I feel like I’ve written this story before.

Christian leader in powerful position faces accusations of causing hurt to those he should be serving.

The latest face to front this ignominious headline is Hillsong founder Brian Houston, who resigned as Global Senior Pastor from Hillsong Church following investigations into two complaints made against him over the last 10 years.

What actually happened?

According to Hillsong Global Board’s statement, around a decade ago, Houston sent “inappropriate text messages” to a staff member while under the “influence of sleeping tablets, upon which he had developed a dependence”.

Then in 2019, after a Hillsong conference and “consumption of anti-anxiety medication beyond the prescribed dose, mixed with alcohol”, Houston “became disoriented” and knocked on a hotel room door that was not his and spent 40 minutes in the room with a woman. 

Ultimately, the global board found that Houston had breached the Hillsong Pastor’s Code of Conduct, and it was agreed that he would “take specific action including stepping down from leadership for a period”.

However, Hillsong noted that Houston “failed to take all of the agreed steps which resulted in further action being taken by the board in late 2021”.

Houston had been on a period of leave when he turned in his resignation this week.

This is the latest piece of news to rock the megachurch.

It follows a spate of controversies in recent years like Houston’s ongoing court battle to defend a charge accusing him of covering up his late father’s sexual abuse of a young male, former Hillsong NYC pastor Carl Lentz’ moral and leadership failings and the church’s offering of VIP experiences in worship concerts

Much of that news is disappointing. It might even well be enough to make one question one’s faith.

What really turns my gut, is how I had praised the “grace” in Houston’s response to Lentz’s dismissal as though he were not that same man.

My opinion, but I think there’s been more than enough grace for this type of indiscretion. I think we could use more righteous anger, more justice.

According to an ABC News investigative report, interim Global Senior Pastor Phil Dooley clarified in an emergency staff meeting that the decision to let Houston resign was an offer of “grace”.

“I think we have always been a church that sees the grace of God expressed in Jesus and that our desire is not to expose anyone,” he said.

Interim Global Senior Pastor Phil Dooley

Again, I get it. But I have some tension with that sentiment when I weigh up Ephesians 5:11.

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

“Sin is messy and it brings all kinds of pain,” Pastor Dooley added. 

Indeed it is, and the mess and hurt that is left afterward will require hands of determination, courage and compassion.

I pray Pastor Dooley will have those hands, and that he and his team will create real kingdom change.

They have much to do, in constructing a new culture and ensuring oversights like these never happen again.

What does change look like?

I believe one aspect of change begins at the corporate, organisational level.

The leading man or woman sets the example and the tone, and it should thus come as no surprise that breaches of conduct happened elsewhere in the chain if the top was compromised.

A dogged, rigorous approach to exposing, punishing and preventing sexual harassment is needed.  

Which is why I’m a little cynical at the decision by the Hillsong Global Board to accept Houston’s resignation, as well as some of the vague wording in the statements.

If I’m being hard on Hillsong, it’s because I understand what it’s like to be in the victim’s position. I have whistle-blown similar things before. 

Big organisations must be nimble, agile and willing enough to tackle inconvenient issues like sexual harassment. 

Who am I to judge?

It could have been me or you.

I mean that in two ways. In this fallen world, we could all too easily be the aggressor or the victim.

No one who goes to a house of God expects to be sexually harassed.

No one who starts off loving the Lord and pioneering a church with miraculous growth imagines the conclusion to such a life story to be one surrounded by shame and sordid speculation.

In this fallen world, we could all too easily be the aggressor or the victim.

To care well for those we serve in church, we must be blameless. To finish our lives and ministries well, we must be blameless.

To be blameless, we need to be hyperaware of what could trip us up and make us miss out on fulfilling what God intends for our lives.

Dealing with sin where we find it

All that to say, we need to deal with sin. After all, we all have sin in our lives and sin surrounding us. I’ll try and illustrate this:

  • Sin in the generations
  • Sin in the ranks
  • Sin in the personal life

Sin in the generations might look like a history of sexual abuse (and this would be no fault of yours), substance abuse and addiction.

It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but we need to be aware of how wrongdoing wreaks persistent and pervasive effects through time and even through family trees.

Sin in the ranks has more of a corporate focus.

If you see wrongdoing, sexual harassment or abuse in the workplace, don’t stay silent. Don’t stay silent for a wrongdoer out of friendship or under the guise of grace.

Speak up, whether it’s for an intern or against the CEO. Raise it immediately to the relevant authorities. You are doing so for the sake of integrity, safety and Christian witness.

If you are Human Resources or the relevant authority like the manager, then how you respond to the complaint is crucial.

Exercise empathy. Don’t victim-blame or sweep it under the carpet. Understand and execute the protocols in place so that the victim is heard, cared for and lasting justice is meted out. 

Have the tenacity to see the process through to completion. Follow-up and investigate where and what you must, even if it gets ugly.

I’m really only scratching the surface of what an appropriate corporate response should be, so I encourage you to read Christianity Today‘s recent report “We Fell Short in Protecting Our Employees“, which displayed vulnerable clarity.

Finally, we must deal with the sin in our personal life.

Anger, uncontrolled, can quickly turn a workplace toxic. Indeed, wrath is a problem that is only exacerbated when we come to hold positions of power over others.

Are we struggling with lust? An addiction to pornography, just for example, may make a man or woman more vulnerable towards moral failings. 

Substance abuse is another massive red flag. It’s not something to be hidden away, but something we should get treated for without shame or stigma.

We all need someone to call us out, someone willing to wound us for the sake of our walk with God.

Vices, whether our own or passed down to us, must be brought into the light and checked by people who are committed to your holiness and have power to speak and act in your life. 

We all need someone to call us out, someone willing to wound us for the sake of our walk with God.

These are people whom you can call on for accountability, prayer and practical help at every hour of the day.

We will always need such people in our lives, especially in seasons and moments when we are weak.

After all, what you spend 40 years building can all too easily be blown up in 40 minutes.

  1. How are you dealing with sin in your own life?
  2. What is one thing you can do to help ensure clear-headed living in your own life and in your circles?
  3. Have you ever experienced or seen sexual harassment whether in the church, workplace or some other setting? How did you respond?