There was an inappropriate text messaging incident in 2013 and drunken/spending time in a woman’s room incident in 2019. Of particular interest is how the Hillsong Global Board (HGB) or certain board members managed these matters – the secrecy, accountability and the independence of the investigations/conflicts of interest.
A. What is most surprising is that at the end of 2021, most of the global board were unaware that Brian was a repeat offender.
They were only aware of the 2019 breach of conduct. That means, the 2013 discipline was kept confidential from the majority of Global Board members back in 2019 – those who should have determined the matter. So, who decided to keep it secret, from the majority of the board?
This is significant when dealing with discipline, as repeat failures are dealt with more sternly.
In addition, Brian disregarded the conditions of his 2019 discipline.
Three of the Hillsong Global Board members who definitely knew about Brian Houston’s 2013 discipline were:
- George Aghajanian,
- Nabi Saleh
- and of course Brian Houston.
Why did they not ensure other Global Board members knew in 2019?
B. The other disturbing fact is Brian Houston and the HGB used Brian’s mental and emotional health (and the pressures that came with the role of Senior Pastor) as an excuse for his sleeping pill and anxiety medication addictions, as well as alcohol problems (which somehow made less of his breaches of conduct concerning women).
The ‘Senior Pastor’ who is suppose to be held to a higher standard and who must be beyond reproach to be qualified for the office of pastor, was instead given ‘grace’, ‘favour’ and ‘support’ beyond what Scripture requires for this role, by those responsible for church governance.
It is worth noting that a higher standard is required of Hillsong’s college students.
1 Timothy 5 requires that Brian should have been rebuked publicly and without partiality.
Instead, he was shown partiality – which has been a recurrent theme in Hillsong discipline.
C. Board members and friends of Brian (who had shown loyalty and confidentiality) over many years, were now no longer able to support Brian and have to hold him accountable over two breaches that have been now made public.
The Hillsong Global Board (and even the previous Australian Board):
- Have shown a lack of wisdom and unwillingness to abide by Scripture.
- Have demonstrated they were incapable to support Brian Houston through to restoration.
- Are prepared to lie, or rather, intentionally misrepresent the truth using clever wording and obfuscation.
- Are content to keep serious matters secret from:
- the church,
- elders and pastors
- Have not conducted themselves in a trustworthy manner.
Clearly, the board members who have kept certain matters secret until recently, preventing the board from doing its job properly, need to step down.
It seems George Aghajanian and Nabi Saleh are good candidates to resign.
- Both were also aware of the coverup of Frank Houston’s 1999 confession to child sexual abuse.
- As board members, they should have sought legal advice as to the legal responsibilities of the church and of their Senior Pastor – which would have saved Brian and the church a lot of angst in the future.
KEY POINTS TO NOTE
- The 2013 matter requiring discipline of Brian Houston was dealt with by two close friends and board members, in secret. (Nabi Saleh and George Aghajanian).
- The 2019 matter requiring discipline of Brian Houston, the HGB established an integrity team to investigate. This investigation team included 4 board members of HGB:
- George Aghajanian,
- Nabi Saleh,
- Andrew Denton,
- Gary Clarke;
- External Pastor – Paul De Jong
- External Pastor – Chris Hodges
One would assume the findings from the 2019 investigation would have been presented to the whole 2019 Hillsong Global Board for final determination. However, it was surprising to find out that in December 2021, (two years later), that the majority of the HGB were unaware there had even been a 2013 discipline of Brian Houston. Dooley: ‘I personally was not aware of that [2013 discipline], as was the majority of the global board, until the end of last year, 2021’ (See 18 March, 2022 HS special
- If it was not made known to the 2019 HGB members, this raises some questions about the 2013 discipline being a possible cover-up:
- If the HGB knew that the 2019 issue was a repeat offense, then why was the matter not treated more seriously?
- To make matters worse, did the HGB not supervise or ensure Brian Houston abide by his discipline terms?
Brian Houston broke his terms of his 2019 discipline.
- The issues with the discipline process did not go unnoticed.
- Late 2021 – Hillsong Australia board/elders/staff contacted the HGB in time for their annual HBG meeting retreat.
- January 30, 2022 – Brian Houston announced he was stepping down as director from all boards to concentrate on his upcoming court case.
- This escalated matters behind the scene because Brian did NOT mention his discipline for breaches of conduct.
- January 30, 2022 – The subsequent related statement released by the HGB also did NOT mention Brian’s breaches of conduct. This provided fuel for the the concern of a coverup.
- 18 March, 2022 – Due to elder and staff concerns, the HGB called a special meeting.
- Acting Senior Pastor, Phil Dooley, explained the Brian’s breaches of conduct and how the HGB had dealt with the matter.
- Aghajanian, was not happy that the HSGB governance was being questioned, and so proceeded to chastise Australian elders/staff for acting outside their authority and talking about these things:
“The global board is tasked with the responsibility of overseeing all of our pastors, the credentialing, the disciplining, the restoration process. Not the elders. The elders’ role is to basically pray for people, and to care for people spiritually. But beyond that they have no government’s authority in our church. And yet a very few of them are speaking as if they have a lot of authority. And the reality is that it’s the global board’s responsibility to make sure that when situations arise — whether it’s with any of our pastors or Pastor Brian — we abide by our code of conduct and our disciplinary restoration process. Which are documents that were instilled when we took over that function from the ACC several years ago now.”
(18 March, 2022 HS special meeting)
- The fact that Brian Houston resigned within the week confirms
- the HGB had not overseen the matter appropriately,
- there had obviously been some reaction/pressure behind the scenes within the church,
- Brian and the HSGB had not been truthful with church members and the public,
- that the breaches had been substantial enough for this action for a long time, and
- the matter had been kept confidential.
(18 March, 2022 HS special meeting | Brian Houston’s resignation was accepted 23 March, 2022.
- The audio from the special meeting and subsequent resignation has shone light on the governance style of Hillsong and effects of the global restructure.
- 19 March, 2022 – John Mays released a ‘scathing internal letter‘ that criticised Hillsong’s response to Brian Houston’s ‘unhealthy leadership’. Key quotes from the letter as mentioned in the Guardian report:
- Brian Houston and his wife, Bobbie, should be permanently sacked from Hillsong, saying Brian Houston “considered himself beyond disciplinary boundaries” and defied them “without further recourse from those responsible for his discipline.”
- “Unfortunately, I believe this typifies the leadership that is foundational to many unhealthy people practices employed within our Church based on my observations over many years.”
- employees of the church were asked to believe insulting “dribble” put out by the board to explain Houston’s alleged visit to a woman’s room at a conference in 2019.
- directors involved in managing the situation should consider resigning, having “failed in their governance and fiduciary obligations”, and called for an independent inquiry into the decisions of the church’s top body.
- “Brian and his behaviours” had placed a great deal of stress on the board members and that “these challenges would have been intensified on account of Brian’s strong, immovable, leadership disposition together with a distinct lack of personal accountability which has been allowed over many years.”
- there were “obvious information gaps and anomalies” in the account of the 2019 incident the board had given to staff.
- “I do not believe our employees have bought the narrative within the statement made in the staff meeting,” he wrote. He said the message had been met with “skepticism and mistrust despite urgings to avoid gossip and talk to leadership about any concerns”.
- “by all accounts Brian considered himself beyond disciplinary boundaries and defied same without further recourse from those responsible for his discipline”.
- “We have been led by a leader who considers himself above normal societal expectations in a range of areas including many which might be considered mandatory in nature.”
- “I believe Bobbie in her capacity as Global Senior Pastor, paid accordingly, should also be accountable for her willingness to tolerate such behaviour and defiance on the part of her co-leader,” he wrote. “I do not see her as a victim in this situation, she has a biblical, professional and corporate responsibility to ensure accountability.”
- “There was a finding that disciplinary action was warranted but this was accompanied with what can only be described as inept commitment to enforce.”
- Hillsong had “become an arrogant employer,” and that “we have ‘unearned’ and often unreasonable expectations of our employees as an employer on account of their commitment to the cause.”
- He recommended a review of the board deliberations around the issues that led to Brian Houston’s resignation, to be undertaken by a forensic, independent, external body “with absolutely no allegiance to Hillsong” or any of its board members.
- “The perception of Hillsong as a “brand” confirms that we have drifted from our true mandate as a community of believers, the Church, leaving us vulnerable to decision making processes of an unhealthy kind.”
- Subsequent fallout is now being managed – as many are hurt, feel betrayed, even would like their churches out from the Hillsong fold (eg. Hillsong Phoenix) to return to their own local governance.
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“Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Galatians 4:16