Watch: Hillsong Church Founder Opens Up About Gay Congregants, Celebrity Pastor's Firing

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday May 19, 2021

Brian Houston
Brian Houston  (Source:Screenshot/Today)

The founder of Hillsong Church — an entity with global reach and locations in 23 countries — spoke on the "Today" show about Hillsong's treatment of LGBTQ congregants and the firing of celebrity pastor, Carl Lentz.

An article on the news outlet describes Hillsong as "a conservative, evangelical church" at which "some gay members have said they had difficult experiences in the church and felt suicidal."

Brian Houston founded the church three decades ago in Australia. In conversation with Savannah Guthrie on the show's May 19 broadcast, Houston said: "I don't have any personal bias at all against gay or lesbian people. But unfortunately, as a pastor, you don't represent what you think. You represent what the Bible says."

Houston said that, due to the church's interpretation of the bible, Hillsong is still conservative "on the subject of [an] active gay relationship, et cetera."

"I want us to get better at the way we communicate and embrace and work with people who are gay," added Houston, who insisted: "Everyone's welcome. Many, many people who are gay come to Hillsong Church."

On the subject of Lentz and the celebrities he has attracted to the church — Chris Pratt and Justin Bieber among them — Houston denied the church had set out to cultivate celebrities as members.

"I find it annoying that people thought that it was important to me and my wife, Bobbie, to attract famous people to church," Houston told Guthrie.

Still, Houston admitted the church did allow "a culture to develop where it was one rule for celebrities and a different rule for other people."

Even so, he attributed to the church "a radical change" in superstar congregant Bieber, who, Houston noted, had at one point been "wrecking hotel rooms and basically on the edge of getting deported to Canada, and living an out of control life."

"And look at Justin Bieber today," Houston continued. "Anyone who's being fair could see a radical change, and so not everything about it is bad."

Lentz was fired from Hillsong Church late last year, despite being credited as instrumental in Hillsong Church's growth and success in the United States.

When Lentz's termination was announced, Houston cited "moral failures" and "breaches of trust," the news outlet noted. Lentz himself later admitted to an affair on Instagram, confessing: "I was unfaithful in my marriage, the most important relationship in my life and held accountable for that."

Lentz had been married for 17 years at that time.

But Lentz's day-to-day comportment was also a topic of discussion. Guthrie pointed out that there were claims that Lentz had been "removed from the actual ministry," chauffeured to the church and retreated to a "green room" instead of mingling with church members.

The church has been rocked by other scandals. Among the other reported allegations includes "a senior Hillsong staffer in New Jersey resigning in April over an inappropriate message on social media" and alleged "abusive behavior by church leaders" in New York.

Acknowledging he is "ultimately responsible" for what happens in his church, Houston still desires to see improvements: "If it's true that people have been treated badly or that people have been bullied," he told Guthrie, "I am 100% committed to moving that out of our church."

To watch the "Today" clip, follow this link.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.