Is Hillsong Church a brewery of abuse? See the latest allegations
Since last fall, it seems like Hillsong Church’s house of cards has come crumbling down. The mega ministry claiming celebrity members like Chris Pratt, Justin Bieber, and members of the Kardashian family is facing a litany of abuse allegations, including unfair labor practices, sexual abuse, and homophobia.
The latter isn’t new. Actor Elliot Page called Chris Pratt out for his Hillsong membership on Twitter, citing reported church policies barring queer members from becoming leaders, despite Hillsong Church’s claim to welcome everyone.
Will the slew of new allegations prove to be the end of Hillson, though? Let’s dive into the latest info dump we got about Hillsong and see if the church can recover its reputation.
Cleaning toilets for God
Hillsong preaches prosperity gospel, a belief that wealth is tied to faithfulness. Per an incredibly long article from Vanity Fair, summed up by Jezebel, Hillsong told its members their tithes were spiritual investments that would make them richer in time and therefore allow them to move up the ladder in Hillsong. However, according to some ex-Hillson workers, upward mobility had a little more to do with toeing the line.
A former Hillsong Sydney employee told Vanity Fair: “If you complain, you’ll keep cleaning toilets. If you don’t complain, you can climb the ladder.” The source further elaborated that people who Hillsong called “the called” would see themselves moved up, and whether or not you were “the called” had to do with your giving to the church and not questioning what the leaders said.
People at the bottom of the prosperity totem pole not only worked for free – some of them paid for the privilege. According to Vanity Fair, interns would pay $4,000 to work with Hillsong, taking on jobs like cleaning up vomit, and reportedly work from 5:00 AM to well after midnight on Sundays. Called the “Hillsong Hangover”, Vanity Fair reported volunteers were unable to perform their jobs following strenuous weekends.
Moving on up
However, once volunteers got to move up, some alleged they were exposed to cronyism. Ashley Jones, a Hillsong volunteer, explained to Vanity Fair that once she was promoted to launch the Hillsong NYC choir, she was instructed to make last-minute replacements if a celebrity or a higher-up wanted to sing instead.
“It was really difficult calling people a few hours before they’re supposed to sing on the platform to tell them there’s been a last-minute change because a pastor’s new girlfriend wants to sing onstage”, she said to Vanity Fair.
Jones, an African American, was also reportedly excluded from planning a Black History Month celebration. After going to a meeting unannounced, Jones allegedly discovered Hillsong slated a “‘blue-eyed, blond-haired woman who has a reputation for singing Black’ to perform “Amazing Grace” backed up by Black singers in the shadows”. After calling out leadership, they said they “qualify the called”, a popular Hillsong saying.
There were also the people who couldn’t move up because of who they are. In 2015, a gay couple who led a Hillsong choir group was reportedly asked to step down when they came out. When asked to elaborate, former Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz elaborated:
“Hillsong’s position on homosexuality and gay marriage has not changed and is consistent with Scripture. As I have stated previously, I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject . . . It is my understanding that they (a choir director who came out and his partner) have not been involved in an active leadership or ministry role since.”
Speaking of Carl Lentz, more sex abuse allegations have come out since Carl Lentz was ousted for cheating on his wife last fall. The New York Times later detailed Lentz’s “inappropriate sexual behavior” with multiple volunteers.
Per Jezebel, the church flat-out denied one sex abuse allegation in an email to their congregation: an alleged confession from Frank Houston, father of current church leader & co-founder Brian Houston, who allegedly confessed to committing child sex abuse in 1999.
“From the moment Pastor Brian discovered this shocking news, around 20 years ago, he has always been very open and clear about the circumstances around this, and our church has stood with him and his family”, Hillsong detailed in their email.
However, the accusations don’t end there. Anna Crenshaw reported she was molested by church volunteer Jason Mays at a party. “I felt his arms and hands wrapped around my legs making contact with my inner thigh, butt, and crotch,” she detailed in a report. Mays also allegedly kept her from leaving. Mays denied the incident.
Although several witnesses corroborated Crenshaw’s account, he was still with Hillsong, placed on administrative leave.
In February 2018, a group of Hillsong interns wrote to church leadership about multiple abuse allegations, including an intern who was reportedly verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive to other Hillsong members. “What do you do when you discover the shepherds are part of the problem?” the letter asked.
Per Vanity Fair, this is how former pastor Carl Lentz replied:
“Most of the things you have said here, I know absolutely nothing about. There are others that seem to be a mix of opinion and judgment that is premature and one-sided and that too is understandable. I would ask that you simply add, even in your own processing right now, phrases like ‘from what I know’ and ‘in my opinion’ rather than ‘this is the state of our church.’”
Now that Lentz is gone, his friend John Termini is reported to be “quietly taking over” Hillsong NYC. Per Vanity Fair, Termini has a history of covering up allegations. He once told William, a volunteer going by a pseudonym, he “needed to defend the church the way that Termini would defend his wife”. This was after William raised allegations against Hillsong.