It seems like Carl Lentz dragged the whole of Hillsong Church down with him amidst his infidelity scandal.
Justin Bieber’s former pastor wasn’t responsible for ALL of Hillsong’s problems, but the revelation that the leader of the NYC branch had been unfaithful to his wife seemed to open the floodgates for controversy. More allegations about Carl came to light, but it went beyond one man, with former congregants and volunteers alleging abuse, homophobia, and even “slave labor” within the church.
Since then, more pastors (including the leaders of the Dallas branch) have stepped away from Hillsong — but this is the biggest departure yet. On Sunday, the church’s founder Brian Houston announced he and his wife Bobbie Houston would be significantly reducing their own roles.
During Hillsong’s annual “Vision Sunday” event, he shared:
“So you know, this year is our 38th year since Bobbie and I started out here in the Hills. I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching and praying about the future and the way ahead.”
Per the New York Post, Houston explained that it’s become “unsustainable for us to be able to lead everything that we’re leading right now. I want to be looking at ways we can share that load.”
Gary Clarke, the lead pastor of the UK branch, will be stepping up to manage “the global side” of the religious institution (which we imagine is a pretty significant portion of church leadership). That being said, he reassured the congregation that he and his wife are “definitely not retiring.” The Australian claimed:
“Bobbie and I aren’t going anywhere. We’ll still be around, still be preaching as long as they want us to.”
However, he did allude to the couple’s age (both in their mid-to-late 60s), and said:
“[It’s] the right season for us to look at a whole new season for us personally and for our church as well.”
A source for the Post described Houston’s statement as “intentionally vague.” This insider saw Brian handing over the reins as a “surrender” of “the core of the Hillsong empire.” They observed:
“He seems like he wants to wind his role down a bit.”
Also of interest was why none of Houston’s children — including Joel Houston, who helped launch the New York branch alongside Carl — were chosen to fill this leadership position. The source speculated:
“Hillsong is a family-run business and most people expected the kids to step up. That’s the problem when your product is based on a rave experience. Hillsong is starting to look more like an episode of HBO’s Succession series.”
Lentz’s replacement was also announced at the Vision Sunday event; Chrishan and Danielle Jeyaratnam will be taking over the New York branch. A source told the Post:
“That man lacks the Lentz caché. He’s simply not cool enough. Hillsong will have to essentially rebrand themselves to sell it in NYC.”
It seems to us like the church needs less of Lentz’s particular brand of “cool,” but what do we know…
It’s unclear what exactly is going on behind the scenes, but it’s safe to say Hillsong is under a lot of heat right now. Beyond the accusations of inappropriate behavior, the church is facing multiple lawsuits (mostly related to real estate), increased scrutiny on use of tithes, and critics combing through the church’s history for more questionable behavior. (Bobbie Houston was forced to apologize for body shaming language and use of slurs — specifically the word “r****d” — in a 2003 religious sex guide.)
We have to wonder, though, if Brian and Bobbie are stepping back because there’s something even MORE scandalous about to emerge. We’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on the situation!
[Image via Hillsong/YouTube]