In their new podcast, disgraced celebrity pastor Carl Lentz and his wife Laura promise to “open up about everything” – his infidelity, the allegations of abuse and his dismissal from Hillsong NYC. Whatever our views on his motives, the first episode is honest and repentant, if a little lacking in Jesus, says Tim Bechervaise

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Source: B-Side

Secrets. Shame. Scandals. Survival.

It’s sounds like the promo for a Netflix series or a box office release, not a podcast. And certainly not one involving a church pastor.

But sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction, because this week saw the unexpected release of ‘Lights On With Carl Lentz’, a podcast in which Carl and his wife Laura share the journey they’ve been on following his dismissal as pastor of Hillsong New York in 2020 for infidelity (among other allegations).

Who is Carl Lentz?

Were it not for Justin Bieber, many of us might not have even heard of Carl Lentz. When the singer cancelled his tour in 2017 and announced he had “rededicated his life to Christ,” the man behind it was Lentz, who Bieber called his “second father”. Lentz went on to be interviewed by Oprah and performed the wedding ceremony for Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.

Most powerful are the nods to forgiveness and how long this can take, given the trauma

But the celebrity pastor to the stars came crashing down in November 2020 when Brian Houston, founder and then-global leader of Hillsong, announced that Lentz had been fired due to “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures”. In a meeting with staff members and volunteers at the church, Houston added that there had been “more than one affair”, as well as “general narcissistic behaviour, manipulating, mistreating people.”

On the same day, in an Instagram post to his 700,000 followers, Lentz confessed: “I was unfaithful in my marriage, the most important relationship in my life. This failure is on me, and me alone and I take full responsibility for my actions.”

That was nearly four years ago. Now, ‘Lights On’ offers a raw and revealing insight into the days, weeks and months that followed his sacking, and how Lentz, his wife Laura and their children have found “healing and hope” and are stronger than ever.

Homeless and suicidal

Despite the hopeful undertones, the podcast is an uncomfortable listen. In the first episode, Carl and Laura ask each other questions, and you sometimes have to remember that when Laura is asking questions like: “What did you do wrong?”, she is his wife and not an interviewer.

Despite feeling slightly staged at times, it works because, by answering the direct questions, it addresses Lentz’s behaviour - and the seismic impact it has had on his family - head on. He doesn’t shy away from his wrongdoing - “I am deeply sorry,” he says – nor shift blame, and he reiterates the importance of honesty in marriage, seeing the destruction caused by his lies. It that sense, it is brave and vulnerable.

Recent times have seen a litany of church leaders falling, and genuine repentance and hopeful restoration is in desperately short supply

The discussion also reveals details not universally known. Lentz talks about his suicidal thoughts and the family’s car journey in New York where they had nowhere to go. Their daughter, Charlie, was in hospital for mental health issues when the scandal broke, and Laura says that a turning point for her choosing to stay with Lentz was seeing him break down when talking about his troubled upbringing. Lentz makes it clear that he is not looking for sympathy nor making excuses, but the insights are a reminder that, often, more is going on than the media might have us believe.

Most powerful are the nods to forgiveness and how long this can take, given the trauma. His daughter, Charlie, said she forgave her father after initially telling him she never would. Laura admitted that it was only last year that she could say the same, once she finally felt able to trust him again.

Repentance and restoration

Ironically, it’s here where the discussion felt it was missing something – Jesus. The couple talk powerfully about forgiveness, repentance and grace, including a critique of some headlines: “Did I fall from grace? Absolutely not. I fell into it.” But Jesus’ name is infrequently mentioned. It feels like a missed opportunity to explain how their relationship with Jesus has fed into their healing journey. Much is made of therapists, and rightly so, but it comes at the detriment of acknowledging what Jesus has done amid it all.

This first episode focuses on Lentz’s family, with little discussion of his other misdemeanours, such as his mistreatment of others at church. Hopefully this will come in future episodes.

There is sure to be much future discussion about whether this podcast should have been made at all; of the motives behind it, how much money is being made, whether it signals a move back into ministry - and whether there should ever be a route to make this possible.

But credit where credit is due. Recent times have seen a litany of church leaders falling, and genuine repentance and hopeful restoration is in desperately short supply. ‘Lights On’ is a welcome change to this. If your heart feels up to it, it’s worth a listen.