Hillsong and the Wilkie allegations: The church has made a start in rejecting celebrity Christian culture, here’s how it can go further

Phil Dooley of Hillsong

Independent federal member for Clark, Andrew Wilkie dropped a bombshell with allegations of extravagant spending and fraud at Hillsong church in parliament. It surprised the public, but possibly not Hillsong, as the material comes from a whistleblower or aggrieved ex-employee (select the description you prefer) engaged in a legal case against the church.

Wikie began by saying, “Last year, a whistleblower provided me with financial records and board papers that show that Hillsong is breaking numerous laws in Australia and around the world relating to fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. For example, this document shows how, in 2021, four members of the Houston family and their friends enjoyed a three-day luxury retreat in Cancun, Mexico, using $150,000 of church money. These other documents show former leader Brian Houston treating private jets like Ubers—again, all with church money. For example, in one three-month period, Brian Houston’s trips cost $55,000, $52,000, $30,000, $22,000 and $20,000. Meanwhile, the new head of Hillsong, Phil Dooley, has told church followers he only flies economy, but these documents show him clocking up $58,000 in business-class flights for him and his daughter to Guatemala, $42,000 in business-class flights to Mexico and $32,000 in business-class flights from Cape Town to Sydney via the US.”

The most urgent allegation for Hillsong is the one about their new leader Phil Dooley. In a statement, Hillsong says, “The figures quoted for flights for our global senior Pastor Phil Dooley have been misrepresented, as part of these fares are being paid by him personally and a large portion was reimbursed by a church Pastor Phil visited that is unrelated to Hillsong. Hillsong is a global church, and it is the role of our global senior pastor to visit Hillsong churches around the world.”

Dooley may have personally paid for upgrades. It is likely that another church probably sponsored a trip – it’s how large Christian conventions seem to work. Having a leader based in Cape Town would always be expensive, especially in the last year or so.

Hillsong makes a couple of significant points: “Hillsong Church has been open and transparent with our congregation about past governance failures, and over the past twelve months, we have engaged independent, professional assistance to overhaul our governance and accountability procedures. 

“Hillsong is a different church now than we were twelve months ago, and we are under new pastoral and board leadership. We are working hard to set a course for the future that ensures our structures are accountable, transparent, and honouring to God. Anything less has the potential to hinder our primary focus, which is to be a community of believers focused on the life-changing power of Jesus, driven to bring hope to the world around us.”

To establish that is the case, theothercheek wants to make a constructive suggestion. It may seem cheeky of us to do so!

Hillsong should reach out to brother and sister churches to recruit a reference committee to audit or review Hillsong church’s new path. Item number one could be Dooley’s airfares, a simple matter to investigate. It would be an act of humility on Hillsong’s part and a gesture of respect from other churches.

“Hillsong has sought independent legal and accounting advice on these matters since the employee involved in the legal case made these claims, and we believe that we have complied with all legal and compliance requirements, “ the church also says. “We have filed our defence and will provide evidence at the appropriate time. We cannot do so at this stage due to the ongoing legal case.”

The reference committee could be given access to the independent advice and report not on the legal compliance aspects of the case but on whether some of the main Wilkie allegations are true, especially about current practice.

But their primary function should be to examine Hillsong’s godly sorrow over its past and the genuine nature or otherwise of its current repentance.

Some of the Wilkie allegations are about past extravagances, such as jewellery and a $150,000 holiday, which are impossible to justify.  

But another of the member for Denison’s claims seems to this observer out of context.  “There are also the curious payments of $10,000 each to Paul de Jong and Chris Hodges, the external pastors who investigated allegations of Brian Houston’s 2019 sexual misconduct in a Sydney hotel room involving a female parishioner.” It is to be expected that investigators of misconduct should be paid. Every church needs to pay for misconduct investigations; some have full-time officers doing this work. If there is to be criticism of Hillsong and other churches in the area of safeguarding it is that churches pay too little in investigating misconduct.

Another Wilkie claim is about musicians’ royalties. “The documents also show church donations being used to pay more than a million dollars a year in royalties to Hillsong musicians like Joel Houston, who’s Brian Houston’s son.” Millions around the world appreciate Hillsong Music, and Hillsong can be regarded as one of Australia’s chief cultural exports. Its catalogue has hundreds of songs that attract royalties, and it pays royalties to the musicians who own the copyright. If it did not, Hillsong could fairly be criticised for ripping off its talented songwriters and composers.

Honorariums to speakers raised in the Wilkie documents are a fair target of criticism. “For example, US pastor Joyce Meyer enjoyed honorariums of $160,000, $133,000, $100,000 and $32,000, and US pastor TD Jakes received $71,000 and $120,000, with a staggering $77,000 worth of airfares to and from Australia thrown in.” The crisis at Hillsong should spark reform of the celebrity culture that pervades swathes of Christianity.

This, one takes it, is part of the past Hillsong wishes to distance itself from. 

Wilkie criticises loans within the Hillsong movement to buy the Melbourne Festival hall and the London Hippodrome club. It is common for churches to get a loan or donation from a denominational headquarters to purchase property. For example, the Sydney Anglican diocese will loan local churches money to buy property, which as in the case of Hillsong, becomes owned by the umbrella body. This criticism would apply to most churches in Australia.

The board of reference might look at that, and indeed the allegation that Hillsong is significantly underreporting its Australian income.

Hillsong operates as a church internationally as one body. Most churches tend to have separate entities internationally. This means that money has flowed in complicated patterns. It’s not that this was set up to make monitoring or assessing Hillsong’s practices difficult. But it will need to be taken into account. 

The Other Cheek offers Hillsong our suggestion of a board of reference from other churches in good faith. No one from another church would get anything out of it. They risk controversy. But it would be a service to our sisters and brothers in Hillsong.


  1. It may be usual for church investigators to be paid for their services. However should not be usual for the external investigator to be the life long friend of the accused which is the situation in this case. There is a clear conflict of interest here with Pail de Jong. Also external does not guarantee independence where friends are involved.

    • Yes, I had a chuckle to myself when I read/ heard that his mates were the investigators into the Pullman Hotel controversy. Surety these men made a written report of their
      ‘investigation’ and issued an account for their services. Mr Wilkie is surely aware of the fairness of such a payment but does note that it was ‘curios’.

  2. “Another Wilkie claim is about musicians’ royalties. “The documents also show church donations being used to pay more than a million dollars a year in royalties to Hillsong musicians like Joel Houston, who’s Brian Houston’s son. “ I would ask why royalties were paid out of church donations and not directly out of the profits from this commercial side of Hillsong.

  3. Thanks for yr extra info. As suggested in the story an independent committee of reference is sorely needed!

  4. Having attended a Hillsong service in my local community this morning, I was witness to a response by Phil Dooley to Wilkies claims in parliament.

    A large part of Dooleys 30 minute response was devoted to the capturing of private documents and their public display under parliamentary privilege; a valid point backed up by Dooleys claim, Wilkie had not bothered to approach Hillsong directly before disclosure for clarification of the truth or otherwise of their use and context of the information contained in them.

    This makes Wilkie appear to be on a personal vendetta against either Hillsong or religion in general as a maybe.

    Maybe Wilkie could devote his efforts to expose tax dodging in this country towards much bigger and significant corporate targets who secrete profits overseas to escape observation and taxation obligations.

    As the Panama Papers unearthed, a recent PM of this Country, namely Malcom Turnbull was exposed for his part in hiding profits overseas for tax avoidance purposes, as a living, in his checkered past.

  5. Investigations done inhouse cannot be objective or fair to the person being investigated or the complainant.
    Your suggestion of an external reference committee is excellent.

    Jakes, Meyer et al can hardly be laborers in God’s vineyard. Look more like those who took over the vineyard and murdered the owner’s son

  6. This story was always going to be uncovered eventually. Sad to face we were all duped by this church we loved and supported many years. I left years ago when I knew Brian very well in the early days , he would come to my home etc. Then 15 years later I had a chance to get in close proximity to Brian again being the celebrity he now was. I walked up and said Hi expecting him to remember me….all I got was. …Yes your face looks familiar. Haaa I was shocked…He had been my Pastor in a small church for over a year, he visited my home on occasions . Oh it was awful and I thought …where has the Brian Houston gone. I think he was too good to know me anymore. Little did he know I went on to work in the media with all the rich and famous myself. Glad I didn’t act too good to talk to him anymore. All I can say Hillsong let me down in so many ways. Jesus is in control……Brian Houston built himself up….not the lord. And the lord will bring it down because it is built on shifting sand.

    God bless !

  7. Our friends used to serve in Church making the coffee for people.
    After covid lockdown, the coffee machine needed to be service and the cost was only $200. However, it was turned down. The volunteers felt bad as that means that people were drinking coffee from coffee machine that are not serviced.

    If it is not for the MP Wilkin, no one would have known that the church has some much money used by staff like Phil travelling on business class being approved by the board.

    Hey, how about a $200 to service a coffee machine that all the volunteers had given their time and effort to want to ensure that our coffee machine are hygiene and you are not drinking residue since the machine has not been service for over 1 to 2 years.

    Now, you know that you are drinking coffee from coffee machines that have not been serviced, will you be giving money to hillsongs leaders for them to travel in business class and eating expensive meals at the expense of your coffee ?

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