Headlines of yet another celebrity, mega church pastor committing sexual immorality have been splashed across countless news sites for the past couple of weeks. While the news of another Evangelical pastor not living according to what he preaches is hardly rare, a few things have struck me about the discourse surrounding Carl Lent’s affair, his wife Laura, and their three children.
Firstly, the majority of media focus is on Carl’s sexual immorality in having an affair. It is clear from reporting that sexual “sin,” is considered worse than other moral failings…most obviously because the affair is what resulted in Carl’s termination from pastoring at Hillsong. Despite a history of drunken parties with celebrities and shameless flirting with numerous other women, It would seem Carl’s intoxication with affluency and celebrity lifestyle were not enough cause for concern to result in any type of consequences. I personally find the narcissism required to preside over a megachurch and being caught-up in wealth and having relationships with celebrities to be far more concerning as it says a lot about the character, or lack thereof, of an individual whose focus is supposedly on serving his congregation and teaching them to be more Christ-like.
The Evangelical patriarchy has been on full display in the firing of Laura Lentz from her position at Hillsong. According to several reports, she was fired due to Carl having an affair. In a statement last Wednesday, the church said that Laura - his wife of 17 years - had also left her role in the organization but they did not say why. Sources have told The Sun that she was cast out because of her husband's infidelity despite having known the church founders her entire life.
'That was their reasoning for having to also get rid of Laura for Carl's mistakes,' the source said, adding that Laura was 'devastated' by the news which was 'just the cherry on top of this whole ordeal for her.'
Why in the world should Laura suffer the consequences of her husband’s decision?? The answer is simple. In the Evangelical patriarchal worldview, Laura’s worth as an individual comes through her husband. They believe his moral failing disqualifies her. But the reverse is not true in Evangelicalism. If Laura had the affair, Carl doubtless would still be the senior pastor at Hillsong, receiving an outpouring of support in the face of his "harlot" wife's betrayal while she would be unceremoniously fired and shunned by the congregation. Having formerly been married to a narcissist and having a deplorable response from my church elders and pastors, I feel especially passionate about this issue.
The message is clear that the church leaders believe Laura should reconcile with Carl. What if it would be healthier for her and the children to pursue a divorce? By firing her, the church has taken away Laura’s financial independence, one of the major impediments to women getting out of abusive and destructive marriages.
This rejection of Laura as a professional woman who contributes to her employer based on her own merits of intelligence, hard-work, and creativity affirms the concept of guilt by association. Through no wrong doing of her own, (of which we are aware), she’s been condemned as guilty and now must suffer the shame of her husband’s choices.
In this type of circumstance, emotional support is one of the most important things friends and family can provide. Try to place yourself in Laura’s shoes. She discovered her husband’s infidelity while at work, surrounded by Hillsong coworkers. She has been thoroughly humiliated in the press, at her place of employment, by Carl’s former lover in numerous interviews, and now the family has moved away from their entire support system, to CA. Do she or the kids have any friends to support them? It appears Carl’s need to escape the spotlight on the East Coast has resulted in his family being uprooted and taken to CA, away from their support system.
The Lentz children have received a clear message from their Evangelical community; females are responsible for their spouse’s moral failings and that is a terribly destructive message for two young ladies to internalize. And their son just learned that same, but that as a male, the patriarchal community will help him keep his family and role as leader of the family despite his moral failings.
And then there is the issue of money. Based on all reports, the Lentz family lives an extremely lucrative life thanks to their roles as pastors at Hillsong. It is one thing for an individual to become financially successful due to their employment and financial decisions. BUT, I think it’s extremely concerning when pastors attain this lifestyle, primarily because it comes from the often sacrificial donations of their congregation.
According to Daily Mail UK:
“In 2019, Hillsong East Coast - which he is in charge of - brought in $12.7 million in revenue and more than a quarter of that - $3.87 million - went on staff salaries.”
The exact amount of this $3.87 million in salaries that went to Carl and Laura Lentz has not been confirmed, but as the senior pastor, it is safe to assume a large portion of this was Carl’s salary.
Celebrity pastor Carl Lentz sold his family's home in Montclair, New Jersey, for $1.5million 11 days before he was fired from Hillsong Church - Daily Mail UK
Carl has been seen in the past wearing a $37,000 Gold Rolex. - Daily Mail UK
He was riding a $2,000 electrical bike last week. - Daily Mail UK
The pair both favor trendy, expensive clothing. When they were spotted having what looked like crisis talks this week outside Justin Bieber's apartment, Laura was wearing a $200 pair of Alexander Wang sweatpants. – Daily Mail UK
The family have since been hiding out at a $4.5million home in Manhattan Beach.
On Friday DailyMail.com revealed that Lentz signed a one-year, $16,000-a-month lease for the impressive pad. - Daily Mail UK
Carl Lentz escorted his wife Laura to a salon in LA on Friday night. Lentz stayed in the parking lot as his wife of 17 years and the mother of his three children stepped into a tanning booth. - Daily Mail UK
While many Evangelicals would contend that the Carl and Laura Lentz don’t accurately represent the beliefs and lives of committed Evangelicals, I think it’s a clear demonstration of the rot in American Evangelicalism. This is hardly a one- off, but yet one more incident in an increasingly conspicuous world view and faith that takes advantage of unquestioning followers to the benefit of religious leaders. It’s easy to see why so many have become disillusioned with this type of Christianity in which Personal Interpretation Goes Wrong. Each “believer” makes up their own truth as “God” has revealed it to them. As I wrote in a previous blog post, Apotheosis of Pastors, It is time for individuals to use their own critical thinking abilities, rather than abdicate that personal responsibility to potentially abusive religious leaders.