Brian Houston, the founder of Hillsong Church, has given his first interview addressing the recent scandals that have taken place at several Hillsong campuses.
In an interview with NBC Today, Houston spoke out regarding former Hillsong New York Pastor Carl Lentz, who was fired last November for "leadership issues" and "moral issues."
Immediately after the firing, Lentz took to social media to confess that he had cheated on his wife Lauren, whom he has been married to for seventeen years.
"Carl was Carl. He's a unique character," Houston told NBC co-host Savannah Guthrie. "There's a lot of things I miss about Carl. But having said that, there were leadership issues that I believe included lying, including what I would call narcissistic behavior," Houston said.
Guthrie pressed Houston about why he didn't do anything about Hillsong's leadership before the scandal.
"I think there's a lot of things I should've known earlier, and hopefully, moving forward, we'll make sure we have far better systems in place and better accountability," he added.
Lentz, also known as a celebrity pastor, was friends with a number of A-list stars, including Justin and Hailey Bieber, Kevin Durant, Selena Gomez, Kylie Jenner and more.
Houston also admitted to the celebrity culture seen at Hillsong, where A-list stars were given better treatment than regular churchgoers.
"I do think that we did allow a culture to develop where it was one rule for celebrities and a different rule for other people," Houston explained. "There's another side to it."
"One person who's obviously been well reported is Justin Bieber," he said. "If you think back several years now, when he was wrecking hotel rooms and basically on the edge of getting deported to Canada ... look at Justin Bieber today. Anyone who's being fair could see a radical change, and so not everything about it is bad."
However, the megachurch leader rejected claims that he was too lenient with Lentz because he drew celebrities and large numbers of people to church.
"I find it annoying that people thought that it was important to me and my wife, Bobbie, to attract famous people to church," Houston argued.
Guthrie went on to say that some people suggested Lentz was much like Houston.
"On one level, if people say Carl was like me, I'd see it as a compliment because (he's an) incredibly gifted guy. But on another level, I don't think Carl really is anything like me," he continued. "I am ultimately responsible. I am ultimately accountable."
In recent months, Hillsong has made headlines for several other leadership scandals. Last month, Darnell Barrett, the creative director of Hillsong Church Montclair in New Jersey, resigned after he posted an inappropriate message on social media.
In that same month, Hillsong Dallas closed after former lead pastors Reed and Jess Bogard resigned amid allegations that the couple used tithing money to fund their lavish lifestyle.
"(This season in the church) has been difficult, clearly, because of a lot of disappointment in some of the things that have emerged," Houston said. "Some obviously are false. Other things are real."
"In my mind, if one person is treated badly, that's one too many," he continued. "If it's true that people have been treated badly or that people have been bullied, I am 100 percent committed to moving that out of our church."
Hillsong, which was founded by Brian and Bobbi Houston in Sydney, Australia, in 1983, has locations in 28 countries and 150,000 weekly visitors globally.
When asked if the church's problems spring from the global ministry's size, Houston insisted that he doesn't think that a church can be "too big."
"I just think we have to grow into ourselves," he added.
Guthrie also asked Houston about the church's opposition to same-sex marriage, noting that some gay members alleged that they felt mistreatment at the church, with some even claiming they felt suicidal.
In response, Houston said that he wants to improve communications between the church and the LGBTQ community. While he asserted everyone, including gay people, is welcome at Hillsong, Houston maintained that the church remains conservative on the subject of same-sex relationships.
Houston concluded the interview by confessing that the recent controversies keep him "awake at night."
"I think larger churches everywhere are needing to scramble to put the things in place for a 21st-century mindset that enable[s] us to be stronger," he said. "But Savannah, I look you in the eye and tell you I genuinely believe in my heart Hillsong is a good church."
Photo credit: ©Brian Houston Facebook
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.