A high-level Hillsong Church executive dismissed founder Brian Houston’s explanation for why he visited the hotel room of an unidentified woman for 40 minutes during the church’s annual conference in 2019 as insulting “dribble” just days before Houston resigned, a leaked letter suggests.
Days before Houston’s resignation as the megachurch network’s global senior pastor on March 23, Hillsong’s head of people and development, John Mays, recommended in a March 19 letter obtained by The Guardian that Houston and his wife, Bobbie, be fired from their positions due to leadership failures.
Houston’s resignation came after it was revealed that two women, including the unidentified women in the hotel room, made serious complaints of misconduct against him in the last 10 years.
Before announcing Houston’s resignation, the Austrailia-based church said Houston violated Hillsong’s pastoral code of conduct by entering the hotel room of the unidentified woman for 40 minutes while under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs during the church’s annual conference in 2019.
Houston doesn’t recall having sex with the woman, and the woman has not said if they had sex.
Hillsong Church’s Interim Global Senior Pastor Phil Dooley told Hillsong Church staffers in a meeting that the accounts of what happened from Houston and the woman are not entirely reliable because they were impaired by alcohol. Houston was also reportedly under the influence of anxiety medication during the hotel room visit.
In his letter, however, Mays, whose son Jason Mays pleaded guilty to indecent assault of former Hillsong College student Anna Crenshaw in January 2020, said there were “obvious information gaps and anomalies” in what the Hillsong Church board told staff.
“I do not believe our employees have bought the narrative within the statement made in the staff meeting,” Mays wrote. He said the narrative was met with “skepticism and mistrust despite urgings to avoid gossip and talk to leadership about any concerns.”
“One insulting example (of many) is that Brian lost his room key so knocked on the lady’s door, a detail he no doubt recalls despite memory loss during the following 40 minutes. Are we really asking our staff to accept such dribble and defend our Church with such?” he asked.
Hillsong Church also revealed in March that Houston exchanged an “inappropriate text message” with a church staffer in 2013. According to Dooley, the text message was “along the lines of, ‘If I was with you I would like to give you a kiss and a cuddle or a hug.’” The staffer resigned shortly after. Hillsong Church blamed Houston’s actions in this case on “sleeping tablets.”
In his letter, Mays alleged that “Brian and his behaviors” placed a great deal of stress on Hillsong Church board members.
“[T]hese challenges would have been intensified on account of Brian’s strong, immovable, leadership disposition together with a distinct lack of personal accountability which has been allowed over many years,” Mays added.
Mays further alleged that Hillsong Church had become an “arrogant employer” that essentially exploited the commitment of staff to the church’s mission over time.
He further called for a review of the board’s process that led to Houston’s resignation by a forensic, independent, external body “with absolutely no allegiance to Hillsong” or any of its board members.
“I believe that the statement provided to staff should be reviewed and modified to ensure it more authentically reveals the full circumstances of Brian’s indiscretions (subject to his and others right to privacy), the agreements entered into with aggrieved parties (again subject to individual privacy) and the decision-making process that led to such agreements,” Mays wrote, according to The Guardian.
Earlier this month, Hillsong Church also fired Bobbie Houston. Mays, in his letter, had also recommended that she be held accountable.
“I believe Bobbie in her capacity as Global Senior Pastor, paid accordingly, should also be accountable for her willingness to tolerate such behavior and defiance on the part of her co-leader,” Mays wrote. “I do not see her as a victim in this situation, she has a biblical, professional and corporate responsibility to ensure accountability.”