Mediawatch: Hillsong's firestorm and the Murdoch press
Eventually a silver lining will appear
Hillsong, one of Australia’s most successful exports, is being chased by another one – Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
It’s an old tabloid technique – go hard at a story and convince the readers that you own it; that you are the best source. Even if nothing much is happening.
The centre of the story is, of course, pastor Carl Lentz, dismissed as pastor of Hillsong East Coast USA, for “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures,” according to a statement by the megachurch’s global pastor, Brian Houston.
And so begins the old technique of dribbling out whatever information can be found, brought to you by News Corp’s Australian mastheads, hunting in a pack with the New York Post and the London Sun.
Hillsong, probably wisely, are saying little after their initial announcement beyond announcing an independent investigation. But here’s one refutation:
The headline published by @dailytelegraph today that ‘Hillsong (NYC) paid to keep mistress identity a secret’ is completely false and has no basis in fact.” Their claim that “Hillsong is putting them (Lentz’s) in a safe place in Los Angeles” is also false
— Brian Houston (@BrianCHouston) November 17, 2020
Eternity found The Daily Telegraph story puzzling – partly because when another version of that headline appeared it began, “Hillsong pastor claimed he paid…” And we were even more puzzled because it was to the Daily Telegraph’s sister paper – the New York Post – that the woman involved with Lentz gave a very full interview. So the alleged Hillsong cash had no effect, almost certainly because it did not ever exist.
The London Sun went further into speculation, in what I believe is a legally dangerous move, identifying other women that the paper appears to guess might have been involved with Lentz – that story appears to be taken down.
But Eternity understands, sadly, that there will be more to this story. Lentz’s mistress asked for others to come forward. And more are almost certainly doing just that and the Sun now claims that they have found three.
One aspect that media are not highlighting is that this is an example of a church exercising church discipline dealing with broken marriages. Hillsong has done it before with one of their original pastors, Pat Mesiti. (The details of their leaving Hillsong are just as messy as Lentz’s and not exactly the same). For many worried that Christian standards are not always upheld in various churches, this is a silver lining to the storm.
The press may not have read the Hillsong statement carefully. Or it’s just that sex does, indeed, sell. Yet this dismissal appears to be for reasons wider that the marriage breakdown. There will be lessons for the rapidly-expanding Hillsong network to learn. Katelyn Beatty’s commentary at Religion News Service points out that narcissism – what she calls the “hot pastor problem” – is a particular difficulty, or temptation for megachurch pastors
One person that could have been a victim of Lentz’s downfall – pop star Justin Bieber – may have escaped the spiritual fallout.
According to Vanity Fair (another New York outlet deeply into celebrity reportage), Beiber had separated from Lentz some time ago. Vanity Fair’s source said,“At one point, [Lentz] was in Australia with Bieber at a bar with his shirt off and doing shots… He’s new age and modern, but shots and taking off your clothes in public places? Come on.”
The magazine reported that Judah Smith is Beiber’s pastor now. However Eternity understands that Smith has been a pastor to Bieber for some time. Smith is Lead Pastor at Churchome in Seattle – which has a similar modern Pentecostal feel to Hillsong.