Brian Houston, the founder of Hillsong Church, opens up on scandals – including the affair of popular pastor Carl Lentz and the subsequent dismissal – that recently plagued the global religious organization, whose participants include celebrities like Justin Bieber, Vanessa Hudgens and Chris Pratt.
âI think we’ve allowed a culture to develop where it was a rule for celebrities and a different rule for others,â Houston told Savannah Guthrie in an exclusive interview with TODAY Wednesday morning.
But, said Houston, “there’s another side to it.”
âOne person who has obviously been well denounced is Justin Bieber,â he said. âIf you think back to several years now, when he was destroying hotel rooms and was about to be deported to Canada. And watch Justin Bieber today. Anyone who is righteous can see drastic change, and therefore all is not bad.
Still, Houston denied the idea that he was more lenient with Lentz due to his connections with celebrities like Bieber, for whom Lentz was a spiritual advisor.
âI find it annoying that people think it was important for me and my wife, Bobbie, to attract famous people to church,â Houston said.
Last year, Lentz admitted to cheating on his 17-year-old wife after being sacked as senior pastor of the New York Church.
Houston also spoke about what he believed went wrong with the famous pastor, who was fired in November for “moral failures” and “breach of trust,” as a statement from houston put it at the time.
“People have described Carl Lentz as somewhat distant and distant from the current ministry. Does that bother you?” Savannah asked.
âIt’s true to a certain extent,â Houston responded. “Carl was Carl. He’s a unique character. There are a lot of things that I miss about Carl. But that said, there were leadership issues which I believe included lying, including what I did. would call narcissistic behavior. “
Asked when he first noticed Lentz exhibited this behavior, Houston replied, “I have had concerns and many conversations over the years with Carl.”
Savannah then questioned whether Houston should have intervened with Hillsong management before the start of November.
“I think there is a lot that I should have known earlier, and I hope that as we move forward we will make sure that we have much better systems in place and better accountability.” , said Houston.
Some have suggested that Lentz’s missteps were a reflection of Houston and the culture he created when he founded Hillsong in the Sydney suburb of Australia in 1983.
âOn one level if people say Carl was like me I would see it as a compliment because (he’s a) incredibly good guy, but on another level I don’t think Carl is really anything. like me, âHouston said. , adding: âI am ultimately responsible. I am ultimately responsible. “
Other recent controversies for the church have included the resignation of a senior Hillsong, New Jersey official in April for an inappropriate social media post, and the same month, the closure of its Dallas branch. A letter to the leaders of the New York site from 2018 also surfaced, alleging abusive behavior on the part of church leaders. Several former devotees TODAY said that the volunteers were overworked.
â(This season in the church) has been tough, clearly, because of a lot of disappointment in some of the things that have come out,â Houston said. âSome are obviously wrong. Other things are real. “
âIn my mind, if one person is treated badly, that’s one too many,â he continued. “If it’s true that people have been mistreated or people have been bullied, I am 100% committed to getting this out of our church.”
âI have thought about it time and time again and I recognize that mistakes have been made and that there are things we need to improve on, much better. I don’t shy away from that. “
When asked if the church’s problems stemmed from getting too big – she is bragging sites in 28 countries and 150,000 weekly visitors worldwide – Houston explained, âI’m not sure a church can be too big. I just think we have to grow in ourselves.
Another controversy for Hillsong has been its alleged treatment of LGBTQ people as a conservative evangelical church. Some gay members said they had had difficult experiences in the church and felt suicidal.
âI want us to improve ourselves in the way we communicate, kiss and work with gay people,â Houston said. âI have no personal prejudices against gays or lesbians. But unfortunately, as a pastor, you don’t represent what you think. You represent what the Bible says. And so at this point, we’re still conservative on the subject of the active gay relationship, et cetera.
âBut it’s a trip,â he says. “Everyone is welcome. Huge numbers of gay people come to Hillsong Church.”
He added that the struggles of church members over recent controversies “keep me awake at night.”
âI think the biggest churches around the world have to scramble to put things in place for a 21st century mindset that allows us to be stronger,â he said.
âBut Savannah, I look you in the eye and tell you that I sincerely believe in my heart Hillsong is a good church,â he said.
Days after Lentz was fired in early November, Houston announced that Hillsong was launching a probe into its New York City and other East Coast locations.
“We need a solid foundation for a fresh start and a fresh start. The best is yet to come”, Houston tweeted.
The organization revealed in a follow-up statement to TODAY at the time that the investigation was prompted, at least in part, by “a number of people (sharing) their experiences and concerns.”
When Lentz was sacked, Houston said in a statement that the decision “was not taken lightly and was made in the best interests of everyone, including Pastor Carl.”
âThis action was taken following ongoing discussions regarding leadership issues and breaches of trust, as well as a recent revelation of moral failures,â he added.
Later that same day, Lentz made his own statement on Instagram, writing in part: “Our time in Hillsong NYC has come to an end. It is a difficult end to what has been the most amazing, memorable and special chapter of our lives. Leading this church has been an honor in every sense of the word and it is impossible to express how much we have loved and will always love the amazing people in this church. â
âI have been unfaithful in my marriage, the most important relationship of my life and I am held responsible for that,â he continued. “This failure is on me, and I alone and I take full responsibility for my actions.”
The controversies within Hillsong aren’t the only ones Houston is currently facing. He is also under investigation for a report released by an Australian royal commission in 2015 that he failed to report child sexual abuse by his father, another prominent pastor, to authorities. After the report was released, Hillsong said Houston acted appropriately and legally.