Religion News Service - Missouri School of Journalism [Columbia MO]
November 3, 2022
By Roxanne Stone
In a video posted to his social media accounts, Brian Houston, the former leader of the Hillsong global megachurch and media empire, lashed out at the leaders of the church he co-founded, saying their public allegations against him had made his position as pastor “untenable.”
“The media and others incorrectly say I resigned because I breached the Hillsong code of conduct, but that’s just not true,” Houston said in the studio-shot video posted to his Facebook on Thursday afternoon (Nov. 3) in Australia. “I didn’t resign because of my mistakes. I resigned because of the announcements and statements that had been made.”
Houston, 68, who co-founded Hillsong with his wife, Bobbie Houston, in Australia in 1983, resigned from his position as global senior pastor March 21, less than a week after the church’s board revealed in a statement that he had sent inappropriate text messages to a staff member and had spent time in a hotel room with a woman after meeting her at a conference.
In the video, Houston, wearing a plaid sport jacket and posed in front of a blue backdrop, said he felt it was time to share his and Bobbie’s side of the story, “to bring some clarification from our perspective to the events surrounding my resignation and much of the current narrative.”
Houston returned several times in the video to how people now perceive him, complaining at one point that the Hillsong board and leadership made their statement public before he saw it and without his perspective being included.
As a result, he said, the church allowed “people’s imaginations to run wild.”
“There was enough detail to pour ultimate shame and humiliation on me but enough ambiguity to leave people to draw their own conclusions about what did and didn’t happen,” Houston said in the video.
The board’s March 18 statement was released days after news of complaints against Houston surfaced in the Australian press. In the statement, the Hillsong board acknowledged it had been “dealing with two complaints made against Pastor Brian over the last 10 years.”
The first complaint, an accusation that Houston had flirted with a staff member in text messages a decade ago, the board attributed to Houston being under the influence of sleeping medication — “upon which he had developed a dependence,” it said.
Houston addressed this point in the video, saying, “In my heartfelt apology to the Hillsong church, and the church at large, I spoke about alcohol as having not proven itself to be my friend, but sadly that has built a narrative out there that I’m an alcoholic and stories about my ‘alcoholism’ that are the result of gossip and whispering and innuendo.”
Houston said in the video that he had been apologizing for a specific instance that was “unbecoming of a pastor” but that he did not have an ongoing problem with alcohol. He cited an “expert therapist” who he said had told him he doesn’t display the behaviors typical of an alcoholic.
The 2019 incident that reportedly occurred during Hillsong’s annual conference in Qudos Bank Arena in Homebush, New South Wales, was the result of mixing alcohol with an anti-anxiety medication, according to the Hillsong board statement, which said Houston had become “disoriented.”
“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,” read the statement.
Houston addressed this complaint in the video as well, claiming that on “the notorious night in 2019,” he had “mixed a double dose of anti-anxiety tablets with alcohol.” But it was a “one-off occasion,” he said.
“It happened once. It hadn’t happened before and it hasn’t happened since. So I don’t have an ongoing problem with anti-anxiety tablets or any other prescription medication. So please don’t label me that way or blindly accept that narrative.”
The video was posted on the same day an Australian court set a trial date for Houston, who is accused of failing to report sexual abuse. Magistrate Susan Horan scheduled his hearing to begin Dec. 2, according to a report from The Guardian.
Houston was charged in August 2021 with concealing a serious, indictable offense of another person. Police say his late father, Frank Houston, also a preacher, indecently assaulted a young male in 1970. Court documents allege Brian Houston knew of his father’s abuse as early as 1999 and, “without reasonable excuse,” failed to disclose that information to police.
Houston has denied covering up the abuse.
In the new video, Houston briefly addressed the trial, saying he still plans to fight the accusations, before returning to the matter of his resignation, which he says was a “progression,” from an earlier decision that he would step aside for 12 months while the trial was going on, to the release of the board’s statement. By that time, he said, he believes “I was squeezed out altogether.”
He had hoped, he said in the video, that the board would refuse his resignation. “A big part of me hoped the board — knowing the pressure I was under — would reject my offer and continue to fight for me. But that was not to be,” he said.
As in the past, Houston decried the leadership’s ousting Bobbie after his resignation and not honoring her years at the church and the women’s ministry she built there.
“Bobbie is a beautiful woman, with immense integrity. And of course she’s done nothing wrong,” he said, noting that the gossip and rumors have affected his whole family, including his adult children.
Under the leadership of the Houstons, Hillsong grew from a small suburban church in Sydney to a Pentecostal powerhouse and multimedia empire, boasting locations around the world and an average global attendance of 150,000 weekly, pre-pandemic. Hillsong’s music program has produced some of the most popular worship songs used in evangelical churches the world over, including “Oceans,” “What a Beautiful Name” and “Shout to the Lord.”
Houston took a moment in the video to opine what could have been at Hillsong, saying he’d hoped to transition leadership of the Australian branch of the church to his daughter and son-in-law, Laura and Peter Toganivalu, who have both served as pastors there.
“Outside of a miracle, I guess that’s not likely to happen now,” he said.
He and Bobbie have made no firm plans for the future, he said. But he still plans to be in ministry and has been speaking at churches in the U.S. and Australia.
“I’m believing for an extremely fruitful next decade,” he said.
For its part, the Hillsong board has said it will undergo “an independent review of our governance structure and processes.” The web page for the global board no longer lists the members of the board but says instead “our global board and governance is currently under review. Please revert back at a later date for updated information.”