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Hillsong College Response to The Christian Post Enquiry

Mar 12 2021

Hillsong College received the following request from The Christian Post:

In response to the raft of HR policies announced by Brian Houston to minimize abuse at Hillsong East Coast, I reached out to Ed Crenshaw whose daughter was sexually assaulted by a Hillsong staffer in Australia to get his thoughts on the changes and one of the things he argued is that too much blame for what he sees as a systemic culture of abuse in the Hillsong network in general is being placed on former Hillsong NYC Pastor Carl Lentz.

He argues that this culture stems all the way back from Frank Houston and the actions generally taken by Hillsong are mostly a form of self-protection and doesn’t reflect genuine care for victims.

He also believes that if Hillsong really cared about victims, his daughter’s attacker Jason Mays, should have been fired by Hillsong.

How does Hillsong respond to this assessment?

Response from Hillsong College:

  1. It’s important to clarify some facts related to your question. The incidents involving Frank Houston took place in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Hillsong Church was not founded until 1983, and Frank Houston was never a pastor at Hillsong Church. To discuss this as a feature of Hillsong culture is simply unfounded.
  2. Jason Mays was an employee of Hillsong Church, but not a “pastor” when the incident occurred.
  3. We are in no way defending Jason’s actions. There is absolutely no excuse for his behavior. However, to correct inaccurate reporting and misrepresentation of the facts, it is important to clarify the timeline of this incident and some of the surrounding details. While we are unable to provide details that would compromise our commitment to Ms. Crenshaw’s privacy, we can provide the following information:

While Mr. Mays was heavily intoxicated at a private party, he acted inappropriately. He was seated and leaned in to give Ms. Crenshaw a hug goodbye. As she stood up, he touched her inappropriately over her clothing. In 2019, Jason pleaded guilty to “assault with an act of indecency” in relation to this incident, which occurred early in 2016. Although Jason says he can’t recall the incident due to being intoxicated, he has never denied what was alleged. He apologized and expressed regret for his behavior from the first time it was addressed with him.

Hillsong first learned of an allegation of inappropriate behavior in December 2018, when Ms. Crenshaw met with Hillsong’s head of Pastoral Care and Ms. Crenshaw’s counselor.

With the information provided, Hillsong immediately began investigating the matter, although a formal complaint was not made by Ms. Crenshaw until months later on April 11, 2019. This complaint was the first indication of a more serious level of inappropriate touching. During the four-month period before Ms. Crenshaw filed a formal complaint, Hillsong intentionally connected with her, offering her support as well as the space and time she needed to provide a more detailed description of events.

Upon receipt of this formal complaint, which contained the first description of a more serious allegation, Hillsong immediately consulted outside legal counsel as is our policy when a complaint of a serious nature is received. Ms. Crenshaw provided an updated and final report on April 29, 2019, and Hillsong continued its investigation. On May 14, 2019, Hillsong staff telephoned Ms. Crenshaw’s father, Ed Crenshaw, to alert him that Hillsong would be notifying the police of the incident. In an effort to ensure that Ms. Crenshaw would feel supported, we notified Mr. Crenshaw so that he could inform his daughter. The incident was reported to the police the next day, and Hillsong staff continued to follow up with Ms. Crenshaw and her father to extend care during this time.

According to court documents the Magistrate who sentenced Jason, without trivializing the nature of the offence, spoke to the “low level of objective seriousness of the offence” and the fact that it occurred in the presence of a number of other people. The Magistrate stated that Jason, while drunk and still seated attempting to hug the victim, “leaned toward {Crenshaw} putting his arms and hands around her upper legs, crotch and bottom on the outside of her clothing”.

Hillsong’s Pastoral Care supported her throughout this period.

  1. There are several reasons why Jason was given another opportunity to remain on staff including the comments of the magistrate who chose not to record a conviction and placed Jason on a two-year good behaviour bond, including stringent requirements that he followed diligently. Additionally, the Magistrate spoke to the significant punishment already received through his employer (Hillsong) with suspension relating to paid work and volunteering activities.

Hillsong is certain that appropriate measures were taken legally and to care for Ms. Crenshaw throughout this process.

  1. It is disappointing that Mr. Crenshaw has decided to misrepresent the facts of this incident and the actions of Hillsong’s pastoral care team and leadership. Ms. Crenshaw’s experience with one of our staff members was unacceptable, and it was addressed in multiple ways—legally, pastorally, managerially, and relationally—over a period of time. Care has been extended to Ms. Crenshaw at each step of the process. At no time was she discouraged from filing a formal complaint or participating in legal proceedings. We took appropriate steps to address the actions of a staff member at an off-campus private gathering and continue in our willingness to engage with Ms. Crenshaw and her father.
  1. Hillsong Church vehemently denies any allegation of a culture that tolerates abuse. We take every complaint seriously and regularly demonstrate our commitment to updating our policies and procedures. We equip believers across the globe to flourish—cultivating healthy relationships, healthy family units, fulfilling vocational pursuits and spiritual growth. There are many thousands of people with longevity in our church who appreciate the welcoming and supportive culture of Hillsong. We receive stories and testimonies frequently from people who are filled with gratitude for our pastoral teams, kids and youth ministries and the positive impact Hillsong Church has and is having on their lives.