Yesterday I wrote about pastor-to-the-stars Carl Lentz’s firing from Hillsong Church (you can catch up here). Even a dumdum like me could discern from the language of the statement that it was something scandalous.
So it’s cheating. Affairs, in North America at least, are scandalous. Look how we just reacted to Dominic West’s Roman holiday. Cheating is sh-tty, absolutely. But I’m not here to wag a finger at Carl Lentz because that’s between him and his wife (and his kids, as he included their photo with his statement and they are on social media, so they must be aware of what is going on). If you are an adult, you probably have a friend who has been cheated on (or maybe cheated) – life is long and messy, and “throw his stuff on the lawn!” works in the movies but in real life, when you have to work out the logistics of day-to-day life and kids and housing and schooling, it’s not so cut and dry. Some couples can work through it, some can’t. Undoubtedly, this is awful for Laura Lentz.
What makes Carl Lentz a talking point (he was the top story on PEOPLE for a few hours yesterday, which is nuts considering the news right now) is that he, like many, many powerful men before him, had a role that put in him in a position of influence and authority and he, as a pastor, demeaned that position. Maybe he exploited it.
Now there’s certainly a discussion about whether or not society’s need to have spotless public figures (from pop stars to politicians to influencers) is too pious and unrealistic, but Lentz’s situation has another layer of complication because of Christianity. In his role, he created a personal brand that put his family values at the forefront. So even if we have compassion for his mistake (from what we know right now), the reason we are talking about it is because he considered himself a spiritual guide and he is, in his own words, lost. As his statement points out, “When you accept the calling of being a pastor, you must live in such a way that it honors the mandate” and he, by his own admission, did not do that.
As a Christian, Lentz (and I assume Hillsong) preach forgiveness, so it’s interesting that Hillsong fired him. Was this so egregious that they couldn’t offer him some grace and space to work out, if it was a consensual, one-time affair? Isn’t that a cornerstone of the whole operation? Carl thanked Hillsong and their lead pastors, Bobbie and Brian Houston, for their “grace and kindness” – interesting words considering they sent out a statement saying they fired him. But even with this admission, people are skeptical that this is the whole story, so again, this has created a gossip black hole.
We don’t know that it was a one-time affair, or with one person. Going back to Hillsong’s statement (which, again, I take with a huge grain of salt because it was vague and churches should not investigate their own leaders), the phrase “moral failures” is used, but also, “leadership issues” and “breach of trust.” This is strong language to use for an affair. Carl has been married since he was 25 and over the last ten years has exploded in popularity (how many pastors make it to Super Soul Sunday and get a Taffy profile?) and hangs with celebrities and athletes in New York. This revelation isn’t making anyone gasp. So did it make Hillsong‘s leadership gasp, or was it something else?
On Instagram, the reaction has been much gentler than on Twitter – lots of support (including the person who will be taking over for him) from other pastors (like T.D. Jakes) and parishioners. Also interesting is that, at the time of writing this, there have been no “likes” or comments from any celebrities or high-profile athletes, specifically Justin and Hailey Bieber (they have spent a lot of time with them as a family and Hailey is very close with Laura Lentz). In every headline, Carl’s name is mentioned alongside Justin’s, so I wonder how Biebs feels about that. He’s getting heat and he didn’t even do anything. The Pastor Posse (Judah Smith, Chad Veach, Rich Wilkerson Jr.) have not liked Carl’s post, even though they’ve all worked together (as recently as April for a Zoom call). The withholding of public support is purposeful. Is it that they don’t want the stink of scandal or is it something else… like they know more is coming and they don’t want to be there when it does? This is starting to play out like the kind of drama you’d see between TikTokkers or palace courtiers or Real Housewives. Drama, scandal, disloyalty, gossip - it’s all here. Bless this mess.