(NewsNation) — As the global megachurch Hillsong fights off criminal accusations against its former leader, a former high-ranking member of the organization says the church founder knew of his father’s sexual abuse allegations in the early 90s.
Hillsong — a massive organization with a presence in 30 countries — has come under fire in recent years with leader Brian Houston facing a criminal charge for allegedly concealing his father, church founder Frank Houston’s pedophilia. Brian Houston resigned from the church earlier this year after an internal investigation revealed details of his own inappropriate behavior with two women.
A Hillsong leader from the church’s early days, Geoff Bullock, spoke publicly for the first time to NewsNation about his 1995 departure from the church and its current turmoil. Watch Bullock’s full interview on NewsNation Prime Friday at 8/7 Central. Not sure how to find us? Use NewsNation’s Channel Finder app here.
“The whole problem with fundamentalist Christianity is that you end up feeling like you have to protect the institution,” Bullock said. “And that comes with a growing sense of fear that if you don’t protect the institution, you are against the institution.”
Bullock says he started “The Hills Christian Life Center” along with Brian Houston in 1983 outside of Sydney, which later became Hillsong Church. He says he even named the church. Bullock oversaw the music and production of all services for more than a decade and many of the songs he wrote became global hits. When asked if the world was witnessing the beginning of the end of his former church, Bullock said:
“It’s certainly the beginning of huge change and what (Hillsong church leaders) face now is whether they continue to protect the institution and try to spin their way out of it or they’re brutally honest with themselves and really come clean.”
Neither Brian Houston nor Hillsong Church have responded to NewsNation’s requests for comment.
Houston knew of father’s abuse, bullock says
In August 2021, Brian Houston was charged by Sydney police with concealing child sex offenses allegedly committed by his father in the 70s. While he denies having any knowledge of abuse committed by his father before 1999, Bullock claims Brian Houston had known about it much before that.
Frank Houston’s alleged victim told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2006 that he was in training to be a pastor at the time of the abuse and claimed gay conversion counseling sessions with the elder Houston were “nothing more than sexual abuse.”
Bullock says Brian Houston told him about the allegations himself before Bullock left Hillsong in 1995.
“Frank [Brian Houston’s father] performed rituals with him to try and cure him of his homosexual leadings, this was deviant behavior,” Bullock said. “This story came out after 1999 when Brian said he first found out about his father’s behavior but unfortunately the story was known about in the early 90s by a few senior members of what was then the Assemblies of God. And I know that because I knew about it.”
“And senior ministers, senior pastors in New South Wales knew about it as well. Now, can I tell you how hard that is to say, and it really does make me shake, but there you go. That’s the truth,” Bullock said.
So why speak up now, nearly three decades after leaving the church?
“It’s taken me only till recently to be able to speak up and speak clearly about my experiences without feeling like I’m doing something wrong,” Bullock said. “The more (the turmoil in the church) has progressed, the more I feel that I have a responsibility to speak. I lived through it and there are a multitude of hurting people that I think I have to start the story and hopefully that’ll give people courage to tell their story,” he added.
‘I don’t see a lot of Jesus‘
As someone who helped create Hillsong church, Bullock says today he doesn’t see the church from the early days.
“I don’t see a lot of Jesus,” Bullock said. “I look at Hillsong now, I see that every service has to be better than the last service. Every conference has to be better than the next conference. Every sermon has to be more powerful…there needs to be growth, growth, growth, growth, growth for the sake of growth, growth, growth. But I see a multitude of people that are caught up in serving this structure to make it grow as if it’s God’s kingdom, but they’re being left behind.”
Bullock calls Hillsong an “institution” that’s minting money. Financial records show the church — exempt from paying income taxes — made nearly $90 million in 2020 from the Australian-affiliated churches alone.
So where does the money go?
“It’s a big institution. The real estate; their audiovisual production facilities are first-class; they run seminars all over the world,” he said. “But what worries me is they’ve got all license to print money. Because basically they’ve got unpaid workers and many of their workers go to Bible college, so they pay to work. Eighty percent of its income is being given to them.”
The pastor of Hillsong Phoenix told his congregation last month that Hillsong leaders gave him an ultimatum.
“It came down in recent weeks to the demand that we sign non-disclosure agreements and non-competes,” Pastor Terry Crist said in a sermon. During that same sermon, Crist told his congregation that it was going to split with Hillsong, renaming the church City of Grace.
Bullock believes Hillsong was trying to keep people from being honest by asking members to sign non-disclosure agreements.
“I mean, it’s a bit ridiculous. Why do they get people to sign non-disclosure agreements? Because they’re scared.”
‘THEY declared war on ME’
After more than a decade at the church, Bullock says he left Hillsong in 1995 because he wasn’t comfortable with his faith and the culture of the church. But when he left, Bullock says they turned on him.
“I didn’t realize I was actually declaring war — that’s a bad word, but Hillsong was not a place you left. It’s a place you were sent from. They canceled me as if I didn’t exist,” Bullock said.
When he left, Bullock says Brian Houston wrote a letter to many assemblies of God and churches in Australia, telling them not to sing any of his new songs. He also became a pariah.
“I lost all my friends. I lost all my contacts in the Hillsong community of churches, network of churches,” he said.
“They declared war on me. I met, in the early 2000s, with one of their elders, a man called Nabi Saleh. And he looked at me in the eyes and said, ‘Geoff, you do know we tried to destroy you?’ And I said, ‘Nabi, why?’ I don’t remember his exact words, but was something along the lines of, ‘Well, we thought you were going to try and destroy us.’”
Saleh, the former executive chairman of Gloria Jean’s Coffees, is listed as a member of the Hillsong Global Board. He did not respond to our request for comment.