Around the time they received complaints about inappropriate sexual relations between staff and volunteers at Hillsong NYC, the embattled Australia-based Hillsong Church was in the throes of investigating the sexual assault of a Philadelphia pastor’s daughter at its headquarters, a new report reveals.
According to a Vanity Fair report featuring interviews with a number of Hillsong volunteers and former congregants, in 2018, Anna Crenshaw, who is the daughter of Victory Church Senior Pastor Ed Crenshaw, reported that Jason Mays, a Hillsong staff administrator, volunteer singer and the son of the church’s head of human resources, sexually assaulted her at a social gathering while she attended Hillsong College in Australia. It took a serious fight from Anna and her father to hold Mays, who is listed as creative director and head of sync at Hillsong Music, accountable.
Pastor Crenshaw told The Christian Post on Friday that he was forced to get the police involved when he found the church leaders' response to the attack on his daughter wanting.
“I don’t expect Hillsong would have been able to keep anything bad from happening. That could happen in any organization. But what I would expect of Hillsong is proper care and follow-up. And that’s what was missing,” Pastor Crenshaw said.
Anna Crenshaw moved from Philadelphia to Australia to study at Hillsong College in 2015 after she graduated from high school, according to Vanity Fair. One night, a friend invited her to hang out at the home of another Hillsong congregant.
While at the gathering, she noticed Mays drinking heavily as other people at the house played video games. She reportedly didn’t realize Mays had moved closer to her until he put his hand on her inner thigh. Crenshaw said she froze and it took a while before another man at the gathering realized what was happening and offered to take the young college girls home.
“When I stood up, Jason grabbed me, putting his hand between my legs and his head on my stomach and began kissing my stomach,” Anna Crenshaw would later write in a statement cited by Vanity Fair. “I felt his arms and hands wrapped around my legs making contact with my inner thigh, butt and crotch.”
She later learned Mays was married, some two years earlier based on photos posted on Facebook.
The assault left her overwhelmed by guilt and traumatic memories from her childhood when she was abused by a youth leader. She reportedly went to a counselor in Sydney who urged her to report the attack.
“My counselor encouraged me to report the assault instead of letting Jason just ignore it,” she said. The pastor’s daughter, however, remained quiet for two-and-a-half years.
Anna Crenshaw said she didn’t feel like she could report Mays to human resources since his father, John Mays, led that division and she would get angry when Hillsong Church’s Global Senior Pastor Brian Houston praised Mays on stage.
Officials at Hillsong Church did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Christian Post, but a spokesperson told Vanity Fair that John Mays was recused from the case and the church was not aware of Houston praising Mays after the sexual assault was made known.
Anna Crenshaw eventually confided in Margaret Aghajanian, Hillsong’s head of pastoral care oversight, who expressed shock about Mays’ actions but believed her.
She said the church then took three months to notify Mays of her claim and took no action for another two months. Mays initially denied the accusation, but when witnesses corroborated Crenshaw’s story, he was placed on paid leave.
Crenshaw’s father would later get the police involved in the case due to the way he said the church responded.
“It took them three months before they ever talked to Jason Mays even though they interviewed the victim multiple times, which is a huge no, no in terms of handling victims of abuse or assault,” Pastor Crenshaw told CP.
“They felt like it was appropriate for them to take time to investigate even though Australian law requires reporting. It’s a mandatory reporting situation. They wanted to delay and continue to question the veracity of my daughter’s account. And I think that was entirely inappropriate. Never offer any real professional counseling,” he added, noting that the help the church did provide was more “handling than helping.”
In January 2020, Mays pleaded guilty to indecent assault and received two years’ probation and mandatory counseling, Vanity Fair reported.
A Hillsong spokesperson said Mays served a 12-month ban from any ministry and was reinstated in his administration role and occasionally volunteers as a singer as well.
“There have been no additional concerns,” the church told Vanity Fair.
Pastor Crenshaw, however, doesn’t think Mays should still be in ministry based on what he has seen.
“I think that there has to be genuine repentance and appropriate restitution if you look at things biblically for somebody to be restored. And as far as we can tell, there has not been such repentance,” he told CP.
Anna Crenshaw is now enrolled at a different Australian Bible college. When her father wrote to Hillsong Church again, Timothy Whincop, general counsel at Hillsong Church, responded: “Our pastoral team will continue to care for Anna as they have been, but we also have an obligation to care for Jason, his wife and family as a church. Jason’s actions have resulted in pain not only for Anna but also his wife Ashley not to mention other family members.”
Billy Graham’s grandson and attorney Boz Tchividjian, who founded an organization to help survivors of abuse called GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), said in a post on Twitter Thursday that he represented Crenshaw in the case and praised her bravery.
“I’m so proud of my client, Anna Crenshaw, for taking the bold step forward in bringing darkness to light inside of @Hillsong. My hope is that her words will empower others who are suffering in silence to take that step forward,” Tchividjian, who is part of the Florida law firm Landis Graham French, said.
Pastor Crenshaw echoed similar sentiments.
“I am very proud of my daughter for being willing to speak out and address a situation that needs to be addressed. And I can tell you this, her primary motivation is to keep these kinds of things from happening. And when they do happen, churches, especially leaders in the family of God, [need] to respond appropriately and provide appropriate victim care,” he told CP.
Houston recently launched an investigation into the U.S. arm of Hillsong Church, which was rocked by allegations of financial abuse from former members who said pastors frequently splurged tithe money on lavish expenses. This accusation came on the heels of the sex scandal that erupted at the Hillsong NYC location and led to the firing of former lead pastor Carl Lentz and the departure of several other key leaders.
Vanity Fair Studios recently announced a partnership with Scout Productions to produce a limited documentary series on the Hillsong Church scandal.
“We’re thrilled to be partnering with Scout to tell the definitive story of Hillsong,” Vanity Fair Editor-in-Chief Radhika Jones said. “It’s a classic Vanity Fair tale of aspiration and betrayal, powered by courageous voices speaking out, and Alex and Dan’s reporting has brought new depth to it. We’re looking forward to continuing this investigation.”