After announcing the death of a church member who refused the covid vaccine and later died from the virus, Hillsong founder Brian Houston told CNN that he still considers vaccination a “personal decision” for other members of the congregation.
“On any medical issue, we strongly encourage those in our church to follow the guidance of their doctors,” Houston said in a statement, apparently while “emphasizing that the church’s focus was on spiritual well-being,” according to CNN. “While many of our staff, leadership and congregation have already received the Covid-19 vaccine, we recognize this is a personal decision for each individual to make with the counsel of medical professionals,” he said.
Houston has reportedly since deleted the original social media post where he eulogized the life of 34-year-old Stephen Harmon, who attended the global church’s Los Angeles location. Even after Harmon was hospitalized with the virus, he insisted he wasn’t “in a rush to get it.” (It was likely not an option for Harmon anyway; by the time patients are hospitalized it’s usually too late for them to get vaccinated.
“Stephen was just a young man in his early 30s,” Houston reportedly wrote. “He was one of the most generous people I know and he had so much in front of him. ... He will be missed by so many.”
It’s hardly surprising that Hillsong would toe the “personal decision” line on the vaccine. Hillsong—a church to which many Hollywood stars belong— traffics in a kind of New-Agey spirituality that inevitably overlaps with (or at least does not explicitly contradict) contemporary wellness culture. From there, it is often a short road to anti-vax sentiment, since wellness influencers often warn against putting things in one’s body that aren’t “natural.” Sadly the result is that Houston and other church leaders—though willing to get vaccinated themselves—are not willing to urge other members to do the same, even when they seem to know it can save their lives.