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Hillsong Is Being Accused of Misusing Church Funds to Pay for Private Jets, Luxury Items

Hillsong Is Being Accused of Misusing Church Funds to Pay for Private Jets, Luxury Items

Andrew Wilkie, a member of Australia’s Parliament, alleges Hillsong Church has broken financial laws in Australia and around the world, The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting.

Wilkie accused Hillsong founder Brian Houston and church leaders of misusing church funds to spend lavishly on private jets, luxury retreats, designer goods and even custom skateboards. The allegations are based on thousands of documents, including credit card statements, which were leaked to him by a whistleblower and show the church earned $80 million more income in Australia than it reported publicly.

The documents show Houston, who stepped down from his position at Hillsong last year and is currently involved in a separate legal battle, spent large sums of money on private jets, with Wilkie claiming that he “treated private jets like Ubers.” For example, in one three-month period, Houston’s flights cost $55,000, $52,000, $30,000, $22,000 and $2,000.

Additionally, Wilkie alleges church money was used “to do the kind of shopping that would embarrass a Kardashian.”

“For example, this document shows how in 2021 four members of the Houston family and their friends enjoyed a three-day luxury retreat in Cancun, Mexico, using $150,000 of church money,” he said. “A $6,500 Cartier watch for Bobbie Houston, $2,500 for Louis Vuitton luggage, a $2,500 watch for Phil Dooley, two watches worth $15,000 for Joel and Julia A’Bell, shopping sprees for designer clothes at Saks Fifth Avenue and even $16,000 for custom skateboards.”

The documents state that in 2020, when returning from a trip to the United States, the Houstons “failed to disclose it was the tithe incomes from the Hillsong congregation that paid for their upgrade at a cost of $5,389, in addition to the mandatory government quarantine fee of $4,016.”

The documents claim that Hillsong spent $82,000 on allowances for pastors and executive staff to purchase meals, $26,000 on entertainment, $37,000 on flowers, $171,000 on gifts, $288,000 on honorariums to guest speakers, $13,000 on “high tea and more.”

“Conversely, the amount spent on helping ‘people in need’ included just $2,900 for pastoral care direct costs, and $1,500 on pastoral care visitations,” the documents allege.

(We should note, that figure is not Hillsong’s giving/charity/missions budget.)

In the past year, Hillsong has been open about past governance failures and has engaged independent, professional assistance to overhaul its governance and accountability procedures. The church has sought independent legal and accounting advice on these matters since the employee involved in the legal case made these claims, and they believe that they have complied with all legal and compliance requirements.

“The claims made in federal parliament by Mr. Andrew Wilkie are out of context and relate to untested allegations made by an employee in an ongoing legal case,” the spokesperson said. “These allegations, made under parliamentary privilege, are in many respects wrong, and it is disappointing he made no effort to contact us first. If he did so we would have answered his questions and provided him with financial records to address his concerns.”

Wilkie also alleges Phil Dooley, the new head pastor of Hillsong, has misled the congregation about his own spending.

Current Hillsong lead pastor Phil Dooley

“[He] has told church followers he only flies economy. But these documents show him clocking up $58,000 in business class flights for him and his daughter to Guatemala, $42,000 in business class flights to Mexico, $32,000 in business class flights from Cape Town to Sydney via the US.”

However, an unnamed spokesman for Hillsong told the Sydney Morning Herald these figures have been misrepresented.

“Part of these fares are being paid by him personally, and a large portion was reimbursed by a church Pastor Phil visited that is unrelated to Hillsong,” they explained. “Hillsong is a global church and it is the role of our global senior pastor to visit Hillsong churches around the world.”

Wilkie’s allegations will be reviewed by the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission. The church claims that Wilkie’s claims are “out of context and relate to untested allegations made by an employee in an ongoing legal case.” However, Wilkie insists that he has verified the documents, and that the failure of regulatory oversight is “every bit as alarming as Hillsong’s criminality.”

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