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Hillsong maintains 3 California churches as others across the nation depart ministry amid scandals

Worshipers raise their arms and sing at a large Pentecostal service.
People worship during a service in 2017 at Hillsong Church in New York. Hillsong is known for its Christian rock style of music.
(Andres Kudacki / Associated Press)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, May 9. I’m Justin Ray.

The past few weeks have been brutal for Hillsong Church, one of the most influential Pentecostal church movements in the world.

The church gained a lot of popularity thanks to many celebrities. Carl Lentz, the charismatic former leader of its New York City branch, baptized Justin Bieber and NBA star Kevin Durant. Kourtney Kardashian, Kylie and Kendall Jenner have reportedly attended the church’s services. However, Hillsong has recently been hemorrhaging church campuses in America over its recent controversies.

In California, Hillsong still maintains three locations. Here’s what to know about the church and its turmoil:

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What is Hillsong? And what’s the controversy about?

The Australian ministry was born in 1983 and has since sprouted chapters around the world. The church says in its mission statement that it aims to “reach and influence the world by building a large Christ-centered, Bible-based church, changing mindsets and empowering people to lead and impact in every sphere of life.”

The church’s profile has risen thanks to its popular Christian music, and Lentz, who was fired in 2020 for “moral failures.” He elaborated on those failures in an Instagram post, admitting to infidelity. When discussing his departure, he said it was “a hard ending to what has been the most amazing, impacting and special chapter of our lives.”

Then, Hillsong’s founder was charged in 2021 with concealing child sex offenses. Police allege that Brian Houston “knew information relating to the sexual abuse of a young male in the 1970s and failed to bring that information to the attention of police,” police said. At the time, Houston said in a statement, “I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges, and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.” The scandal drove Houston to recently resign.

The church has come under fire for two other reasons: its stance on homosexuality, and, more recently, a Discovery Plus series called, “Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed,” which explores its scandals.

What are the impacts?

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A view outside of the building that hosts Hillsong's Los Angeles church.
A view outside of the building that hosts Hillsong’s Los Angeles church after a Sunday service on May 8, 2022.
(Justin Ray)

Last month, two co-pastors who led Hillsong Boston announced their resignations. Before that, Hillsong Phoenix requested to split from Hillsong. Before that, the pastor of Hillsong Atlanta made a similar announcement. Nevertheless, the church’s three California locations in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Francisco remain active.

The controversies have led some to wonder if their popular worship music should be abandoned. A worship leader told Christianity Today she is worried that singing the megachurch’s songs will associate her with the church or remind people of the harm that’s been caused.

Some social media users have left criticisms of the church on the Instagram account for Hillsong L.A.

“Watched the Hillsong documentary - very disturbing and highly concerning,” wrote one commenter.

“What if y’all’s leadership and global board were subject to a public and transparent review of your structure and finances and leadership cover ups,” wrote another. “Hiding your awful abuse in Jesus name…. Shame shame.”

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The church did not respond to inquiries from The Times. However, in a note to the church’s followers regarding the departure of Bobbie Houston (the wife of Brian Houston), the church stated, “As we are in a season of transition within our church, this is always difficult and complex as well as being emotionally strenuous for all. We are mindful of the deep sense of loss and grief that will be experienced at this time, and the challenges in planning a way forward for our church.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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L.A. STORIES

Feds move to seize $63-million L.A. mansion linked to corruption scandal involving Armenian politician. For sale: a French chateau-style mansion in one of Los Angeles’ most exclusive neighborhoods, complete with 11 bedrooms and 27 bathrooms. But there are a few hitches; for one, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles recently moved to seize the estate. Los Angeles Times

A photo of a Holmby Hills mansion.
The U.S. Department of Justice outlined in a court filing how the property on South Mapleton Drive — a few doors down from the Playboy Mansion — was purchased in 2011 for $14.4 million with bribes.
(Photo courtesy of Hilton & Hylan)

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Column: A Texas woman sought an abortion. Here’s how far California went to help her. Here’s one person’s account of how California’s push to be a sanctuary state for abortion helped them greatly: When Stephanie took a pregnancy test and it came back positive, she was shocked at first, then dismayed. Then things got worse.” Los Angeles Times

Appeals court upholds limit on California’s foie gras ban. Californians can buy foie gras produced out of state despite California’s ban on the delicacy, a federal appeals court ruled Friday. The delicacy is made out of enlarged livers of force-fed ducks and geese. It was outlawed, with the Humane Society and other groups arguing that the process of making foie gras is cruelty to animals. KCRA

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

A man who pleaded guilty to a series of Southern California attacks that left five men dead and seven others injured was sentenced Friday to life in prison without possibility of parole. In a videoconference hearing, Ramon Escobar, 50, also pleaded guilty to the 2018 killings of his aunt and uncle in Houston. Associated Press

A California judge tossed out former President Trump’s lawsuit that sought to lift his Twitter ban. U.S. District Judge James Donato said Trump’s claims that his removal from the platform violated the 1st Amendment didn’t hold merit due to the fact that the amendment applies to government entities and not private companies. KTLA

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

California approves seaweed because cow burps are hurting the environment. Cows in the state may see their diet include a lot more seaweed after the state department of food and agriculture approved the feed, which is shown to reduce methane emissions from the animals’ burps. San Francisco Chronicle

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What Israel, Las Vegas and other places can teach SoCal about using a lot less water. Millions of Southern Californians will wake up to the region’s most severe water restrictions ever on June 1. Adaptation may be difficult, but there are other cities, states and nations that can offer guidance. For instance, the Las Vegas area has reduced per-capita water use by almost half. Los Angeles Times

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The Summerlin community in Las Vegas last summer. Some homeowner associations in the city have removed ornamental grass to conserve water during the drought.
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CALIFORNIA CULTURE

“Boy, 2, unaware he’s the basis for six couples in Thousand Oaks deciding not to have kids.” The Onion satirically writes that a 2-year-old “reportedly remains wholly ignorant of the fact that his behavior this past Christmas, which included shrieking for 10 straight minutes after not getting a cookie, was directly responsible for his aunt and uncle’s choice to never procreate, or that stories about staying up all night to take care of him are why one of his father’s coworkers and her husband determined that they would be fine with just a dog.” The Onion

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Overcast 68 San Diego: Overcast 65 San Francisco: Sunny 58 San Jose: Overcast 62 Fresno: Overcast 66 Sacramento: Overcast 64

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Omar Aguilar:

Back in 2017 I had a chance to move to LA; although it was only a few months, living in Southern California has been an experience beyond words. The sunrise on the Santa Monica pier, the valleys, the mountains, and the people make this place something unique. California makes you fall in love with who it is, it’s a mixture of cultures, a pot of colors and flavors and languages that live in unison and that give you joy to live! California is its natural beauty and its people; you can leave California, but she goes with you.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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