On Monday, the daughter of Hillsong Church founders Brian and Bobbie Houston, Laura Toggs, posted a video on her Instagram blasting the media for their negative coverage of Hillsong’s maskless youth campers singing and dancing, an event which outraged Australian officials.
Toggs, who pastors Hillsong Church’s youth ministry alongside her husband, said she was “mad at the media reports that made our youth camps last week not only a national disgrace, but an international news story.”
The youth camp, which was held in Newcastle, Australia, resulted in an order to stop singing and dancing by New South Wales (NSW) Health officials.
Hillsong Church issued a statement on its website assuring members that they have always abided by the government’s public health orders and takes COVID-19 safety procedures very seriously. The church clarified that their youth camps are not music festivals, are alcohol free events, are held outdoors, and include just over 200 students. (All music festivals in Australia are currently banned until January 27, 2022 due to recent COVID-19 outbreaks.) Further, the singing that takes place at the camps constitutes a small proportion of the three day event.
“All of these factors have been communicated by the NSW Government as low-risk as described under current guidelines,” the statement read. “We have also implemented strict COVID safe procedures before and during each camp which include professional paramedics onsite 24 hours per day with testing capabilities.”
“We regret giving any perception that we were not playing our part to keep NSW safe and we sincerely apologize to the community at large. Our heart is for people, and loving and caring for all people is at the core of our church,” the statement said. Hillsong Church shared that after NSW Health instructed them to cease singing and dancing at the camp, they immediately obliged.
Hillsong Church was not fined, avoiding what could have been upwards of $55,000 in fees, according to The Guardian.
Saying that she was not looking for attention or desiring to rant, Toggs shared that the students whom media targeted for the news story “deserve better than that.” She then listed the rules she witnessed the media break in covering the story.
“What about the multiple journalists who trespassed onto our private property—hiding in bushes and filming teenagers by their tents,” Toggs pointedly asked.
“What about shaming children—calling them ‘dweeby Christians’ on primetime [news],” Toggs continued. “What about hunting down the phone numbers of young congregants to contact them to get information?”
“How about the government telling us we can do one thing in private,” Toggs said, sharing that Hillsong had specifically discussed the camp’s details with officials. “They checked off on all the details and told us we were abiding by the rules, then suddenly due to the media pressure, backflipping on us and re-classifying our event and therefore just condemning us, saying that we’re breaking the rules without forewarning us.”