Hillsong founder Brian Houston today is facing harsh criticism for publicly revealing the private history a woman who recently revealed her story of abuse by a Hillsong leader. The woman, a former student at Hillsong College and trainee at Hillsong Church, Anna Crenshaw, is accusing Houston of using her story to deflect attention from his church’s failure to fire an abusive leader.
In a recent article at the Christian Post, Anna Crenshaw said she was assaulted by Hillsong worship leader Jason Mays. And instead of protecting her, the church protected her abuser, she said.
In response, Brian Houston tweeted: “It’s a sad story. A number of things in this article are factually wrong, but abuse is NEVER ok.” Houston then revealed that Crenshaw’s was sexually abused at her home church, adding “Whether abuse happens in Pennsylvania or Australia, it’s tragic.”
Anna Crenshaw said Houston’s tweet was an attempt to use her past trauma as an excuse to deflect accountability from Houston’s church.
“This is an incredibly victimizing and heartbreaking response to receive from someone I held as my dear pastor for many years,” she said on Instagram.
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“In a comment on this article yesterday, I foolishly included information that was wrong for me to share. To (rightfully) be more respectful of privacy, I deleted my comment. I apologize for any pain I have caused. I know better and will do better,” he said.
In a comment on this article yesterday, I foolishly included information that was wrong for me to share. To (rightfully) be more respectful of privacy, I deleted my comment. I apologize for any pain I have caused. I know better and will do better.
— Brian Houston (@BrianCHouston) April 12, 2021
Many people outraged by Brian Houston’s first tweet responded angrily, including Anna Crenshaw’s father, Ed Crenshaw.
“What happened to the 1st apologetic tweet? Had to clean it up so as not to admit too much responsibility?” Ed Crenshaw asked. “FYI, your 1st response to article is indicative of mishandling Anna from day one. I assure you there are more “factual errors” on the part of your staff than in Anna’s story.”
“You should be personally apologising to Anna, firing the person responsible and actually investigating what happened. Protect the members of your church – not just your own,” another Twitter user said to Brian Houston.
“Abuse can happen anywhere. We all agree it is NEVER okay,” responded Anna Crenshaw on Instagram. “That is not what is in question. It is the way the abuse is handled by the organisation.”
Hillsong handled the abuse by keeping the abuser on staff and making Crenshaw feel “very unwelcome,” she said.
Crenshaw said she worked for Hillsong’s CityCare ministry when a worship leader sexually harassed and assaulted her.
At a party at a church member’s house, Mays asked Crenshaw if she was “sleeping over,” touched her thigh, and grabbed her around the waist as he kissed her stomach, according to Crenshaw’s testimony.
Crenshaw said she reported Mays’ assault to Hillsong. The church waited months before telling Mays about the accusation. Then, instead of firing him, she said the church made her work under the supervision of Mays’ wife.
After pleading guilty to indecent assault, Mays received two years of probation and mandatory counselling. A church spokesperson told Vanity Fair that Mays was banned from ministry for 12 months, then put into an administrative role, where he occasionally volunteered to lead worship.
According to Mays’ Linkedin page, he is currently the creative director at Hillsong.
Unlike Hillsong, Anna Crenshaw said on Instagram that her home church supported her after it discovered her abuse. She said the church fired her abuser, held him legally accountable, and paid for her counseling.
“Why is this too much to ask?” said Do Better Church, a church abuse survivors account on Instagram.
According to a clip obtained by the Christian Post, Brian Houston claimed at a recent internal meeting that Mays wasn’t a sexual predator, but had only gotten “much drunker than he should,”
“The Lord has forgiven Jason and we felt he deserved another chance after we weighed up the judge’s findings and comments,” said Houston. “He was restored to paid work and volunteering, which we believe to be in line with biblical principles of discipline and restoration. One thing I do know is that we are not talking about a sexual predator here. We’re talking about a young man, young married man who did something stupid. Got much drunker than he should, which is an issue that we should keep addressing, and got himself in a bad situation.”
Brian Houston has been accused of minimizing sexual assault in the past. His father, Frank Houston, was found gulity of sexually abusing boys in church.
One of the victims claims that when he spoke with Brian Houston, Houston told the abuse victim that the abuse was the victim’s fault because he had tempted Houston’s father.
There also have been other sexual misconduct cases at Hillsong. Hillsong’s New York City pastor, Carl Lentz, was fired for having extramarital affairs and other undisclosed moral issues.
The church may have known about Lentz’s issues for years before his firing, according to an anonymous former insider.
Crenshaw said that Hillsong’s refusal to fire the pastor who grabbed her tells other employees that the church lets people get away with assault. She also said that many of May’s colleagues knew nothing about the story until the media reported on it.
“When staff see someone who’s very involved, whose family is very involved, be able to not only be supported but still kept in their role and given even a better job during this time, it shows people that you can get away with anything as long as you have the right connections within the higher level staff,” she said.
The Roys Report reached out to Hillsong with questions on their discipline of Mays and on Brian Houston’s tweet, but received no response.
Jackson Elliott is a Christian journalist trained at Northwestern University. He has worked at The Daily Signal, The Inlander, and The Christian Post, covering topics ranging from D.C. politics to prison ministry. His interests include the Bible, philosophy, theology, Russian literature, and Irish music.