Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston sat down with The TODAY Show on Wednesday morning to discuss the church’s recent controversies, including the firing of Carl Lentz.
Savannah Guthrie, TODAY co-anchor, did not hold back questions.
When asked about the string of scandals the church is dealing with, Houston did not shy away from the mistakes that have been made.
“(This season in the church) has been difficult, clearly, because of a lot of disappointment in some of the things that have emerged,” Houston said. “Some obviously are false. Other things are real.”
The biggest buzz has revolved around Carl Lentz, former lead pastor of Hillsong Church’s New York City location, who was fired last fall after admitting to cheating on his wife of 17 years.
Lentz was known as a celebrity pastor for the way he connected with A-list celebrities, most notably Justin Bieber. As Lentz brought more and more famous friends into the church, members became concerned there was a different standard for them within Hillsong.
“I do think that we did allow a culture to develop where it was one rule for celebrities and a different rule for other people,” Houston admitted. “But there’s another side to it.”
Houston defended Lentz’s relationships with celebrities by citing the positive influence he had in their lives. In the interview, Houston used Bieber as an example of the transformation that happened due to Lentz’s connection.
Houston admitted he finds it annoying people thought it was important to him that the church attracted famous people. Still, he acknowledged he should have been more aware of Lentz’s behavior and, moving forward, Hillsong will have better accountability and systems in place.
Lentz’s firing is not the only scandal to affect Hillsong within the last few years. A letter to Hillsong New York’s leadership from 2018 recently surfaced. In it, former congregants and volunteers allege there was an abusive behavior of church leaders. In April, a senior staffer at a Hillsong church in New Jersey resigned over an inappropriate social media message. Later that month, the Dallas Hillsong branch closed its doors.
Additionally, Guthrie pushed Houston on social issues that the church is having to address, such as its stance on homosexuality.
“I want us to get better at the way we communicate and embrace and work with people who are gay,” 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. And so at this point, we’re still a conservative one on the subject of active gay relationship.”
Houston acknowledged that the church does have a long road ahead and many steps to take before it can move past these challenges.
“I have reflected many, many times, and I’m acknowledging that mistakes have been made and that there are things where we need to get far better, much better. I’m not shrinking back from that.”