Months after being fired last November from his role as lead pastor at New York City's Hillsong Church over “leadership issues” and cheating on his wife, Carl Lentz has been accused of bullying and sexual abuse by one of his former nannies who is now a co-pastor at Hillsong Boston.
Leona Kimes, who currently leads the Boston congregation with her husband Josh Kimes, accused Lentz of “repeated sexual touching” in a post on Medium Monday. Through a legal representative, Lentz has denied the allegations.
Kimes, who served as a nanny for Lentz and his wife for seven years before moving with her husband to Boston, said she was left so scarred by the experience that she needed “intense therapy” after it ended.
“While there were joyful moments during that time, no one knew that I also experienced a great deal of pain," Kimes wrote. "During the years I spent serving them, I was subjected to manipulation, control, bullying, abuse of power, and sexual abuse. Having told almost no one before this, I am just now able to share what I experienced in their home as the result of intense therapy."
She explained that she and her husband left Australia a decade ago to help build Hillsong NYC, a branch of the international church network based in Austrailia. But the abuse she experienced grew over time.
“The abuse of power started small. Hours would increase beyond belief," Kimes stated. "Often I would work from 7 am to 11 pm. Schedules were switched last minute without even attempting to confirm my availability. Tasks kept getting added and added to my load. They made fun of me constantly, even calling me Cinderella, which they said was their way of loving me. My husband was frequently criticized as a group sport. Gossip was constant. If I didn’t join in or if I disagreed, I was the odd one out. Classic bullying."
When it came to the “sexual abuse,” Kimes said it “started small too.”
“My pastor would look at me and say, ‘Gurl, you’re looking good. You’ve been in the gym?’ There was a lot of flirty teasing like this," she explained. "I had been around long enough to know that’s just how he was with women. But after a while, the comments started to escalate."
Kimes said she remembers being told, "after you have kids, we’ll buy you a boob job."
"Looking back, I know I felt embarrassed, but I didn’t know it was wrong then," she stated. "It hadn’t occurred to me that I had a right to not be spoken to like that, by my pastor or anyone else."
The Hillsong Boston leader said that in the summer of 2015, the sexual abuse, which did not escalate to sexual intercourse, “moved far beyond just flirty compliments and suggestive teasing.”
She detailed how she was touched inappropriately while driving, touched while at the movie theater with his kids and other places.
“While he never had intercourse with me and never kissed me, I was physically violated by his unwanted and repeated sexual touching of my intimate areas. I froze. Every time, I froze,” she wrote.
Kimes said when she complained about the pastor's behavior, which included “suggestive text messages,” she was “blamed and silenced” by the family in 2016.
“I was the problem. But, they kept me in my role, and I worked harder than ever after that,” she said.
“I tried to escape by telling him I would find a new job outside of church. Even though my husband was on staff, too, I thought it would be the best solution. I will never forget my pastor standing over me with a stern look, asking me who would possibly hire me. Without a college degree, he asked, what kind of job did I think I could get in New York City?” she recalled. “I won’t forget how that made me feel, so alone, so worth absolutely nothing, so fearful of my future, so fearful for my husband’s future.”
After it became clear that Lentz was finally leaving Hillsong Church last year, Kimes said she shared what had happened to her with her husband.
“I won’t ever forget how my husband believed me and grieved with me when I told him my story after I knew our pastor was leaving Hillsong Church — after I was safe," she wrote. "I won’t ever forget how it felt to start remembering little details that would pop up out of nowhere. I won’t ever forget the years that were stolen."
She also praised Hillsong Church Global Senior Pastor Brian Houston and his wife, Bobbie, for supporting her.
“It has been a process for me to come forward and report my experiences to leadership. I have been met with compassion, particularly by Brian and Bobbie Houston. And, I have been welcomed into a journey of healing,” she said.
Even though she thought about leaving the church in her “darkest moments,” Kimes said she remains committed to Hillsong.
“I have decided to stay because I still have the same heart toward church that I’ve always had," she assured. "Even with all I’ve been through, I still love it. Hillsong is my church, and I will remain on staff, working toward a stronger future."
A legal representative for the Lentz family told Religion News Service that they “vehemently deny the allegations and, in addition to that, have irrefutable proof the events did not happen as they are being described.”
In a statement released Sunday, Brian and Bobbie Houston called Kimes’ experience “disturbing” and said they are continuously working to keep their church safe.
“After the termination of the former Lead Pastor of Hillsong East Coast, it was clear the issues were significant and because of our concerns, we initiated an independent and lengthy investigation into the culture of all four Hillsong East Coast locations,” their statement reads.
“In the process of seeking clarity, hearing Leona Kimes’ experience was very disturbing. We have respected Leona’s privacy and her deeply personal story. She has now decided to share her experience so that she and her husband can continue moving forward as a family."
The Houstons said the recovery process for Kimes and her family will be long but assured that the couple has the Houstons' "full concern and pastoral support."
"We know that Leona may face criticism for her story and her choice to share it," the Houstons stressed. "In that light, we commend her for her courage and have assured her of our utmost compassion in their journey forward. Abuse of any kind, in any circumstance, is always deplorable. As a church, we are committed to learning more about how to identify such trauma and bring meaningful support to anyone who has experienced it."
According to their online profile, Josh Kimes has served at Hillsong Church for over 13 years. He first served as a youth pastor at Hillsong Sydney and then became the associate pastor at Hillsong NYC for over seven years before he and his wife moved north to pioneer Hillsong Boston. The Kimes have two children.