Justin Bieber’s Former Spiritual Advisor & Relationship Coach Got Fired From the Hillsong Church He Started

Shannon Ashley

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Carl Lentz | Facebook

You might not know the name Carl Lentz, but he’s a pretty big deal in the Christian community — especially among the more affluent and hipster celebrity circles.

Lentz made headlines back in 2014 for baptizing Justin Bieber in NBA player Tyson Chandler’s bathtub, and for a long time, Lentz and the young musician were seemingly inseparable. Reportedly, the pastor even gave Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez couples counseling.

While Lentz wasn’t technically Bieber’s pastor, their friendship helped shoot the unconventional clergyman to stardom. Just four years earlier, in 2010, he started Hillsong Church NYC with Joel Houston. Flash forward to last week, and Joel’s father, Brian Houston, shocked elite Christian circles by firing Carl Lentz.

You can read the full statement here, but the gist is pretty obvious:

“Today Hillsong Church East Coast advised our congregation that we have terminated the employment of Pastor Carl Lentz. This action was not taken lightly and was done in the best interests of everyone, including Pastor Carl.
“We thank Pastors Carl and Laura for the way they have served faithfully and sacrificially since the start of Hillsong NYC and for contributing so significantly to the countless lives that have been transformed for Jesus Christ through this ministry. They have a heart for people and we are confident that after a time of rest and restoration, God will use Carl in another way outside of Hillsong church. In terminating his tenure, we in no way want to diminish the good work he did here.
“This action has been taken following ongoing discussions in relation to leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures.
“It would not be appropriate for us to go into detail about the events that led to this decision. Our focus at this time is to honor God and pastorally care for our East Coast church community as well as the Lentz family.
“While I have no doubt that this is the right course of action, I must mention Bobbie’s and my personal sadness, as we have known Laura her entire life and Carl for well over 20 years.”

Over on Instagram, Carl Lentz posted a picture of himself with his wife and their three kids, and explained that the real reason for his termination was that he cheated on his wife Laura:

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Instagram text:
“Our time at Hillsong NYC has come to an end. This is a hard ending to what has been the most amazing, impacting and special chapter of our lives. Leading this church has been an honor in every sense of the word and it is impossible to articulate how much we have loved and will always love the amazing people in this church. When you accept the calling of being a pastor, you must live in such a way that it honors the mandate. That it honors the church and that it honors God. When that does not happen, a change needs to be made and has been made in this case to ensure that standard is upheld. Laura and I and our amazing children have given all that we have to serve and build this church and over the years I did not do an adequate job of protecting my own spirit, refilling my own soul, and reaching out for the readily available help that is available. When you lead out of an empty place, you make choices that have real and painful consequences. I was unfaithful in my marriage, the most important relationship in my life and held accountable for that. This failure is on me, and me alone and I take full responsibility for my actions. I now begin a journey of rebuilding trust with my wife, Laura, and my children and taking real time to work on and heal my own life and seek out the help that I need. I am deeply sorry for breaking the trust of many people who we have loved serving and understand this news can be very hard and confusing for people to hear and process. I would have liked to say this with my voice, to you, in person because you are owed that. But that opportunity I will not have. So to those people, I pray you can forgive me and that over time I can live a life where trust is earned again. To our pastors Brian and Bobbie, thank you for allowing us to lead, allowing us to thrive and giving us room to have a voice that you have never stifled or tried to silence. Thank you for your grace and kindness especially in this season, as you have done so much to protect and love us through this. We, the Lentz family, don’t know what this next chapter will look like, but we will walk into it together very hopeful and grateful for the grace of God.”

Phew — that’s a mouthful and I have to be honest that it feels like I’ve heard most of it before. Lentz used a lot of Christian buzzwords that make this whole thing seem like business as usual. In some ways, it is. A prominent Christian dude cheated on his wife. That’s hardly unheard of.

What is unusual, perhaps, is the subtext.

The fact that Hillsong outright fired Lentz is interesting. Numerous outlets have been reporting that Carl Lentz got fired for having an affair of some kind, but the language Brian Houston used in his statement suggests there were multiple transgressions and not a single affair. Actually, Houston listed three vague reasons, and all of them were plural: “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures.”

While some Christian pastors might cheat on their wives and face little more than a slap on the wrist and a sabbatical, like my own town’s Perry Stone, Hillsong opted to cut ties with Lentz.

Keep in mind that his wife, Laura, was a pastor at Hillsong NYC as well. It’s interesting because it appears that her job is also over, and her page has been removed from the website. It makes me wonder what she wanted. Maybe she’s willingly stepping down to heal with her family, but that’s a lot to process. She doesn’t just have to deal with the betrayal of her husband and the press that goes with it. She’s losing a career too. Did she lose a job she loves just because her husband made some stupid choices?

There’s something so anti-feminist whenever a married male pastor falls from grace. Years ago, when it came out that evangelical pastor Ted Haggard was secretly having gay sex and using meth, some Christians like Mark Driscoll put blame on Haggard’s wife by suggesting she’d “let herself go.”

More recently, when Jerry Falwell Jr’s apparent double life was revealed, he immediately blamed his wife by claiming that she’s the one who had an affair and that he was the depressed husband. Yet, his own voice on tape suggests he knew exactly what was going on, and that he was happy with the arrangement. Other sources close to the Falwell’s have claimed that he and his wife often played games like, “would you rather” while observing their own students at Liberty U.

In most cases of infidelity among Christians, I’m amazed at just how far people tend to take their compassion for the men. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to see plenty of celebrities and high-profile names initially reacting positively to Carl Lentz’s Instagram post. When I first read the post four days ago, people like Lecrae, John Crist, Shaun King, and Joshua Harris were offering comments of condolence and support. Something about it was sort of offputting.

It’s a bit of a circle jerk, if you know what I mean. Multiple men told Carl they’d been in the exact same place — presumably, cheating on their wives. And John Crist? Come on. It’s not that long ago that Netflix had to can his ass in the aftermath of his own sexual misconduct.

When I revisited the post this morning, I saw that all comments were gone and the ability to reply was disabled. It was sort of a relief to be unable to read the many supportive comments all over again.

So, I dunno. Does rehabilitation or restoration mean having other elite men tell you they’ve caused similar harm to women and loved ones? I’d hope for it to mean something… more.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be kind to others who make mistakes. We all do stupid things. But so many of those comments left a bad taste in my mouth because I know the way we treat men and women is so different when it comes to infidelity — particularly in these Christian circles.

In most cases? The “other woman” almost always takes the blame. This works well for those who operate in a patriarchal and dualistic worldview like evangelical Christianity. For such folks, gender roles are mostly cut and dry. It’s been essentially predetermined that men “can’t help themselves” when it comes to women.

Growing up in purity culture and the evangelical bubble means that I’m well aware of the baggage put upon women to ensure that the men don’t stray. It’s ridiculous.

And for the past few days, people have — of course — been speculating about who the other woman might be. But for all, we know, there could be multiple people involved. We also don’t know if it’s the sort of situation where he mostly hurt his family, or if he took advantage of anyone else as a high-profile Christian leader. The Hillsong statement is serious enough that such questions aren’t too far-fetched at this point.

Just yesterday, one woman did come forward, claiming to have dated Carl Lentz. Ranin, a 34-year-old designer in NYC says they were together for five months, only broke up last week, and that they’re still very much in love.

Ranin is Muslim, and says she didn’t know who he was when they first met. Instead of admitting he was a pastor to the stars, she says he lied to hide his real identity:

“He told me his name was Carl but that’s it, he wouldn’t tell me his last name. And he told me that his job was as a sports agent.”

Allegedly, Lentz also didn’t tell her he was married in the beginning, and he didn’t wear a ring. Ranin says he only admitted to having a wife after she became suspicious that something else was going on with him.

Whether or not Ranin’s story checks out, only time will tell, though, to a certain extent, we all know how this will play out. The woman, or main mistress in this scandal will have her name driven through the mud. People will ask how she could have been so selfish. Carl will probably try to save his marriage, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote a book about redemption whether or not he gets divorced.

Granted, Lentz’s Instagram apology has great optics. So far, it’s got about 10 times more “likes” than most of his other posts. When the comments were still up, I’m pretty sure there were thousands instead of the usual hundreds. In a way, I get it. After all, I’ve written extensively about some of my worst choices, including that time when I was the other woman. In no way, do I mean to say that Carl Lentz is a lost cause, or that he shouldn’t be talking about what happened and seeking forgiveness.

What I’m saying is that perhaps now is not the greatest time for Lentz to be talking or seeking forgiveness if he’s really serious about growing up and addressing some of the damage he’s done. It takes time to face yourself after an affair and to be really honest after lying to so many people. To suggest that he could be fired one day and apologize the next without further consequence is irresponsible at best.

We’re talking about the hypocrisy of a Christian leader whom people trusted to have his life together — at least enough of it to give out balanced relationship advice. What we really need to be asking ourselves is why cheating, lying, and other forms of hypocrisy are so common among the Christian elite.

Ironically, Lentz’s last book, published in 2017, is called Own The Moment. In it, he addresses how “he went from being an average teenager who couldn’t care less about church to leading one of the country’s fastest-growing congregations.”

The book also offers advice on “how to live as a person of faith in an increasingly materialistic world… in a society that worships money and sex and fame.”

Seriously.

How can a Christian who follows Lentz’s teachings, or an ex-vangelical like myself not cringe deeply at this? Yes, Carl Lentz got dubbed the “hot pastor” several years ago. He was the church dude with tattoos who actually cared about Black Lives Matter, and who’s supposedly all about being real, and then this happens.

Some Christians are great at forgiving unfaithful men like Carl Lentz or Perry Stone, and they do it with a sort of knee-jerk show of grace that they would never show a non-Christian. But there are real consequences for allowing men in power slide by with a pat on the back after this.

I don’t care what Carl or any other Christian does sexually and consensually with another adult. But I do care when they preach false messages about how to lead a good Christian life when they aren’t practicing what they preach, and aren’t being upfront about it. I also care when they’re unfaithful to their spouse because that means they’ve deprived the most important person in their life of true consent in that relationship.

That matters.

A lot of people within Christianity — and even outside of it —will try to tell you that fidelity doesn’t matter. After living through at least two sides of such heartbreak, I know that it really does matter. Infidelity is traumatic. Lying about who we are, wearing masks, and convincing people that they can be as spiritually successful as us while withholding the truth from them is ugly. Nobody ever really wins from that sort of thing.

Even if you do “get away with it,” that is toxic on a soul level.

So many people have been taught to seek forgiveness without even making amends. And then, the rest of us who are being asked to forgive them are often expected to do so without hesitation.

Christianity is big on forgiveness in a way that gets easily manipulated. People in leadership seem to expect forgiveness without doing any of the work toward reconciliation or making amends. As a result, some very real and deep wounds get swept under the rug as if they’re no big deal. Meanwhile, offenders squeak by without ever truly learning a lesson, only to keep apologizing for the same mistakes. Or, they simply get better at hiding them altogether.

It’s still pretty early into this scandal, but there are a few things that concern me in Carl Lentz’s words. Yes, it’s nice that he said he takes full responsibility… except that doesn’t mean he truly does.

In his Instagram apology, Lentz wrote: “When you accept the calling of being a pastor, you must live in such a way that it honors the mandate. That it honors the church and that it honors God. When that does not happen, a change needs to be made and has been made in this case to ensure that standard is upheld.”

Isn’t it weird that he calls his firing a change to ensure the standard is upheld? Any rational person can see the standard was not upheld, and that’s why Lentz was fired. Why is he trying to downplay this while claiming to take full responsibility?

Next, Lentz wrote, “Laura and I and our amazing children have given all that we have to serve and build this church and over the years I did not do an adequate job of protecting my own spirit, refilling my own soul, and reaching out for the readily available help that is available. When you lead out of an empty place, you make choices that have real and painful consequences.”

Ugh. Okay, I have a few problems with this. First, by saying he gave everything he had to the ministry, it once again sounds like he’s downplaying his actions. It’s a little bit like saying he’s a victim of the church he co-founded… or, of his own desire to serve. And then he takes that insinuation a step further by claiming he cheated on his wife because he wasn’t filing his cup.

Look, for a dude who wrote a book on “owning your moment” and who claims to not like Christian jargon, he’s sure using a lot of it. This whole idea that pastors are in danger of cheating on their wives if they don’t “fulfill their soul’s needs” is ridiculously overdone.

Let’s flip it around.

Women — both within and outside of the Christian church — are famously spread too thin. We are expected to be the ultimate caregivers with neverending patience. We are expected to do most, if not all of the emotional labor at home and in our relationships. We are expected to juggle parenthood, personal, and professional lives in ways most men will never need to think about.

If men are in danger of cheating whenever they fill from an empty cup, how do you explain what women do? How are we not all constantly abandoning our kids and spouses?

The answer of course, is not that women are angels or that men are devils. In reality, we are all painfully human, but we live in a society that makes exceptions for bad behavior by men. Worse yet, Christian culture frequently takes such exceptions for men to a whole other level.

This is a subculture of western misogyny that often focuses on male power and pleasure, while virtually ignoring female desire beyond being some source of temptation for men. And that’s on top of the curated honesty problem among so many Christian influencers.

It’s been said that “we can have perfect or we can have human, but only one of them is real.” For the most part, I agree, yet too many Christian leaders seem stuck on this impulse to fake everything including their flaws.

A little more honesty would be a lot healthier.

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Single mama, full-time writer, ex-vangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. I cover real-life issues, like family, parenting, relationships, and spiritual abuse.

Cleveland, TN
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