As Hillsong Church founder, Brian Houston prepares for his upcoming trial in Australia, he has decided to step down temporarily from leading the megachurch.
Houston said he’s resigning from “all ministry responsibilities” until the end of 2022, pending his legal battle over charges that he concealed child sex offenses committed by his late preacher father Frank Houston. Brian and the church have repeatedly denied the allegations. This is happening in the midst of numerous scandals rocking the church.
In a statement received by The Post in August 2021, Houston acknowledged, “These charges have come as a shock to me given how transparent I’ve always been about this matter. I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges, and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.”
“As I have said, most of you know the court case I am facing is related to circumstances surrounding my father, and I need to be fully committed to preparation and engagement with the case and work closely with my lawyers in defending this charge,” Houston told churchgoers in Sunday’s announcement. “I have said, including in a prior statement, that I intend to fight the charge and welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.”
Speaking about his decision to step down, Houston in an announcement posted to the Australia-based church’s website wrote:
“In September last year, I learned it was necessary for me to step aside as a director of all Hillsong boards during this season, enabling me to give attention to these charges.
“But recently, we made a decision that may come as a surprise to you, and I want you to hear it from me directly.”
At the recommendation of “Hillsong’s external legal counsel”, the decision was reached in December 2021 for Houston to “step aside completely” from the leadership of the multinational church he and wife Bobbie founded in 1983.
“The court processes are likely to be drawn out and take up most of 2022 (especially considering the backlog in the courts, exacerbated by the COVID pandemic).
“We have talked about the effects of the situation with my father, which go back many years up to the current legal case, and the impact this has had on me emotionally. The result is that the Hillsong Global Board feels it is in my and the church’s best interest for this to happen, so I have agreed to step aside from all ministry responsibilities until the end of the year.”
In an Instagram post, the couple’s daughter Laura Toggs in reference to her father’s resignation added her 65-year-old mother, Bobbie, will “remain fully engaged in church life” during Brian’s “sabbatical.” Bobbie is not charged in the case, which claims Brian concealed his father’s pedophilia.
Upon charging Houston in August 2021, officials for Sydney’s Royal Commission on Institutional Leaders’ Handling of Sexual Abuse told publications “Police will allege in court the man knew information relating to the sexual abuse of a young male in the 1970s and failed to bring that information to the attention of police.” The charges carry a maximum sentence of up to five years behind bars and followed a two-year investigation of Brian’s father Frank Houston’s sexual abuse of Brett Sengstock, then 7 years old, in 1969 and 1970.
Sengstock, one of the accusers stated the late Frank Houston who died in 2004 at age 82, “raped, choked and brutalized” him, then attempted to bribe him with $10,000 (AUD) via a hand-scrawled contract on a McDonald’s napkin. The Post previously reported the payoff was allegedly sent as a check in the mail from Brian himself after his father Frank apparently failed to complete the agreed transaction.
Brian is charged with failing to turn over evidence concerning the crimes of his father, whose ministry career was functionally terminated after Brian sacked him in 1999, the Guardian reported in 2014.
Representatives for Hillsong have repeatedly denied claims that Brian Houston covered up his father’s crimes. They stood their ground, declaring: “We are disappointed that Pastor Brian has been charged, and ask that he be afforded the presumption of innocence and due process as is his right. He has advised us that he will defend this and looks forward to clearing his name. Given that this matter is now before the court, neither Pastor Brian or Hillsong Church will be making further statements. We thank all who are a part of our church for their support and prayers at this time.”
Hillsong, which has drawn the likes of Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Chris Pratt and Kylie Jenner as members, has faced several waves of controversy in recent years. Pastor Carl Lentz, Bieber’s one-time spiritual confidante, was fired in 2020 over “moral failures” amid reports he had multiple extramarital affairs. Pastor Darnell Barrett stepped down last April after sending explicit photos to at least one of his followers.
The church is the subject of Discovery+’s upcoming three-part docuseries Breaking Hillsong, which will explore the “headline-making world of global star-studded megachurch Hillsong and the downfall of its ultra-hip, celebrity senior pastor, Carl Lentz.”
Despite repeated delays, the case has been adjourned to March 3, according to local outlets.
Tamera Glenn loves to write about events happening around the world.