Living it up in the name of God: See the lavish lifestyle of Hillsong Church
Few things will surprise you if you’ve been following the never-ending string of scandals involving the Hillsong Church. By now, the charismatic Christian megachurch has been accused of homophobia, abusive behavior, and slave labor. A new report from the New York Post adds “decadence” to the list of Hillsong’s sins.
Admit it: when you think of religion, you think “luxurious lifestyles”. Oh, you don’t? Then you haven’t been around the Hillsong Church elite, apparently. The Post’s article goes on at length about the ludicrous expenses incurred by its pastors & staff. Ready to resent a religious group you don’t belong to? Strap on.
“Tithing” is the fancy religious word for “donating”. Tithing is also how Hillsong Church finances all their extravagant purchases & investments, according to The Post. In fact, former members of the church claim Hillsong pastors pay for their decadent lifestyles exclusively with tithes. Basically, your donation to Hillsong Church is probably used for, say, pricey weekly manicures rather than helping the poor.
Disgruntled former Hillsong members have revealed how the church funneled the tithes into the aforementioned manicures and much more. After being collected, a chunk of the funds was distributed to pastors and their staff via PEX cards. That’s “prepaid-expense” debit cards, in case you were wondering. The PEX cards were the gateway to unsupervised spending, as long as you called it “church business”.
Ridiculously expensive meal at a members-only restaurant? Make sure you mention religion at some point and now it qualifies as church business. Want to buy your friend a designer purse? If that friend is a pastor, then it’s church business. You get the gist. The PEX cards were reloadable and many generally ended up in the hands of volunteers tasked with making purchases for the church & pastors.
Most of the people talking to The Post were either trusted with one of those PEX cards or were close enough to one of them to see how they were used. And all of the former Hillsong members remember & regret how much money they gave the church as tithes. Jenna Babbit, a former Hillsong NYC congregant, recalls tithing thousands of dollars to the church over her stint there – even when she was too poor to do so.
Babbit had access to a PEX card back in her Hillsong days. She nannied for several pastors and was given a card to take care of food for the children. She was never asked to reconcile any of the expenses, despite that being standard practice for the use of business cards. Similar testimonies from other former Hillsong members give the impression the church doesn’t care much for balancing sheets.
Even when there were attempts at Hillsong to keep track of the PEX expenses (PEXpenses?), they were half-hearted. Megan Phalon, another former Hillsong NYC member, told The Post about trying to maintain an Excel spreadsheet detailing the purchases of a pastor she worked for. The pastor could never remember what his PEX receipts were for, making the whole enterprise pointless.
Do it for Jesus
Megan Phalon also remembers how important tithing is when you’re part of Hillsong Church. Calls to give take place twice a service instead of the traditional single call. Keeping with the times, Hillsong has a proprietary tithing app meant to make digital offerings easier. Swipe right for Christ!
Phalon’s Hillsong Church memories also include vivid recollections of the high-rise apartment complex where all pastors lived. The average two-bedroom rent in the building was about $5600 a month in 2019. And then there’s the time pastors bought four-wheeler ATVs to drive around the complex. Yeah, that happened.
The collection of ridiculous expenses goes on and on. Phalon recalls being made to charge a $700 brand new iPhone to a PEX card… not even knowing who it was for. But the expenditure pattern certainly explains why Hillsong Church asks for tithes twice in one service. It’s not like iPhones & ATVs are getting any cheaper.
Hillsong Church has been characteristically uncooperative when pressed about the new accusations. Most of the pastors involved in the allegations have refused to talk to the press or redirected inquiries to Hillsong’s financial department. If only that financial department had public contact information.
On the matter of PEX cards, there’s a chance they may no longer be the preferred way for Hillsong Church to flex their financial muscles. Former Hillsong LA service pastor Nicole Herman confirmed to The Post that PEX cards were phased out of the LA branch in 2016. The reason was people were found overusing them – which makes you wonder what exactly constitutes “overuse” in the world of Hillsong.
Herman couldn’t tell if PEX cards had been discontinued by other Hillsong Church branches. But she confirmed there wasn’t an expectation of reimbursement to the church for personal purchases done with the cards. Once again, your tithing at work.
Are the Hillsong Church’s extravagant expenses out of line? Or should we not care what they do with money donated to them? Let us know in the comments!