Carl Lentz allegedly ‘caused’ mental illness in multiple staff, volunteers; opens up about affairs: report

Carl Lentz speaks at Hillsong Church NYC in this photo dated January 2020.
Carl Lentz speaks at Hillsong Church NYC in this photo dated January 2020. | Facebook/Hillsong Church NYC

NEW YORK — As he wooed celebrities like Justin Bieber to cultivate an image of success and help elevate the global Hillsong Church brand in the United States, Carl Lentz ruled the Hillsong NYC church he started in Manhattan in 2010 with a degree of manipulation so ruthless multiple staff and volunteers allege that he caused them to suffer mental illness, according to depositions in a report obtained by The Christian Post. 

The report, titled “Internal Investigation Report Regarding Carl Lentz and Other Matters,” is the result of an internal investigation conducted on behalf of Hillsong Church by the New York City law firm Zukerman Gore Brandeis & Crossman, LLP, after Lentz’s firing in November 2020 over “leadership issues” and moral failures, including being unfaithful to his wife, Laura.

Zukerman Gore Brandeis & Crossman, LLP, submitted the report to Hillsong Church on Jan. 11, 2021.

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As a part of their investigation, Zukerman Gore Brandeis & Crossman, LLP, made it clear in its report that: “Due to the limited amount of documentary evidence, the extensive assertion of failure of memory by certain witnesses, and the necessity to rely upon oral testimony and demeanor, the conclusions in this report, although they may be phrased in a ‘factual’ style for readability, should be understood as the contentions of a witness, or statements of opinion by the investigating attorneys.”

In a statement to CP on April 1, a Hillsong Church spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the report which was based on interviews with former and current staff members as well as former and current volunteers.

“In 2020, following the termination of Carl Lentz as the Lead Pastor of Hillsong NYC, Hillsong Church commissioned an independent investigation into the culture and practices of Hillsong East Coast. The investigators requested interviews with former staff members, staff members, former volunteers and volunteers as part of this independent inquiry. Many of those individuals explicitly requested confidentiality, and their request was taken with the utmost seriousness,” the spokesperson said. “In January 2021, the final report summarized areas of necessary change, and steps were taken to address those areas specifically at Hillsong East Coast and also globally.”

The details in the 51-page report allege, among other things, a mishandling of the spiritual care of a vulnerable parishioner with an eating disorder who eventually died, and multiple incidents of consensual or non-consensual sexual interaction between church leaders and congregants, staff, volunteers, or non-churchgoers. It presents an unflattering view of Lentz as a lying, massage-loving, adulterer whopresided over a congregation in which he did as he pleased in a hierarchy where he seemingly answered to no one.

He was contacted for comment on this report but the former Hillsong NYC pastor did not immediately respond. Hillsong Church also did not respond when asked if Lentz signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of his severance package.

‘Australia is dead to us’

Lentz, according to the report, acted with so much freedom in running Hillsong NYC there was a sense that leaders in Australia had little to no control over him.

“Lentz’s ability to lead so poorly was itself the result of insufficient supervision and accountability applied to Lentz himself. Indeed, it appears that effective management and accountability of Lentz was nonexistent,” investigators said in the report. “What is more, multiple witnesses described Lentz as repeatedly reinforcing the idea that New York was separate and apart from Australia. Although Lentz denies it, multiple staff in New York recall Lentz saying that ‘Australia is dead to us’ and other comments to similar effect.”

Investigators noted in the report, however, that Lentz did not make a credible witness, particularly on issues not related to sexual misconduct.

“As with much of his testimony regarding non-sexual matters, Lentz was not credible when defending his demands for cultural isolationism from the Australian parent church. The Australian mother ship appears also to bear some responsibility here, since it never established effective oversight and accountability for the New York Lead Pastor,” investigators said. “This lack of oversight permitted Carl Lentz to assume the role of final arbiter of what was proper behavior for everyone in New York, himself included. With the benefit of hindsight, given Lentz’s personal limitations, this was a recipe for trouble.”

Amid a “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude exhibited by Lentz and other top leadership officials at Hillsong NYC, investigators reported that multiple staffers and volunteers, some of whom were also accused of abusive behavior, found Lentz so challenging and manipulative, they allege that he “caused” them to suffer from mental illness.

“It was not uncommon for volunteers and staff who had frequent interaction with Carl Lentz to report that such interaction had ‘caused’ them to suffer from mental illness,” investigators wrote.

Tolu Badders, Hillsong NYC’s chief operating officer and the executive pastor, was among several people from the New York branch of the church who said they complained to officials in Australia about Lentz’s behavior. Church leaders, she said, according to the report, “implied” that Lentz is a “younger version of Brian Houston” and suggested that she soldier on until Lentz changed.

“Tolu Badders … stated that she had conversations with global where they understood that Carl Lentz was a challenging person. She stated that it was sort of implied that Lentz was a younger version of Brian Houston and that she should stay in it and Lentz would change,” investigators noted.

The report further details how sexual misconduct, including multiple misdeeds by Lentz and the alleged circulation by other staffers of penis photos to staffers and volunteers, was covered up. Some who gave depositions claimed that many who reported or attempted to report misconduct faced retaliation. Other allegations such as self-dealing, conflicts of interest, wage and hour violations, discrimination and non-sexual harassment and abuse are also in the report.

Call for transparency and accountability

The revelation of the details from the report comes after Hillsong Phoenix Lead Pastor Terry Crist revealed on March 27 that he had asked Hillsong Church global officials to make the results of the investigation public in the name of transparency and accountability last year. 

He also made it clear that he had formally asked to separate from the megachurch network due to a governance dispute following the resignation of Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston last month over revelations that two women made serious complaints of misconduct against him in the last 10 years.

“Over the past year, following the sin that was exposed at Hillsong Church New York City and the subsequent investigation that was conducted into sexual misconduct and into financial misappropriation, I encouraged the results of that report [conducted by the church] to be made [public] in some general form,” Crist said. “I asked that the report be redacted so names could be protected. I asked that the report be synopsized so we could embrace accountability and transparency. And for whatever reason, that request was denied.”

Crist further called for an investigation of Hillsong Church’s global board and the punishment of members who have done more to protect the institution than the people they serve.

“It’s in the best interest of Hillsong Church to conduct an investigation as it relates to board conduct, to immediately restore the Sydney eldership, to make the findings of that public and to dismiss the board members who have protected the institution and not the people,” he said.

When asked by CP why Crist’s request to make the details of the report on Lentz and Hillsong NYC public was denied, the Hillsong Church spokesperson said they wanted to protect the confidentiality of the people in the report.

“To honor the request for confidentiality and to prevent the identification of participants from surrounding context and details, Hillsong Church chose to limit the distribution of the written findings to a very small internal group. This group was tasked with applying the learnings and enacting change — including updating and strengthening policies and procedures,” the spokesperson said. “We recognize that our culture must not merely transition to move forward — it must transform. We are strongly committed to building a healthier church and have commenced this journey.”

The spokesperson further worried that: “Any unauthorized release of this type of information acts as a deterrent for individuals who wish to participate with any organization's desire to uncover and address truth as the basis for change.”

Mental abuse

One former Hillsong NYC ministry leader who was accused of having “a history of sleeping around with women in the church” and was once accused of receiving sexual favors from someone while he was “getting high,” said in his deposition that working for Lentz resulted in him having low self-esteem and increased mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

“[Redacted] stated in a letter that when he drove Carl Lentz, Lentz would belittle him, bully him and complain about the driving or the route he was taking. [Redacted] stated that Lentz once yelled at him for ‘breathing too loud’ while he was driving,” investigators noted. “[Redacted] stated that he was expected to be at Lentz’s beck and call 24/7 and never miss a text or call. [Redacted] stated that he would have to sit outside a nightclub and wait for Lentz sometimes for 3-5 hours. [Redacted] further stated that he was removed from his position ... after he asked to pray for Lentz during a car ride.”

Lentz told investigators that he only yelled when the servant almost crashed into someone on Bowery Street in Manhattan and that drivers did not have to be available 24/7. He further denies being driven out to clubs late at night. The former Hillsong NYC pastor claimed, however, that they would sometimes take Bibles to his friend who was a DJ and distribute them.

One worship pastor alleged that he developed anxiety as a result of Lentz’s treatment. He recalled how he was once called to Lentz’s home at 1:15 a.m. “to set up a drum kit for Lentz’s son’s birthday the following day.” Lentz, however, said in the report that he has “zero recollection” of that incident. One woman claimed that her husband suffered from a panic disorder as a result of Lentz’s alleged abuse, while another man reportedly entered into rehab after working for Lentz.

Staff also complained that Lentz required that he be picked up from the airport by two people in addition to other claims of support from staff he required at his home.

“One person would drive Lentz home while the other person would wait and pick-up Lentz’s luggage,” one deposition stated.

When asked about this by investigators, Lentz acknowledged that he needed “two drivers to pick him up at the airport because he would have one staff member pick him up and have a second person pick up his luggage. He stated that this was ‘completely Hillsong standard.’”

Carl Lentz talks sexual misdeeds and being ‘a very good liar’

When interviewed in December 2020 about his sexual misconduct, which allegedly included massages, three affairs, and exposing himself to his housekeeper, investigators said Lentz “appeared to be generally forthcoming and candid” about most of it. Lentz also addressed viral media reports that a dog walker caught him having sex with a young celebrity at his Brooklyn apartment in 2014.

“We asked Lentz about the news article that quotes an alleged dog walker who supposedly saw Lentz and a starlet having sex in the Lentz’s Brooklyn apartment. Lentz convincingly denied that they employed a dogwalker, and said that no dogwalker ever walked in on him having sex with anyone,” investigators said. “Lentz appears believable on this point, especially since the dogwalker claims to have been walking their dog in Brooklyn at a point in time when the Lentz’s were actually living in New Jersey.”

Investigations noted in the report that Lentz’s candor about his sexual misconduct might have been due in part to him being a resident at a “24/7 inpatient treatment center” at the time “where presumably he was being assisted by trained therapists, and was forming the habit of honestly expressing what had happened.”

“Lentz … described receiving frequent massages, though he would not provide details. In particular, despite his obligations to cooperate pursuant to his severance agreement, Lentz refused to answer questions regarding whether the massages he received were sexual in nature,” investigators said.

“Laura Lentz stated that she had ‘hunches’ and ‘vibes’ that the massages were ‘a bit strange’ and that in 2019 the routine of Lentz receiving massages became more of a night time occurrence. Review of Lentz’s text messages showed masseuses quoting Lentz for the cost of massages and also other sexual acts, but it was unclear from the text messages if Lentz received only massages from these women or something more,” they wrote.

In an interview conducted with the housekeeper of the Lentz family in November 2020, she accused the former Hillsong NYC pastor of exposing himself to her on three occasions.

“On one occasion, [redacted] was washing her shoes in the bathroom sink when Lentz came into the bathroom, pulled his pants down and began peeing in the toilet next to her. On two other occasions, [redacted] was cleaning the bedroom when Lentz entered the bedroom and pulled down his pants to change clothes,” investigators said.

Lentz denied this allegation to investigators and claimed the housekeeper was not trustworthy.

“Lentz also cited an occasion when the Lentz’s had a celebrity visiting in their house, and [redacted] allegedly took photos of the celebrity, and also left notes on his bed,” the report noted.

While he attacked the credibility of his accusers, Lentz also proudly told investigators that he is “a very good liar” who deliberately took steps to cover up his indiscretions.

“Such efforts included boldly lying to his wife, Laura, when she caught him and Leona [Kimes] in flagrante delecto on a couch late at night,” investigators said.

‘Manipulated intimacy’ with Leona Kimes

Last year, Leona Kimes, who served as a nanny for Lentz and his wife for seven years and currently leads Hillsong Boston with her husband, Josh Kimes, accused Lentz of “repeated sexual touching” in a post on Medium. Through a legal representative, Lentz at the time denied the allegations. 

In this report, however, Lentz, who describes Leona Kimes as someone who “got her identity from the Lentz family,” admits to subliminally encouraging a relationship with the married Kimes with whom he engaged in at least 20 but less than 100 sex acts which he described as “manipulated intimacy.”

“Usually Carl and Leona would engage in sexual conduct on the couch in the Lentz’s living room but there were some nights when Leona would ask Carl to go to the third floor of the house and continue what they were doing. Carl said they would do ‘pretty much everything you could do’ without engaging in oral sex or intercourse,” investigators said. “There were certain things in Carl’s life that would make him feel a dangerous or pleasurable feeling. He called it ‘manipulated intimacy.’ He does not recall how many times they engaged in sexual relations but believes it happened more than 20 times but less than 100 times.”

The report describes how one night in 2016, while at the home of former NBA player Tyson Chandler, Kimes and Lentz were once caught in the act by Laura Lentz, who was accused of punching Kimes two or three times in the face. Laura Lentz claimed she was later gaslit by her husband into thinking she had not seen what she saw.

“One night all of the adults were drinking and Leona was introduced to marijuana for the first time. Later that night, Leona stated that she was practically passed out on the couch while Carl massaged her legs. Laura then walked into the room and caught them,” investigators said.

Laura reported that “she saw Leona lying on the couch with a blanket on. She saw Carl on the floor next to the couch with his hands under the blanket. Laura stated there was hand touching and leg rubbing. She stated that Leona was falling asleep. Laura watched Carl and Leona for a minute or two without being seen; she says she was almost frozen. Laura stated that she then went into the room and pushed Carl on the shoulder. She then punched Leona in the face with a closed fist two or three times. She stated that Carl then grabbed her.”

“Laura reported that Carl and Leona then began gaslighting her; telling her that nothing was happening and that whatever she thought she had seen was not what she had seen. Laura said that the two of them made Laura start to doubt her own eyes,” investigators revealed. “Laura said she started to feel crazy and thought to herself ‘did I see something, I don’t know.’”

Laura Lentz said at that point she wanted Kimes out of their lives but her husband convinced her to keep Kimes on because it was better to “keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.”

Kimes also wanted to get out of the situation, but Lentz allegedly told her: “You think that you could get another job? You don’t even have a college degree.”

Despite the complicated dynamics of the relationship between Lentz and Leona Kimes, investigators said it was “unlikely that Leona was capable of achieving the distance necessary to exercise true choice” because of the power dynamic that existed between the two and the “alleged idolatry of Carl by Leona.”

In the report, Leona Kimes is also accused of abuse by one of her daughter’s former nannies who “stated that the way Leona overworked and abused her was a result of how Carl and Laura Lentz overworked and abused Leona.”

Leona Kimes said the former Hillsong NYC leader deliberately worked to make sure she and her husband did not get the same day off from work.

In his interview with investigators in November 2020, Josh Kimes said he once went to speak with Lentz about his wife being at Lentzes house too much. The report states “Lentz twisted Josh’s grievance into Josh’s insecurities. Lentz told Josh that if he couldn’t cut it, maybe he should just leave New York.”

Lentz told investigators that “he loved Josh” and didn’t recall all the hours his wife worked.

“Carl did not recall the hours that Leona worked ‘because she was always at their house.’ He stated that they would expect her to work about 40 hours a week. Leona was at their house so much that they often did not know if she was there working or if she was simply there hanging out,” the report said.

“He stated that he loved Josh. He thought Josh was easy to lead and had a good heart. Carl stated that it was part of his job to pastor Josh regarding his marriage but he could not remember anything in particular that he said to Josh. Carl stated that he and Laura also would have counseled Leona about her marriage to Josh but could not recall any specific conversations."

The Kimeses specifically recalled Lentz disparaging each of them to the other.The relationship involving sexual acts between Leona Kimes and Carl Lentz lasted from 2015 to 2017, the report says. 

Lentz admits going over the edge with Ranin Karim

For the past year, New York City-based designer Ranin Karim has been speaking publicly about a five-month affair she had with Lentz. The affair was uncovered after compromising text messages were found on his computer. The report reflects the only recorded account of that relationship from Lentz’s perspective.

“Lentz also admitted to an affair with someone named Ranin Karim. This affair reportedly began in June of 2020. Lentz stated that he had sexual intercourse with Ms. Karim on multiple occasions. He described a ‘cycle’ in which he would go to Ms. Karim’s home and supposedly ‘try to break things off,’ but he would always lose his resolve and the two of them would then engage in sexual relations,” investigators said.

“It seems unlikely that Lentz’s ritualized kabuki dance of ‘trying to break things off’ was anything more than a specialized form of foreplay, or perhaps a transparent attempt to assuage his conscience; maybe both."

Lentz recalls sitting in Domino Park in Brooklyn in one of the “social distancing circles” painted on the ground in June 2020 when he noticed her. He said he asked if she wanted to take his circle as he was leaving and she declined. She offered instead to walk with him and he ended up taking her number.

His wife was not in town on the day they met so that same night he texted her.

“He told her he would come see her. When Lentz got to her house, he said ‘I can’t be here, I’m a married man and I shouldn’t have taken your number.’ Karim said ‘I know exactly who you are, it’s okay I’m not going to say anything,’” investigators wrote.

“He said that she told him to stay for a drink, but soon after that, she was on top of him, kissing him, and they proceeded to have sex. The next day he realized that ‘he had gone over the edge’ and he thought that the best way to handle the situation was to let her see that he was a human being,” the report continued.

Lentz claimed that he would repeatedly try to end the relationship with Karim by telling her things like, “you’re better than this.” But according to investigators “such comments only seemed to make her fall in love with him more.”

It was the discovery of their relationship by the church which eventually brought that relationship to an end.

“At one point, Lentz called Karim to tell her that everything was coming out and his life was over. He stated Karim became enraged when he said ‘don’t worry, your name will be buried,’” investigators noted. “He eventually realized that publicity was exactly what she wanted. Apparently, soon after that call, she did an interview with the Sun.”

A woman called ‘Germany’

While he was engaged in a relationship with Karim, Lentz also revealed that he engaged in another “inappropriate relationship” with a woman he met in August or September 2020 he listed in his contacts as “Germany.” He said he met her at a deli in Brooklyn.

“He stated that he saw this woman two times and that their contact was sexual in nature but did not involve sexual intercourse. He stated that Germany is not affiliated with the church and she did not participate in or attend Hillsong,” investigators said. “Lentz remembers leaving one night and texting her saying that he was in a relationship and could not meet her anymore.”

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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