Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston has sent an email of apology to the the whole church, acknowledging that Hillsong East Coast “failed to be the kind of church it should be” in light of the extramarital affair scandal that forced founding pastor Carl Lentz out in 2020 and led to a leadership crisis. “I accept responsibility for these failings and apologize unreservedly,” Houston said, and promised to implement new structures to prevent future scandals.
The email comes on the heels of the largest scandal in the enormously influential church’s history, in which Lentz was ousted for an affair with a Brooklyn jewelry designer. Lentz left Hillsong Church with his wife and their three children and is currently living in California. The move sent shockwaves through Hillsong’s celebrated attendees, leading high profile members like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez to cut ties with the church and unverified reports of more indiscretions were printed.
Houston announced an independent investigation conducted by New York law firm Zukerman Gore Brandeis & Crossman. A letter from the law firm was included in Houston’s email, noting that a “detailed report of Zukerman Gore will not be released to the public to protect the privacy and confidentiality of those involved.” In February, Houston had announced that the investigation had wrapped up and found “significant ways” that the New York City branch of Hillsong had “failed to reflect Hillsong global culture.”
A document titled Changes outlined some of the new systems being implemented in light of the investigation, including a “Hillsong Global Charter at Hillsong East Coast, which will bring more oversight, compliance and uniformity of expectation and culture across all our locations going forward” and a “clear and consistent system for reporting grievances and issues related to inappropriate behavior.”
“The responsibility falls to leaders to understand the significance of the position they hold in the lives of others and to use that position as Jesus did, not to be served but to serve,” the letter wrote.
Other changes will involve additional training about the “specific types of power dynamics that often arise in a church setting,” a revised staff code of conduct, standardized human resources policies, mandatory training around sexual harassment and misconduct for all staff and improved safeguards, supervision and accountability for all staff. You can read the whole document here.