Hillsong Board Blames Meds & Alcohol for Landing Brian Houston in Woman’s Hotel Room

By Roxanne Stone and Bob Smietana
Hillsong pastor drunk Houston
Pastor Brian Houston preaches at Hillsong Church in Nov. 2021. (Video screen grab)

Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston allegedly spent time alone in a hotel room with a woman not his wife in 2019 after consuming anti-anxiety medication and alcohol, the board of directors of Hillsong revealed today.

The board’s statement, which came as the story was breaking in the Australian press, said the board has been “dealing with two complaints made against Pastor Brian over the last 10 years.” It added that each was investigated by a board member, or “a body appointed by the global board,” and dealt with confidentially.

The other complaint related to an accusation that Houston had flirted with a staff member over text message a decade ago.

Prior to the statement being released, Hillsong reportedly held a video meeting with 800 Hillsong staffers around the world in which interim senior pastor Phil Dooley, who is leading the church while Houston is on leave due to ongoing legal troubles, discussed the complaints for the first time with the church at large. Dooley explained the texts, according to Australia’s ABC News, as being to the effect of, “‘If I was with you, I’d like to kiss and cuddle you,’ words of that nature.”

The second incident, as reportedly detailed in the staff meeting, took place during Hillsong’s annual conference in Qudos Bank Arena in Homebush, New South Wales, in 2019. According to ABC, Dooley said Houston had been “drinking with a group.”

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“Later that evening, Pastor Brian attempted to get into his room but didn’t have his room key and ended up knocking on the door to the woman’s room,” Dooley reportedly said. “She opened the door and he went into her room.

Phil Dooley
Phil Dooley, interim global senior pastor of Hillsong Church (Video screengrab)

“The truth is we don’t know what happened next,” ABC reported Dooley telling the staffers. “The woman has not said there was any sexual activity. Brian has said there was no sexual activity, but he was in the room for 40 minutes.”

The Hillsong board statement said that Houston, 68, had become “disoriented” after taking more than the prescribed dose of an anti-anxiety prescription, mixed with alcohol. “This resulted in him knocking on the door of a hotel room that was not his, entering this room and spending time with the female occupant,” read the statement.

The board’s statement said Houston was also under the influence of sleeping medication at the time he sent the inappropriate texts, “upon which he had developed a dependence.” The text messages ultimately led to the staff member resigning, according to the statement, and Houston then apologized to the staff member.

“We also worked closely with Pastor Brian to ensure he received professional help to eliminate his dependency on this medication, and this was achieved successfully,” the statement read.

After the hotel room incident, the board said there was an investigation “by the integrity unit,” and that, “although all parts of the complaint were unable to be sustained, important elements of the complaint were sustained, and the conduct was of serious concern.”

The board’s statement also said they agreed to refund money the woman had donated to the church, “in order to bring resolution in a spirit of love and care,” and to “abide by her request for confidentiality.” The statement said Houston repaid the money to the church. 

At the time, Houston agreed to step down from leadership for a period and “take specific action,” but ultimately, according to the statement, he did not take all of the agreed-upon steps, “which resulted in the board taking further action in late 2021.”

The statement did not indicate whether Houston would return to his position at the church.

The incidents are the latest controversy to engulf Hillsong, a Pentecostal powerhouse Houston founded with his wife, Bobbie, in 1983. The church, which draws a reported 150,000 to services in 30 locations, has also produced some of the most popular worship songs used in evangelical churches around the world, including “Oceans,” “What a Beautiful Name,” and “Shout to the Lord.”

In January, Houston announced he was taking a leave from his pastoral duties during 2022 in order to prepare for his trial in Australia on charges that he failed to report sexual abuse.

“The result is that the Hillsong Global Board feel it is in my and the church’s best interest for this to happen, so I have agreed to step aside from all ministry responsibilities until the end of the year,” Houston said in the Jan. 30 video announcement.

Hillsong Brian Houston doc
Hillsong global senior pastor Brian Houston appears in a promotional image for “Hillsong Church: God Goes Viral,” a 2021 documentary. (Image: BBC Four)

Houston was charged in August 2021 with concealing a serious, indictable offense of another person. Police say his late father, Frank Houston, also a preacher, indecently assaulted a young male in 1970. Court documents allege Houston knew of his father’s abuse as early as 1999 and, “without reasonable excuse,” failed to disclose that information to police.

His son has long denied covering up his father’s abuse.

“I think I’m quite a tolerant person, but one thing I’ve really never had any tolerance for is sexual abuse, and especially child abuse,” Brian Houston said in a 2005 interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “So, I don’t think you could have kicked me in the guts with a bigger blow, in some ways.”

According to Australian news sources, Brian Houston’s trial will be held in late 2022.

More recent concerns have arisen over how Houston and Hillsong have handled allegations of abuse within the church and about the conduct of its pastors, some of whom are celebrities in their own rights.

Carl Lentz, former lead pastor of Hillsong NYC, was fired in November of 2020 for “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failings.” Lentz subsequently admitted to having an extramarital affair. Soon after, Ranin Karim, a Brooklyn jewelry designer, discussed her relationship with Lentz on “Good Morning America.” The following month, comments from Brian Houston, in which he called Lentz “a narcissist,” suggested the affair was not Lentz’s only transgression.

Six months later, a former staff member at Hillsong alleged she was subjected to “bullying, abuse of power and sexual abuse” over the course of the seven years she worked as a nanny in Lentz’s home. Lentz denied the allegations.

Months later, Hillsong announced it was closing its Dallas, Texas, campus, following reports that the previous lead pastors there, Reed and Jess Bogard, used donations to fund their lavish lifestyle. The couple had served in New York with Lentz and “failed to meet the commitments and standards of Hillsong Church,” church leaders later said.

In April 2021, Darnell Barrett, a pastor for the Montclair, New Jersey, Hillsong campus, resigned after sharing revealing photos of himself on Instagram stories to a group of friends that included a woman who once volunteered for him at the New Jersey church.

Anna Crenshaw, an American student who attended Hillsong College in Sydney, told RNS earlier this year that she was inappropriately touched by a Hillsong staffer, Jason Mays, the son of the church’s human resources chief, at a party in early 2016. Crenshaw didn’t tell Hillsong leadership about the incident for two years and told RNS in May that she believes there is “a lack of institutional accountability” and a cultural tendency at Hillsong “to value those ‘higher up’ or more connected.”

Crenshaw said that while Hillsong leadership took her accusations seriously, they were slow to take action and that Houston seemed initially dismissive of Mays’ behavior, saying Mays was “just young, drunk, stupid, and in a bad situation.” Mays pleaded guilty to indecent assault in 2020 and received two years’ probation and mandatory counseling.  

Julie Roys contributed to this report.

Roxanne StoneRoxanne Stone is the managing editor for Religion News Service, and Bob Smietana is a national reporter for RNS.

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27 thoughts on “Hillsong Board Blames Meds & Alcohol for Landing Brian Houston in Woman’s Hotel Room”

  1. It’s Basic Christianity for a married man not to be alone with a women ever!!!!!! Elder, Pastor any man who is a true believer!

    1. The board refunded money the woman had donated to the church in the “spirit of love and care” and to abide her request for confidentially? Sounds more like they paid her to keep her mouth shut.

    2. Rebeca Martínez Gómez

      It seems to me that the worst part is that apparently that was just an outcome of mixing alcohol and “medication” for depression while being an overseer in the church, not even just a pastor.

    3. Cynthia Wright

      “It’s Basic Christianity for a married man not to be alone with a women ever.”

      Really? Is that in the Gospel (according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) or in the New Testament at all?

      If one cannot provide a citation that says “a married man can never be alone with a woman ever,” I think it’s very presumptuous to assert that this “commandment” is “Basic Christianity.”

        1. Definitely one of the ways.

          I think, “A person shouldn’t be in the hotel room of one his or her employees late at night while drunk and on drugs,” can stand on its own, without bringing in the sex, gender, or religion of any participant. If Brian whosis was too ill to get back to his own room, calling the hotel’s emergency number would seem to be the wise action.

          1. Why are church leaders and members going to bars and drinking? While taking medication, you are NOT to be drinking alcohol. A married man or woman should NEVER be alone with the opposite gender, period, regardless of where it may be. That is how hook – ups, affairs start and continue. Yes, that sort of thing goes on within ‘The Church’. People need to read ‘Anatomy of an Affair: How Affairs, Attractions, and Additions Develope, and How to Guard Your Marriage Against Them’ by: Dave Carder. People may think that their church doesn’t have porn addiction and cheating going on within the church goers, are sadly mistaken. 70% or more, of people, borh men and women, have a porn addiction. Those are just the one’s who are admitting to doing it.

          2. Susan Hammond, do you have a Biblical source for this contention: “A married man or woman should NEVER be alone with the opposite gender, period, regardless of where it may be.” ?

            The vast majority of men and women are alone together in a variety of circumstances do not have affairs, because they are not interested in having affairs. One might get the impression that there is something kooky about people in “the church” that makes them so susceptible to immoral relationships.

          3. It doesn’t need to be a passage in the Bible for an action to be unwise or unbecoming of a believer. How is it wise or loving – to his wife – for a man to be alone in the company of a woman other than his wife?
            When faced with these circumstances in business, I’ve done my best to be in obvious places. Socially meeting with female colleagues I’ve sought to have my wife along too. It is risky and fraught otherwise

          4. Cynthia Wright

            David Green, when something is presented as “Basic Christianity,” that involves a higher standard than “imprudent for some people under some circumstances.” Maybe it’s actually an error – even projecting – to teach that everyone is one meeting in the library from an affair.

        2. Cody B Laumeister

          I’m no fan of Houston or Hillsong, which is more of a lifestyle business than a Biblical church, but sleeping meds like Ambien truly put people in an altered state, doing very unpredictable things, even without the ill-chosen mixture with alcohol.

          The medical literature is full of people sleepwalking on Ambien, even getting in the car and driving for hours to strange places, with no memory of doing so once the meds wear off.

          I myself used to wake up the morning after an Ambien to find I’d written notes on my bedside note pad the night before, that were as foreign to my memory as if a burglar had broken in and jotted down some random thoughts before leaving again !

          If you take Ambien, get into bed IMMEDIATELY, and hide your car keys !

          1. Hildegard von Bingen

            It said he was taking “anti-anxiety medication” which is not Ambien… This is sneaky language for benzodiazepines. No one ever mixes benzos and alcohol by “accident” because anyone prescribed that medication is explicitly told that they cannot mix it without alcohol. Mixing alcohol and benzos will seriously mess you up and it is a classic mix for substance abusers… I work in the field and not only do people get super high from that combo, it can also kill you. This “pastor” has a very serious problem that goes much deeper than what we even know.

    4. Brent N Hinkle

      The vast majority of churches have one pastor and one administrative assistant. In the majority of cases the pastor is male and the assistant female. Is every single one of those churches running afoul of something you call Basic Christianity?

  2. Stanley Goodwin

    People who support and still advocate for people like this are so easily deceived. I still remember in 1998 when the fundamentalists thought Bill Clinton was the worst of the worst. Now this is an every day thing. We are in a new era of lies more than ever. People love to be lied to and adore the power. The world is watching and the church is shrinking with no end in sight. Why are evangelicals so easily deceived?

  3. Everyone of us can find ourselves yielding to sin and being prone to wander if we are not diligent in our walk with the Lord. I throw no stones. But hopefully at some point the Church will realize that celebrity Christians are really not needed. We will be fine without any of them. In many cases, we trade what should be our responsibility and look to flawed leaders, teachers and preachers to lead us. I think it has been that way for a long time.

  4. Under the influence of drugs and alcohol……again and again it seems to be such a convenient reply.
    And the expectation that it quickly settles the matter………just be honest about it, admit you made bad choices….the same stuff they’ve preached to us

  5. Richard Donaldson

    Imagine Houston telling a early 1900’s Pentecostal “It was medication” (which some rejected) “and booze” (which most rejected.
    That old prohibition on alcohol was likely tossed aside as outdated and legalistic.

  6. Why on earth are pastors drinking alcohol?? Another Christian leader undone by something Scripture warns against and portrays in such a negative light. Perhaps living above reproach should include living less like the world.

  7. Guy Vivien Marcel Rozario

    Its easy to pick up on an occasion like this and judge the man and “cancel” him for his misdeed. If we truly believe in the Christian faith we will know that every person is susceptible to sin and offences. Pastors and church leaders are not exempt. If we want to cancel him then we should cancel David the man after God’s own heart because he committed adultery murdered to protect himself and repented only when he was caught. The second thing I want to appeal to is to stop parading our fallen brothers before the world. There is a devil to do that already. When the Philistines nailed Saul and his sons to the city wall to shame and parade them, the men of Jabesh-Gillead went and took down their bodies and buried them. They didn’t allow Saul who was clearly bad to be dishonored by the world because he was God’s anointed. Lets also remember that through the Houston’s thousands were blessed by their worship music and conferences. I am saddened about this news but only because I know that I am susceptible to the same. The only difference between Brian Houston and all of us is that he was caught and we are not. Btw Hillsong is dealing with this in humility. check out their statement on their site and be fair.

    1. Bob Kacszamackis

      The difference between Brain Houston and David is that David repented of his sins. Brian Houston has only sought to hide and downplay his sins. Oh and David raped Bathsheba BTW. Hillsong has tried to hide this and cover all of it up so they can continue to make money off music and merchandise. Brian Houston is called to do better and the church knew what was going on for years before it ever came to this. If he resigned immediately upon this happening and repented that would be a different story. Instead they hid and covered up his father’s abuse for decades, hid and downplayed the inappropriate text messages that happened years before, and excused Brian’s actions because of alcohol and medication instead of fully repenting. Do you not see the difference?

  8. Demanding Scripture to back up not being alone with a non-spouse… you’re 100% right, there is none. Think about that logic though.

    Does the Bible say, “Your must not cheat on your income taxes?” No, but Jesus says give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Romans 13… Obey the government God has allowed to rule. You can interpret what God wants through other Scripture without granular specifics. When in doubt (not in faith) simply error on pleasing God.

    The Bible DOES say in 2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Corinthians 6:18 to flee youthful passions including immorality. 1 Corinthians 7:5 about not denying your spouse intimacy because of temptation. We’re sexually tempted beings. God indicates we need this protection or we could seek intimacy with others. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says doing EVERYTHING for the glory of God.

    Combining alcohol and mind-altering drugs where one is sending romantic texts and entering women’s hotel rooms and needing rehab, is not a “fleeing” lifestyle. It’s not glorifying God. Knocking on her door asking for her to call the front desk would have sufficed, but a mind altered state left him unnecessarily vulnerable. These women being bought out or silenced is deeply troubling.

    For a pastor / overseer it’s not “above reproach.” 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6–7, Ephesians 5:18. This leads to debauchery (sensual indulgence), the opposite of being filled with the Spirit, self-controlled, glorifying God.

    Can someone be forgiven of this behavior if they repent? Yes, thank You Jesus! But demanding Scripture spells out line by line every unwise or sinful thing is super dangerous logic. Satan’s deceptive dialogue with Eve started with, ““Did God ACTUALLY say, ‘You shall not eat of ANY tree in the garden’?” Today’s equivalent would be, “Does the Bible technically, explicitly say don’t do X?”

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