As the Hillsong world turns, questions about sex, the media and what a pastor said

Leaders of the Australia-based Hillsong Church — described by Religion News Service as "one of the most influential religious brands across the globe" and by The New York Times as "one of the more influential global megachurches" — held a news conference in New York last week.

The Christian Post apparently didn't like the questions asked by mainstream reporters:

NEW YORK — Brian Houston, senior pastor of Australia-based Hillsong Church, was hit with a series of critical questions during a press conference in New York City on Thursday, just hours before he was to take the stage at Madison Square Garden to preach before more than 5,000 Hillsong Conference attendees.
Houston, 60, appeared visibly nervous as he sat alongside his wife and Hillsong Church co-pastor Bobbie Houston and his son and Hillsong United frontman Joel Houston, who also pastors at Hillsong NYC with Carl Lentz. Lentz rounded out the quartet of church representatives at the press conference, where the group welcomed local media to probe them about the conference kicking off that night and issues related to their ministry work through the multi-city megachurch.
Once the floor was opened up for questions, however, it became clear that some members of the press were more interested in hearing about the sex abuse committed by Brian Houston's father in the 1970s, how Hillsong Church spends its money, and how the senior pastor handles cultural relevancy, specifically when it comes to issues of sexuality.

Presumably, The Christian Post expected major news organizations to pursue a story such as this one:

As regular GetReligion readers may recall, The New York Times just last month published a front-page story on Hillsong's international appeal and its place in the modern American religious scene:

Based on the news conference, RNS reported that Brian Houston "denied allegations that he had tried to cover up his father’s sexual abuse, saying the victim asked him not to go to the police."

More from the RNS report:

Fifteen years ago, Brian Houston found out that his father, who was a minister in New Zealand, admitted he sexually abused a boy in Sydney.
“It was the darkest day of my life because he was my hero, and suddenly he was a pedophile,” Houston said at a news conference.
Houston, who was president of the Assemblies of God in Australia in 1999, fired his father, took control of the church and merged it with Hillsong, now a sprawling megachurch on the outskirts of Sydney.
His father, Frank Houston, was never prosecuted, received a retirement package (which Houston said was more for his mother who also worked for the church) before he died in 2004.
Houston said that the victim who came forward to him asked him not to tell the police. He said he has since learned that Australian law requires someone to report a crime that could be punishable by five years in jail. “I would’ve gone to the police,” he said, if he had known about the reporting requirements.
The victim, who was 7 years old at the time of the abuse, has claimed that the younger Houston accused him of “tempting” his father.
Houston flatly denied the charge.

Sorry, Christian Post, but that reads like fair, solid reporting to me.

And as RNS explains later in the piece, there's a reason these questions are being raised now:

Hillsong is part of a larger Australian government investigation, called a royal commission, that is probing how institutions handle abuse claims. The high-level probe is expected to last another four years.

Meanwhile, The New York Times focused on a different angle — one that, if accurate, certainly seems newsworthy:

The Times reported that Brian Houston "has declared that his church is in 'an ongoing conversation' about same-sex marriage — saying that it is appropriate to consider the words of the Bible alongside the changing culture and the experience of people in the pews."

More from the Times: 

The comments ... immediately attracted concern from the right and applause from the left, coming as many Christian denominations and congregations are struggling with how to respond to rapid expansion of gay rights and legalization of same-sex marriage. ...
Leaders of Hillsong have been avoiding condemnation of homosexuality for some time, and the pastor of Hillsong’s New York City campus, Carl Lentz, has declined to take a public position on same-sex marriage. But Mr. Houston’s comments, made at a news conference Thursday in New York, were striking for their assertion that Christian churches have caused pain for some gay Christians, and for their suggestion that the issue of same-sex marriage is not settled.
“The world we live in, whether we like it or not, is changing around and about us,” he said. “The world’s changing, and we want to stay relevant as a church, so that’s a vexing thing.”

But Houston issued a statement on Hillsong's website taking issue with the story (a portion of the statement is copied below):

I encourage people not to assume a media headline accurately represents what I said at a recent press conference.
Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage. I challenge people to read what I actually said, rather than what was reported that I said. My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.

So once again, we appear to have a church leader eager to change the "tone" of the conversation while still — if I understand his follow-up statement correctly — declaring homosexual behavior sinful.

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