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Reporting the Truth.
Restoring the Church.

Brian Houston Acquitted of Covering Up Father’s Sex Abuse

By Roxanne Stone
Houston acquitted not guilty
Brian Houston addresses his resignation from Hillsong Church in a video released Nov. 3, 2022. (Source: Video screen grab)

An Australian court found Brian Houston, co-founder and former head pastor of the Hillsong megachurch and media empire, not guilty for concealing his father’s sexual abuse and not reporting it to the police.

Sydney Court Magistrate Gareth Christofi announced the verdict on Thursday, two months after he heard closing arguments in the long-delayed trial. Christofi ruled that Houston had reasonable excuse for not reporting his father’s crimes to police.

Houston, 69, had been charged with concealing a serious indictable offense of another person. Police say his father, Frank Houston, also a preacher, sexually assaulted a young male in the 1970s. Court documents allege Houston knew of his father’s abuse as early as 1999 and failed to disclose that information to police.

“The Crown submits that the reason was that the accused was trying to protect the reputation of the church and his father,” Crown Prosecutor Gareth Harrison said during his closing arguments in the trial.

Frank Houston was a longtime superintendent of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand before moving to Australia in 1977 and founding the Sydney Christian Life Centre, which Brian Houston later took over and merged with Hillsong.

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frank houston
Frank Houston in an archive photo. (Video screengrab)

Authorities allege that Brian Houston allowed his father to retire quietly after learning of the abuse allegation, although the elder Houston continued to preach at other churches nearly until his death. Frank Houston reportedly confessed before he died in 2004 at age 82, according to previous reporting by The Associated Press.

Harrison made a case for a church culture replete with scandals and cover-ups. He argued Houston made sure he was the main point of contact between the victim, Brett Sengstock, and the church to keep hidden his father’s sexual abuse. When Houston did tell Hillsong about the abuse, according to Harrison, he only did so in suggestive language that softened the extent of the crime.

The defense, for its part, argued Brian Houston had reasonable excuse for not reporting the crimes: Sengstock told him at the time that he didn’t want to go the police.

Attorney Phillip Boulten conceded that not telling the police also protected Frank Houston’s reputation and Hillsong. 

“Just because it was convenient for it not to be prosecuted, my client is not without reasonable excuse. Brett Sengstock said he did not want it to be reported,” argued Boulten.

Brian Houston, who co-founded Hillsong Church with his wife, Bobbie, in the suburbs of Sydney in 1983, had stepped down from leading the global megachurch in January 2022 to focus on the trial and court proceedings.

hillsong brian bobbie houston comeback
Senior Pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston lead prayer at Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia. (Photo courtesy Hillsong Church)

A few months later, in March, he resigned amid revelations that he had sent inappropriate text messages to a staff member and spent time in a woman’s hotel room. Both incidents took place years previously and the Hillsong board issued a statement at the time saying it had been ”dealing with two complaints made against Pastor Brian over the last 10 years.”

The board statement attributed the incidents to Houston being under the influence of sleeping medication and alcohol.

In April of this year, Houston pleaded guilty to charges in California of driving under the influence of alcohol after an arrest on Feb. 26, 2022, less than a month before he resigned from Hillsong.

He received three years’ probation and a $140 fine.

Since his resignation, Houston has been traveling with his wife and speaking at churches around the world. He has also kept an active presence on social media, where he has occasionally lashed out at his former church. Most recently, over the weekend, Houston posted on Instagram that it had been 40 years since he and Bobbie founded Hillsong.

“Our hope would have been to celebrate with you all, had the opportunity been extended to us. It was not!” Houston added.

Carl Lentz
Carl Lentz appears during an interview on Oct. 23, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

Houston’s resignation and trial come amid several years of cascading scandals at Hillsong, beginning with the November 2020 firing of Hillsong NYC lead pastor Carl Lentz over an extramarital affair. In the years since, a number of other Hillsong pastors have been accused of sexual misconduct. Several more resigned or broke ties with the megachurch or shuttered. Two unflattering documentaries painted a picture of a celebrity-like hierarchy and a culture of cover-up that permeated the U.S. and Australian branches of the megachurch.

In Australia, the church faces an investigation into financial fraud by Parliament member Andrew Wilkie, who has accused Hillsong of money laundering and tax evasion.

Under the leadership of the Houstons, Hillsong grew from a small suburban church in Sydney to a Pentecostal powerhouse and multimedia empire, boasting locations around the world and an average global attendance of 150,000 weekly, pre-pandemic. Hillsong’s music program has produced some of the most popular worship songs used in evangelical churches the world over, including “Oceans,” “What a Beautiful Name” and “Shout to the Lord.”

Roxanne StoneRoxanne Stone is the managing editor for Religion News Service. 

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6 Responses

  1. One thing for sure. It never pays to cover up immoral conduct within a church. It brings a reproach upon that church when it comes out!
    When sin is dealt with like in the case of reporting a child molesting pastor It may cause reproach however it puts those who are attacking the church in a bad position. For if dealt with and reported the defense of that church would be, “they did the right thing and reported it!”
    So I believe sex sins within a church should be dealt with.

  2. The Bible gives strong MANDATES how to deal with RAVENOUS WOLVES!

    Rebuke them sharply Mark them publically seperate from them immediately

    Sound the alarm to the flock to do the same!

    We are never told to pray for the wolves if you have noticed in the scriptures ! They are Unredeemable destined before time for their damnation !

    We are ti pray for the victims of these wolves! And mandated to seperate even from blind sheep for the sake of their salvation !

    But blind sheep are very hard to rescue for they are brain washed and need ti be deprogrammed from the blind deception they were and are waking in!

    Blind sheep are the wolves greatest defenders for deception has a natural consequence of spiritual blindness and also a JUDGMENT against blind sheep noted in 2Tim that says God will give them up to the tickling and itching of the ears the need for a spiritual fix or high that these wolves feed them!

    Houston is a ravenous wolf his soul is corrupt and as long as church doors are open this wolf will roam in eve without invitation for wolves know there are always sheep many sheep tat are biblical ignorant and ripe for barbecue lamb chops devouring them alive !

    2 john even if you give Godspeed to one of these wolves you are a partaker of their EVIL DEEDS!

    God said it and that settles it a very very grace warning to the entire House of God…

  3. Before everyone assumes a lack of judicial integrity please remember this was a criminal not civil case. It means the Judge has to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt about criminal intent even when he has no doubt about the activity happening and its measurable effects. In this case prosecution always had an almost impossible task of proving intent to that standard against the muddy waters of potential misguided thinking for the sake of the victim… he couldn’t get there to the high standard required so he obliged to rule not certainly guilty…. the fact this man never the less did cover things over and everything else God has caused to be exposed for the sake of those he can still save out of that synagogue of Satan remains plain to anyone who is interested in truth and the good of the flock. False dominionist doctrine and an agenda of greed and pride are enough reason to flee to Jesus from it.. the real judge sees all, knows all and requires the help of no one to reach his judgments conclusion. This guy will play victim now, narcissist’s always do that… but look at what the hand of God has uncovered… run to Jesus,

  4. Sadly, what has been going on within Charismatic assemblies, especially those who are known as being hyper and void of sound doctrine, is the complete lack of true discipleship. Looking on videos Hillsongs services, the first thing to be noticed easily by those who have actually given themselves truly to the Word, is no love of the truth, or the study of the Word of God. Like the writer’s repimand to the Hebrew church, they have need that someone teach them again, if ever they knew any part of the Scriptures to begin with. These people do not know anything of the first principles of the oracles of God, and are entirely unable to produce any truths that display by word and deed a foundation of sound doctrine. And so, they had need that someone teach them again, if indeed any of them were ever taught. Most were never taught what it is to have a strong foundation in the Word of God.

    In the case of Hillsong, what I have noticed is a strong tendency to prefer emotional experiences far above any association with the study of the Word of God. Instead, they attend gatherings to wait for the end of the service where altar calls have been set aside in anticipation of a forthcoming rush of emotions to rise to a high wire pitch, misguided imaginations, and words out their own making. Rolling around on the floor and thinking absolutely nothing regarding the second work of salvation known as sanctification is their sole intent. It’s all about feelings today, and it’s been like this throughout the Charismatic circles for far too many years without rebuke and without the proper insight needed to set it aright.

  5. “Justice is just as messed up in Australia as it is here in the USA.”

    Absolutely true.

    Corruption in the judiciary due to practise of paedophilia runs deep. It goes literally the top echelons of the instutuions in the country.

    In 2015 a deeply concerned and heroic Australian Senator Bill Heffernan addressed a parliamentary committee investigating sexual abuse of children. See clip below.

    He had at hand police documents regarding a vast number of VIP pedophiles in Australia dating back many years. These documents have been suppressed and not acted upon , the public unaware.
    Names include those in the top level of Governmrnt, including former prime ministers, the judiciary, media and entertainment, police, public service, education and the church.

    As he states “They keep each other’s secrets”.

    This level of corruption and Freemason networks ( yes even within the church) prevents convictions of men or women like Brian Houston. Truth is suppressed and justice can be bought at the highest levels.

    Following the Senator’s iconic speech and truth telling, as sadly those present did not wish this information to be released to the public, they “adjourned” for tea and never went back….

    https://youtu.be/13jindxNw28

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