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Discovery+ Wants to Harm Hillsong Church with Documentary, Interim Pastor Says

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An upcoming Discovery+ documentary series on embattled Hillsong Church was produced to purposely hurt the church, Interim Head Pastor Phil Dooley said in a Feb. 19 message live-streamed on YouTube.

Discovery+ released the trailer for “Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed,” on YouTube Feb. 16.

The trailer’s description of the three-part “docuseries” says it features “interviews with Hillsong insiders, megachurch experts, and Ranin Karim, the woman whose five-month affair with celebrity senior pastor Carl Lentz led to his downfall.”

It also says the series will explore the “high-profile, star-studded church’s alleged exploitation, abuse and cover-ups.” Celebrities Justin Bieber and Chris Pratt are among those who have, in the past, called Hillsong their church.

Founded in Australia in 1983, Hillsong has more than 100 locations in 30 countries, including 14 in the United States, and an average weekly attendance of 150,000 worshipers.

The series is set to premiere on the streaming service March 24.

Responding to the trailer, Dooley said in his message, titled “Year of The Lord’s Favor,” that the documentary and the “picture it paints is far removed from, I believe, the truth of who we are as a church.”

“There are people who have been hurt by their experience in our church. And that saddens me. For those people, I say we are deeply sorry, and we pray that you’ll find healing,” he said. “But there are also producers behind this documentary, and their purpose is not the healing of people but simply to hurt the church.”

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Dooley and his wife Lucinda Dooley, who together lead Hillsong Church Cape Town, stepped in as interim senior pastors of the multi-campus global megachurch in January as Brian Houston, co-founder of Hillsong, announced he would take a leave of absence through the end of the year at the direction of the church’s global board.

Houston was charged in August 2021 with failing to disclose knowledge that his father, the late Frank Houston, also a pastor, had indecently assaulted a young male in 1970. Court documents allege that Houston knew of the abuse as early as 1999. He faces trial later this year.

It was just the latest in a series of scandals about how the church has handled allegations of abuse within its ranks.

Last May, a staff member at Hillsong’s New York church came forward with allegations that former pastor Carl Lentz had subjected her to “bullying, abuse of power and sexual abuse” over the course of seven years as she worked as a nanny in his home. Per the trailer, she is among those who share their stories in the series.

Lentz, who established Hillsong’s Manhattan church with the Houstons’ son Joel, had been fired about six months earlier for “moral failings” and had admitted to an adulterous affair.

Later, Reed and Jess Bogard, who were lead pastors of Hillsong’s Dallas location and had served with Lentz in New York, abruptly resigned when the church said they “failed to meet the commitments and standards of Hillsong Church.”

In April 2021, Darnell Barrett, a pastor for the Montclair, New Jersey, Hillsong campus, resigned after sharing revealing photos of himself on Instagram stories to a group of friends that included a woman who once volunteered for him at the New Jersey church.

And in 2020, Hillsong staffer Jason Mays pleaded guilty to indecent assault after an American student who attended Hillsong College in Sydney said he touched her inappropriately. He received two years’ probation and mandatory counseling.

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Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.