NEW YORK — Concerns are being raised after the youth leader at Hillsong NYC appeared as the “naked cowboy” at a recent women’s conference.
Hillsong’s Colour Conference was held on May 6 and 7 in Madison Square Garden with ticket prices set at $209.50 a person in advance and $219.50 at the door.
“Colour seeks to ‘gather, equip and mobilize’ women of all age, background and culture in the belief that together we can and will make the world a better place,” a description of the event reads. “Our team labor to create an atmosphere that will refresh heart and soul, and inspire transformation. Our desire is that worship, creativity and the presentation of God’s Word (the Bible) will honor the King of heaven and cause faith to rise, enabling the enormous potential within to become reality.”
But online video footage of the event shows members of Hillsong NYC engaging in patriotic shout-outs and performing the song “New York, New York” surrounded by firemen, a costumed statue of liberty, Broadway dancers—and a look-alike of the city’s notorious “Naked Cowboy.”
The “Naked Cowboy,” dressed in only his underwear and a cowboy hat, moves to the front of the stage at one point and blows kisses to the cheering, flag-waving crowd. Hillsong NYC leader Carl Lentz is believed to be seen in the footage, as well as Bobbie Houston and her son Ben Houston, who leads Hillsong Los Angeles.
At first, the identity of the “Naked Cowboy” was a mystery to outsiders who viewed the online footage, but one Instagram user named Kelly Amber soon posted a snapshot of the event online, writing “light and shade #colour conf.” She also tagged Ben Houston and Hillsong NYC youth leader Diego Simila in the photograph.
Followers began chiming in, “Is that Diego with his shirt off?” “His shirt wasn’t the only thing missing!! @diegosimilaaka ‘naked cowboy’!!” and “Not surprised that it was @diegosimila.”
Simila has served as the youth leader at Hillsong NYC since 2010. A former model, Simila sports his last name tattooed in large script across his chest, which can be seen in the video footage.
According to an online video featuring Simila preaching at LifePointe Church in Olathe, Kansas last year, Simila was formerly a part of a boy band in California, but believed that God had called him to leave it all and attend Bible college at Hillsong Sydney. After graduating, he moved back to California where he worked as a model, until he then felt led to move to New York City.
“He lived homeless there for about three weeks and he was just jumping from couch to couch. But he was faithful, and all of a sudden in a short, short time, he winds up being asked, being told to be the Youth Pastor of Hillsong New York City, started in 2010,” LifePointe leader Patrick Norris explains to the congregation.
But some find it inappropriate to have a youth minister appear as the “naked cowboy” and parade himself in his underwear at a women’s conference presented by a professing Christian church.
“I usually don’t expect to see a near-naked cowboy gyrating from the stage of a Christian women’s conference. Nor would I see and hear thousands of Christian females applauding and squealing in delight, and spurring on the performance. Indeed if I were of the world, I’d expect these sights and sounds to come from a giant bachelorette party at a strip club,” wrote Amy Spreeman of Berean Research.
“Hillsong continues to astound by their complete and utter disregard for how scripture instructs Christians to conduct their lives in this present evil age,” also commented the blog Pirate Christian. “First they brought us sleezy Silent Night. Then they had the sexual pervert Austin Powers appear at their women’s conference in London and now they’ve had The Naked Cowboy appear at their women’s conference in New York. We fear to see what they have in store for their next conference.”
Hillsong’s contact information is not posted online and therefore none could be reached for comment.