Sunday 19 October 2014
A Hillsong press conference in New York generated controversy on the weekend, with the conservative First Things magazine declaring “Hillsong shifts on homosexuality.”
This was an interpretation of an RNS piece by Jonathan Merritt “Hillsong’s Brian Houston says church won’t take public position on LGBT issues.” (Read it here).
Eternity has transcribed Houston’s full answer. Christian Post has an audio file here. at In the past Eternity has found it helpful to read over Houston’s answers at press conferences. In this instance we have retained the original syntax, rather than fix the grammar. Readers should be aware this is an off-the-cuff answer, rather than a polished press release.
The New York Times asked Brian Houston about how Hillsong strives to be relevant as secular values and opinions continue to clash with traditional Christian doctrine.
Houston: “With the church, the message is sacred but the methods have to change, for the church to stay relevant. And it’s challenging for the church to stay relevant.
“The one big hot topic is… for the churches… Now that homosexual marriage legalised, and churches for generations they hold a set of beliefs around what they believe that God, the Bible says. And all of a sudden, in many circles the church could look like a pariah because for many people it is so irrelevant now on that subject.
“So staying relevant is a big challenge. I think it is more than just singing more contemporary songs. And the colour you paint your walls, or whatever. It can be challenging for churches to stay relevant. Because many mainstream churches have held what they believe is a long established view of what the bible says on homosexuality. But the world has changed around and about them.
“On the subject I always feel like there’s three things:
• There’s the world we live in.
• There’s the weight we live with, and
• There’s the word we live by.
The world, the weight, the word.
“And to me, the world we live in, whether we like it or not has changed around and about us. Homosexual marriage is legal in your city and probably will be in most western countries within a short time. So the world is changing.
“And we want to stay relevant as a church, so that is a vexing thing. We think … how do we not become a pariah? So that’s the world we live in.
“And the weight we live with.
“It is a reality that in churches like ours, and in virtually any other church there are young people who have serious questions about their sexuality, and who maybe, hypothetically, speaking to a youth leader or a youth pastor, says you know “I think I am gay” and maybe they feel a sense of rejection there. Or maybe their own Christian parents can’t handle it and exclude them at a time when they are the most vulnerable in their lives.
“So you can have churches – not just our church – churches’ young people who quite literally are depressed maybe even suicidal and sadly oftentimes grow up to hate the church. Because they feel that the church rejected them.
“So the world we live in, the weight we live with and the word we live by – the word we live by is what the Bible says. It would be much easier if those three things could easily bind up, but they don’t necessarily. So that’s why Carl [Lentz the Hillsong NYC pastor] always says it’s a conversation.
“To us, I think it is very easy to reduce what you think on homosexuality to just a public statement. That would keep a lot of people happy. But we feel, at this point it is an ongoing conversation- that the real issues in people’s lives are too important for us to reduce it down to a yes or no answer in a media outlet. So we are on the journey with it, aren’t we?”
Carl Lentz: “Yeah. I think so what you were asked initially, what he meant by relevance was there was an age perhaps I did not have to have a consuming interest in how to make the hazardous matter.
If you are ion an area where this is not relevant then the pastor does not have to worry about it at all. But when you live in new York City you had better figure out a way quickly to say “this is what our Bible says, this is how we apply it to your life”, that is what we meant by a challenge to stay relevant. A lot of churches refuse to be relevant and just say “this is that” and refusing to look at your situation and even try to explain this or make some sort of bridge.”
Lyall Mercer, Hillsong’s Communication manager issued a statement to Religious News Service:
“Brian was specifically referring to the church’s public position that doesn’t alienate people who are struggling with issues, and that ensures everyone is included in the message of God’s love,” said Lyall Mercer, media coordinator for Hillsong Church.
“His personal position on the issue of homosexuality is: ‘I think the writings of Paul are clear on this subject and my personal views would line up with most traditionally held Christian views.’”
A fuller version from Brian Houston was issued on Sunday (AU time):
“I encourage people not to assume a media headline accurately represents what I said at a recent press conference.
“Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage. I challenge people to read what I actually said, rather than what was reported that I said. My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.
“I was asked a question on how the church can stay relevant in the context of gay marriage being legal in the two states of the USA where we have campuses. My answer was simply an admission of reality – no more and no less. I explained that this struggle for relevance was vexing, as we did not want to become ostracised by a world that needs Christ.
“I made the point that public statements condemning people will place a barrier between the church and the world (and I note that Jesus came to save and not to condemn), which is why at Hillsong, we don’t want to reduce the real issues in people’s lives to a sound bite.
“This – like many other issues, is a conversation the church needs to have and we are all on a journey as we grapple with the question of merging biblical truth with a changing world.”