Hillsong Church has taken additional hits to its brand from two recent property-related lawsuits in the U.S. and Australia that accuses church leaders of “immoral, oppressive and unscrupulous” conduct and seeks to recover more than $20 million in collective damages.
Already reeling under the specter of a sexual misconduct scandal, one lawsuit filed stateside on Jan. 20, by the Wall Street Theater Company, Inc., accuses Hillsong Connecticut of failing to pay more than $100,000 in rent and removing electronic equipment from the company’s property located at 71 Wall Street in Norwalk.
The complaint against Hillsong Connecticut shows that the church entered into an agreement to rent the Wall Street premises starting Sept. 20, 2019, every Sunday from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. for $7,937 each Sunday.
On Feb. 21, 2020, the agreement was amended to reflect a reduction in the rent for each Sunday to $5,935.25. Just over three weeks later, however, the coronavirus pandemic hit and restrictions were placed on religious gatherings. Hillsong Connecticut emailed the Wall Street Theater Company in May, seeking to cancel to agreement through a 120-day termination clause.
The Wall Street Theater Company alleges that since invoking the termination clause, Hillsong Connecticut has not paid the $100,899.25 billed for the period May 11, 2020 through September 8, 2020.
“Despite due demand the Defendant has failed and refused to pay the balance due of $100,899.25,” the company alleges in the lawsuit.
“The acts of the Defendant constitute violations of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practice Act, … in that said actions were immoral, oppressive and unscrupulous and caused substantial injury to Plaintiff,” the lawsuit adds.
The Christian Post reached out to Hillsong Church about the lawsuit on Monday and was told it did not yet have a response to the Connecticut lawsuit.
A source told the New York Post that the church is claiming that they cannot afford to pay the rent because they are a small nonprofit organization.
“Hillsong just ghosted the theater,” the source told the NY Post. “When the theater sent them a bill, they responded saying they were a small not-for-profit and couldn’t pay it, and that they didn’t owe it anyways because of the pandemic.”
It appears however that Connecticut does not have a pandemic-related moratorium on commercial rent payment.
Dale Smith, whose company provided security for Hillsong, argued that while the church might claim to be a nonprofit, he thinks they operated more like a corporation.
“It just seemed like a business, real robotic,” he told the NY Post. “Even the ones on the payroll seemed to be fighting, positioning in order to climb that ladder which, in my opinion, is not what a church is supposed to be.”
Early last month, Desiree Noel Robertson, 39, and Blaze C. Robertson, 41, were reportedly looking for new jobs at another local church after quietly leaving the church they helped found in 2016. Blaze previously worked as a creative pastor at Hillsong Church New York City. The church is now under internal investigation in the wake of former lead Pastor Carl Lentz’s firing over “leadership issues” and moral failures.
Hillsong Church is also facing a $20 million lawsuit in Australia through their connection with Sydney Christian Life Centre, a developer and part of the church’s property arm. Owners of nearly 300 Sydney apartments allege Hillsong and the construction firm the denomination hired to build their housing complex made their homes structurally unsound.
“We’re worried we will find it difficult to sell our apartments,” one owner, who requested anonymity, told the Daily Telegraph of the units that were sold for between $440,000 and $945,000.
The SCLC, according to the Australian lawsuit, “breached their duties of care in causing or permitting the defective work. It is also alleged that residents were prevented from inspecting “the common property” before buying their units. Structural engineers allegedly found windows and balconies in the units were not up to code in 2019.
Hillsong argues in a counterclaim, however, that it is the construction firm, Icon Construction Australia, who are the real “wrongdoers.”
In 2018, Brian Houston, global senior pastor of Hillsong Church, announced a split from Australia's largest Pentecostal denomination to become a denomination of its own, citing the growing global nature of the church.
Since its inception, Hillsong Church has been a part of the Australian Christian Churches, a branch of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship, which is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world.
"As Hillsong Church has continued to grow, we no longer see ourselves as an Australian Church with a global footprint, but rather a Global church with an Australian base— our global office now resides in the USA. Two thirds of the people attending Hillsong Church each weekend live in countries beyond Australia. We have pastoral staff in twenty-four nations around the world, representing 123 campuses and locations, with 263 different church services on any given weekend. We consider it to be 'One House, with many rooms,'" Houston explained in a letter to the Australia Christian Churches.