The Roys Report [Chicago IL]
May 1, 2023
By Josh Shepherd
An investigation into embattled Hillsong Church by the top-rated news outlet in Australia has uncovered new revelations of financial and sexual misconduct, as key sources go on-the-record for the first time.
“Hellsong: Hillsong Church Global Investigation” first aired on Australia’s 7News on April 23 and released Friday on YouTube.
The 45-minute documentary reveals more evidence of sex abuse cover-up at Hillsong and new details of pedophilia by Frank Houston, father of Hillsong founder Brian Houston. The film also features an exclusive interview with Geoff Bullock, a worship pastor who helped found the Hills Christian Life Centre, which became Hillsong. And it reveals evidence that Houston, whose career seems dead in Australia, may be launching a comeback in the U.S.
Speaking on camera for the first time, a young woman and former Hillsong member, Piper Cameron, alleged that a male Hillsong youth leader asked her for nude pictures when she was 13. Cameron provides evidence that her mother contacted Houston about the youth leader’s behavior, but nothing happened. The youth leader is not named for legal reasons.
“(There) is a pattern of protecting the leaders and not the people of the church,” said Cameron. “I don’t think Jesus is at the core of it.”
Cameron’s uncle, Dave Lillo-Tynes, said in the report that he met with two Hillsong pastors, who claimed the teen had “initiated some of this contact.”
Lillo-Tynes responded to the host: “In my head I was like, ‘Mate, she’s a teenage girl. This guy’s an adult youth leader.’ It was a clear-as-day moment in my mind where I was like: We’re never coming back.”
Last year, Houston resigned as Hillsong’s global senior pastor after an internal investigation revealed he acted inappropriately toward two women.
In a statement after “Hellsong” aired, Hillsong Church admitted to “past governance shortcomings” without addressing specifics. It added that a “Safe Church Office” was established in 2016 to “receive and respond to complaints or concerns relating to the safety and well-being of children and young people.”
Also, exclusively in this 7News report, worship leader Geoff Bullock—who wrote “Power of Your Love” and dozens of other Hillsong praise choruses—shares his perspective as an insider from the church’s founding.
“I remember the early days when it was genuine,” said Bullock. He is shown in pictures with the Houston family in the early 1980’s and claims he came up with the name “Hillsong.”
But Bullock said it all became “a show,” adding: “Prayer and pop music were a match made in Heaven.”
Years later, when he raised questions about the direction of the megachurch, Bullock said he was told to leave. Commenting on Houston’s leadership style, Bullock said one tenet is that “people are replaceable.”
‘Perverted’ abuse by Brian Houston’s minister father
The documentary recounts disturbing alleged incidents implicating Frank Houston, revealed to be a serial pedophile following his death in 2004.
One of the elder Houston’s first alleged victims, David Cowdrey, speaks in an interview taped in New Zealand, where the Houston family lived during the 1960’s. Cowdrey, then seven years old, related being sexually abused by Frank Houston on multiple occasions.
During loud charismatic worship and prayer services hosted at the Cowdrey family’s home, Cowdrey recounted how Frank Houston would quietly leave the living room and walk down the hall into the boy’s bedroom.
“I just remember what I described to my parents as the ‘black shadow’ coming into my room,” said Cowdrey, today in his mid-60’s. “It was sexual intent. He put his hands on my penis and scrotum, and slid his hands around toward my anus . . . I was absolutely just so scared, I couldn’t do anything.”
Disclosures like this from sources are given greater impact by the special’s lead reporter Tom Tilley, who reveals at the outset that he grew up attending a Pentecostal church. Tilley asked Cowdrey why leaders of Frank Houston’s church didn’t warn anyone when the family left New Zealand and started a new church in Sydney, Australia.
“They hang on to that Scripture that says, ‘Don’t talk of things done in darkness.’” Cowdrey said. “So they keep it all undercover . . . it’s perverted.”
Failed reboot in Australia and desperation sale
Brian Houston is facing an ongoing criminal trial in Sydney, Australia. The court is seeking to prove that, from 1994 to 2004, Houston intentionally covered up his father’s pedophilia and only offered information to police after his father died.
Court hearings began last December. But just prior to that, Brian and Bobbie Houston tried to stage a ministry comeback event in Sydney. It attracted “fewer than 100 attendees” according to 7News, showing undercover footage of people standing in only a few front rows.
At the same time, the Houstons sold their home for $4.5 million and began to sell off closets full of designer clothes—such as an Isaia pinned striped suit that retails for $5,000—via social media.
“That’s probably the saddest thing I’ve seen in all of it,” said Bullock, commenting on the high-end items for sale. “The total shamelessness of it. It’s like, how can you make this worse?”
Such timely events make this investigative report stand out from other recent Hillsong documentary efforts, including a BBC-backed film released in 2021, last year’s Discovery+ docuseries, and upcoming four-part FX docuseries titled The Secrets of Hillsong.
In March, Australian independent MP Andrew Wilkie used parliamentary privilege to make public thousands of pages of financial records. The 7News special recounts some of the lavish spending revealed in those documents.
For instance, during one 2019 trip to the U.S., Houston spent $55,000 in church funds to charter a private jet to fly him and two colleagues from California to New York City. That same trip, he spent $7,000 in church funds on a multi-night stay at the Soho Grand Hotel in Manhattan. And he charged over $12,000 to Hillsong for a shopping trip at upscale fashion store Tom Ford.
Relaunch in U.S. as ‘protected species’?
In a final segment, “Hellsong” follows Brian Houston to the U.S., where he has had several speaking engagements over the past year.
On March 26, Houston delivered the Sunday message at Church Unleashed in Long Island, New York. In clips from the live-streamed sermon, Houston references a Scripture passage from 1 Chronicles 16 (“Do not touch my anointed ones”) and relates it to his own ministry.
“The Bible teaches us that you cannot touch God’s anointed one,” said Houston. “In other words, they’re a protected species.” Houston continues: “But the Scripture says, Touch not My anointed. The devil can’t touch what God has put on my life.”
Following the sermon, 7News reporter Liam Bartlett waits until local pastor Todd Bishop enters the parking lot to ask him how much his church paid Houston for his speaking engagement. His questions are ignored.
“It’s the ultimate hypocrisy, pastor,” said Bartlett, as the door slammed in his face.
Tilley, author of an upcoming memoir titled Speaking in Tongues, told TRR he was “acutely aware that an exposé like this can feel like an attack on someone’s faith” and said he aimed to report it fairly.
“The goal is to challenge the ethics of church leaders that are harming their followers,” Tilley told TRR. “(Believing) their pastor has God’s authority, people trusted him with their lives and their faith. When that sacred trust is broken, those church leaders need to be held accountable.”