One of the most notable celebrity scandals of the year was the fall of Pastor to the Stars, Carl Lentz, formerly of Hillsong Church. Not sure if anyone was shocked? Carl’s drama was actually the second high-profile church leader sex scandal of the year. I was too lazy this morning at 5am to remember by myself the name of the people involved in the first one so I just punched everything else that I did remember into google:
Google didn’t have to work very hard to spit out Jerry Falwell Jr and the true-life story of the situationship he and his wife had with Giancarlo Granda. I mean the details of it all, right down to the name of the third party!
Like I said, Carl Lentz isn’t the first and he won’t be the last religious leader disgraced because of sexual shenanigans. But even though we have details about (one of) his extramarital affairs (one so far), and that’s been the generally accepted reason behind his downfall, most people, I think, were suspicious that there had to be more. And the New York Times this weekend just published a deeper-dive piece not only on Carl’s dismissal but on the Hillsong brand, and how there were divisions in the organisation separate from Carl’s infidelities. Getting busted for cheating on his wife seems like it was really just the excuse that Hillsong management was looking for to get rid of him.
“But sexual infidelity was only one piece of the story. [Brian Houston, the founder of Hillsong] also connected Mr. Lentz’s dismissal to “general narcissistic behavior, manipulating, mistreating people,” as well as “breaches of trust connected to lying, and constantly lying.”
Basically Carl Lentz became drunk on his own power. He was travelling the world, and was frequently absent from actually showing up to engage with Hillsong members. “Remote” is how he’s described in the piece and “remote” describes his physical distance but also the way he interacted with parishioners when he happened to be around; apparently he expected special treatment from church members and volunteers. So in an environment when all people are supposed to be equal under god, here was one of the leaders of the church actually acting like a god. Or, you know, a celebrity.
Hillsong’s problem is the Celebrity. Not just in Carl’s attitude but what’s more complicated is the actual Celebrity of its entire image. What the church currently stands for, at least in its public presentation, is evidently not in line with the values in scripture – humility, focusing on the internal rather than the superficial, etc, certainly not a “culture that worshiped wealth, while making volunteers cater to leaders as royalty”.
What’s tricky about this, however, is that the reason why Hillsong became so explosively popular is specifically because of its celebrity connections and how it tailored and marketed itself to a younger demographic that does care about celebrity, and fashion, and “coolness”.
Getting rid of Carl Lentz doesn’t necessarily solve that dilemma. And if that core dilemma, which is bigger than Carl Lentz, is not addressed, what’s stopping another Carl Lentz from rising to the top and plummeting again?
Speaking of Carl… who’s to say he won’t rise again in another form?
Check him out, contemplating the meaning of life, on the beach the other day with his abs popping and locking and his hair properly styled. According to the photo agency, the beach is close to the place he’s renting for $16K a month. Seems like the perfect place to plot his next move.