Hillsong, one of the biggest churches in the country counting former Prime Ministers and celebrities amongst its ranks, has been rocked by allegations of youth leaders grooming girls as young as 16.
In an explosive investigation revealed by Channel 7 in the latest episode of their Spotlight series, former Hillsong member Piper Cameron stated that she was asked for explicit photos by an adult group leader when she was just 13.
“I think that he wanted to have some sexual relationship with me by the way that he would text me and ask to see pictures of me,” Cameron told the Channel 7 team in the episode which aired on Sunday night.
“He was asking me at 13-years-old to send him nude pictures of myself. It feels just uncomfortable to know that this is how an adult was talking to me when I was 13. And I feel sad that I felt like I had to play along with this”.
Hillsong – the megachurch empire built by Brian Houston and his family. Amid allegations of tax evasion and fraud, Spotlight track Houston down in the U.S. as he attempts a career revival.
— Channel 7 (@Channel7) April 22, 2023
Cameron told her mother about the messages who took them directly to Hillsong founder Brian Houston. The claims eventually resulted in a meeting between Hillsong pastors and the Cameron family where the church was said to have blamed the girl for inviting the attention. They refuse to take the youth leader off of the team and the family left the church.
“The men in leadership, or people in leadership, are being protected and they’re not really doing the right thing. Hillsong would rather protect them than the people who are actually coming to the church and showing their loyalty,” Cameron said.
“That is a pattern of protecting the predator and the leaders and not the people of the church.”
The above is just one example of what Spotlight uncovered as it takes a broad view of the global Christian sensation blending preaching with pop music. Featuring interviews with early members and co-founders, plus those who allege abuse by senior figures in the church, the episode charts the troubling rise of the faith group and digs into what really happened when Scott Morrison attempted to get Houston a seat at a Presidential dinner in the White House with Donald Trump.
Also revealed are Houston’s new ambitions to rebuild the “religious empire” in the US under a new name, away from the controversies in Australia.
The fresh allegations follow months of troubling news for the church after the Kiwi-Australian Houston was charged with attempting to conceal the sexual abuse of a young boy perpetrated by his father over 50 years ago.
Houston was also charged with drunk driving last year shortly before he resigned as leader of the organisation.
A separate investigation into the church, captured in News Corp’s podcast series Faith on Trial, centred on the claims of five women who had attended a Hillsong college and said that they were taught to “submit” to their husbands. One stated that the megachurch promoted “rape culture.”
The podcast also revealed other nefarious sexual claims within the church and allegations that the organisation has been potentially avoiding paying some $80 million in tax obligations.
In a statement published on Monday, the church has responded to the allegations covered in the Spotlight Channel 7 Hillsong episode by saying that they have “engaged independent, professional assistance to improve our governance and accountability procedures.”
“We are committed to continually improving our complaint-handling systems that will provide a safe and healthy environment for all who are a part of our church community,” the statement reads.
“For matters relating to employees, in 2022 Hillsong engaged a third-party to review the complaint handling process and provide recommendations.
“Hillsong has subsequently implemented or strengthened its arrangements.
“Our Safe Church Office was formed in 2016 with a key responsibility to receive and respond to complaints or concerns relating to the safety and well-being of children and young people”.
The church boasts that it attracts some 150,000 faithful around the world each week. However, recent analysis has shown that attendance at the Pentecostal gatherings is in decline, with a 12.3% drop in revenue recorded in 2021 compared to 2020.
Women represent the majority of those who are leaving Pentecostal organisations, citing irreconcilable differences between feminist ideals and their brand of Christian teaching in which women are expected to be subservient to men. Despite making up the majority of the flock, women are vastly underrepresented in church leadership positions.
“We take ownership of the past and are forging a better way forward as a mission-driven church with a focus on healthy church communities, being purpose-filled Jesus followers, and having a significant and sustainable social impact on our communities,” the Hillsong statement continues.
“Our vision to reach and impact the world with the good news of Jesus Christ is our driving force”.
Last month, Australia’s charities regulator confirmed that it was investigating allegations made against Hillsong.