Woman who quit Hillsong after getting to ‘know and love’ disgraced former pastor Carl Lentz slams ‘toxic’ church culture that ‘gaslighted’ and ‘perverted’ volunteers

A woman who quit Hillsong has accused the global religious organisation of a toxic culture where female volunteers were frequent victims of sexism, sharing her story amid ongoing controversy over the church’s firing of Justin Bieber’s disgraced pastor Carl Lentz.

New Yorker Janice Lagata, who joined the church in 2005, admitted that she was initially ‘deep’ in the Hillsong lifestyle, and even moved to Sydney to base herself at the church’s international headquarters for three years before deciding to leave in 2016.

In an open letter that she shared on her blog, Lagata went further into the details about her experiences in the church, blasting what she described as Hillsong’s ‘toxic’ culture, while admitting that she feels sorry for Lentz, who she believes is being used as a scapegoat by leaders.

‘The toxic leadership culture of Hillsong NYC was not a creation of Carl Lentz,’ she wrote. ‘It’s a preset of the structure. And he, unfortunately, ran with it. We all did.’

Lagata first joined the church in Australian in 2005, becoming a member of the Hillsong Sydney Hills Campus, where she was under the ‘leadership’ of a couple she refers to only as R and J.

According to Lagata, R and J were ‘friendly enough’ to begin with, but after they felt that they had ‘pre-conditioned’ their followers to ‘overlook’ and even ‘expect certain nonsense’, that attitude changed, and they started treating volunteers more like ‘servants’.

‘Once they no longer had to be friendly to convince people to build their thing, we were no longer friends, we were all servant leaders, emphasis on leader for them, and servant for the rest of us,’ she said, recalling instances where she was made to rearrange R and J’s furniture, clean their apartment, and bring them snacks – all the while being expected to show ‘appropriate deference to them’.

Before Hillsong NYC was established in 2010, Lagata was introduced to Lentz and his wife Laura, who were soon named as the new leaders of Hillsong’s East Coast branch, where Lagata worked as a member of the Stage Managing team.

She says that she formed a close, but non-romantic, relationship with Lentz – who was fired recently by Hillsong founder Brian Houston after it was revealed that he had been cheating on his wife of 17 years – writing that she came to ‘know and love’ him.

‘I got to know and love Carl…. I interacted with him all the time in the early days and we clicked,’ she said.

Lentz’s infidelity first came to light earlier this month when he was sensationally sacked by Hillsong founder Brian Houston, who cited the pastor’s ‘moral failures’ as the reason for his dismissal. The following day, Lentz came forward to confess that he had been cheating on his wife Laura, with whom he has three children.

Shortly after, Brooklyn-based designer Ranin Karim, 34, came forward to reveal that she’d been having a five-month-long affair with Lentz, spilling details of their drunken nights together and how he told her that she was the best sex he’d ever had.

However Lagata insists that she never had a romantic relationship with Lentz, nor did she ever see any evidence that he was being unfaithful to his wife. What Lagata did experience from Lentz was instances of toxic masculinity and ‘diva’-like behavior.

‘Knowing that issues of infidelity are what ultimately brought his pedestal crashing down, let me be clear that here was never any impropriety between us,’ she said.

‘Any abuse of power in our relationship was the good old-fashioned, irritating, mansplaining kind.

‘I wasn’t treated that badly by Carl specifically. He was a diva with a tendency to text recklessly… and he was annoying, but he was also funny and warm.’

Indeed, despite their differences, Lagata defended Lentz – who rose to fame after becoming a mentor and adviser to Justin Bieber – insisting that he is being unfairly used as a scapegoat by the church, and that any negative behavior is a consequence of Hillsong’s culture.

She described the fallen pastor as a ‘villain of the framework he was handed’ and said that Lentz was ‘spoiled, pampered and coddled’, but noted that he was far from the worst person she worked with in the Hillsong community.

In her open letter, Legata also stated how frustrating it was to be frequently overlooked for higher roles internally.

‘As a single, black woman who had given so much of myself, my time, and my talents, it stung to watch lesser qualified white boys waltz into positions I was never even considered for,’ she said.

‘The church also needs to stop taking advantage of people involved, especially volunteers.’

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, she added: ‘I was there faithfully every week, and then especially in the months leading up to and after the [2016 presidential] election I just couldn’t see myself there anymore and was tired of fighting for justice and equality both outside and inside church.

‘I started resigning from the teams I was on and phasing myself out.’

Hillsong founder Houston is not specifically accused of any wrongdoing.

In the wake of Lentz’s infidelity coming to light, Hillsong has launched an investigation into the East Coast branch of the church – which the pastor helped to co-found in 2010, when Lagata first joined.

Hillsong has appointed a New York City legal firm to conduct an ‘in-depth review’ into its culture after a ‘number of people came forward’ with concerns following the revelation of Lentz’s affair.

In a statement to DailyMail.com, the church said: ‘Since last week’s announcement of a leadership change at Hillsong East Coast, we have heard from a number of people about their experiences and concerns.

‘It is important that we establish the truth and then do everything we can to ensure our church is both a safe place and one that seeks to glorify God in all that we say and do.’

Source: Daily Mail

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