The Hillsong mega church has been steeped in controversy for the last several years, which started with a celebrity pastor’s infidelity and recently culminated in the founder resigning due to a child sex abuse cover-up.
Pastor Carl Lentz, who famously counseled and baptized spiraling singer Justin Bieber in 2014, was fired from Hillsong Church in 2020, after it was made public that he cheated on his wife.
“This action has been taken following ongoing discussions in relation to leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures,” the Australian church’s founder Brian Houston announced November 2020.
“I was unfaithful in my marriage, the most important relationship in my life, and held accountable for that. This failure is on me, and me alone, and I take full responsibility for my actions,” Lentz posted to Instagram on November 5.
“I did not do an adequate job of protecting my own spirit, refilling my own soul, and reaching out for the readily available help that is available,” he stated. “When you lead out of an empty place, you make choices that have real and painful consequences.”
After his firing, Hillsong launched a probe into the New York City branch of the church, which was established by Houston and his wife Bobbie in 1983, and now has outposts in 28 countries.
Lentz’s wife Laura, who also worked at the church, was also fired after the celebrity pastor’s alleged mistress released a tell-all interview about their torrid affair.
“We are launching an independent investigation into the inner workings of Hillsong NYC/ East Coast,” Houston tweeted. “We need a solid foundation for a fresh start and new beginning. The best is yet to come.”
Unless Houston was referring to another salacious scandal, “the best,” hasn’t come for Hillsong congregants. In August 2021, the Senior Pastor was charged with concealing his father Frank Houston’s sex abuse crimes against children.
Frank reportedly repeatedly sexually assaulted a 7-year-old boy from 1969 to 1970 and admitted to having a “continuing problem” with his sexual attraction to per-pubescent boys.
His alleged victim, Brett Sengstock, accused Frank of trying to bribe him with hush money before his death in 2004, after he “raped, choked, and brutalized” the boy. Brian eventually sent Sengstock a check for $10,000 AUD, but not before reportedly telling him, “You know it’s your fault all of this happened – you tempted my father.”
Brian Houston was charged with concealing his father’s sex abuse in August of 2021. “These charges have come as a shock to me given how transparent I’ve always been about this matter,” he commented. “I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges, and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.”
He pleaded not guilty to the charges and faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Brian stepped down from his position as Senior Pastor in January, and formally resigned in March, after an internal investigation discovered that he himself had behaved inappropriately towards to female congregants.