A Kiwi pastor who once told Israel Folau to show some love found himself in the middle of a political furore across the Tasman after he was apparently rebuffed by the Trump administration.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison wanted his friend, Auckland-born and Wellington-raised pastor Brian Houston, to be part of his delegation for the official state dinner only for it to be "vetoed" by the Americans, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Morrison has dismissed but not denied the story, while Houston said he'd not received an invitation to the White House and had not discussed it with Morrison or anyone else.

Houston and his wife, Bobbie, founded the multi-million dollar Hillsong network of evangelical churches which has a presence in 23 countries and claims average global attendance of more than 130,000 weekly.

Advertisement

The White House story gained legs because of the friendship between the men - Morrison called Houston his "mentor" during his maiden speech to Parliament in 2008 - and because Australian police last week said an inquiry is ongoing into Houston's handling of sex crime allegations against his father, Frank Houston, who was also a preacher.

The Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was critical of Houston's failure to report to police the abuse claim against his father.

"We are satisfied that, in 1999 and 2000, Pastor Brian Houston and the national executive of the Assemblies of God in Australia did not refer the allegations of child sexual abuse against Mr Frank Houston to the police," the commissioners wrote in their report.

"We consider that a conflict of interest first arose when Pastor Brian Houston decided to respond to the allegations by confronting his father while simultaneously maintaining his roles as national president [of the Assemblies of God in Australia] and senior pastor."

Frank Houston, who died in 2004, was accused of sexually abusing nine boys in New Zealand and Australia. Houston senior was head of Assemblies of God in New Zealand until 1971 and the allegations made by at least some of the complainants relate to that time.

Brian Houston (left) and his father, Frank Houston (right) Photo/File
Brian Houston (left) and his father, Frank Houston (right) Photo/File

Houston confronted his father who then made "certain admissions". He made sure his father never preached again and informed the church hierarchy.

"Rightly or wrongly, I thought I would be pre-empting the victim if I were to have called the police at that point," Houston told the commission in 2014.

Frank Houston, who was allowed to retire with a church pension, paid A$10,000 ($10,500) to that victim.

Advertisement

Brian Houston, who has been described as "a spiritual entrepreneur in the multi-billion dollar global evangelism industry", has spoken of the shock of having to contemplate that his father was homosexual and an accused paedophile.

"I think my father was homosexual, a closet homosexual. I'm no psychiatrist . . . but I think whatever frustrations he had, he took out on children," Houston told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2015.

In an ABC documentary a decade earlier, he said "the homosexual question and sexuality generally is one of the most challenging questions there is for the church in the 21st century. And it's the one where I feel conflicted myself."

Last year, he said Folau, the former rugby player who took to social media to tell homosexuals and other sinners they will burn in hell, should turn up the compassion.

"The world doesn't need more judgmental Christians.

"In 40 years of telling people about the good news of Jesus, I have seen that the 'turn or burn', approach to proclaiming the message of Christianity alienates people. Scaring people doesn't draw them into the love of Jesus."

Hillsong churchgoers include NRL star Jarryd Hayne, while singer Justin Bieber, actress Vanessa Hudgens and NBA star Kevin Durant all reportedly attend the New York branch.

Brooke Fraser has been part of the church's Hillsong United revolving band of musicians. Photo / Richard Robinson.
Brooke Fraser has been part of the church's Hillsong United revolving band of musicians. Photo / Richard Robinson.

Wellington Christian singer Brooke Fraser has been part of the church's Hillsong United revolving band of musicians

Frank Houston was considered the father of Sydney's Pentecostal church movement. He began his preaching career in Australia in a tiny church in Double Bay.

Brian and Bobbie Houston followed his father and in 1983 moved to Baulkham Hills in Sydney's northwest to set up an offshoot of Frank's inner city church, calling it the Hills Christian Life Centre. The two churches merged in 1999 as Frank's sexual offending began to come to light.

Frank died aged 82. At his funeral, Brian said: "He was a man who perhaps made some big mistakes a long time ago. But everyone here knows that he was a man who stood for what he believed in."