Monday 20 September 2021

Hillsnog: How the scandals at Hillsong took root

Songs to snog heaven

Hillsong gave us many inspired songs of praise and worship over the decades that we felt we sang our way into the throne room of a gracious and merciful God that had heaven full of blessings to shower on his children with majesty and no expense spared.

However, lately, some scandals have hit the church first founded in Australia and in almost 30 countries that cannot be ignored, for the genesis is in something quite sad, unfortunate, and allegedly criminal from over 50 years ago. There has been some snogging of the illicit and criminally liable type that was swept under the carpet, and it has returned to claim the seat of its leader temporarily or permanently.

Caught in a father’s sexual snog

Brian Houston, 67, the charismatic founder of the Hillsong Church was the National President of the Australian Christian Churches, the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God, from 1997 to 2009 and in 1999, sexual abuse allegations were made against his father, Frank Houston, also a minister in the church establishment about sexually abusing a boy of 7 some 30 years before.

Mr Houston confronted his father about it, who confessed his proclivities to pederasty and the church handled the matter by having Frank Houston immediately retire from the ministry whilst the boy abused, then in his 30s was paid off for his silence with $10,000. Matter sorted, not exactly.

In a Royal Commission into clerical child abuse in Australia, the boy, now man testified to the face-saving activities of the church and how Brian Houston appeared to look the other way to protect his father, probably the broader church and having assumed the fat cheque was enough recompense for the child’s loss of sexual innocence at the instigation of his father in an unholy snog with a child and quite possibly many more. [Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse]

The snog required the law

Now, Brian Houston is essentially guilty of nothing as at yet, but he was complicit in thinking a payment was judicious and just amelioration for the acts of a paedophile that was quite, unfortunately, his own father. Whether he would have given any other person to the law one cannot say, as much as one cannot say if other clergy had been given the quiet exit into obscurity rather than face criminal justice for child sexual abuse.

As much as he pleads his innocence and transparency, no violation of a child is excusable regardless of if you address it with the child or when the child becomes an adult and has immediate needs palmed off with a cheque.

Hillsnog sprung from license

In the past year, there has been a litany of snogs, a high-profile pastor was doing it with another woman who was not his wife, another was sending pictures of his member not entirely snug in his underwear in the quest for probably an illicit snog, to the extent that Hillsong is becoming some scandal-hit Hillsnog.

There might not be any more scandals, but Brian Houston is being charged with concealing the sexual offences of his father, the father who died in 2004 at 82 and all this because there was a cover-up rather than the necessary report to the authorities of criminality. Then again, until recently, the church closed ranks on clerical child abuse than open themselves to the scrutiny of the law, a stance that is now totally unacceptable.

Child sexual abuse in a religious establishment is criminal and must be notified to the authorities for action, never swept under the carpet in the hope that it completely disappears into eternal memory lapse and forgetfulness, sparing the perpetrator whilst mollifying victims with money and materials as if their childhood innocence will therein be restored to undamaged, virgin, and a well-rounded personality.

Justice will come for the snog

I attended the Hillsong Church in London for a few months in 2013 and had many a spiritual uplifting in fellowship with others, but as one who has also survived child sexual abuse at the hands of those trusted by my parents to care for us, I take a completely dim view of people, establishments, institutions, traditions, cultures, and systems that shield paedophiles for reputational or other purposes and it is in this mind that I excoriate Brian Houston.

The chickens came home to roost in the other snogging scandals that enveloped the Hillsong Church in the last year, what was excused in 1999 gave the scope for the new embarrassing scandals to take root and fester.

If Frank Houston had been given up to the authorities to face embarrassment, disgrace, and criminal indictment, it is unlikely Carl Lentz and Darnell Barnett of recent snogs would have contemplated straying from the path of righteousness. I do not condemn them, but where there is allowance and apparent permissiveness, there is proclivity and every possibility of avoidable scandal.

As a consequence, it would take a while to restore Hillsnog to Hillsong, you cover your sin, and it will find you out.

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