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Hillsong Church Faces New Allegations of Abusive Behavior
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=57661"><span class="small">Dan Adler, Vanity Fair</span></a>   
Thursday, 24 December 2020 13:40

Adler writes: "Leadership for the megachurch Hillsong was responsible for the 'abuse of volunteers and real, amazing people,' according to a new New York Post report."

Hillsong Church at Baulkham Hills in Sydney, 2004. (photo: Getty Images)
Hillsong Church at Baulkham Hills in Sydney, 2004. (photo: Getty Images)

Hillsong Church Faces New Allegations of Abusive Behavior

By Dan Adler, Vanity Fair

24 December 20

Carl Lentz’s firing from the megachurch has set off a flood of comments from previous members about their experiences.

eadership for the megachurch Hillsong was responsible for the “abuse of volunteers and real, amazing people,” according to a new New York Post report. Nicole Herman told the tabloid that in her experience founding Hillsong L.A. in 2013, she was beneath the senior pastors but “did everything.”

The claim follows a number of reports about the church that have emerged since its famous pastor Carl Lentz was fired over his well-publicized cheating scandal, including Page Six’s report on Thursday that volunteers sent a letter to church leaders in 2018 claiming that there were “verified, widely circulated stories of inappropriate sexual behavior amongst staff/interns.” (Hillsong confirmed in a statement to Vanity Fair on Friday that it “received a letter with serious allegations regarding specific members of the Hillsong NYC volunteer and staff teams.”)

According to the Post, Herman put out a call on Instagram on Saturday to hear from “a million other amazing people who left this cult,” telling the outlet that her inbox has since been flooded. Yolandi Bosch told the tabloid that she attended Hillsong College in Australia after a representative for the school convinced her to give up a career in film and move there from South Africa—and asked her to sign a non-disclosure agreement saying that she wouldn’t speak about her experiences at the college without approval.

Bosch didn’t sign the NDA. She told the Post that the church required a pastor’s permission to date and that her behavior was monitored by fellow students at the request of school administration. “It felt like a reality show—it’s really a cult,” Bosch said.

After Bosch started going to another church on Sundays, she said she was removed from Hillsong’s choir and put into a school program called “Refresh” where she was tasked with 20 consecutive hours of unpaid manual labor. She says she was also threatened with losing her visa. Before a church conference, a Hillsong doctor that Bosch was told to see when she fell ill allegedly said she was fine, while a practice separate from the church said she had kidney stones. Bosch said she was threatened with failing if she didn’t work the conference and passed out during her shift. The church reportedly told her to withdraw from school or be expelled, and Bosch withdrew.

In a statement to Vanity Fair, Hillsong said that “like all students and volunteers on the Refresh team,” Bosch “would have helped maintain the building during special events and conferences. Our guidelines would have prohibited any student or volunteer from performing a single task for 20 consecutive hours as part of this program.” It defended its Refresh program by saying “these practicums give students exposure to the wide range of activities involved in contemporary church life.”

“They convinced me to drop everything I was interested in becoming,” Bosch told the Post. She and hundreds of former students, employees, and volunteers are reportedly looking for representation to lodge a complaint with the Parliament of Australia about what they claim is “industrial slave labor.”

The still-growing list of allegations about Hillsong has been met with scorn by Brian Houston, the church’s founder and senior pastor. In the aftermath of a Business Insider investigation that quoted a number of former church members who accused Hillsong of discrimination and exploitation, Houston wrote in a tweet that has since been deleted, “Just because the media say it, doesn’t make it true. Just because people chatter, doesn’t make it right. Judge by your own experiences, not the grandstand noise.”

But the extent of the accusations has been enough to force the church into defending its role in less recent controversies. Houston’s father Frank, who died in 2004, led the Assemblies of God in New Zealand in the ’60s and ’70s. He was later accused of sexually abusing up to nine young boys, and a royal commission in Australia found in 2015 that the church's executive board, which Brian Houston led at the time, didn’t alert the authorities when it learned of the allegations.

In an email obtained by V.F., the board of Hillsong Church Australia wrote to church members on Monday that “these articles are primarily gossip and we ignore them in the knowledge that we know the truth,” before broaching the subject of Houston’s knowledge of his father’s abuse.

“From the moment Pastor Brian discovered this shocking news, around 20 years ago,” the letter said, “he has always been very open and clear about the circumstances around this, and our church has stood with him and his family. We want to ensure you are clear about the details.” your social media marketing partner