Updated: Dec 11, 2022
Brian Houston is a former pastor and evangelist for Hillsong Church. Mr. Houston founded Hillsong Church in Sydney and also served as the the national president of Australian Christian Churches and the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God. In January 2022, Mr. Houston left his role at Hillsong Church as senior pastor after being charged for allegedly concealing the sexual abuse of a child by his father, Frank Houston, in 1999. In March 2022, he then stepped down as the global senior pastor for the church after breaching the moral code of the church in allegedly mistreating two women.
Frank Houston's Child Sexual Assault Allegations
According to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Mr. Houston failed to alert the police regarding allegations his father had sexually assaulted children. This also entailed that Mr. Houston had a conflict of interest when he assumed responsibility for dealing with the accusations.
Mr. Houston is currently on trial for allegedly concealing his father's sexual abuse from police, having plead not guilty. In December 2022 the court learned that Mr. Houston had spoken with a lawyer in November of 1999 regarding his father's actions. Barbara Taylor, the great-aunt of Brett Sengstock, voiced her frustrations that the allegations were not being properly addressed by the church's leadership, with Frank Houston "more or less" ignoring Ms. Taylor.
Ms. Taylor also described a meeting called by Brian Houston with the church's executives, and how Mr. Houston had spoken to a lawyer regarding his father's admissions of child sex abuse:
"Brian [Houston] said he had spoken to a barrister who had told him that if it goes to court his father would surely be incarcerated for the crime."
In a supplementary note, Ms. Taylor wrote: “After this meeting, I heard nothing from Brian … or anyone.” Ms. Taylor also attested that Brian Houston had told her not to "put anything in writing” about his father’s actions and to only speak about the matter with him and only by phone.
Brian Houston's defence lawyer, Phillip Boulten, has stated that Mr. Houston's defence in not reporting his father's actions to police would be based on his having a "reasonable excuse" in that he understood Mr. Sengstock did not intend for his allegation to be reported to or investigated by police. Mr. Boulten described Mr. Sengstock as being "adamant" in this respect: "He was making it very clear he did not want the police involved.” Furthermore, Mr. Boulten told the court that "tens of thousands of people," including members of the New South Wales police force, were aware of the same allegations and had not reported them.
Earlier in the trial, Mr. Sengstock stated that upon confronting Frank Houston regarding his abuse, he "was emotional" and apologised but “without being sorry for the damage he caused, only that it might be exposed”.
The court also heard that in 1999 during a meeting with Frank Houston at a McDonald's restaurant, Mr. Sengstock signed a blank napkin and agreed to accept a payment of $10,000. Mr. Sengstock described this as "being paid for my silence." After a few weeks the money had not arrived and Mr. Sengsock phoned Brian Houston. Mr. Houston allegedly told him:
"You know this is all your fault, you tempted my father.”
Allegations of Mistreatment of Women
Mr. Houston's resignation from Hillsong Church follows reports of two incidents involving the mistreatment of women.
Roughly 10 years ago, Mr. Houston allegedly sent inappropriate text messages to a Hillsong Church staff member. These messages lead to the employee resigning from their position and making a complaint regarding Mr. Houston. This incident allegedly took place with Mr. Houston being under the influence of sleeping tablets which he had become dependent on.
The second incident was brought to Hillsong Church's attention in 2019 regarding an annual church conference attended and opened by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Mr. Houston had allegedly become disoriented following the conference where he had taken too much anti-anxiety medication mixed with alcohol. Mr. Houston allegedly then knocked on the hotel room door and spent 40 minutes with the room's female occupant.
Relationship with Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Mr. Morrison has confirmed that he had known Mr. Houston for "a long time" with Mr. Houston also being described as Mr. Morrison's 'spiritual mentor'. Mr. Morrison also referred to his relationship with Mr. Houston in his very first speech to Parliament in 2008. In the speech, Mr. Morrison described Mr. Houston as being among "dedicated church leaders" who had "greatly assisted" him via their pastoral work.
"Growing up in a Christian home, I made a commitment to my faith at an early age and have been greatly assisted by the pastoral work of many dedicated church leaders, in particular the Reverend Ray Green and pastors Brian Houston and Leigh Coleman. My personal faith in Jesus Christ is not a political agenda. As Lincoln said, our task is not to claim whether God is on our side but to pray earnestly that we are on His. For me, faith is personal, but the implications are social—as personal and social responsibility are at the heart of the Christian message."
Invitation to the White House
In December 2019, Mr. Houston attended an official visit to the White House, joining other religious leaders for a faith briefing. Mr. Houston recorded a video of himself speaking to viewers from within the White House during his visit. At the time of reporting, Mr. Houston had denied to acknowledge who had invited him to attend the briefing and the Hillsong Church did not respond to media enquiries.
Despite denying speculations around the invitation as 'gossip' for months, Mr. Morrison eventually confirmed in March 2020 that he had asked the Trump administration to invite Mr. Houston to a state dinner at the White House. Mr. Houston's name was included on a list of potential guests which was ultimately overseen by the White House. Mr. Morrison stated:
“On that occasion, we put forward a number of names that included Brian, but not everybody whose names we put forward were invited."
2GB presenter, Ben Fordham, who put forward the questions around Mr. Houston's attendance at the White House stated that the question was relevant because Houston was still under police investigation at the time.
The request from the prime minister’s office for Houston’s attendance was first reported by the Wall Street Journal in September. This was while Mr. Morrison's was in Washington DC for a state visit. The report stated that Mr. Morrison had been “determined” to invite Mr. Houston. However, after several rounds of discussion Washington and Canberra, the White House vetoed the idea.