After a Hillsong Church member who derided the vaccine online died of COVID-19, its founder called the shot a ‘personal decision’

Brian Houston on the "TODAY" show.
Brian Houston on the “TODAY” show.

  • A Hillsong Church member in his 30s died of COVID-19 this week after declining to get vaccinated.
  • The man, who lived in California, had derided the vaccine online and joked about the coronavirus.
  • Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston told CNN the vaccine was a “personal decision.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After a congregant of the Hillsong Church in California refused to get vaccinated and died from COVID-19 complications, its founder is not encouraging the shot.

Brian Houston, founder and global senior pastor at Hillsong, told CNN vaccines are a “personal decision for each individual to make with the counsel of medical professionals.”

Stephen Harmon, who was in his early 30s, was part of a Hillsong Church in California and a graduate of Hillsong College in Mesa, Arizona. Houston said on Instagram Thursday Harmon had died from COVID-19.

Read more: Don’t punish the vaccinated – make it harder to choose to be unvaccinated

“He was one of the most generous people I know and he had so much in front of him,” Houston wrote.

Hillsong Church, based in Australia, is a popular megachurch with celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Vanessa Hudgens. Recently, the church has been accused of racist and anti-LGBTQ behavior.

Prior to his death, Harmon had makes jokes online about the coronavirus and said he was not vaccinated, Insider’s Ashley Collman reported.

In a June 3 tweet, he referenced Jay-Z’s song “99 Problems” and wrote: “If you’re having email problems, I feel bad for you, son. I got 99 problems but a vax ain’t one!”

On July 8, he again posted an anti-vaccine joke even after he was sick with COVID-19 and in an isolation ward, writing: “And no, i will not be getting vaccinated once i am discharged and released.”

In his post about Harmon, Houston wrote, “Stephen’s thoughts on vaccines were his own.”

“They do not represent the views and thoughts of Hillsong Church. Many of our pastors, staff, and congregation are fully vaccinated and more will be when vaccines become available to them in their countries,” he added.

Insider has reached out to Hillsong Church for comment.

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