A number of major disclosures came during a highly emotional all-staff meeting this morning.
Earlier today Crikey reported that an all-staff meeting was set to take place within the Hillsong megachurch to address rumours of moral transgressions involving its former “global pastor” Brian Houston.
Now we can report on what was said…
Brian Houston’s hold on the Hillsong church which he built over more than two decades into a national and international phenomenon is now, incredibly, under question following an extraordinary all-staff meeting which was hastily called today after rumours grew of moral transgressions involving the church’s most senior figure.
A number of major disclosures came during the highly emotional meeting. Senior Hillsong pastor Phil Dooley told the meeting of two incidents involving Houston and his behaviour towards women. Dooley also pointed to alcohol and Houston’s prescription drugs for anxiety as playing a role.
Dooley, who was appointed the church’s global pastor after Houston stepped down earlier this year, is understood to have been crying when he began today’s meeting.
In a recording obtained by Crikey, Dooley outlined an incident which apparently took place in 2019 at a hotel where a group of Hillsong figures was drinking, including a woman who was not on Hillsong’s staff. Dooley said Houston had been on anxiety tablets at the time.
“Later that evening he went to go to his room. Didn’t have his room key and ended up knocking on the door of this woman’s room and she opened the door and he went into her room,” he said.
“The truth is we don’t know exactly what happened next. This woman has not said if there was any sexual activity. Brian has said there was no sexual activity. But he was in the woman’s room for 40 minutes. He doesn’t have much of a recollection because of the mixture of the anxiety tablets and the alcohol.
“This woman had also been drinking so her recollection is not completely coherent.”
Dooley said the woman went through “a lot of conflicting emotions” and spoke to someone on staff.
The incident ultimately came to the attention of Hillsong’s global board which appointed a four-person “integrity” unit, composed of long-serving Hillsong figures, to investigate. Two “outside” pastors had been brought in. All were men.
“It was decided Brian should take three months off from ministry but unfortunately he didn’t abide by that. He did conduct some ministry and he did consume some alcohol,” Dooley said.
The incident then came to the attention of the elders at the end of 2021. The board then decided Houston should take more time off. At the same time the board “discussed with Brian” his use of alcohol.
As a footnote, the woman involved in the 2019 incident had asked for her conference fee and a “kingdom builder” donation to the church to be paid back. Houston agreed that he would pick up the tab.
The 2019 incident followed an earlier incident “around 10 years ago” when Houston exchanged texts with a female staff member. The text messages had ended with what Dooley called an “inappropriate text message”, with Houston texting “along the lines of ‘If I was with you I would like to give you a kiss and a cuddle or a hug’, words of that nature”.
Dooley said the staff member was “upset by that”, felt awkward and went to long-serving Hillsong head George Aghajanian and said she wanted to resign.
The issue was handled by two senior Hillsong men. Others, including Dooley, had not been aware until the end of 2021. The staff member had been unable to find another job and she was paid “a couple of months’ salary” as compensation.
Dooley also raised the question of when do you publicly discuss someone’s sins?
“In light of the evidence before the global board, the decision was made to offer what I would call ‘grace’: not to cover up and not to expose,” Dooley said. “The idea was that Brian would use the time to get healthy.”
Dooley said some of Hillsong’s elders were unhappy with the situation and began to raise the issue publicly with congregants.
“There are victims here and we are deeply sorry for those victims,” he said.
In terms of governance and trust, Dooley said perhaps it was time to look at issues of accountability and who takes responsibility.
“We’re not about exposing people,” he said. “I look at the example of Jesus, at what does the Bible say about these situations.
“We acknowledge that Pastor Brian has made significant mistakes here and no one at a senior level wants to cover any of that up, but to come to a place of healing that involves honesty, that involves transparency, that involves repentance and an acknowledgment that mistakes have been made and a desire to make it right.
“We also want to pray for Pastor Brian and for Bobbie and the family. Sin is messy and it brings all kinds of pain.”
Also in the meeting today, Aghajanian took aim at members of the “eldership” for spreading rumours. He claimed they had acted beyond their authority. He also cautioned that some information being spread was false.
The crisis which has enveloped Hillsong and led to today’s extraordinary events has exposed deep splits between the management team and board on one hand and the group of 10 “elders” on the other.
Crikey understands that Houston’s long-term executive assistant Megan Ivory has also resigned.
The crisis certainly represents the most serious schism to hit Hillsong over its more than two decades as the dominant force in Australian Pentecostalism.
If you have information about this story please contact David Hardaker via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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INVESTIGATIONS EDITOR @D_HARDAKER
David has an extensive career as a journalist and broadcaster, primarily at the ABC where he worked on flagship programs such as Four Corners, 7.30, Foreign Correspondent, AM and PM. He spent eight years reporting in the Middle East and can speak Arabic.