Hillsong Church responds to documentary on rape and assault allegations

Hillsong Church(Photo: Hillsong)

Hillsong Church has responded to claims of rape and assault in the latest episode of Australian current affairs programme 60 Minutes.

The programme aired on Sunday night and heard from American woman Anna Crenshaw and an Australian woman using the alias of 'Katherine'. 

Katherine told 60 Minutes she was violently raped by another member of Hillsong when she stayed late to help pack up after a Bible study. 

"I had no reason to think I wasn't going to be safe. It was really violent. It was just completely filled with anger and rage and hatred," she said.

She added, "It was scariest thing I've ever experienced in my whole life.

"That was the only sexual experience I'd ever had and it was non-consensual and I just wanted to pretend it didn't happen." 

Katherine reported it to someone at Hillsong but claims she was told by that person that she needed to "sort it out" with the perpetrator and work on "repairing relationships". 

She later shared what happened on social media at which point she says she was contacted by Hillsong who asked to meet with her and informed the police. 

"I want my abuser to never have the chance to be able to do that to another person again," Katherine said.

"I also want Hillsong and the person I told to be held accountable for not doing anything." 

Crenshaw told the programme she was sexually assaulted by married Hillsong administrator Jason Mays at a social gathering in 2016.

She was attending Hillsong College at the time and says that when she went to Hillsong about it, it took three months for the matter to be raised with Mays. 

Hillsong College said in a statement in March 2021 that it first learned of the incident in December 2018 at which time it "immediately began investigating the matter", and that a formal complaint was made by Crenshaw in April 2019. Hillsong College said it then reported the incident to police on May 15, 2019.

Last year, Mays was sentenced to two years' probation by a Sydney court after admitting to indecent assault, but he retained his job at Hillsong.

In a statement on Monday, Hillsong defended its decision to keep him on staff. 

"There are several reasons why Jason Mays was given another opportunity to remain on staff including the comments of the magistrate who chose not to record a conviction, asserted the 'low level objective seriousness of the offence' and acknowledged that it occurred in the presence of several other people who did not fully corroborate her version of the events," Hillsong said.

"Jason was placed on a two-year good behaviour bond for 'assault with act of indecency' (not sexual assault), including stringent requirements that he has followed diligently.

"Additionally, the Magistrate spoke to the significant punishment already received through his employer (Hillsong) with suspension relating to paid work and volunteering activities. Jason works in an administrative role and is not, and never has been, in a leadership position.

"One of the cornerstones of our Biblical beliefs as Christians is forgiveness and redemption. It is important Jason is allowed this as well." 

The statement also addressed the claims in 60 Minutes more widely, calling the episode "factually wrong, sensationalised, unbalanced and highly unethical journalism." 

"Hillsong Church takes any allegation of sexual assault extremely seriously and our policy is to report the allegation to police," it said.

"We have a Safe Church and a legal department that handle allegations in accordance with all legal requirements and best practice, and are vigilant in their operations. Any insinuation to the contrary is false and defamatory." 

The airing of the documentary coincided with senior pastor Brian Houston's decision to step down from the Hillsong board as he prepares to face court over allegations that he failed to report his father's sexual abuse to the authorities.