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Carl Lentz, his wife Laura on cheating scandal and healing journey

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(NEW YORK) — For a decade, Carl Lentz was the lead pastor for the flagship New York City branch of the famous Australian megachurch, Hillsong. The brand was one of the fastest-growing religious movements on Earth.


Lentz was a hip pastor with a youthful congregation and a following that included actress Vanessa Hudgens, basketball player Kevin Durant and pop star Justin Bieber.

But nearly four years ago it all came crashing down, when Lentz was fired as pastor of Hillsong NYC for “moral failings” when his extramarital affairs made headlines and he admitted he had cheated on his wife, Laura. Now, the couple is opening up about how Carl Lentz’s infidelity shattered their marriage and ministry and the work they have done and continue to do to recover.

“It wasn’t a sexual thing,” Lentz told “Nightline” about the infidelity. “It’s not like I was out, you know, looking to have sex or looking to commit adultery. I had deep brokenness that manifests itself in a lot of different ways.”

When Laura first heard the news, she said she felt “confused and then, sad, broken and shattered.” The lowest point of her life, Laura says, was when she heard the depth of her husband’s acts for the first time during a call with staff. “I just couldn’t take it anymore,” she said.

Laura was close to leaving Lentz and taking care of her children on her own. She spoke with a betrayal therapist, who helped guide her through the next steps to a divorce. Lentz and his wife Laura agreed to tell their three children about what Lentz had done before the scandal ignited headlines across the country.

Lentz said he “was digging my own grave” and is working on changing. He went to rehab to address his mental health. Through therapy, he opened up for the first time about his childhood trauma. When he was a young boy, he says he was molested. “The molestation that happened to me when I was a little boy, about 5 or 6 years old, altered my brain chemistry, altered my habits, altered my view of sex,” Lentz said. “And from that age till as long as I can remember, I had habits of secrecy and hiding and high risk taking that I could never explain.”

Laura says learning this gave her a reason not to end the couple’s 20-plus-year marriage and to fight for it. She ultimately decided to stay by his side.

“I stayed because I loved him,” Laura said. “We’re on the phone with a therapist, and she was asking him some questions about his childhood and some of that pain, and he started to talk and try to go through what happened. And he got to a point where he just stopped and his whole body started convulsing.”

Through Lentz’s breakdown, Laura realized there was so much more brokenness than she had known. While Laura was working toward forgiving her husband, more and more stories about Lentz allegedly abusing his power as lead pastor surfaced.

In 2022, the Christian Post obtained an internal review of Hillsong conducted by an outside firm. The review included interviews with staffers who claimed Lentz had been emotionally abusive. “I don’t know those people, and it’s hard for me to speak to those situations,” Lentz said. “If I were to sit down and talk to these people, and if my actions and leadership hurt them in any way, I’d love to apologize for it.”

In a different situation, a woman who worked for the family alleged that Lentz sexually abused and manipulated her. Lentz denies the allegations. Due to public and private backlash, Lentz and Laura went into seclusion for three years. Their family is rebuilding and restoring their foundation away from the fast pace of New York City in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They say their family needed to be in a place where they could all grow and stay at a consistent, sober, calm, patient pace.

Laura says she changed after Lentz’s rehab process, too, and is working on speaking up for herself and asserting her needs in her marriage. Lentz has accountability partners who keep tabs on his actions; if he messes up again, he says, Laura will be out the door.

Laura said she now trusts her husband again. She said he talks to her about everything — she hears everything — and he’s done the work to build trust in their relationship again. His children have also forgiven him for his mistakes.

“I think sometimes you might have to go through some really dark, deep days or seasons or chapters,” Laura Lentz said. “And you can either flick that page and start again or you just shut the book, you know? And I think we chose to flick the page and see what’s next.”

Carl Lentz told ABC News he has no desire to rejoin the pulpit for now. He wants to put that in the past and is looking forward to what’s ahead. He’s now working on a new podcast.

“I think I realized early that I had a gift to be able to explain things in a way that people who don’t typically love church or love faith could understand, and I figured that out early,” Lentz said. “I didn’t know if it was like a pulpit calling. As much as it is, I’m able to explain this in a way where you can drop your guard and listen, and I’m not going to judge you, and I’m not going to try to make excuses or talk around theology. I’m going to like, speak what I believe to be true.”
 

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