Megachurch founder quits amid sex scandal probe
The founder of Australian megachurch Hillsong, Brian Houston, has resigned after it was determined that he had breached the church’s code of conduct at least twice over the past decade by behaving inappropriately toward two women. The New York Times reports that the 67-year-old's resignation came after an internal investigation by the church's board.
In recent decades, Hillsong became a multimillion-dollar enterprise. At its peak two years ago, it had congregations on six continents, as well as an average weekly attendance of 150,000, according to the church. It counted among its congregants stars such as Justin Bieber, Kylie Jenner and Selena Gomez.
In the wake of the board investigation it has apologized “unreservedly” to two women who had accused Houston of inappropriate behavior. In a statement the board said, “We acknowledge that change is needed.”
Last week the board disclosed it had uncovered one instance in which Houston had sent "inappropriate text messages" to a member of the staff and had spent considerable time alone with another woman in her hotel room in Sydney, where she was attending a conference. That woman later filed a complaint.
In a video leaked to the Australian news media, the pastor who replaced Houston said, “The truth is we don’t know what happened next. The woman has not said there was any sexual activity. Brian has said there was no sexual activity, but he was in the room for 40 minutes.”
The church said that Houston paid the unnamed women an undisclosed amount of money. The staff member was given the equivalent of two months’ salary and he compensated the woman he had met in Sydney for her fee for attending the conference and for a donation she had made to the church.
Houston stepped away from his ministry duties in January, saying he needed to fight a criminal charge of concealing past child sexual abuse by his father, Frank Houston, also a pastor.
The Australian police charged the younger Houston in August 2021 with one count of concealing a serious indictable offense, alleging that he “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.” Houston has denied the accusation.
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