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Inside Justin Bieber’s Hillsong Church: Child abuse cover-up claims, rinsing its followers for money and facing ‘cult’ accusations

The Despacito singer may have denied cancelling his remaining Purpose World Tour dates in connection with his ‘spiritual awakening’ – but here’s a look inside Bieber’s religion of choice

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Celebrities have always raised eyebrows over their religion of choice – for Tom Cruise and John Travolta it’s Scientology, while the likes of Madonna and Ashton Kutcher were proud followers of Kabbalah for a long time.

And now it’s Justin Bieber’s turn to spark controversy with his reported closeness to Hillsong Church, a global strand of Christianity that looks to recruit followers with music, dancing and community care projects.

But Hillsong has also faced accusations that it acts as a cult, as well as allegedly having attempted to cover up the child abuse allegations levelled against its founder’s father.

It is also accused of pushing its congregations to donate cash and of using Bible verses selectively to set its own agenda.

So what is Hillsong Church? How is Bieber involved? And why do so many of its detractors believe it’s a modern-day cult?

Justin Bieber has been involved in the Hillsong Church for years (Image: Splash News)
He recently cancelled the rest of his Purpose world tour, reportedly after a ‘spiritual awakening’ thanks to Hillsong (Image: Splash News)

Hillsong and child abuse

Brian Houston, who founded the Pentecostal Christian movement in Australia, stood down his own father, William ‘Frank’ Houston, as a preacher in 1999 after hearing an allegation that Frank had sexually abused a seven-year-old boy.

In a letter sent to church leaders in 2001, Brian claimed that there was no reason for the information to be spread any further afield, prompting claims of an attempted cover-up when the letter was leaked.

“Sadly there are always one or two people with their own agendas who will try and get mileage from other people’s pain,” Brian’s missive told ministers.

Frank would go on to leave Hillsong and died of a stroke in 2004. Fresh allegations that he’d molested six other children in New Zealand in previous decades continued to dog the organisation.

An investigation by Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found none of the allegations against Frank Houston were ever reported to police.

The commission’s report found Frank had sexually abused the seven-year-old boy, and had later admitted it to an assembly of church executives.

Hillsong ‘using selective Bible verses’ to encourage hefty donations

Bieber at the Hillsong Sydney conference in July (Image: Splash News)
Justin and Hillsong super-pastor Carl Lentz are close friends (Image: Splash News)

Those who have been to Hillsong services report that leaders are swift to imply followers must give as much money as they can to the church.

In Hillsong’s own FAQs, there are six different ways to donate money listed – including using the church’s own app to transfer money immediately. There are also calls on its website to set up a direct deposit or have an online account so cash can be sent electronically.

As with many other churches, Hillsong followers will find empty envelopes left on their chairs ahead of services to be filled with money or standing order forms, which are collected up by staff. Collection buckets are also sent around the church during a service, with the congregation urged to dig deep.

Hillsong also uses Bible verses, such as Proverbs, to encourage its followers to donate generously. “The godly love to give,” its own site quotes.

The movement is big on “the Biblical principle of tithing”, which requests that believers donate the first ten per cent of their income to the church.

“Tithes and Offerings received at Hillsong fund the vision and activities of our church,” says Hillsong.

The 2016 Hillsong Church annual report found donations made up over half of its revenue – with another 19% stemming from the dozens of Christian rock albums it produces.

Hillsong and homosexuality

Hillsong does not believe in homosexuality, in line with the Old Testament, nor does it agree with equal marriage. When a director of one of its church’s choir was found to be in a committed gay relationship, Hillsong’s founder issued a statement clarifying that the news came as “a complete surprise”.

In a blog post, Brian Houston told his followers: “Hillsong Church welcomes ALL people but does not affirm all lifestyles.

“Put clearly, we do not affirm a gay lifestyle and because of this we do not knowingly have actively gay people in positions of leadership, either paid or unpaid.”

Justin Bieber was accused of homophobia in 2016 after reportedly turning down a role in Uber Girl, reportedly because his character would have a sex scene with another man, the film’s co-writer Pete O’Neill claimed.

However, Bieber’s rep said at the time there was “no truth” to his being offered the role in the first place.

Speaking in tongues

Hillsong’s followers are encouraged to speak in tongues (Image: Splash News)

The act of speaking in tongues – or in a language that needs a special person to interpret – has long been associated with the Pentecostal churches.

“We believe that in order to live the holy and fruitful lives that God intends for us, we need to be baptised in water and be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit,” the church states on its site.

“The Holy Spirit enables us to use spiritual gifts, including speaking in tongues.”

But many Christians believe it amounts to ‘false worship’ and ‘showmanship’, including members of a Facebook group who claim to be former followers of Hillsong.

One member, who said they had been involved in Hillsong for a few years in their early twenties, said church elders believed those who had been ‘saved’ would be given the gift of speaking in tongues.

Hillsong worshippers are encouraged to speak in tongues (Image: carllentz/Instagram)

They also claimed to have been disturbed by one pastor’s ‘healing’ service.

“A visiting pastor performed a ‘healing’ show, calling out people wanting healing to the stage,” they recalled.

“Some people went up and were ‘healed’. This didn’t sit right with me because there was a wheelchair bound person in the room who was ignored. Was this beyond God’s power? Could God only heal afflictions that have no visible sign of it actually being healed? How must that wheelchair bound person have felt? I imagine he’d be thinking ‘my faith must not be good enough yet’.”

Justin Bieber’s close connection to Hillsong leader

Bieber with Pastor Carl, who he lived with in 2014 (Image: Splash News)
Pastor Carl counts Justin as a close friend (Image: carllentz/Instagram)

Bieber spent six weeks in 2014 living with Pastor Carl – one of the church’s lead pastors who is frequently compared to a rock star thanks to his charismatic brand of teaching – and grew close to the minister’s family.

According to GQ, the troubled pop star moved into Carl’s home after a period of car-crash media stories and reputational crisis. While he was there the two “worked through some stuff” and Bieber cried that he “wanted to know Jesus” before begging on his knees to be baptised.

He’s since attended Hillsong services and conferences – and was even suspected of cancelling the rest of his Purpose world tour in July 2017 so he could found his own branch of the church.

Pandering to celebrities

Justin’s ex Selena Gomez walking to a Hillsong service in New York (Image: Splash News)
Kendall Jenner was spotted leaving a Hillsong service (Image: Splash News)

It’s not just Bieber who’s known to follow Hillsong – his friends Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin and ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez have also been linked to the religious movement.

While it attracts a cool, millennial-focused crowd, Hillsong believes all souls need to ‘know Jesus’ – but celebrities appear to have a special place in its pecking order.

“People say we cater to celebrities and I say, yes, we do,” Pastor Carl told GQ.

“Celebrities deserve a relationship with God. Celebrities deserve a place to pray.

Is Hillsong a Cult

Bieber is closely connected to the religious movement (Image: Splash News)
Hillsong’s critics say it has cultish overtones (Image: Splash News)

The church elders have batted away accusations that the movement is a cult – certainly, its followers seem to have made up their own minds about it.

But many of the movement’s detractors claim Hillsong’s focus on charismatic preachers, music and song-based performances, and its push for funds and donations give the church a sinister spin.

However, Bobbie Houston, who helped husband Brian found Hillsong, has previously denied any cult claims, insisting followers simply wish to worship their god.

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