The youth leader at Hillsong NYC, who generated controversy earlier this year after appearing at a Christian women’s conference as a look-alike to the city’s famed “Naked Cowboy,” recently was photographed at a “Christmas tropical party” again half-naked—a photo that was later deleted following concerns.
Esther Houston, the wife of Joel Houston, who serves as the leader of the popular worship band Hillsong United and co-pastor of Hillsong NYC, posted the photo to her Instagram this week with the caption “When the Christmas tropical party is lit.”
The photo featured youth leader Diego Simila with his shirt completely unbuttoned to bear his chest and short cut-off jean shorts, while wearing a Santa hat and having a tropical drink. Adjacent to Simila is Houston, a former Brazilian model, posing in a manner that exposed up her thigh.
Some of the commenters under the photo found the snapshot to be humorous.
“Hahahaha @diegosimila!! I’m crying!” one wrote. “Diego, you make my life complete.”
“@diegosimila me and @strazzabeatdown are dying right now!!!” another exclaimed.
But one woman expressed concern about the example that Simila and Houston were setting as professing Christians.
“How is this glorifying to Jesus Christ?” she asked, and pointed to 1 Thessalonians 5:22, which admonishes Christians to “abstain from all appearance of evil.”
“God will hold you accountable for your poor example to young Christians,” she opined.
One viewer shot back at the woman, stating that she was being “ridiculous,” and contending that there was nothing sinful about the photograph.
But blog sites also picked up on the matter, noting a pattern of concerning behavior within Hillsong.
“Still no sign of Hillsong bearing fruit in keeping with repentance. Just a false Jesus endorsing their sinful lifestyle,” opined the site Church Watch Central.
Houston has since deleted the photograph without explanation.
As previously reported, Simila raised controversy in May when he appeared at Hillsong’s Colour Conference as a “Naked Cowboy” lookalike—a popular New York City figure who walks the streets shirtless and without pants.
“I usually don’t expect to see a near-naked cowboy gyrating from the stage of a Christian women’s conference. … 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 Co-Founder Brian Houston, while expressing concern, refuted those who referred to Simila as being the “Naked Cowboy” since he wasn’t completely naked.
“He was wearing proper shorts, not underwear, and he had a flag draped over him—bare-chested and perhaps inappropriate, certainly unexpected and unauthorized; but not naked,” he said in defense, adding that he and others were not aware of the plan.
“Some well-meaning person just made a silly decision,” Houston asserted. “It won’t happen again.”
Hillsong likewise raised controversy last year over its sold-out Christmas services in London, which included dancing elves, mini-skirt-wearing flappers, shirtless men pounding on drums, Santa Claus and more.