Hillsong maintains 3 California churches as others across the nation depart ministry amid scandals
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:
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?
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.”
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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