Carl Lentz, who co-founded Christian megachurch Hillsong’s New York City outpost in 2010 and was fired last year for “moral failures”, has been accused of sexual abuse, manipulation, and bullying by a Hillsong employee.
Leona Kimes, who is now a co-pastor at Hillsong Boston, detailed the allegations in a post on publishing platform Medium, titled “Writing My Voice Back”.
While Kimes did not name her alleged abuser in the post, she later confirmed that she was writing about Lentz to Religion News Service.
Lentz, who officiated Hailey and Justin Bieber‘s wedding, was sacked from the megachurch in November due to “leadership issues,” “breaches of trust”, and “a revelation of moral failures”.
At the time, Hillsong’s founder Brian Houston said it would be inappropriate to share any actual details, but said the firing was the result of “ongoing discussions.”
On Medium, Kimes claims that the alleged abuse happened during the seven years she worked as a nanny for the lead pastors. Originally from Australia, Kimes and her husband Josh moved across the world to help build Hillsong NYC.
“Where there was joyful moments during that time, no one knew that I also experienced a great deal of pain,” Kimes wrote.
“During the years I spent serving them, I was subjected to manipulation, control, bullying, abuse of power, and sexual abuse.”
Kimes said she is only able to share her allegations now after “intense therapy.”
Soon after she started working for the family, Kimes said the “boundaries between personal and professional blurred” and “an unhealthy bond and attachment was formed.”
“The abuse of power started small,” she alleges. “Hours would increase beyond belief. Often I would work from 7am to 11pm.”
“They made fun of me constantly, even calling me Cinderella, which they said was their way of loving me,” Kimes claims, adding that her husband was also frequently criticised.
“Gossip was constant. If I didn’t join in or if I disagreed, I was the odd one out. Classic bullying.”
Kimes claims that the alleged sexual abuse started small, too, and described the first moment she felt like Lentz noticed her body “in a way that felt predatory to me.”
“I was outside in my bathing suit getting ready to swim with the kids. His wife was there. He looked me up and down, making comments about my body and how hard I’d worked to get in shape. His gaze was so intense that I wanted to say ‘ok, enough please,’ but I just covered my belly with my arms and sat down to feel safely covered by the chair.” – Leona Kimes
Kimes claims Lentz’s behaviour only escalated after this.
“While he never had intercourse with me and never kissed me, I was physically violated by his unwanted and repeated sexual touching of my intimate areas. I froze. Every time, I froze,” she claims in the Medium piece.
Kimes claims this behaviour occurred multiple times, including an occasion when Lentz sat next to her at a cinema and allegedly touched her inappropriately in the dark.
She claims that on two occasions, the pastors she worked for addressed the inappropriate behaviour she says she experienced. The first time was in 2016, but Kimes alleges that she was “blamed and silenced” and made to feel like she “was the problem.”
The second time in 2017, Lentz allegedly took full responsibility for taking advantage of Kimes.
“He said he’d thought about confessing to leadership, but after talking it through with his wife, they decided they didn’t have to because it wasn’t necessary, and we could just move on,” Kimes claims.
“I was told that if his reputation was ruined, my reputation would be, too. He said his wife would come and talk to me about the boundaries we would have moving forward.”
Kimes alleges that when Laura Lentz spoke to her, she was told to “repent” and was dismissed from all her duties in the house.
She claims she felt like Lentz ensured that there was great distance between him and any sort of accountability, so she felt like she couldn’t report her alleged experiences. She claims she didn’t have a “safe place” to voice her concerns, either – no Human Resources, or support groups.
“I can’t forget how he took away my confidence. I can’t forget how he took away my voice. I can’t forget about the days I laid in bed that year believing that I didn’t deserve to be on this earth and entertaining ideas of how to end it all. Unfortunately, I can’t forget any of it,” she says.
Kimes only told her husband after Lentz left Hillsong Church – “after I was safe.”
Hillsong founder Brian Houston and his wife Bobbie said they found Kimes’ claims “very disturbing”.
They said that after Lentz was fired, Hillsong launched an independent investigation into the culture of its East Coast locations.
“Abuse of any kind, in any circumstance, is always deplorable. As a church, we are committed to learning more about how to identify such trauma and bring meaningful support to anyone who has experienced it,” they wrote.
Lentz and his wife “vehemently” denied the allegations in a statement via their attorney to the Religious News Service.
“In addition to that, we have irrefutable proof the events did not happen as they are being described,” their attorney said.
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