A Pennsylvanian pastor criticized Hillsong Church, claiming that the organization does not handle allegations of abuse committed by its staff appropriately but chooses to defend them instead.
Pastor Ed Crenshaw, whose daughter Anna was assaulted by one of the church employees, said that the church mishandled the accusations of abuse by its staff, opting to stand on their defense instead of taking appropriate action to provide justice for the victims, The Christian Post (CP) reported.
Anna went to Sydney, Australia to attend Hillsong College in 2016. She was also volunteering at Hillsong Church's Citycare ministry. But one night in 2019, a drunk Jason Mays, a married man who was a worship leader at Hillsong, assaulted her in the presence of others.
She said that a guy who was with them pulled her out to safety and told Anna not to say anything.
But she reported the incident to the church's head of pastoral care oversight, Margaret Aghajanian. However, the woman did not seem to fully believe her statement. Anna said that Mays challenged her story causing Aghajanian to probe further, even after hearing the statements of two witnesses whose testimonies validated Anna's.
Moreover, she said that according to a statement from Hillsong, Mays apologized and expressed regret for his actions when it was addressed with him the first time. But Anna does not believe that Mays is truly sorry since he would later change his story, discrediting her. She also said that he even called the police on her once.
When CP asked about the incident, Hillsong Church reportedly described the assault as just "a hug gone wrong." The spokesperson of the church said that Mays was just "attempting to hug" Anna.
But Anna refuted Hillsong's statement, saying that her description of the incident is not a hug, arguing that she knows exactly what a hug is, but that the church is actually minimizing Jason's actions and the effect on her.
Anna's father, Pastor Ed Crenshaw, said that Hillsong chose to focus on the scandals in its branch in New York, failing to handle the bigger problem of abuse.
"They've developed a habit of self-protection. And, I think, when it comes to dealing with somebody like my daughter who had an accusation against the son of Hillsong's top HR guy, and she reports it to the wife of Hillsong's chairman of the board ... that they tend to slip into self-protection mode, and I think they are still in that," the pastor told CP.
"Even with their comments about HR changes and how they dropped the ball ... It gives too much blame to Carl Lentz and doesn't take responsibility for how, in their own situation, they have failed victims, even going back to the victims of Frank Houston," he continued.
Frank Houston, father of Hillsong's founder, Brian, reportedly abused a number of young boys in New Zealand and Australia during his tenure. Brian then forced his father to resign from Sydney Christian Life Centre upon learning of the abuse.
But one of those boys abused by Frank revealed that Brian accused him of tempting Frank when he was a child.
Hillsong dismissed the claim that Frank's failures is relative to Hillsong's culture, contending that Frank "was never a pastor at Hillsong Church."
Pastor Ed pointed out that Mays should never be reinstated as a Hillsong staff if Brian was serious of modifying its organizational culture, adding that he would fire a staff in his church if found to be committing such.
"I think Brian Houston is one of the best leaders in the church world today, [but] I just think there's a blind spot here... Like a lot of big organizations, [they have] a tendency to prioritize self-protection," the pastor further said.
Hillsong's spokesperson told CP that the church has developed policies and procedures to handle abuse complaints seriously. The church also denied that it is defending Mays.
"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," the spokesperson said.
In according with the clip reviewed by CP, Brian defended Jason's reinstatement as a church employee, stating that they "felt he deserved another chance" and that he is not "a sexual predator" but just someone "who did something stupid."
Anna, however, agreed with her father, saying that keeping Mays as a staff sends a message that other church members "can get away with actions like Jason" and that "it shows people that you can get away with anything as long as you have the right connections within the higher level staff."
Anna also said that Brian's claim of not defending Mays contradicts the way Hillsong handled her case.
"I think that it's only going to perpetuate a culture of abuse and allowing abuse when people see the way that they've handled this," she further said.
In conclusion, Anna revealed that she has received tremendous amount of support from people, noting that most of them "are not willing to [turn] a blind eye to it anymore."