Hillsong students launch an attack on the church in response to Anna Crenshaw’s assault.
Students at Hillsong wrote to leader Brian Houston to express their outrage over the church’s decision to retain an employee who pleaded guilty to assaulting a student.
Students at Hillsong’s bible college condemned the church for retaining an employee who pleaded guilty to assaulting a student.
The letter, written by members of the student body, was delivered to the church on April 13 following the public disclosure of former college student Anna Crenshaw’s assault while a student.
Ms Crenshaw was assaulted in 2016 at the home of a mutual friend by Jason John Mays, a Hillsong employee. Mays was convicted of indecent assault in Penrith Local Court on January 16, 2020, after she informed the church about the assault in 2018.
There was no record of a criminal conviction.
Ms Crenshaw, now 23, said she was assaulted shortly after arriving in Australia from the United States to attend Hillsong’s bible college.
She was only 18 years old at the time of the incident and was studying and living at Sydney’s Hills Campus.
“We were a group of five or six at the home of a mutual friend. Then the guys in the group began drinking; we were in college, and drinking is not permitted in college,” she explained.
“Jason asked us girls if we were having a sleepover, which I found odd given his position on staff. Then he suggested that you stay after college to drink with us. After a brief moment, he moved to sit beside me and then placed his hand on my thigh, causing me to freeze. One of his friends came over and noticed his hand on my leg beneath the table – he informed me that it was time for the girls to return home.”
Mays then assaulted Ms Crenshaw.
The adolescent struggled with herself over the incident and ultimately chose to file a complaint with the church in 2019.
She stated that it was a lengthy process during which she felt guilty for raising the assault. Eventually, she asked her father in the United States to handle the situation, and together they contacted the police.
Jason’s case was heard in 2020, and students at the college were taken aback that he was permitted to remain on staff despite pleading guilty to indecent assault.
They wrote a letter to the church leadership expressing their concern about their lack of safety and the church’s role in reintroducing such a man “to a position of power and influence.”
“Prior to Anna’s case becoming public, numerous current and former students discussed their own experiences with mental and emotional abuse. We are overjoyed Anna has come forward,” the statement read.
“It appears as though Hillsong College failed to provide adequate care to the victim of this crime.
The college has not made it clear to students what resources are available to them in the event of such incidents. Additionally, it appears as though existing pathways are not structured and utilized effectively.”
Mays, according to a Hillsong Church spokesman, was not in a ‘leadership role’ at the time of the assault, but rather was employed in an administrative capacity within Hillsong’s music publishing department.
“We are not defending Jason’s actions in any way. There is no justification for his behavior,” he stated.
Jason John Mays was a regular performer with the church band prior to and following the assault – a highly sought after position within Hillsong.
John Mays, Jason John Mays’ father, has been a part of Hillsong since 1984, first as a business manager and then as the head of people and development.
According to his father’s LinkedIn page, he is a “warm, engaging, resilient, and highly experienced human resources leader and business manager.”
According to a Hillsong spokesman, John Mays has been “exonerated from any involvement in the investigation into his son.”
“(John) was not involved in any of the decisions to report the alleged behavior to authorities and had no say in his son’s future employment,” the spokesman said.
As part of their letter to church leaders, the students requested that anyone found guilty be barred from working as a paid staff member regardless of the severity of the offense.
“Such individuals are permanently barred from holding any leadership or platform positions within a Hillsong volunteer team. The victim’s care and comfort within the church community should take precedence over that of the perpetrator,” it stated.
“We pray that you can hear the heartbeat of a student body fearful that their institution will not prioritize them in sexual assault incidents.”
On April 16, college students received a letter signed by Hillsong president Brian Houston, executive vice president Lee Burns, and principal Angela Bachtle.
They stated in it that Hillsong was “dedicated to doing the right thing by the former student who recently expressed her concerns in the media.”
“We can assure you that the media coverage of this incident has not accurately reflected our comprehensive response. To show concern for the former student, our staff went above and beyond the bare minimum, and a diligent process was followed,” it stated.
“Clearly, there are some areas that require attention and improvement.”
Additionally, it stated that they had “initiated an independent and external review” of Jason Mays’ employment.
Hillsong stated that it had taken steps to address the students’ concerns and was currently finalizing an external review.
According to a Hillsong spokesman, Ms Crenshaw’s complaint was “taken seriously from the start.”
“After Jason pleaded guilty to indecent assault, the magistrate chose not to record a conviction because, while we do not condone his behavior, facts are critical and must be respected for the benefit of all parties,” the spokesman told news.com.au.
Mays was permitted to remain on staff for several reasons, according to the church spokesman, including strict court-ordered requirements, the magistrate identifying significant punishment already received through his employer (Hillsong), and the “low level objective seriousness of the offense.”
He is still employed by Hillsong in an administrative capacity.
Ms Crenshaw expressed surprise that Mays retained employment following her conviction.
“One thing I believe is insane, it is truly insane, is that after everything Hillsong has been through, I assumed it would be handled better. They appear to be strong on these issues, but when it comes to someone they know, the rules change,” she explained.
Taking the initiative.
Anna Crenshaw felt compelled to speak out about her assault after becoming acquainted with Hillsong’s teachings while in college.
“At the time of my disclosure, I had been a member of Hillsong for approximately three years. I believed they cared about abuse and other such issues because I heard their teaching,” she explained.
“I was hesitant to come forward, and when I did, I felt as though I was the issue, rather than what actually occurred.”
She stated that since sharing her story, she has been contacted by Hillsong members worldwide who have been in a similar situation to herself.
She stated that she has been contacted by at least five individuals regarding issues at Hillsong College, Sydney and the Hills Campus.
Ms Crenshaw stated that she did not wish to elaborate further because she did not wish to reveal anything that could be used to identify others.
The incident, combined with information about other victims, has altered her opinion of the megachurch, which she claims cares more about their perception than their community.
“I would not recommend going to Hillsong for worship. They’re a wonderful church in many ways, but until they’re willing to accept accountability, I wouldn’t call it a safe space,” she said.
“I believe they are more concerned with their own image than with that of their congregation. It’s an odd approach; nowadays, people simply want people to be accountable.”
Ms Crenshaw returned to Philadelphia on June 25 after a five-year stay in Australia.
She maintains her Christian faith and stated that her assault had had no effect on her faith.
“When I was a child, I discovered that my relationship with God is distinct from the church. That aided me in maintaining a strong faith in God despite all of this,” she explained.