Grace City Church in Florida ends affiliation with Hillsong over scandals

Andrew Gard, Grace City
Pastor Andrew Gard of Grace City Church in Lakeland, Forida. |

Leaders of the fast-growing, multi-campus Grace City Church in Lakeland, Florida, announced that they have ended their affiliation with the global Hillsong Church after the denomination’s founder, Brian Houston, resigned over misconduct.

The announcement comes in the wake of the Australia-based Hillsong Church losing nine of its 16 American church campuses in recent weeks stemming from a series of ongoing scandals that erupted amid the pandemic with the firing of former Hillsong NYC  Lead Pastor Carl Lentz in November 2020 over “leadership issues” and moral failures, including being unfaithful to his wife, Laura.

Some of the abuses have also been the subject of a documentary called “Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed” on Discovery Plus. The Christian Post also recently published details from a leaked report highlighting accusations of abuses at Hillsong NYC under Lentz’s reign. They included, among other things, the alleged mishandling of incidents of consensual or non-consensual sexual interaction between church leaders and congregants, staff, volunteers, or non-churchgoers.

“It impacted us in that these are people I love. Carl Lentz was and is a friend. So it’s devastating, it’s heartbreaking,” Andrew Gard, co-pastor at Grace City Church, told The Ledger.

Andrew Gard, Christina
Andrew Gard and his wife, Christina, are lead pastors of Grace City Church in Lakeland, Florida. |

Gard, who leads the church with his wife, Christina, added: “We feel bad for everyone that is involved.”

The Florida pastor explained that while they have “always been our own nondenominational church,” they had a relationship with Hillsong Church that functioned like an emergency covering.

“If I had a moral failure, our local church council could have gone to Hillsong to see if this is restorative or does Andrew need to be fired," Gard told The Ledger. "Or number two, if my wife and I were killed in a car accident and they had to find new senior pastors, our council could have worked with Hillsong to help us in that.”  

Gard said that while he watched the documentary on Hillsong Church before deciding to cut ties with the denomination, "It was about the news that came out about Pastor Brian” that did it for them.

Houston’s resignation came after it was revealed that two women made serious misconduct complaints against him in the last 10 years.

Before announcing Houston’s resignation on March 23, Hillsong Church said he violated the church's pastoral code of conduct by entering the hotel room of an unidentified woman for 40 minutes while under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs during the church’s annual conference in 2019.

Houston reportedly didn't recall having sex with the woman, and the woman did not say they had sexual relations.

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

Hillsong Church’s Interim Global Senior Pastor Phil Dooley told Hillsong Church staffers in a meeting that the accounts of what happened from Houston and the woman are not entirely reliable because they were impaired by alcohol. Houston was also reportedly under the influence of anxiety medication during the hotel room visit. 

Last month, it was revealed that John Mays, a high-level Hillsong Church representative had recommended in a March 19 letter obtained by The Guardian that Houston and his wife, Bobbie, be fired from their positions due to leadership failures. 

In his letter, Mays, whose son, Jason Mays, pleaded guilty to indecent assault of former Hillsong College student Anna Crenshaw in January 2020, said there were “obvious information gaps and anomalies” in what the Hillsong Church board told staff about Houston’s time in the hotel room with the unidentified woman.

“One insulting example (of many) is that Brian lost his room key so knocked on the lady’s door, a detail he no doubt recalls despite memory loss during the following 40 minutes. Are we really asking our staff to accept such dribble and defend our Church with such?” Mays asked.

Gard said his church is “heartbroken” by the scandals and that while he doesn’t believe the scandals are reflective of the entire church when it comes to leadership “character” is important.

“Decisions have consequences, and we understand that," Gard said. "Character matters in what we do, and rightfully so. Our church for the last few years has operated in a way that’s above reproach and above board.” 

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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