A former Hillsong NYC staff member has come forward with allegations that Carl Lentz, the church’s former pastor, subjected her to “bullying, abuse of power and sexual abuse” during her time working as a nanny in Lentz’s home.
In an email to Religion News Service, Leona Kimes, who is now a co-pastor of Hillsong’s Boston location, said she “felt trapped and silenced. I also felt so ashamed and I had been told not to say anything or tell anyone.” Kimes later released a statement on Medium claiming she was “physically violated by [Lentz’s] unwanted and repeated sexual touching of my intimate areas.”
Kimes stated that when she began working as the Lentzes’ nanny and housekeeper in 2011. At some point during her employment, Lentz began making requests for foot rubs and massages, which later escalated into sexually touching Kimes, including in public places where one or more of his children were present. Kimes states the two never kissed or had intercouse.
Kimes says that in 2016 Carl’s wife Laura Lentz learned of the allegations and addressed them with Kimes. “I was blamed and silence. I was the problem,” Kimes said in her statement. For a year, Kimes says she wrestled with guilt and shame from the situation. She says she eventually spoke with the Lentzes again, this time with Carl accepting “full responsibility for taking advantage” of Kimes and apologizing for putting her in a difficult situation.
At the end of the discussion, Kimes says she agreed that Lentz would not need to confess to the leaders and boundaries would be established. Instead, however, Kimes states that Laura told her “I should repent and dismissed me from all of my duties in the house.”
“I’d been fired from their family, but not from their staff,” Kimes said in her statement. “I felt like it was my fault, leaving me full of shame. I wasn’t given another role, and thought we could resolve it, though I wasn’t sure how. I just knew we were all going to keep quiet.”
Lentz and his wife Laura responded to the allegations to RNS through a legal representative, who said the Lentzes “vehemently deny the allegations and, in addition to that, have irrefutable proof the events did not happen as they are being described.”
After Kimes was let go, she and her husband relocated to the Hillsong Boston campus. Kimes stated she never spoke to higher-ups at Hillsong because it seemed as if there was “great distance between [my pastor] and any sort of accountability or communication with his oversight.” Following Lentz’s firing in November, however, Kimes chose to speak up “after I was safe.”
In a statement about Kimes’ allegations, Hillsong Church founders Brian and Bobbie Houston have said “hearing Leona Kimes’ experience was very disturbing” and they “commend her for her courage and have assured her of our utmost compassion in their journey forward.
The allegations are the latest scandal to hit Hillsong Church and Lentz, in particular. In November 2020, Lentz was removed from Hillsong NYC for “moral failings,” including an adulterous affair. Lentz, who was often referred to as either a “celebrity pastor” or “hype priest,” was one of Hillsong’s most prominent faces. His friendship with stars like Justin Bieber catapulted him into a pop culture mainstream outside of the Christian sphere. Since his firing, Lentz has remained out of the spotlight.
In May, Brian Houston spoke with The Today Show about scandals Hillsong is facing. Houston told Savannah Guthrie, “I have reflected many, many times, and I’m acknowledging that mistakes have been made and that there are things where we need to get far better, much better.”