The trouble-plagued Hillsong megachurch has called an all-staff meeting for this morning, apparently in a bid to address a growing crisis, with rumours of an allegedly significant moral transgression spreading rapidly within the church.
Crikey understands the all-staff meeting will be led by senior Hillsong pastor Phil Dooley and will address the rumours of a crisis which have gathered pace around the top of the organisation.
What’s it about?
Observing Hillsong, the megachurch of Scott Morrison’s pal Pastor Brian Houston, can be a little like watching the Kremlin. Or the Vatican. Sometimes you can only tell that a major ruction is on the way by a whisper here and a whisper there. The only evidence might be the unexplained removal of a close confidante from the inner circle of the ruler.
And don’t count on the organisation ever coming clean with full and frank answers for public consumption. Hillsong manages information as well as any large corporation, which is to say it is very good at controlling the narrative and minimising the damage.
Official silence might be the church’s tactic of choice, but elsewhere in Hillsong-land this week the whispers have become a roar.
The first casualty of the internal ructions appears to have been a decades-long Houston family loyalist, Dr Gordon Lee. Lee is a general practitioner from Sydney’s south-west who openly promotes his medical practice in these terms:
“To glorify God by building medical practices that deliver high quality holistic care. Values:
1. A love for God
2. A love for His Church
3. A love for People.”
Lee has always been there for the big moments, such as when eight so-called Hillsong elders (including Houston) met in late 2000 to consider “matters relating to the apparent moral failure by [Brian’s father] Frank Houston some 30 years ago”, as the internal minutes of the meeting styled it.
To translate the church code, the “moral failure” refers to Frank Houston’s sexual abuse of boys as young as eight. “Some 30 years ago” was the linguistic attempt to reduce the abuse to nothing.
But according to reliable sources, Lee has now stepped away from the Hillsong eldership over what Crikey understands to be his concerns over a moral issue involving the church which has only recently arisen. Crikey has sought answers from him but has been told that he “does not want to discuss it” because, as his receptionist relayed it, “Dr Lee says the church is his family.” (Our follow-up email with specific questions met a similar fate.)
Hillsong, too, has declined to answer Crikey’s written questions on the alleged moral transgression. Our sources have indicated there are non-disclosure agreements. Again, Hillsong is offering no comment on the strange disappearance from the Hillsong website of the entire list of elders — the Houston rusted-ons with “exemplary lifestyles” who have “spiritual oversight” of the church. These are the church’s most illustrious figures, with history dating back to the early days of Hillsong and its predecessor entities in the 1990s.
The changes — and the flurry of whispers — has come after a longish period of rolling scandal and crisis for Hillsong and its “global pastor”, Brian Houston.
The church has been beset by infidelity scandals in the US. It has been the subject of searing exposés by international news organisations. Crikey has covered the Houston family’s legal and moral travails here as well as the scandal of visiting American student Anna Crenshaw who was indecently assaulted by a Sydney-based Hillsong figure. That episode was only tardily pursued by Hillsong after police became involved.
On top of all that, earlier this year Houston announced he was stepping down as leader of the global church some months after being charged with concealing information about his father’s alleged child abuse. (He has strongly denied the concealment charge and has said he will vigorously defend it.)
Last week the wheel of justice took one more turn when a magistrate set a date in December for an expected three-week hearing.
Meanwhile at Hillsong the wall of silence has gone up. No one is returning Crikey’s calls or emails to confirm or deny the new scandal.