In between refreshing news feeds I found a tasty nugget on DeuxMoi about Pastor Carl Lentz of Hillsong. Meet me on the other side of this screenshot.
OK so, a DeuxMoi disclaimer: as stated on their Instagram feed, they distribute gossip but they do not verify it. It’s up to readers to decide if a story sounds plausible and to me, this story sounded legit.
Later in the night, this (slightly different) statement appeared on the Hillsong website (read it here).
Hillsong is rumoured to be pulling in big donations from their famous worshipers and their services are splashy (no stuffy pews here – Lentz ran his New York service out of the Hammerstein Ballroom and he would baptize people at the Gansevoort Hotel’s rooftop pool), plus they have a strong social media presence, streaming services, and a record label. It’s hip in presentation but it’s not modern in doctrine: the church has been criticized for having an “inclusive” message aimed at millennials while sidelining LGBTIA2S+ people and being opaque on abortion. Depending on his audience, Carl Lentz has managed to mostly bob around those issues (he was evasive on The View in 2017, but came out harder against the anti-choice boogeyman, late term abortions, on social media).
A few years back, I wrote about his fallout with Justin Bieber (they have since reconciled). Lentz is a draw and pulls in big names in entertainment (like the Biebers, Selena Gomez, the Jenners, Chris Pratt, Vanessa Hudgens and Jonas brothers) and the sports world, particularly basketball players. He’s a hip, married father of three (his wife Laura is his co-pastor), wears YSL, and was profiled by Taffy Brodesser-Akner for GQ. He’s always been a little flashier than his fellow celebrity pastors Judah Smith, Chad Veach, and Rich Wilkerson Jr. And what usually happens to flashy pastors?
Clearly, sh-t went down because the words “leadership issues,” “breach of trust”, and “moral failures” were used in the Hillsong announcement. Those are very strong words. This isn’t an amicable “we’ve decided to part ways with the Lentzes” statement. (At the time of writing, neither Carl nor Laura Lentz had posted a response.)
And what about Laura? She grew up in Hillsong, she is a co-pastor and all of their work has been together. The statement seems to lay the blame on him, but indicates that she will be leaving as well.
If we follow the DeuxMoi trail, we have a real buffet of offerings from anonymous submissions. Some say it’s the typical “moral lapses” (drugs and infidelity) that, frankly, are par for the course in religious scandals. Others say it’s bad but has nothing to do with infidelity; one person described it as “something that could happen to anyone” but wouldn’t elaborate. (Substance abuse? Tax stuff?) Still others said that Carl’s stance on social justice issues (he’s supportive of Black Lives Matter) have made him unpopular with the higher-ups at Hillsong. But, seeing as he’s a celebrity and bringing in big names (and, presumably, big donations), would they publicly fire him for him not falling in line?
And then we also need to consider if Hillsong’s statement is true, considering the history here. Churches aren’t great at investigating themselves. (Hillsong has had its own sexual abuse scandal, unrelated to this, which you can read about here.) Firing him publicly is the nuclear option and throwing down those kind of word bombs (“moral failures”) is what – a warning or a rebuke? Both? Are they telling Carl to not f-ck with them? And by issuing this kind of titillating statement, Hillsong has to expect gossip, at least amongst the parishioners. Who wouldn’t gossip about this? It’s begging to be gossiped about. Are they being willfully obtuse by stating that this will be the last they ever have to speak of it? And if Carl Lentz did do something inappropriate (which there’s no specific accusation about), then don’t they have an obligation to their community to be more forthcoming? This statement implies he did something “bad” in position of power, but then they just leave it to people’s imagination to decide what “bad” is. It’s like they are firing him, throwing him under the bus, and protecting him, all at the same time.
The Lentzes now have to decide how they move through this bubbling scandal. Do they ignore it and hope the election news continues to dominate? Do they come out with an admission of guilt or apology for those alleged “moral failings?” Or do they come out swinging against Hillsong and possibly expose a church that people, judging by my Twitter responses, do not trust at all.
There is definitely more scandal and sin to play out, and we’ve been distracted from the election results for a few minutes. Hallelujah!