An independent investigation into Hillsong NYC found a culture rife with sexual misconduct, abuse and duplicity, according to a report leaked to the Christian Post. The report, which a Hillsong Church representative confirmed to be authentic, confirms that the beleaguered church’s culture of secrecy and misconduct went beyond the leadership of Carl Lentz, who stepped down in 2020 following revelations of an extramarital affair.
According to the report, Lentz was involved in affairs with several other women besides Ranin Karim, the woman who went public about her relationship with Lentz. But the report also includes details about a culture of mismanaged leadership that allowed abuse to flourish and found “multiple incidents of consensual or non-consensual sexual interaction between church leaders and congregants, staff, volunteers or non-churchgoers,” according to the Christian Post.
Through a legal representative, Lentz and his wife Laura Lentz told Religion News Service that some of the report’s claims are false and they are “aggressively moving forward with legal action due to these libelous claims that are rooted in lies and misinformation.”
It’s the latest in a series of scandals that have emerged from the global megachurch in recent weeks, including the resignation of founding pastor Brian Houston following revelations of interactions with women that violated the church’s code of ethical behavior. Lentz’s firing in 2020 was the first major scandal to rock Hillsong Church, but it was just the beginning of an avalanche of subsequent investigations, resignations and reports.
In February of last year, Hillsong leadership said the investigation carried out by New York law firm Zukerman Gore Brandeis & Crossman had uncovered “significant ways” Hillsong’s New York campus had “failed to reflect Hillsong global culture,” and pledged to make changes. But the Christian Post’s detailing of that report says Hillsong NYC’s problems ran deeper than Lentz, although the Post does characterize its findings of him as a “lying, massage-loving, adulterer who presided over a congregation in which he did as he pleased in a hierarchy where he seemingly answered to no one.” The report says Lentz admitted to multiple extramarital affairs and he was accused by staffers — some of whom were also themselves accused of abuse — of being manipulative.
The report found that top Hillsong leadership failed to adequately manage Hillsong NYC and bears “some responsibility here, since it never established effective oversight and accountability.” That allowed a culture of misconduct and harassment to thrive, including the alleged circulation of sexually explicit photos and “other allegations such as self-dealing, conflicts of interest, wage and hour violations, discrimination and non-sexual harassment and abuse.”
Hillsong Phoenix Pastor Terry Crist told Christian Post that he had called on Hillsong leadership to make the report public. “I asked that the report be redacted so names could be protected,” he told Christian Post. “I asked that the report be synopsized so we could embrace accountability and transparency. And for whatever reason, that request was denied.”
Crist, like several other former Hillsong churches, has since resigned, citing the megachurch’s myriad scandals as a reason for leaving. Last month, Sam Collier said he would be resigning as head pastor of Hillsong Atlanta and starting a new church. “It became a lot for our church, for a young church,” Collier told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “A lot of our members were becoming really fatigued with a lot of the scandals and having to talk about it so much. I say this all the time that trust is the only thing you have when building a church. People have to trust you if they’re going to donate and if they’re going to support it.”