Former Hillsong Pastor, Carl Lentz, in a new docuseries, revealed the highs and lows that came with leading a successful congregation for nearly 10 years after the Church expanded from its initial Australian roots into the United States via New York.
As the lead pastor of Hillsong NYC, a megachurch specializing in youth-courting “come as you are” sermons and “Coldplay for Christ” music, Lentz became a bona-fide celebrity, palling around with A-list congregants like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, and Kevin Durant.
He also served as team chaplain for the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets.
At the height of his PR problems, Justin Bieber even crashed with Lentz for several months and was baptized by him at 2 a.m. in the tub of former NBA star Tyson Chandler.
It all came crashing down in November 2020, when Lentz was fired from Hillsong for what the church called “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures,” after it came to light that he’d been having an affair with a 34-year-old Brooklyn designer of rings and kimonos, Ranin Karim.
Lentz, who was known around the world for standing at the pulpit of a mega celebrity church, made a confession in 2020, that he cheated on his wife with their family nanny while at the helm of the U.S.-based ministry.
Lentz and his family, including his wife, Laura, and their three young children, proceeded to vanish from the public eye. But now the Lentzes are ready to talk, and they feel that Carl’s fall from grace is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Hillsong’s culture of abuse, discrimination, and corruption.
The Secrets of Hillsong, a four-part docuseries premiering May 19 on FX, and based on an investigative series by Vanity Fair, contains the first interviews with the Lentzes since the whole cheating scandal blew up their lives, as well as those with ex-congregants who accuse the church of everything from discrimination and graft to sexual abuse.
The four-hour-plus docuseries, directed by Stacey Lee (Olivia Rodrigo: driving home 2 u), pulls back the curtain on the Hillsong operation — a global network of charismatic Christian megachurches that once boasted 150,000 members in 30 countries — albeit at the expense of Carl’s narrative, which gets lost in the miasma.
During the trailer for “The Secrets of Hillsong,” which releases Friday, Lentz relayed the message, “You do not want to be in this chair. I cannot stress it enough.”
Cameras zoomed in on Lentz wearing two gold chain necklaces that featured a pendant of a heart and another with a cross.
“I had some major lies,” he said.
In the trailer, Lentz’s wife, Laura, remembered when Carl revealed the truth about his extramarital affair. “He said, ‘I have been unfaithful,’” she said as pictures from their wedding day flashed before the screen.
The pastor was accused of having an affair with a woman named Ranin Karim.
During a video conference with Hillsong leaders prior to being fired – including Brian Houston who resigned in 2022 amid allegations of “inappropriate behavior” toward two women – Lentz was also reportedly asked about a relationship with their family nanny, Leona Kimes.
“He hadn’t told me this part yet,” Laura said in a preview of the docuseries via People magazine.
“I’d sometimes get these little feelings. And then one night I found them in a compromising position. I was angry and I definitely freaked out.”
Laura remembered they “never talked” about the situation again, but Lentz was fired one month later.
In July 2021, Kimes alleged sexual and emotional abuse by the pastor, although she did not name him.
Kimes, however, has a different view of things. In May 2021, Leona published an essay on Medium titled “Writing My Voice Back.”
In it, she accuses her pastor (Carl) of “manipulation, control, bullying, abuse of power, and sexual abuse,” adding, “Having told almost no one before this, I am just now able to share what I experienced in their home as the result of intense therapy.” (Kimes did not participate in the docuseries.)
“I am responsible for allowing an inappropriate relationship to develop in my house, with someone that worked for us,” says Carl Lentz in Secrets of Hillsong. “Any notion of abuse is categorically false. There were mutual adult decisions made by two people who lied profusely — mainly to my wife.”
In addition to an Adderall addiction, Lentz blames his behavior on alleged “sexual abuse” he fell victim to as a child, which he says he came to the realization of during rehab.
“It took me this awful, rock-bottom moment to peel back what sexual abuse does to somebody’s brain in regards to how I handle sex, how I handle truth, how I handle defense systems, how I handle control,” says Lentz. “For a long time, it kind of dominated my life without me knowing.”
He continues: “A family friend had sexually abused me. My brain had kind of shut off some of that memory … I was told when I was abused, ‘Let’s not tell anybody about this. This is going to be our secret.’” Lentz reasons that he then developed “a pattern of secrecy” due to his “deep shame.”
According to People, Lentz said in the upcoming episode that he “thought about vacating the planet” amid the scandal and the fallout from the famous church.
Almost two years after posting about the infidelity, Lentz broke his social media silence and shared that his family is “at peace and thanks to the grace of God we are together.”
He recently wrote that his entire focus the last three years has been “fighting for my wife and my kids. In order to do that, seeking sobriety and healing had to run parallel with those goals.”
The former pastor noted that there’s a “long way to go, with a lot of work, a lot of honesty and a lot of prayer,” but Carl and Laura celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary.
He also added he is no longer in ministry but has since found a relationship with Jesus that he couldn’t have “from the pulpit.”