Carl Lentz is once again the subject of scrutiny.
The ex-pastor of Hillsong Church was infamously fired from his role for “moral failures” — which were quickly revealed to be cheating on his wife Laura Lentz. But his moral failures apparently weren’t limited to just an extramarital affair…
Since then, there have been stories about further sexual misconduct and other abuses, both by Lentz and elsewhere in the church. Now, another woman has come forward to accuse Lentz of sexual abuse while she worked in his home as a nanny.
Leona Kimes, who is now co-pastor of Hillsong’s Boston branch, wrote a Medium essay detailing her experience with Justin Bieber’s former BFF. While she didn’t name Lentz (or his wife, whom she claimed was well aware of his inappropriate behavior) in the essay, she later confirmed his identity to Religion News Service, writing in a statement:
“I felt trapped and silenced. I also felt so ashamed and I had been told not to say anything or tell anyone.”
In a statement to RNS, the Lentzes said they “vehemently deny the allegations and, in addition to that, have irrefutable proof the events did not happen as they are being described.”
Kimes wrote in her essay that she was hired through Hillsong to work for the Lentzes in 2011. Her devotion to the church and the family led her to accept extreme working conditions, like working from “7 am to 11 pm,” having her hours switched without notice, and even jokingly being called “Cinderella” as tasks piled up. She reflected:
“The boundaries between personal and professional blurred early on, and an unhealthy bond and attachment was formed. I felt like they needed me to care for their family so they could focus on their hard life of being lead pastors, and I was determined not to fail them.”
Man, it really sounds like they were exploiting their roles as church leaders for personal gain even before anything crossing the line into sexual misconduct.
Of Lentz, she explained that the “sexual abuse started small,” describing inappropriate interactions:
“My pastor would look at me and say, ‘Gurl, you’re looking good. You’ve been in the gym?’ There was a lot of flirty teasing like this. I had been around long enough to know that’s just how he was with women. But after a while, the comments started to escalate. I remember being told, ‘after you have kids, we’ll buy you a boob job.’ Looking back, I know I felt embarrassed, but I didn’t know it was wrong then. It hadn’t occurred to me that I had a right to not be spoken to like that, by my pastor or anyone else.”
She recalled the first moment he looked at her in a way that “felt predatory” as she swam with his kids in their pool, sharing:
“After the intense glance that day, he started crossing more boundaries. Like, when I was sitting in the hot tub with the kids, he would get in, positioning himself close to me so his hands could graze my legs. He took my photo while I was laying out in the sun once. He then cropped out his wife, edited it with a black and white filter, and texted it to me, saying ‘sheesh girl looking good.’”
Their physical encounters then began to “escalate,” she continued:
“While he never had intercourse with me and never kissed me, I was physically violated by his unwanted and repeated sexual touching of my intimate areas. I froze. Every time, I froze.
He offered to accompany me to the doctor with his sick son once and he touched me while I was driving, both hands on the wheel. Again, I froze.
He suggested accompanying me to a movie with the kids and sat next to me and touched me in the dark, even though we were surrounded by people. Again, I froze.”
Kimes claimed that Lentz and his wife directly addressed the inappropriate relationship on multiple occasions. In Summer of 2016, she was “blamed and silenced” and treated as “the problem,” but kept on in her role. A year later, she alleged:
“ pastor sat me down and said he took full responsibility for taking advantage of me and putting me in a situation that was so heavy for me. He told me that I should feel ‘free’ from him and the shame I’d been carrying around. He said he’d thought about confessing to leadership, but after talking it through with his wife, they decided they didn’t have to because it wasn’t necessary, and we could just move on. I was told that if his reputation was ruined, my reputation would be, too. He said his wife would come and talk to me about the boundaries we would have moving forward.”
However, shortly afterward Laura instead told Kimes she “should repent” and fired her from her “duties in the house.” Because of her complicated relationship to the family and the lack of resources within Hillsong, she says she “couldn’t imagine reporting” the abuse she suffered.
However, after becoming a pastor herself alongside husband Josh Kimes — and after Lentz was fired from the church — she found the strength to come forward about her experience. Innerestingly, she praised Hillsong founders Brian and Bobbie Houston for their support. The couple issued their own statement on Kimes’ essay, saying:
“After the termination of the former Lead Pastor of Hillsong East Coast, it was clear the issues were significant and because of our concerns, we initiated an independent and lengthy investigation into the culture of all four Hillsong East Coast locations. In the process of seeking clarity, hearing Leona Kimes’ experience was very disturbing. We have respected Leona’s privacy and her deeply personal story. She has now decided to share her experience so that she and her husband can continue moving forward as a family.”
They added that they were “committed to learning more about how to identify such trauma and bring meaningful support to anyone who has experienced it.”
Clearly, the story of Carl Lentz and Hillsong is far from over. We can’t help but wonder what other skeletons are hiding in this church’s closet…
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