Through tears, Hillsong Church’s Interim Global Senior Pastor Phil Dooley reminded congregants on Sunday that their church is “built on Jesus, not just on any one person” in the wake of new allegations of misconduct against founding pastor Brian Houston.
“I thought I was over my tears because I’ve cried a lot of them,” Dooley said during his first address to the global evangelical church network since it was revealed last Friday that two women filed serious complaints against Houston in the last 10 years. He stressed he and his colleagues are repentant.
Seeking to get ahead of what it called “rumors,” Hillsong Church revealed Friday that Houston violated the church’s 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.
It remains unclear if Houston and the woman had sex. Houston doesn’t recall having sex, and the woman has not said if they had sex. Both of their accounts of what happened are not entirely reliable because they were impaired by alcohol, Dooley suggested in meeting with church staffers last week. Houston was also under the influence of anxiety medication.
Houston also exchanged an “inappropriate text message” with a staffer in 2013, “along the lines of, ‘If I was with you I would like to give you a kiss and a cuddle or a hug,’” resulting in her resigning shortly after. Hillsong Church blamed Houston’s actions in this case on “sleeping tablets.”
“We as a leadership of Hillsong Church have repentant hearts in this season. I want to say we are sorry for anyone who has been a victim of any form of harassment,” said Dooley, who took over for Houston earlier this year as Houston fights criminal charges of allegedly concealing decades-old sex abuse allegations against his father.
“Some of us here or wherever you are listening understand the pain because you have experienced it yourselves. And others of us are doing our best to empathize with you,” Dooley continued. “Where you’ve been hurt, we pray for healing, strength and courage to move forward in your life.”
Dooley insisted that despite the challenge Hillsong Church faces, the network’s leaders want anyone who attends Hillsong Church campuses to feel safe. He vowed the church will continue to respond to the crisis with “love, grace and truth.”
“I pray that we can and we will get through this together. We will continue to pray for Pastor Brian, Bobbie and the entire Houston family at this time. And we believe for God’s grace, love, peace and hope to be upon them,” he added.
While Brian Houston’s influence has long loomed large over the global megachurch he founded in 1983, Dooley quietly reminded members that the denomination was not built on their embattled founder.
“Let me remind you,” he said. “Our church ... is built on Jesus, not just on any one person. Beyond a board, beyond an eldership, we need these elements, they matter and we want to make sure they are done well. But our hope and our trust is in Jesus. We are guided by the word of God and the Holy Spirit of God, and we will continue to ask God for wisdom and guidance and strength in this season.”
Dooley compared the church’s current suffering to the biblical Job — the man from the land of Uz who was “blameless and upright” and “feared God and shunned evil” before he was struck with sudden calamity by the devil in a test of his faith.
“Someone shared with me today, a verse from Job, probably fitting,” Dooley quipped as some audience members chuckled.
“The whole book that might be worth reading. [But] Just one verse Job 14:7. It says, ’at least there is hope for a tree. Even if it is cut down. It will sprout again and its new shoots will not fail,’” he said. “I believe that. Through all that is going on at this time, I’ve never lost my hope that God is still at work in all of us. That God loves his Church. That He loves you and He loves me. And he still has a plan for our church, Hillsong Church, for our lives as we move forward together.”
Houston, who served as Hillsong’s global senior pastor, stepped down earlier this year and announced he would remain absent for the rest of this year as he faces trial. Houston is charged with concealing sex abuse committed by his father, Frank Houston, in the 1970s.
Last August, police charged Houston with “concealing child sex offenses,” alleging that he knew information relating to his father’s sexual abuse of a young boy during the 1970s that he failed to bring to the attention of authorities.
Houston, who served as head of the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God from 1997 to 2009, was alleged to have been told about an allegation relating to his father’s abuse of a young boy in 1999. The indecent assault occurred in 1970 when Frank Houston was serving as the head of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand.
During his tenure, Frank Houston was found to have abused several young boys in New Zealand and Australia, and Brian Houston reportedly forced his father to resign with a pension upon learning of the claims.
After being charged, Brian Houston has professed his innocence and released a statement saying he has been “transparent” in the matters related to his father.