United Kingdom

Hillsong shuts down Dallas operations after pastors used church donations to fund their lifestyle 

Hillsong is shutting down its Dallas operations amid a series of scandals that have rocked the Australian-based megachurch, the church announced on Saturday.

In an email to members, founders Brian and Bobbie Houston addressed the church's investigation into former Dallas pastor Reed Bogard and his wife, Jess Bogard, who resigned in January after revelations they used donations to fund their luxury lifestyle.

Globally, church leaders have faced a number of allegations over the years, from sexual assault to revelations that former celebrity pastor Carl Lentz cheated on his wife of 17 years while other former Hillsong members have compared it to a 'cult'.

The Houstons said that Reed Bogard had been suspended from 'his pastoral duties' while the church reviewed complaints from members that he failed 'to uphold the standards of Hillsong leadership.'

Brian and Bobbie Houston, the co-founders of Hillsong Church, sent an email to members noting that the Dallas church was closing

Reed and Jess Bogard are pictured after it was revealed  that the Bogards and other church staff allegedly used worshipper donations to fund their lifestyles

'Early in our process, the Bogards decided to resign from Hillsong Church. We accepted their resignations and acknowledged the time that the Bogards spent establishing our Dallas location,' the Houstons wrote in the email.

The Houstons examination has now concluded after interviewing members of the church who asked the church not to reveal personal details. 

'It was very disappointing to learn that, while some of you experienced the Bogards as dedicated pastors, many others have experienced leadership that failed to meet the commitments and standards of Hillsong Church,' the Houstons wrote.

'I want to be the first to apologize to those who felt disappointed or hurt, and I pray that God does a swift work in bringing peace and healing.'

The church then said it would understand if its members opted to attend local churches in Dallas rather than watch Hillsong broadcasts online.  

In the email, the Houstons also blamed a lot of the reasoning for the Dallas closure on the coronavirus pandemic.

'As we were establishing Hillsong Church in Dallas, the pandemic swept across the globe and quickly changed the shape of our growing church in the city,' the Houstons wrote.

The church added: 'Many factors, all amplified by the pandemic, have resulted in the difficult decision to pause all operations at Hillsong Dallas for now.'

In January, it was revealed that the Bogards and other church staff allegedly used worshipper donations to fund their lifestyles using the cash to pay for luxury apartments, designer clothes, cars and restaurants.

Former members of the church told the New York Post how staff would use pre-paid expense (PEX) cards with funds made from tithes.

The church is facing increasing scrutiny after recent revelations that former celebrity pastor Carl Lentz, pictured in 2017, cheated on his wife of 17 years

View of the now closed Dallas Hillsong Church where pastors allegedly used worshipper donations to fund their lifestyles

Hillsong East Coast made nearly $13 million in 2019; 88 per cent of that came from 'tithes & offerings.' More than two-thirds of the cash went on staff salaries, benefits and expenses as well as operating costs. 

Volunteers have already accused the church of using them to perform manual labor and fulfill the personal needs of its leadership.

Hillsong admitted in December that it knew about 'serious allegations' against the church in 2018 and 'found some were true'.

Former Los Angeles service pastor Nicole Herman told the Post she was told to 'fill' the cards, adding: 'We had a team count the tithes after every service and they would allocate X amount of money for the PEX cards.'

Megan Phalon, left, said the pastors 'bought four-wheeler ATVs' to drive around the city. Jenna Babbitt, right, who said she gave thousands to the church, said she saw the cards used for buying gifts and staying in luxury hotels

Another former New York City congregant Jenna Babbitt, 27, said she was given one of the cards to buy items for the children of Reed and Jess Bogard, who she babysat.

Babbitt, who said she gave thousands to the church, said she saw the cards used for buying gifts and staying in luxury hotels.

She added: 'I bought a designer purse and $100 or $200 of food from Dean & DeLuca for visiting pastors.'

Brandon Walker, 28, also worked with the Bogards in Texas.

He said he saw Jess 'drop over $1,000 for no reason' on clothes and dinner one day., adding: 'There's no accountability. Everything's a flex, everything's a show.'

It is understood no reimbursement protocols were in place for money spent on the cards.

Hillsong Church was founded in Sydney in 1983 and has since expanded into a global chain with locations across the United States, UK, and other countries.

Disgraced pastor Lentz entered a program in early December to treat mental health issues following his firing, at an outpatient facility that specialized in 'depression, anxiety and pastoral burnout,' according to People Magazine.

Lenz was fired in November for having an affair but has put on a united front with wife Laura, who also worked for the church before she too was fired0

The scandal appears to have impacted his relationship with Justin Bieber and his wife Hailey, as both unfollowed him on Instagram after having spent extensive time with him.

Lentz also brushed shoulders with other celebrities along the likes of Drake, Vanessa Hudgens, and various NBA stars.  

He was seen soaking up the sun with his wife on Easter Sunday while wearing shorts with a cropped plaid shirt.

Leaders in the church have also faced recent allegations including sexual assault.

Anna Crenshaw, now 23, told the Christian Post this week that Jason Mays, a married Hillsong staff administrator, assaulted her at some point before 2018 when she reported the incident.

Mays, the son of the church's head of human resources John Mays, pleaded guilty to 'assault with an act of indecency' in 2019, according to the outlet.

In a statement Crenshaw made to Margaret Aghajanian, Hillsong Church's head of pastoral care oversight, she said a friend of Mays encouraged her not to report the alleged incident.

'Jason grabbed me, putting his hand between my legs and his head on my stomach and began kissing my stomach. I felt his arms and hands wrapped around my legs making contact with my inner thigh, butt and crotch,' she wrote in the  2018 statement reviewed by the Christian Post. 

'I felt like I could not say anything about the Jason incident because his friend had said not to, insisting that he was a good guy and this was not a normal behavior for him.'

Crenshaw told the outlet that the treatment she received for Hillsong after coming forward with her allegations of abuse ruined her relationship with the church. 

'I'm not interested to support an organization that's willing to treat abuse the way I've seen them treat abuse. What happened with my relationship with Hillsong is once I did report to church, that's when things started going downhill,' she told the Christian Post. 

'That's when I saw how they dealt with abuse, and it's something I'm not willing to overlook in my relationship with the church.'

Another former Hillsong pastor Michael Guglielmucci admitted to faking a cancer diagnosis in 2008 while receiving donations to help pay for his 'treatments,' Vanity Fair reported.

He later released a statement claiming that he lied about having cancer because he was addicted to pornography.

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