Hillsong's Brian Houston denies concealing father’s alleged abuse of boy

Hillsong Church Senior Pastor Brian Houston of Sydney, Australia, speaks at Catalyst Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on Friday, Oct. 7, 2016.
Hillsong Church Senior Pastor Brian Houston of Sydney, Australia, speaks at Catalyst Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on Friday, Oct. 7, 2016. | Catalyst

A lawyer for Hillsong Church's founder and Global Senior Pastor Brian Houston denied allegations in court Tuesday that he concealed his late father's sexual abuse of a young boy during the 1970s and shielded him from criminal prosecution.

Houston, 67, plead not guilty to the charges through his lawyer in a Sydney, Australia, court, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. Houston's case continues in court on Nov. 23.

The megachurch pastor was formally charged with failing to report his father's abuse in August after a two-year investigation by the New South Wales Police. Authorities charge that Houston "knew information relating to the sexual abuse of a young male in the 1970s and failed to bring that information to the attention of police."

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Brian Houston's father, Frank Houston, who died in 2004, was the head of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand until 1971. The megachurch pastor who founded the evangelical church network Hillsong in 1983 was the head of the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God from 1997 to 2009.

Court documents allege Brian Houston knew as early as September 1999 that his father had committed an indecent assault in 1970.

"Believing that Frank Houston committed that offence and knowing that he had information that might be of material assistance in securing the prosecution of Frank Houston for that offence," court documents allege Brian Houston "failed to bring that information to the attention of NSW Police."

In a statement in August, the megachurch pastor "vehemently" professed his innocence and vowed to fight the charges.

"I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight," he said at the time. 

During Frank Houston's tenure as an Assemblies of God leader, he was found to have abused a number of young boys in New Zealand and Australia. Brian Houston reportedly immediately forced his father to resign from the Sydney Christian Life Centre with a pension once he learned of the claims against him.

One accuser, who is now 59 years old, told the Royal Commission Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2014 that Brian Houston had accused him of having "tempted" his father when he was a child. Houston, however, told the commission at the time that the claim was false.

The prosecution of the Hillsong leader comes in the wake of months of reporting by several news organizations, including The Christian Post, where former members of the church accused leaders of mishandling allegations of abuse.

Twenty-three-year-old Anna Crenshaw recounted to CP earlier this year how Jason Mays — a married Hillsong staff administrator, volunteer singer and the son of the church's head of human resources — assaulted her and the struggle she faced to hold him accountable. Crenshaw spent four-and-a-half years studying and training between Hillsong College and Hillsong Church. 

Anna's father, Pastor Ed Crenshaw of Victory Church in Pennsylvania and Billy Graham's grandson and attorney, Boz Tchividjian, who represented her in her legal case against Mays, raised concerns about Hillsong's current culture in reporting abuse.

Pastor Crenshaw contended that Hillsong's culture was steeped in "self-protection" reminiscent of the way the allegations against Frank Houston were handled.

"They've developed a habit of self-protection. And, I think, when it comes to dealing with somebody like my daughter who had an accusation against the son of Hillsong's top HR guy, and she reports it to the wife of Hillsong's chairman of the board … that they tend to slip into self-protection mode. And I think they are still in that," Ed Crenshaw said. "Even with their comments about HR changes and how they dropped the ball … they have failed victims, even going back to the victims of Frank Houston."

A spokesperson for Hillsong dismissed the cultural connection between Frank Houston and Hillsong Church as "unfounded."

"The incidents involving Frank Houston took place in the 1960s and early 1970s. Hillsong Church was not founded until 1983, and Frank Houston was never a pastor at Hillsong Church. To discuss this as a feature of Hillsong culture is simply unfounded," the spokesperson told CP.

In September, Brian Houston resigned his roles on various Hillsong Church boards amid his legal battle but maintained his position as global senior pastor of the international megachurch. 

In a statement last month, Hillsong Church released a statement sharing that the church is "disappointed that Pastor Brian has been charged, and asked that he be afforded the presumption of innocence and due process as is his right."

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