people in 60 languages.
The church has also attracted celebrity worshippers, like Justin and Hailey Bieber, Chris Pratt and Vanessa Hudgens.