GSN can reveal that the founder of Australia’s most successful Pentecostal ‘megachurch’ has sent a message to all of his church campuses around the world saying that gays and lesbians should feel welcome there and implying things like same-sex marriage may be things Christians just have to live with.
Hillsong church senior pastor Brian Houson’s message was broadcast to his churches on 18 August and had been recorded only a few weeks earlier at Hillsong London.
‘The one elephant in the room for churches around the world at the moment is the gay situation,’ Houston says in the message.
‘What would Jesus do? You need to pray for church pastors and leaders around the world because whichever way you turn the [gay issue] is there. You can turn one way and you can tell there would be a great scandal amongst the Christian Church.
‘You can turn another way and you would just cut off so many people. There's lots of hatred out there but in the middle of it all you know there are three things: the world of the times we live in; the weight we live with; and the word we live by.’
Houston said that Christians had to live with the fact that societies were choosing to embrace things that were outside church teaching when it came to same-sex relationships.
‘The world has changed quickly,’ Houston said.
‘The world has changed and so I'm not saying that the church ever should be ruled by the way of the world but the reality is we are in a world which is changing fast. Here in Great Britain the laws have passed. … We've got the world we live in to consider.
Houston said that Christians also had to consider the consequences of how they treated gays and lesbians.
‘We've got the weight we live with,’ Houston said.
‘You say what's that? Well it's the weight when a young person growing up in a church feels like they are confused in their sexuality. They feel like "maybe I'm gay" and they go to a youth leader and they are rejected.
‘At that moment a great hatred comes in. At that moment some of them have gone so far with the rejection and gone to parents who didn't understand and ended up committing suicide - That's the weight we live with.’
Houston also recognized that there were now a variety of views on the morality of homosexuality within the Christian church.
‘There's the world we live in. There's the weight we live with and there's the word we live by,’ Houston said.
‘And they don't all necessary align. With the word we live by, many people have various convictions. In the middle of it all know that Jesus when it comes to people would let nothing stop Him from breaking through a divide to help hurting, broken, everyday normal people like you and I.’
Sydney gay Christian and Freedom2be vice-president Ben Gresham told GSN that this was the strongest statement from within Hillsong on LGBT issues in recent years from a church which had until quite recently held the view that homosexuals could be fixed through prayer and therapy.
‘I think what he was saying is that the message of Jesus is for all people and that that message should be available no matter who they are or what they do,’ Gresham said.
However he said he would not go so far as to say that Houston was actively encouraging gays and lesbians to get involved in Hillsong church life.
‘I think this is an attempt by Hillsong to try to start a dialogue or discussion within their own church about this,’ Gresham said.
‘This is one of the very few instances that I can think of where they’ve actually mentioned the words “gay” or “homosexuality.’ At Hillsong the attitude has been one of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Everyone is ok so long as you don’t mention the word but as soon as you do they then have to deal with that, and if you’re gay that may mean you may no longer be allowed to be a leader at church or serve at church and if you are employed by the church that may mean you could lose your job.’
Gresham said that he thought that Houston’s comments indicated more of a change in tone than a change in policy for his church.
‘This signifies the internal battles that I think most churches are dealing with at the moment in terms of the need and desire of many people in the church to love gay and lesbian people and yet at the same time they are conflicted over the traditional view of the bible which they believe says that homosexuality is a sin. But this is definitely a step forward for Hillsong,’ Gresham said.
GSN attempted to contact Houston directly but Hillsong Australia said the pastor is currently traveling.
Outside of Australia, Hillsong has churches in South Africa, the Ukraine, Sweden, the US, and also holds services in Germany, Holland and Russia.