Following months of internal scandal and shocking allegations, founders of Hillsong have informed congregants that the Australia-based institution’s only Texas church will be closing up shop until further notice.
“Many factors, all amplified by the pandemic, have resulted in the difficult decision to pause all operations at Hillsong Dallas for now,” Brian and Bobbie Houston, the husband-and-wife team who co-founded Hillsong and currently share the title of global senior pastors, wrote to congregants in a Saturday email that was forwarded to The Post. “When the time is right and we have identified and trained suitable lead pastors, we will consider relaunching.”
The email goes on to detail a previously unannounced internal investigation into the Dallas branch’s former lead pastors, Reed and Jess Bogard, who quietly and suddenly resigned in January after more than a decade of employment at the once-celebrity-beloved international worship chain. Before becoming top dog at the Texas branch, Reed Bogard served as the head of finances at Hillsong NYC, where former members alleged that he and Jess exploited congregants for free labor and used tithe money to fund their luxury lifestyles.
“We received several complaints regarding Reed Bogard’s failure to uphold the standards of Hillsong leadership. We suspended him from his pastoral duties as we initiated a review into these incidents,” the Houstons wrote, adding that the Bogards “decided to resign” early in the investigation process, which has since concluded. Citing investigation participants’ privacy, the email only vaguely details the pastors as having “failed to meet the commitments and standards” of Hillsong, before offering a brief apology “to those who felt disappointed or hurt.”
The announcement comes as vindication for those who previously spoke out against the Bogards.
“All we ever wanted was acknowledgment of what was happening,” Brandon Walker — who helped the Bogards start the Dallas branch in 2019 and previously talked about excessive spending — told The Post of the email. “Now that we got it, I believe we can finally move on.”
Others, however, believe the megachurch needs to have a much deeper reckoning before it can be anywhere close to redeemed for its leadership failures.
“I am grateful that there has been some action made as a result of person after person sharing their negative experience of Hillsong Church, but there needs to be a lot more progress made by Hillsong Church and specifically Brian Houston in light of all of the stories that have come out recently,” Jenna Babbitt, a current Dallas resident and former Hillsong NYC congregant, told The Post.
“Jess and Reed were a byproduct of an unhealthy spiritual environment that reproduces the same type of leader over and over again,” added Babbitt, who baby-sat for the Bogards during her years in NYC. “The culture of Hillsong is the problem, and the pastors, from continent to continent and coast to coast, are simply the byproduct of the culture.”
Megan Phalon, who also worked with the Bogards while a congregant at Hillsong NYC, told The Post the email initially left her “in shock” and feeling “hopeful” that “Brian was actually acknowledging the wrong that the Bogards had done.”
Her brief hope, however, was “overshadowed” by a now-deleted tweet Brian Houston sent on Sunday in response to a Christian Post article detailing allegations that married Hillsong staff administrator Jason Mays assaulted then-Hillsong College student Anna Crenshaw in May 2016. In the tweet, said Phalon, “He not only shared personal and private info regarding [Anna] but seemed to pass blame and victim shame [her].”“It’s a sad story,” begins the since-deleted tweet by Brian Houston. “A number of things in this article are factually wrong, but abuse is NEVER ok. My understanding is that Anna was originally abused in her father’s church in Pennsylvania. That makes it sadder. Whether abuse happens in Pennsylvania or Australia, it’s tragic.”
The following day, he apologized for the tweet.
“In a comment on this article yesterday, I foolishly included information that was wrong for me to share,” Brian wrote in a reply. “To (rightfully) be more respectful of privacy, I deleted my comment. I apologize for any pain I have caused. I know better and will do better.”
This, however, was not sufficient for Anna’s father, Ed Crenshaw.
“[Your] 1st response to article is indicative of mishandling Anna from day one. I assure you there are more ‘factual errors’ on the part of your staff than in Anna’s story,” he wrote in response.
In response to The Post’s request for comment, Hillsong sent Houston’s apology tweet. The Bogards did not respond to a request for comment.