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Brian Houston apologizes for Hillsong East Coast scandals, announces ‘sweeping changes’

Brian Houston apologizes for Hillsong East Coast scandals, announces ‘sweeping changes’

Pastor Brian Houston appears on stage during Hillsong's 2014 conference in New York City at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. | Hillsong Church

Hillsong Church’s Global Senior Pastor Brian Houston apologized and accepted responsibility for “failings” that triggered multiple scandals at Hillsong East Coast and presented a raft of “sweeping changes” expected to correct “the issues and misalignment of the culture and practices” of the branch.

“We know that Hillsong East Coast has failed to be the kind of church it should be. On behalf of the Global Board and as Global Senior Pastor, I accept responsibility for these failings and apologize unreservedly,” Houston wrote in a Thursday email to members that was also published on the denomination’s website.

“As the events of last year unfolded, there was a lot we didn’t know. Now, thanks to the courage and honesty of many of you, we have a much clearer understanding of the state of Hillsong East Coast. Thank you to all of you who have enabled us to reach this place,” he said.

Houston’s announcement comes after a defense last month of his denomination’s “record of excellence in financial accountability globally and an unwavering commitment to financial integrity,” amid recent allegations of gross financial abuse by pastors, many who served at Hillsong NYC, formerly led by Carl Lentz who also oversaw Hillsong East Coast.

Chrishan Jeyaratnam (L) with former Hillsong Church lead pastor, Carl Lentz (C). | Facebook/Chrishan Jeyaratnam

Lentz, who attracted a list of celebrities to the church, including pop singer Justin Bieber, was fired from his post last November over “leadership issues” and moral failures, including being unfaithful to his wife.

Last December, DailyMail.com reported on a released audio recording of Houston addressing church leaders and top donors in which he said Lentz had “more than one affair” before his eventual firing.

The affairs were “significant,” Houston reportedly said, and noted that Lentz had a history of “bad moral behavior.” The New York City pastor’s infidelity was allegedly uncovered after a church staff member found compromising text messages on his computer. New York City-based designer Ranin Karim later claimed that she had carried on a monthslong affair with Lentz, who only gave her his first name and claimed to be a sports agent.

Hillsong Church later confirmed that they investigated and took action on a 2018 letter of complaint alleging inappropriate sexual relations between staff and volunteers at the Hillsong NYC location, but not all the allegations made in the letter were accurate.

“As the Global Senior Pastor of our church, I am heartbroken over the breaches of trust that have been revealed. A church is supposed to be a place where pain is lifted, freedom is found through Jesus, and everyone is treated with respect, kindness, and care,” Houston wrote in his email about the turmoil at Hillsong East Coast. “It should never take advantage of the valuable time invested by members and volunteers. There will always be an element of disagreement in any environment where people are gathered, but a church should be an example of how to fuse fractures. The church should be a safe place, not one that causes deep wounds."

Immediate changes to improve leadership culture and practice at Hillsong East Coast will include: "Additional training for staff and volunteers intended to increase awareness of the specific types of power dynamics that often arise in a church setting; revised and reinforced Code of Conduct for all staff; uniform HR policies, procedures and training; a clear and consistent system for reporting grievances and issues related to inappropriate behavior; a stringent sexual misconduct and harassment policy and mandatory training; improved financial accountability policies; as well as increased safeguards for staff and volunteers."

“Moving forward, we are committed to taking the necessary action to confront these failings. We will be making significant changes to address the serious shortcomings and empower our new East Coast lead pastors for the days ahead,” Houston said.

Calling them Hillsong Church’s “absolute finest,” Houston announced last month that Chrishan Jeyaratnam and his wife, Danielle, would replace Lentz as leaders of Hillsong East Coast following his sex scandal.

“Everybody knows, certainly most people would know, toward the end of last year, it’s been a very challenging season at Hillsong in the United States, in particular in the East Coast New York,” Houston said at the time. “We’re still working our way through that, and I sure would love all the prayer warriors and intercessors and everybody else in our church to be praying for that church and the East Coast because it has been hit hard. But I know God is gonna rebuild. He rescues, and He restores and He rebuilds.”

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