Despite prior admissions that he engaged in “manipulated intimacy” with a church member and employee, disgraced former Hillsong NYC pastor Carl Lentz strongly denies his misconduct was abuse in a new docuseries releasing this week.
In the docuseries, The Secrets of Hillsong, Lentz describes his years-long sexual misconduct with Leona Kimes, his nanny and a member of Hillsong NYC, as “an inappropriate relationship,” according to a preview in People. But Lentz argues “any notion of abuse is categorically false.”
Lentz also disclosed in the docuseries he was “sexually abused as a child by a family friend,” which has not been previously disclosed, People reported.
The four-part docuseries releases Friday on FX and is the only Hillsong exposé to feature interviews with Lentz and his wife, Laura, since their firing from Hillsong in 2020 after Carl’s admission of infidelity.
Hillsong later determined that Carl Lentz had inappropriate relationships with three women, including Kimes. In a report of the investigation commissioned by Hillsong into Lentz’s misconduct, which was obtained by The Roys Report (TRR), Lentz describes his sexual relationship with Kimes as “manipulated intimacy.”
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In interviews for that report, Lentz admitted to sexual relations with Brooklyn jewelry designer Ranin Karim during his tenure as pastor. A third affair, with a woman not identified, was described as “sexual in nature” but did not involve intercourse.
Lentz, who has stayed out of the limelight for the past few years, was recently hired by Transformation Church in Tulsa, Okla., as a “strategist.” In an Instagram post last week, Lentz claimed he was “no longer in ministry.”
Lentz’s denial of abuse contradicts Kimes’ claims in a 2021 Medium post that she was “subjected to manipulation, control, bullying, abuse of power, and sexual abuse,” while working for Lentz.
According to Bisogno & Meyerson Law Firm, which specializes in clergy sexual abuse, New York law defines sex abuse as “subjecting another person to unwanted or non-consensual sexual contact.” It adds that lack of consent results from “imbalance of power between the abuser and victim.” And the firm states on its website, “Clergy sex abuse involves a member of the Clergy inappropriately using his/her position of authority and power to sexually abuse a member of the Church or Congregation.”
Dueling versions of events
In the docuseries, Lentz acknowledges aspects of the power dynamics at play in his sexual misconduct with Kimes but claims the sexual involvement was the result of “mutual adult decisions.”
According to the investigation report, Lentz said he and Kimes engaged in conduct that was “everything short of actual intercourse,” describing full-body massages including fondling of genitals. Lentz reportedly said It occurred on at least 20 occasions over three years; Kimes estimated closer to 100 times, according to the report.
Kimes’ post on Medium details how their relationship progressed from “flirty compliments” – such as “Gurl, you’re looking good. You’ve been in the gym?” – to conduct that she said “felt predatory.”
She wrote that Lentz would take photos of Kimes and his wife, then crop out Laura and text it to Kimes as a tease. He allegedly commented on Kimes’ body inappropriately on multiple occasions. And when Kimes was in a hot tub with Lentz’s children, Lentz would position himself close to her.
Kimes further stated Lentz’s first request for a foot massage, with Lentz’s wife present, became an expectation performed in intimate settings. She said he had “all the power” in the relationship. “I was physically violated by his unwanted and repeated sexual touching of my intimate areas,” she wrote.
According to the investigative report commissioned by Hillsong, the unhealthy power dynamic extended to Kimes’ husband, Josh, who was associate pastor at Hillsong NYC. Lentz allegedly gave Josh Kimes different days off than his wife to create a “wedge” between them.
Investigators concluded that it was “unlikely that Leona was capable of achieving the distance necessary to exercise true choice.”
Kimes and her husband, Josh, subsequently became campus pastors of Hillsong Boston, but resigned from that role in April 2022 after some details of the investigative report became public.
In the new docuseries, Laura Lentz spoke of the multiple roles the family had in Kimes’ life. “We were her pastors, we were her leaders,” Laura Lentz said. “She was on staff. It got really messy.”
In a statement to People provided by the Lentzes’ attorney, the Lentzes deny Kimes’ allegations about the nature of her relationship with Carl. “Laura and Carl Lentz vehemently deny the allegations and, in addition to that, have irrefutable proof the events did not happen as Leona Kimes has described,” it states.
Still, some of Lentz’s confessions in the docuseries seem to align closer with Kimes’ account.
“I was a boss. This person was an employee. I’m responsible for that power dynamic and the management of it and the wisdom that goes with it,” he said. “I failed absolutely miserably.”
Four-part docuseries The Secrets of Hillsong premieres this weekend, with two episodes on FX and Hulu; the final two episodes will release one week later.
Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his family live in the Washington, D.C. area.
12 thoughts on “Carl Lentz Denies Sexual Misconduct with Church Member was Abuse in New Docuseries; Says He was Abused as Child”
#1 – “According to the investigation report, Lentz said he and Kimes engaged in conduct that was “everything short of actual intercourse,…” ”
As we have learned from last week’s civil court case against a former president in which a jury of his peers found him liable of sexual abuse, New York law indicates that sexual abuse doesn’t require actual penetration.
#2 – “In a statement to People provided by the Lentzes’ attorney, the Lentzes deny Kimes’ allegations about the nature of her relationship with Carl. “Laura and Carl Lentz vehemently deny the allegations….”
In order to make such a denial, Laura Lentz would have to be privy to ALL the ‘encounters’ between her husband and Kimes, which is highly unlikely. Or, conversely, if Mrs. Lentz was privy to ALL, that speaks volumes, but not in a good way. Her explanation of: “We were her pastors, we were her leaders…” and “She was on staff. It got really messy…” just sounds like she’s protecting her own skin as well.
Mr. Lentz’ excuses fare much like a Russian missile vs. a Patriot installation. Or skeet shooting. Pull!
Exactly she is protecting her own skin
You just can’t be allowed in ministry anymore. Your forgiven, but you gave up that right when you had multiple affairs.
The damage 💔
Discussion becomes complex: when multiple frames of reference are in play; when parties to a fundamental disagreement are relying on differing frames of reference. In this instance, that complexity is in no way eased by the involvement of Christian and secular frames of reference.
Sexuality is understood and disciplined in a singular way within the Christian project and its culture. Secularity views sexuality differently and variously. Sexuality which would be condemned within Christianity, might be tolerated or even celebrated within secularity.
If we focus on sexuality, we might conclude that particular persons (across their sexual impulses) are not suited for Christianity, and are better suited to a secular form of life. This consideration more onerous, when we consider leadership within Christianity.
In the case of Carl Lentz, and here I simply speculate, he may have to go beyond stepping back permanently from ministry within Christianity, and then ask himself would he be better accommodated as a secular person. Infidelity and abusing remain an issue within secularity, but not with the sharp import they have for Christianity.
My sense is, that the more one opens to the import of spirituality, the stronger interpersonal forces can become, where sexual relating might result. It can take a powerful discipline to avoid that outcome trajectory. The same consideration holds in some forms of counselling. Some people are simply not suited to such roles.
I was abused as a child too. Am I qualified to be “Hillsong clergy” too?
“Bad stuff happened. Mistakes were made.”
Otherwise known as a non-apology apology.
Carl Lenz is engaging in “damage control”, now reframing the nature of his disgusting behaviour. Remember, this guy wants you to believe his MULTIPLE affairs were, yes, wrong…but they weren’t as “wrong” as you think. I didn’t actually have SEX.
I simply do not believe it. He engaged in behaviour that was beyond inappropriate. His wife, in order to save some dignity/face, now defends him and is enabling his reframing of behaviour that now just makes her look stupid and weak.
His control over his wife is now in full view and on display in the documentary. He is doing to her what he did to those women.
That ANY church would hire him speaks to the trouble within the Church as a whole. Yes, we can forgive. But that doesn’t mean you get to weasel your way back into ministry, even as a “strategist”, whatever that means. It’s still ministry. And it’s wrong.
Your assessment of the situation is spot on. And reframing of clergy sexual abuse as “manipulated intimacy” is a manipulation of the English language. Same offense, reworded by a master manipulator, some might call a cult leader. His claiming childhood sexual abuse was predictable and quite a popular excuse for abusers, just ask any defense attorney. If true, I am terribly sorry for his pain. Unfortunately, it’s hard to believe anything he says. He thinks by coming forward and giving a limited confession, people will think he’s really turned his life around. I would think better of him if he would earn an honest living – NOT off the backs of hardworking church members. The church deserves better.
“Lentz was recently hired by Transformation Church in Tulsa, Okla., as a “strategist.” In an Instagram post last week, Lentz claimed he was “no longer in ministry.””
Why does a church need a paid, professional “Stategist?” I can see saying that the church janitor or the plumber the church contracts with isn’t “in ministry,” however can you really be a professional “Church Strategist” and not be “in ministry?” Perhaps the real question is, does Transformation Church in Tulsa consider what it does as ministry or is it just a business providing a weekly performance on a donation basis?
This guy has absolutely no qualification for being in ministry. It is because he is popular in the secular world as Justin Bieber’s “pastor.” Watch him, he’s all about looks, fame, excitement, not denying himself taking up his cross and following Jesus.
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