Hillsong Church founding pastor Brian Houston insists that his Sydney-based megachurch has made "absolutely no change" in regard to its "stance on homosexuality and gay marriage," after a critical blog post claimed that two engaged openly gay men were leading Hillsong NYC's choir.
"There has been absolutely no change to Hillsong Church's stance on homosexuality and gay marriage," Houston wrote on his Twitter account early Tuesday morning. The Hillsong Church Twitter account also tweeted his 140-character comment, but in Spanish.
Hours later, a "Hillsong Church statement by Senior Pastor Brian Houston" was published to the ministry's website. In the statement, Houston challenges the recent blog post about two gay men who attend Hillsong's NYC location.
"I wish to correct reports that Hillsong church has 'an openly gay couple directing a choir' at our New York City campus. Hillsong's position on homosexuality and gay marriage has not changed and is consistent with Scripture. As I have stated previously, I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject. Several months ago when one of our choir directors made an unexpected public statement regarding his engagement to a man who sometimes sang in the choir, it was a complete surprise to us as well. It is my understanding that they have not been involved in an active leadership or ministry role since. That said, we still love them and acknowledge that they – like all of us – are on a journey, and our role as a church is to assist them on this journey with grace and compassion."
The statement links to a blog post written by Houston also published Tuesday, in which the megachurch pastor explains that gays are welcome to attend, worship and "participate as a congregation member" at Hillsong churches. However, Houston adds that gay worshippers cannot "take an active leadership role."
Houston states in this blog post, which is included in full at the end of this article:
"I also live by my own convictions, and hold to traditional Christian thought on gay lifestyles and gay marriage. I do believe God's word is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. The writings of the apostle Paul in scripture on the subject of homosexuality are also clear, as I have mentioned in previous public statements.
"Hillsong Church welcomes ALL people but does not affirm all lifestyles. Put clearly, we do not affirm a gay lifestyle and because of this we do not knowingly have actively gay people in positions of leadership, either paid or unpaid. I recognise this one statement alone is upsetting to people on both sides of this discussion, which points to the complexity of the issue for churches all over the world."
Although he does not specifically note the apparently incorrect "reports," Houston's statement was most likely prompted by a blog post written by Geoffrey Grider, described on his SermonAudio.com profile as "a full-time minister of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ" who also "runs a successful web design company." Grider, also identified as a street preacher, published his now viral blog post on Hillsong NYC's openly gay and engaged members, Josh Canfield and Reed Kelly, on Sunday, Aug. 2.
In his post, shared more than 55,000 times via Facebook, Grider writes:
"Josh Canfield and Reed Kelly are a proudly-out homosexual couple who preach the gospel of the LGBT Agenda. They became 'engaged' last year and are planning a 'wedding' for sometime in 2016. They feel no conviction of any kind for the lifestyle they lead, and yet, shockingly, they are allowed to lead the worship choir during church services at Hillsong in New York City."
The sources that Grider points to to support his claims include a Jan. 29 Playbill article on Canfield that includes comments of his that were originally published in a December interview. In that interview, Canfield speaks about coming out of the closet at Hillsong NYC, and states that he is "one of their choir directors" and also sings on the worship team.
"I became truthful with my church. I'm a part of Hillsong NYC. I'm one of their choir directors. I also sing on their Worship team. They've been amazing as well," Canfield said. "Nothing has changed there now that I'm completely out and with Reed. He sings in the choir as well. I found that being an honest person has actually come with a lot of benefits. People are more sincere with you, and you find out a lot more about other people when you become honest."
The New York Times noted two months prior, in an October 2014 article suggesting that Houston had "shifted" on gay marriage, that "some of Hillsong's churches appear to be open to gays and lesbians." The article stated that Canfield and Kelly "worship and sing in the choir at Hillsong New York" and that "Canfield is a volunteer choir director at the church."