Since making headlines with the abrupt firing of Hillsong church’s NYC pastor Carl Lentz — many people are wondering what exactly is Hillsong?
Although it may appear that the megachurch is a covenant for famous people — like Kabbalah or Scientology — with its ever growing list of high-profile names. Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Kylie and Kendall Jenner are among just a few of the Hollywood elite who have been a part of the “new-age” church.
Hillsong’s theology is defined as “contemporary Pentecostal” and focuses on an individual relationship with Jesus through baptism.
The church was founded in the early ‘80s in New South Wales, Australia, by Brian and Bobbie Houston. The church has locations scattered throughout the world, such as, London, Paris, San Francisco, NYC, Moscow and more.
Lentz was a high-profile member of Hillsong and was often spotted rubbing elbows with A-listers such as Hailey Baldwin, Jay-Z, Drake and others before his abrupt firing for “moral failures.” Lentz was only 20-years-old when he met Brian Houston’s son, Joel, and came up with the idea to build the Hillsong NYC campus.
Now the Big Apple campus has about 6,000-strong followers, a crowd mostly comprised of peeps in their 20s and 30s.
Not a lot is known about Hillsong church — and with scandals ranging from sexual abuse allegations to alleged tax fraud, they probably want it to stay that way.
OK! takes a look at the scandals that have plagued Hillsong church over the years.
Carl Lentz’s Abrupt Firing
In early November, Hillsong abruptly fired their high-profile NYC pastor Carl Lentz for “moral failures” and “breaches of trust.” Lentz started the Big Apple campus of Hillsong and was often spotted around with A-list royalty. The church has kept quiet on their specific reason for firing Lentz, saying “It would not be appropriate for us to go into detail about the events that led to this decision.” Leading us all to wonder what exactly happened between Hillsong and Lentz?
Well, according to a recent Instagram post by Lentz, the pastor was "unfaithful" in his marriage, adding that he had to be "held accountable for that."
Accused Of Tax Evasion
Religious organizations do enjoy the liberty of being tax-free. In 2010, The Sunday Telegraph reported, though, that the Houston family was enjoying a lavish lifestyle — cars and expense accounts — almost entirely tax-free. The church was also accused of paying staff members with money given to them by the Australian government as part of a grant. The outlet is reporting that the megachurch raked in over $100 million from its members that year.
Accused Of Being A Cult
Much like the famed Scientology organization, defectors of Hillsong have called the church a “cult,” adding that they exploit its volunteers for endless free labor. Former parishioner Tanya Levine paints the church as an aggressive and wealthy religious corporation in her book, People in Glass Houses: An Insider’s Story Of A Life In & Out of Hillsong. Her book details her life growing up with Hillsong as it went from a local parish in Australia to an influential worldwide megachurch.
Anti LGBTQ+ Views
Many religious organizations grapple with gay marriage and sexuality — Hillsong is no different. In 2015, two male choir members were removed from leadership roles in the church for engaging in homosexual activity. The church issued a statement saying that the men’s actions were a “complete shock,” and although they could not participate in the choir anymore they were still welcome to attend service.
Sexual Abuse Allegation
In the United States, Hillsong is known for its high-profile celebrity followers such as Justin Bieber and Kylie Jenner, but in Australia there is serious controversy attached to the name. Hillsong founder Brian Houston was investigated by a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse over sexual misconduct allegations perpetuated by his father Frank — a Pentecostal pastor who in 2000 admitted to sexually abusing a boy years earlier. The commission found that, among other things, Brian did not report the abuse to authorities. Hillsong has maintained that it had no direct involvement in the abuse that occurred long before it was founded.
Accused Of Rigging 'Australian Idol'
Rather obscure, but in 2007 Hillsong was accused to have been involved in vote stacking — getting all of its parishioners to vote whether they watched the show or not — for church members who were contestants on Australian Idol. The network that produces Idol rejected the claims, but former members did indicate that some level of coordinated support had taken place.