Founder of Australia’s Hillsong Church Resigns Amid Scandals

MELBOURNE, Australia — Brian Houston, the founder of the Australian megachurch Hillsong, has resigned after an internal investigation found he had breached the church’s code of conduct at least twice over the past decade by behaving inappropriately toward two women.

The resignation, the culmination of a series of scandals surrounding the church, was announced by Hillsong’s board in a statement published on Wednesday that said, “We acknowledge that change is needed.” There was no immediate statement from Mr. Houston acknowledging his resignation.

Mr. Houston’s resignation comes after he stepped away in January from his ministry duties, citing a need 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 Mr. 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.”

Mr. Houston has vigorously denied the accusation, saying that the allegations “came as a shock to me, and it is my intention to vigorously defend them.”

His resignation came as another potential blow to Hillsong, which grew out of the merger of two organizations: Sydney Christian Life Center, founded by Mr. Houston’s father in 1977, and Hills Christian Life Center, founded by Mr. Houston himself.

In recent decades, the church has become a multimillion-dollar enterprise, standing at the cutting edge of evangelicalism and Christian youth culture. 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.

Its thousands of congregants included stars such as Justin Bieber, Kylie Jenner and Selena Gomez, as well as others drawn to the church’s pop-inflected worship music, powered by a successful record label.

For decades, Mr. Houston had been Hillsong’s charismatic face, known as a friend of Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and photographed with high-ranking officials and celebrities alike. More recently, the church has been a target of scandal and criticism, much of it connected to its leadership.

A statement from Hillsong’s board published last week said that Mr. Houston, who is married, had sent “inappropriate text messages” to a staff member and had spent time alone with another woman in her hotel room in Sydney, where she had attended a Hillsong conference. The woman subsequently filed a complaint, a church official said.

“The truth is we don’t know what happened next,” said Phil Dooley, the pastor who replaced Mr. Houston, in a video leaked to the Australian news media. “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.”

In both cases, the church said, Mr. Houston had 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.

In the board’s statement on Wednesday, it said, “We are committed to doing what is necessary to ensure God is honored, and our eyes are fixed on Jesus.”

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