Australian media are reporting that Brian Houston (Hillsong founder) committed ‘indiscretions’ towards two women, quoting a statement from Phil Dooley (current leader) to Hillsong staff this morning. While Brian isn’t the first church leader to face allegations like these, he is well known in the Australian church and in other parts of the world.
Abusing a position of power to take advantage of anyone is unprofessional, like the American dentist recently convicted of breaking his clients’ teeth so he could charge them for crowns. But it’s worse than unprofessional when a servant of Jesus Christ — called to bring healing to a suffering world — brings trauma instead. We hold teachers to a higher standard (James 3:1). We teach by what we do. The messenger is the message.
There have been times when the church has chosen to believe the person in power rather than the person who was abused. That allows the abuse to continue. Hillsong seems to be taking a more proactive approach to dealing with this issue.
If you have any responsibility for overseeing others in the church context, you really need to prepare to deal with allegations of this kind. Willow Creek had to learn this lesson with the allegations against Bill Hybels. In response to that event, Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer put together some guidance on how the church can develop a better culture than perpetrating the abuse.
There’s much insight in their book:
A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing (Tyndale momentum, 2020).
Tov is the Hebrew word for good. The blurb reads:
Tragically, in recent years, Christians have gotten used to revelations of abuses of many kinds in our most respected churches―from Willow Creek to Harvest, from Southern Baptist pastors to Sovereign Grace churches. Respected author and theologian Scot McKnight and former Willow Creek member Laura Barringer wrote this book to paint a pathway forward for the church.
We need a better way. The sad truth is that churches of all shapes and sizes are susceptible to abuses of power, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse. Abuses occur most frequently when Christians neglect to create a culture that resists abuse and promotes healing, safety, and spiritual growth.
How do we keep these devastating events from repeating themselves? We need a map to get us from where we are today to where we ought to be as the body of Christ. That map is in a mysterious and beautiful little Hebrew word in Scripture that we translate “good,” the word tov.
In this book, McKnight and Barringer explore the concept of tov ― unpacking its richness and how it can help Christians and churches rise up to fulfill their true calling as imitators of Jesus.
Update 2022-03-18: Hillsong Church has released a statement on what has happened and their response.
Update 2022-03-26: Christianity Today has an excellent piece by Michael Bird: Hillsong Leaders Need Character More than Charisma.