Brian Houston’s so-called ‘fall from grace’ is all over the news and social media. It’s a sad and embarrassing tale. I shall try to make sense of the incident.
What has he done wrong? In some sense, the answer is that he texted, and imposed himself into the personal space of two women. My read though is that the public is more concerned by other facets of this saga. Brian and Hillsong have failed to disclose, and it looks like another cover-up. Disclose not only Brian’s interactions with two women, but his dependence on medication, alcohol, and his mental health struggles. One incident took place a decade ago, and we only hear of it now.
Beyond this, there is another layer of disquiet. Brian is a leader, and we expect more of our leaders. As Christians, we ought to because our leaders and teachers will be judged more harshly (James 3:1). But even in the wider population, we expect more of the sporting captains – think of Tim Paine, the ex-Australian cricket captain.
Another factor is that Brian Houston is a religious leader. In the public shared imagination, religious leaders are all moralists, who believe they have a right to tell others how to live. The average Australian male will tell his mates with some pride and bravado of an interaction with a new female liaison. This is not seen as a sin, but swagger. But when a moralist preacher does this, then it’s hypocrisy.
Further, Houston is perceived to be a tall poppy. A self-promoting, arrogant, greedy, success-driven egotist. One who imagines he can rub shoulders with Prime Ministers, and even American Presidents. Australians love to see a tall poppy cut down to size.
Houston’s shortcomings will damage the reputation of all churches, not just Hillsong. It’s a timely reminder that our leaders are called to exemplify higher standards. To credit the Diocese, all Sydney Anglican clergy are subjected to a lifestyle questionnaire every five years. This is right and proper.
Sin is messy and has consequences. Having said that, Jesus has also paid the price for sin, and the Christian community is to be known as a place of holiness and forgiveness. We are jars of clay, cracked and flawed vessels, but ones that carry and are being reshaped by the Spirit of Christ whom we embody.
Finally, this incident is also a reminder that sin is crouching at everyone’s door, not just Cain’s (as in Genesis 4:7), or Brian’s. But yours and mine, and we must rule over it, less it devours us.
Rev David Rietveld Senior Minister