An evangelical Christian pastor known for being a spiritual mentor to the stars has been fired from his job leading a popular New York City church.
The 41-year-old preacher was fired following “ongoing discussions” about “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures,” Houston said.
Houston declined to explain in the statement what exactly led to the termination, saying only that “it would not be appropriate for us to go into detail.”
Houston, an Australian pastor who founded Hillsong in Sydney in 1983, said the termination is not meant to diminish the “good work” Lentz and his wife, Laura, had done for Hillsong. Houston said he is confident that Carl Lentz will return to some form of ministry outside of Hillsong “after a time of rest and restoration.”
Hillsong East Coast’s services will continue “as usual” while the church selects new leadership, Houston said.
“This action was not taken lightly and was done in the best interests of everyone, including Pastor Carl,” Houston wrote in his statement.
Hillsong did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Carl Lentz earned a reputation for being a celebrity pastor, part of a league of preachers giving American evangelicalism a fresh feel while keeping its conservative theology on culture war issues intact. These pastors eschew stodgy church attire for fashionable clothes and footwear, preside over services that seem like pop concerts, maintain popular social media accounts and attract celebrity followers.
Lentz developed close friendships with Justin Bieber and his wife, Hailey Baldwin Bieber, as well as with Kylie and Kendall Jenner, according to a 2017 GQ story. Bieber briefly moved in with Lentz and his family in 2014 and was later baptized by Lentz in NBA player Tyson Chandler’s bathtub, according to a GQ profile. Lentz and his wife ― and several other celebrity evangelical preachers ― attended the Biebers’ wedding. Justin and Hailey Bieber still make appearances in Lentz and his wife’s Instagram feeds.
Lentz, originally from Virginia, trained at the church-affiliated Hillsong College in Australia, which is where he met his wife, according to Religion News Service. Lentz started what would become Hillsong East Coast with Houston’s son Joel in 2010. Hillsong’s services in a New York City theater are known for drawing long lines primarily of young people ― some of whom stand for the duration of the services.
Lentz has been outspoken over the past few years acknowledging police brutality against Black Americans. That set him apart from other members of his religious group: Most white evangelicals (72%) don’t believe that police killings of Black men are part of a larger pattern of how police treat African Americans. At the same time, Lentz has been careful not to imply that by saying Black Lives Matter he supports the official Black Lives Matter movement.
In a September Instagram post, Lentz insisted that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is not “owned by any particular group or organization.” It is a “perfectly reasonable and logical to say, no matter how many people try to convince you that somehow saying this sentence makes you a marxist endorsing, anti police, left leaning liberal loving, demonically powered and politically motivated activist pseudo warrior,” Lentz wrote. “It does not.”
Hillsong has churches in 28 cities around the world, with a global weekly attendance of 150,000. Its music ministry is even more popular: Hillsong’s worship bands frequently set trends in the Christian contemporary music industry, and its songs are sung by millions of people around the globe every Sunday.