Disgraced founder of anti-LGBT+ megachurch Hillsong accused of threatening pastors

Former Hillsong leader Brian Houston at the grand opening of Hillsong Atlanta, 2021

The former pastors of Hillsong Kyiv and Moscow alleged that Brian Houston, the disgraced former leader of the anti-LGBT+ megachurch, threatened them to acquire their church and assets.

According to ABC’s 7.30, Zhenya and Vera Kasevich launched their own church in Ukraine in 1992. Hillsong Sydney sent a pastor to the church and financially supported them to get started, but the couple’s church remained independent.

However, when it became clear that the church would succeed and its congregation began to rapidly grow, Houston reportedly gradually began to challenge their independence.

Vera said: “He is drawn to success. Our church budget in Ukraine was almost $1 million a year, only from income from [donations].”

Eventually, the couple claim, in 2014 Houston told them that they would have to hand over their church to Hillsong and step down as leaders, or he would set up a rival church in Kyiv.

Documents seen by ABC, signed by Hillsong Australia general manager George Aghajanian, also showed that Hillsong Church Ltd requested that the couple make a “voluntary donation” of $230,000 (£176,000) in cash and the proceeds of the sale of a property.

At the times, the Kasevichs were trying to apply to US residency, a process which Hillsong had offered to help them with. But soon, their application became leverage, they said.

They alleged that in emails, Aghajanian threatened to “make things very difficult” for them “with the American authorities”, and Houston told them he had “a lot of useful information for the US embassy”.

Zhenya said: “I was in an impossible situation. No matter what decision you make, you lose.”

Wanting to keep their congregation, which they described as “family”, together, they agreed.

Afterwards, Hillsong asked them to sign a non-disclosure agreement, they alleged, which stipulated that they could never again attend a service at Hillsong Kyiv or Moscow, and to never contact Hillsong staff.

They refused, and were “excommunicated”.

Brian Houston told 7.30 that the pastors’ account was a “fantasy”, and denied that he made any threats.

Barry Bowen, a private investigator who works with the Trinity Foundation to investigate church fraud, said that Hillsong has created a property empire, having taken over the buildings and finances of churches across Australia and the US.

Because the megachurch is a charity, is does not have to pay any tax on property acquisitions.

The anti-LGBT+ Hillsong megachurch is in crisis

Hillsong, founded in 1983 by Brian and Bobbie Houston, has a long and shady history especially when it comes to LGBT+ acceptance, but has recently hit by scandal after scandal.

Last month, Brian Houston resigned following an investigation which found that he had engaged in inappropriate conduct of “serious concern” with two female staff members.

Days later, it was revealed that Reed Bogard, lead pastor of Hillsong in Dallas, Texas, had resigned after an internal investigation revealed that he had been accused of rape by a junior female staffer.

A damning new documentary, Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed, also included Anna Crenshaw, a former student at Hillsong College who spoke out about being sexually assaulted by a church staff member.

Since Houston’s resignation, nine Hillsong branches have cut ties with the megachurch.