Scandal-plagued megachurch Hillsong is being crucified for failing to mention Jesus in a Christmas email and instead dedicating the greeting to clarify details about a pastor’s child abuse.
“It’s the only Christmas email I have ever seen that doesn’t mention Jesus. It’s quite bizarre,” longtime Hillsong critic and Australian pastor Bob Cotton told The Post of the internal email, which was shared with him via a current Hillsong member. The letter, signed by the international institution’s board, was sent to church members on Monday, the source told him.
“Dear church,” it begins. “It’s certainly been a year to remember, but the great news is that Christmas, the most joyous time of the year, is almost upon us.” The email then proceeds to dismiss recent reports of members being abused, subjected to “slave labor,” homophobia and a general lack of empathy as “primarily gossip.”
Despite reportedly admitting that at least some of the allegations are true, the holiday letter says “we ignore [the allegations] in the knowledge that we know the truth and God is in control.”
The rest of the email is dedicated to bringing “some clarity” to an ongoing investigation into Hillsong founder and current senior pastor Brian Houston’s failure to report “his father’s abuse of children.” The late Pentecostal pastor and pedophile Frank Houston confessed to sexually abusing a boy in 2004 and was accused of abusing up to eight others. (Frank founded the Sydney Christian Life Centre which, in 1999, merged with a church pastored by Brian to become Hillsong.)
The Christmas email sent to Hillsong Church members on Monday. Courtesy Bob Cotton
“From the moment Pastor Brian discovered this shocking news, around 20 years ago, he has always been very open and clear about the circumstances around this, and our church has stood with him and his family,” the email reads.
Its final sentence expresses thanks to the congregation’s “ongoing prayers for the Houston family as they continue to deal with the legacy of Pastor Brian’s father with grace, humility and strength.”
Cotton, who is not affiliated with Hillsong, finds the letter to be anathema to Christian values not only for not naming Christ, but also for encouraging members to pray for abusers, not victims.
“Frank Houston repeatedly raped 7-year-old Brett Sengstock. That is not gossip, it is a fact that was well established by the Royal Commission,” said Cotton, a former family friend of the Houstons who now calls Frank a “shameful and evil man” whose real “so-called “legacy’” is being a “child rapist.”
By framing media reports as “gossip,” Cotton added, “the abuse and crimes committed against victims seem intentionally minimized.” He said the victim Sengstock and “the other children who were raped” are the ones who really “deserve our prayers.”
“There is no grace humility and respect to being choked raped & brutalized by Frank Houston,” tweeted Sengstock alongside the email.
Hillsong did not immediately return a request for comment.