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Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston quits after internal misconduct investigation

Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston resigns after a series of misconduct allegations.

Brian Houston, the founder of global megachurch Hillsong, has resigned after an internal investigation revealed he behaved inappropriately towards two women.

In January, Houston announced he would step aside as the church leader to defend a criminal charge that he had concealed his father’s child sexual abuse.

Photo: Hillsong

No mention was made of the two women’s complaints regarding his own misconduct.

Sydney-based elders viewed this as a “cover up” by the board of Hillsong. Last week, one elder resigned after reading a letter from a female complainant.

The interim head of Hillsong, Pastor Phil Dooley, announced the resignation at an emergency meeting of 800 global staff on Wednesday, stating that Hillsong will launch an “independent review” of its power structure.

“We have always been a church that sees the grace of God expressed in Jesus and that our desire is not to expose anyone,” Pastor Dooley commented.

In a detailed letter sent to members, Hillsong said Houston sent “inappropriate text messages” to a female staffer in 2013. Pastor Dooley said the texts were like, “if I was with you, I’d like to kiss and cuddle you, words of that nature”.

The female complainant, who was “obviously upset and felt awkward”, complained to Hillsong general manager George Aghajanian and proceeded to resign.

Houston immediately apologised and paid the woman several months’ salary as compensation.

Hillsong said at the time that Houston was under the influence of sleeping tablets, which he was dependent upon.

This played a part during a 2019 incident, where Houston “became disorientated… following the consumption of anti-anxiety beyond the prescribed dose, mixed with alcohol”.

Hillsong said Houston was drinking with a group and after being locked out of his hotel room and visited a woman he had met earlier in the foyer of the Pullman Hotel.

The woman, not a member of the church, let Houston into her room where he remained for 40 minutes. Pastor Dooley stated “no sexual activity” occurred, but the woman raised it with the incident with the church’s leadership team.

The investigation did not uphold all parts of her complaint but “important elements of the complaint were sustained, and the conduct was of serious concern”.

It has since been decided that Houston will take three months off, during which time he would abstain from alcohol. This sabbatical was not adhered to.

This was brought to the church board’s attention last year in December, prior to the announcement that Houston would step aside due to the court case.

Houston is not expected to return to Australia until his criminal trial begins in December.