Hillsong responds to Royal Commission findings with their Standard Honesty and Accountability

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There is no question that the  National Executive of the Assemblies of God Australia covered up Frank Houston's  sex crimes against children.  Yesterday's report released by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse outlines the way in which Hillsong leader Brian Houston mishandled the investigation into his own father's sexual crimes against children. 

The full report is here and the media have highlighted the conflict of interest that existed when Houston jr as the President of the National Executive of the Assemblies of God in 1999 then confronted his father. The report also admonishes Brian and the AOG Executive for failing to report the matter to the police. 

There is no question that the leaders covered up what they knew. The documents Hillsong tendered to the Royal Commission in 2014 minute it specifically. That Frank, founder of the church that became Hillsong, had committed such crimes was not the issue. The prayer and concern was for the Houstons. But we'll talk about that in a minute. 

The outrageous part is that in all the years following, you'd hope there'd be some kind of recognition of responsibility, some transparency, some ongoing apology even for no better reason that great PR. Yet denial and refusal to think of victims first is still the way Hillsong responds.  Wasn't us. A long time ago. Not our problem. 

Nothing's changed. 

Nobody has ever denied this would be hard for Brian Houston. To have to confront your own father about child sex crimes would be a living nightmare, especially Frank Houston, who claimed to have raised the dead. The power Houston Sr. wielded over congregations and his family is indescribable. But Brian knows that to whom much is given, much will be required. And he's been given a whole lot of much. 

So let's look at how Hillsong media (Brian) responded to yesterday's report:

Hillsong Church supports the objectives of the Royal Commission and our hopes and prayers are that this will help bring peace to those who have been abused, and that there will be a dramatic change in the way abuse allegations are dealt with, particularly by those institutions that have previously let down those in their care. 

It would be ridiculous for Hillsong  NOT to support the Royal Commission. There's also an easier way to "bring peace to those who have been abused" and that's to acknowledge them, apologise to them, attempt to compensate them, and focus on making sure it never happens again.  But here it only talks about "those institutions"

This Royal Commission did not directly involve Hillsong Church. The abuse committed by the late Frank Houston, the father of our senior pastor Brian Houston, occurred many years before Hillsong church existed, when he was a credentialed Assemblies of God minister in New Zealand.

Yes it did. The Royal Commission required Brian Houston to explain how he responded to finding out his father had abused boys when Brian was head of Hillsong in 1999, where Frank was still preaching up until May of that year. Frank had started Sydney Christian Life Centre. Under that umbrella, Brian started Hills Christian Life Centre in Baulkham Hills which changed its name to Hillsong.  That rose by any other name was the same rose. 

The abuse occurred in Coogee in Sydney, when Frank would visit from NZ. Either the suggestion is that the abuse occurred in New Zealand or that Frank was only credentialed in New Zealand. Either way, the distancing of Hillsong from their founding father is sad and deliberately misleading.  As well as this, several others have since come forward and abuses took place by Frank at least into the 90s if not beyond, while he was at the helm of the church that became Hillsong. 

We note that the findings of the Royal Commission contain the same information that was dealt with during the hearings, about which Pastor Brian spoke extensively both within the Commission and to media at the time.

We are confident that the actions of Pastor Brian, from the moment he discovered the news about his father, were done with the best intentions towards the victim. The findings of the Royal Commission confirmed that his actions resulted in the perpetrator being immediately removed from ministry.

Interestingly, Frank had been retired in the May of 1999, whether because his dementia or his crimes were becoming too apparent. However, when the special meeting was held in the Qantas Club of the executive board members on the 22 December 1999, the minutes as tendered to the Royal Commission state that

"F. Houston's credentials to be withdrawn forthwith

 He be invited to enter the AoG restoration program

 He refrain from public ministry for 12 months

 He not receive his credential until the NSW Superintendent recommends to the National Exectuive at the expiration of at least 2 years

 He be offered counselling support if required."

There is no indication here that Frank was to be permanently removed. 

It should be emphasised that Pastor Brian is not a perpetrator of abuse, has never been accused of abuse, and took immediate action to expose and stop a child abuser.

Why should this be emphasised? I would hope it was a given that Brian is not a child abuser, though many have written about other forms of abuse they believe he has enacted upon them, verbal, financial, spiritual... It's disappointing to see that Brian is once again the superman and centre of the story. Not the victims. Again.

Here are the facts that are indisputable and were part of the evidence given at the Commission by both Pastor Brian and the victim of his father: 

  • The victim was a 36 year old adult when this abuse became known and could have taken the matter to police himself at any time.
  • The victim did not want Pastor Brian or others to go to the police or to make this matter public.
  • At no time did Pastor Brian attempt to dissuade anyone – including the victim – from going to police.
  • Pastor Brian immediately reported the abuse to each board member of Sydney CLC and also the executive of the Assemblies of God, the denomination that issued the ministry credentials for Frank Houston.
  • The perpetrator, Frank Houston, was immediately removed from ministry by Pastor Brian and church leadership and never ministered in the church again, ensuring no child was placed in danger. He is now deceased.

The only thing that's indisputable about this is that Frank is dead. Whether or not the victim/s wanted to go to the police is still a matter for conjecture. How immediately the actions took place is highly debatable, as is how many other children were put at risk. 

Frank was moved to another church. They were told to treat him like royalty and were not informed of his back ground.  Hillsong continued to pay his bills and accommodation until he died 5 years after the admission. 

The statement the Executive made to AoG  churches around Australia dated 8 December 2000 refers to a "serious moral failure" that Frank had admitted to that took place 30 years prior. 

This statement, tendered to the Commission says:

"Frank has accepted that he can no longer minister and we would request that you not invite him to engage in any public ministry. At the same time we would encourage you to extend love and care to Frank, his wife and his family. "

But if the cover up wasn't clear enough, the PS has to be:

Note: This statement has been prepared as a response to individuals if they hear rumours and approach the Executive for clarification.It will only be used publicly if rumours become so extensive that the National Executive makes a decision to make a public statement or if Frank Houston fails to fulfil his commitment to abstain from all public ministry. Neither the Australian or the New Zealand Executive will publish this statement without reference to the other. 

In terms of the findings of a “potential or perceived” conflict of interest, it is easy to look back many years with hindsight, however Pastor Brian acted in the best way he felt at the time and took decisive and immediate action against his own father.

Whether or not Brian knows what a conflict of interest is remains to be seen. No one has, well before the Royal Commission anyway, told him he couldn't have whatever he wanted. But I guess as long as he did what he felt best, that's all the victims need. 

And all the reassurance anyone would need that kids are safe there today. As long as Brian's doing what he feels is best, everything should be A-OK.  

Please keep yourself and your kids out of Hillsong. They lied then. They're lying now. And they'll lie when it comes to you. 






Getting even more banned from the place where Everyone's Welcome

It was about midday on the 8th of September and I was just about to go out. I heard a man call out "Hello?" and I went to the door. There's lots of construction going on in my block so there's lots of tradespeople around.

There stood a man who was wearing a leather jacket and he had a couple of papers in his hand. He sort of looked around and said he had a letter for me. He didn't ask who I was or for any ID. He handed me a piece of paper with a Hillsong logo on the top. Its title was Banning Notice. 

He showed me the email he had been sent with his instructions. He said he'd just come from Sydney which is about an hour and a half from my house, depending on which part of Sydney you mean. 

"All the way just for me?" I asked him. "Yes," he said. The email had said he would be paid $132. It was from Hillsong legal. Tim someone. 

He told me that he had nothing to do with either party and that I probably wanted to shred the paper. Hardly. "You've probably had lots of dealings with this guy," he said. "No actually", I told him. He had called himself a court processing server, but he produced no ID either. Still, he didn't seem to really know what was going on. 

We shook hands and said our goodbyes, and I came inside and started shaking. I don't know why. Maybe because I hadn't slept enough the night before. Maybe because I was just about to go shopping and this was out of the blue. Maybe because the document just didn't make sense to me at all.  And I wound up crying a lot. These things can affect you in different ways. 

After my arrest on 1 July, this year, which is something I'll be talking much more about soon, there's no way I have any interest in darkening their doorsteps any time soon. As it was I had not been near any Hillsong branches in over ten years, so there seems no need to remind me. 

What is puzzling me most is the similarity to the original 'banning notice' from 2005, which I dug up recently from an eon ago. 


Who writes these things? Why have they used the same phrase 'significant disruption' again? What does this even mean? All it does it reinforce a tag line I can use at a later date. 

But as I've always wanted to know, How could you cause significant disruption at Hillsong, unless maybe you were Justin Bieber. They still can't name the deeds of which I am accused. But they seem to really like the wording. Ten years later. 

Do I honestly have to go and help with their PR machine because it's really, really bad?

The author of this letter, George Aghajanian, has been the General Manager and Brian Houston's right hand man for a long time now. He was also a friend of my dad's. After he signed off on the first letter above in 2005, he called my dad up and said, "So, what do you know about a book?" 

These people will send your daughter a banning letter and call you up in the same breath and pretend to be your pal. Maybe that's why I cried. Same shonkiness. Different decade. 

Don't trust them with anything, most of all writing official letters. As a dear funny friend of mine wrote on Facebook, "For people with all that money to spend on plastic surgery, you'd think they'd spend money on real lawyers."

Weird. There wasn't even an envelope for the paperwork. 

Some people have called it intimidation and harassment. I don't know but it felt creepy. And I've got a feeling this isn't going to make sense any time soon. 

Oh and yes, you are all welcome to attend Burwood Local Court on 1 October to see me on trial for trespass. #asweforgivethose :)

An Open Response To An Open Letter

Hi John, 

Thank you for taking the time to write your open letter. As I can't find a place to respond on the site, I thought I'd get in touch here. Open letter to open letter style, I guess, like Sinead O'Connor to a lot of people. Makes me feel a bit like Miley Cyrus and I I like it. It's like we're pretending to have a private conversation, but really it's like a public debate. Sign o' the times. 

It is clear you've read my story and understood it. Your empathy in quoting my writing is apparent. You have identified the charm of the early church and the warm community feel. You've also noted my losses. Much appreciated. 

It's not worthwhile to address each point you've made. There is however, some misunderstanding. You say that I "wanted a horde to rush after you when you left. But you only had Jewels, who was a jewel for being there ." Not true. It was just shocking at first to receive no contact from people who had sworn black and blue they were your spiritual family. Later, of course, I learned that this is the experience of many people who leave churches such as Hillsong. Often, their disappearance is associated with a hidden sin, or failure to submit to leadership, in hush hush kind of rumours. Thus, most people, in good faith and belief in the leadership, don't associate themselves with the perceived outsider, leaving that person quite isolated.  This can have devestating effects on people. 

You are quite right in your concerns that Hillsong is no longer subscribing to some of the doctrines it was when I began writing over ten years ago. It's very clear that there are changes. The book "You Need More Money" is now the source of great embarrassment, although at the time, it was touted as a message from God. It is now impossible to buy a copy of it anywhere in Australia, directly due to Pastor Brian Houston's documented regret over it. 

I must ask you at this stage, John, does this not ring any alarm bells for you? That the senior pastor of such an influential organisation now regrets that which he, at the time, claimed to be the truth he received from God? 

In the old days, that used to make someone pretty clearly a false prophet. And you know what Jesus said about false prophets, I'm sure. 

Or maybe I'm not so sure. You see, although you identify as a Christian who does not attend Hillsong, at no point in your letter do you quote a Bible verse, or talk about God or Jesus Christ.

Rather, you refer to Live, Love, Lead by Brian Houston as if it were the 5th gospel. You quote Houston as if he a credible storyteller, when in actuality the book is largely a work of badly constructed fiction, or at best, based on a true story. 

Don't even start me, John, on the excerpt from the Australian that you mention regarding the handling of Houston Sr's pedophilia by the AoG and by his son. It was reprehensible in its distortions, omissions and untruths.

Had you argued your point from a Christian point of view, quoting the Bible at all, then perhaps we could have interacted from the same place of understanding. Of course I am an atheist, but I know my bible, which I was taught was the foundation of Christianity, not a church or a man. 

Hillsong has nothing to do with Christianity. While I appreciate your concern that my claims might become more wild and radical as time goes on, as happened to the agent in your story, I assure you that if you read the mail I received, you would consider my public assertions quite tame.

Hillsong certainly has changed, but I can't take this as a given from Live, Love, Lead. In ten years' time, it may go the way of other 'regrets' that Houston initially felt were from God.  I am often told that there is no perfect church. Of course not. But this organisation is not benign, or suffering from some human error here and there. It is inherently a destructive system that leaves a lot of silent collateral damage by the way side. 

This statement of yours  I find remarkable though :" It’s time you had a good look at Hillsong again. Some things are very different. If you are unable to go because Hillsong does not want you there, send a trusted friend." 

Do you not find it odd that a church does not want a person? Given for the non stop quest for exposure, I don't need to attend in order to see what, if anything, Hillsong is about. The broadcasts are widely available. And I'm surprised that as a Christian, you find it has anything with Christ or his teachings. 

If it's true as you say, that "We Christians often let down people who move to the fringes of our congregations, and then leave," then all I can wonder is why there is not more care for them? Do you not wonder where they end up? 

I can tell you where they are, because they write to me about the anguish, the betrayal, the costs and the crimes that were committed against them. The trauma can be very long term and very severe, while of course, many leave Hillsong unaffected, or with a positive report. But even if they are the 99%, what about those others? 

Why do they not matter to the church as they did to Jesus in Luke 15:4 where he said:

"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

What about the 1%,? No matter what Houston writes or how big Hillsong grows, when will the 1% matter? 

Please write openly again, John. I appreciate your appreciation. But let's consider things from a Christian point of view, a science-based point of view, or both. Pastor Brian Houston represents neither of these, and quotes from him or his writings do little to reassure me of any truth, given how as you point out so rightly, Hillsong's messages from God have changed so very much over time. 



P.S. I'm glad you had a laugh-out-loud moment anyway. It's great that Brian and I both agree on the ponytail situation of old. 





Touch Not the Lord's Annointed Music


That's the headline to this article which outlines the concerns Hillsong music has that 

"Despite the demographic of our audience being predominantly Christian, sadly we are not immune to the challenges posed by music piracy"  This was written in a submission to an inquiry on the government's draft copyright laws. 

There are so many Reasons Why This Is Funny that I'm having trouble starting but here goes:

1. Hillsong already makes a truckload out of their music. It's the music that helps with the giving, the music that forms so many good feelings and gets people addicted. It's central to the show and the whole community. The songs are part of the faith, the soundtrack to it...are they not doing well enough already?

2. Is it really a surprise that Hillsong fans are pirating their music, despite it being their version of Christian? This is a church of no theology, where everything is OK and God only does nice and good things. There's no great drama about sin or repentance or hell, so there's not really a whole lot of right and wrong. And they expect their followers to be morally stringent? Cute. 

3. Despite Hillsong claiming to be a Christian religion, nothing is free. Does it cost money to make their music? Sure, but not as much as most production companies. But crazy thought here: what if they gave stuff away? and not just the stuff that was easy to give away like other people's time and money? Imagine if they just gave a whole lot away, or gave to anyone who asked? It would be, at the very least, some damn fine press. 

4. A not so funny Reason why this is absurd is that I am not aware of what else Hillsong feels strongly enough to lobby government for. I haven't seen them demanding government responds to their Christian outrage about the threats to Aboriginal communities, or violence in families, or substance problems, or homelessness or the suicide epidemic in Australia. Very obvious issues to address using Jesus's commands, yet they stay silent. 

But don't steal their music. Don't touch their profits. Because where your treasure lies, there your heart lies also.