How Hillsong, a Hip Megachurch, Became Entangled in Scandal


The worldwide megachurch Hillsong was recognized for its hipster trappings, superstar congregants and wildly common worship music within the 2010s, however lately it has been extra intently tied to a collection of scandals, together with the firing of its charismatic superstar pastor, Carl Lentz, for “ethical failures.”

A four-part documentary collection, “The Secrets and techniques of Hillsong,” premieres on FX on Friday and delves into the turmoil. The collection, which relies on a 2021 article in Self-importance Honest journal, options the primary interview with Mr. Lentz since he was fired in 2020.

Right here’s how the difficulty unfolded.

Brian Houston and his spouse, Bobbie, based Hillsong in Australia in 1983 and opened its first United States department in New York in 2010. The church was a member of the Australian department of the Pentecostal denomination, the Assemblies of God, earlier than it shaped its personal denomination in 2018.

Hillsong’s growth into america constructed on its enormous success in presenting worship music. Its providers drew in young people in big cities, the place providers have been held in live performance venues, resembling Irving Plaza and the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. The congregants have been trendy and included celebrities resembling Justin Bieber, Kevin Durant and Vanessa Hudgens.

Mr. Lentz, the lead pastor of Hillsong’s New York department, also became a celebrity.

This hip veneer steered that Hillsong supported a extra progressive type of Evangelicalism, however the church was criticized for its place on L.G.B.T.Q. rights. In an August 2015 blog post, the church’s founder, Mr. Houston, stated that homosexual individuals have been welcome at Hillsong, however that it did “not affirm a homosexual way of life.”

Mr. Lentz mingled with celebrities together with Mr. Bieber, whom he baptized in the bathtub of an N.B.A. participant’s house. In 2017, GQ journal known as Mr. Lentz a “hypepriest” to mirror his stylish wardrobe, which included aviator glasses, skinny denims and designer sneakers. He spoke incessantly about racial inequality and in 2016 declared his help for the Black Lives Matter motion.

All of it got here to a halt when he was fired from Hillsong in November 2020. The church stated that his termination had adopted discussions about “management points and breaches of belief, plus a current revelation of ethical failures.” Mr. Lentz stated on Instagram shortly afterward that he had been “untrue in my marriage, crucial relationship in my life.” His spouse, Laura Lentz, was additionally a Hillsong pastor.

Since then, he has stayed out of the highlight. Final week, he stated in an Instagram post that his spouse and kids had been his “solely precedence” for the previous three years.

“A part of the therapeutic from that heartache led us to the choice to be part of a documentary that we don’t management, that we don’t have any say in and that we haven’t even seen but,” he stated.

Extra turmoil. Hillsong’s founder, Mr. Houston, resigned in March 2022 after the church stated that an inside investigation had discovered that he behaved inappropriately towards two ladies, breaching the church’s code of conduct.

He had already stepped away from his ministry duties in January 2022 to fight a criminal charge accusing him of concealing youngster sexual abuse by his late father, Frank Houston. Brian Houston has denied the allegations. The case remains to be within the courts, The Australian Associated Press reported.

In March, Mr. Houston stated he had been charged with drunken driving in america in February 2022. Mr. Houston stated that on the time “it appeared like all hell had damaged free inside Hillsong church.”

Mr. Houston didn’t reply to a request for remark. In a video posted on his social media accounts in November, he criticized Hillsong’s management for the way it had dealt with the allegations of misconduct made in opposition to him.

“I didn’t resign due to my errors,” he stated. “I resigned due to the bulletins and statements that had been made.”

In March 2022, 9 of the 16 Hillsong church buildings in america reduce ties with the group, abruptly shrinking the church’s American presence. Hillsong’s website says it has seven church buildings in america, in addition to places in additional than two dozen different nations.

The website additionally says that about 150,000 individuals worldwide attend its providers weekly, however that’s an estimate the church has been utilizing since earlier than the pandemic. Hillsong didn’t reply to questions on present attendance figures.

The documentary premiering on Friday contains interviews with congregants and appears on the historical past of the church’s relationship with cash, intercourse and God.

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