You Are God's Beloved
June 5, 2023
In my ongoing immersion in documentaries about the rash of mega church implosions aimed at delving into the roots of my spiritual abuse in order to work towards restoration, I’ve been watching The Secrets of Hillsong.
I expected continued evidence and affirmation of the mindfuck I experienced at the hands of fundamentalist Christians, and there’s plenty of that. Plenty. A plethora. However, what is hitting me most profoundly is what Hillsong New York celebrity pastor Carl Lentz has to say about his infidelity.
In my experience, and I will admit I’ve not always paid a whole lot of attention to celebrities who are taken down by sex scandals since it’s so common… But in my experience, it is rare for a celebrity pastor to take any responsibility for their destructive sexual behaviors. Most churches, particularly fundamentalist churches, chastise congregations for judging pastors, give a lot of lip service to forgiveness, and assert satanic forces are out to take down the organization. Hillsong took a marked departure from those twisted positions, but I’m not so sure the path they took was any better. (More on that in a future post.)
Lentz indeed appears to take some responsibility for the ways in which he betrayed those closest to him, as well as tens of thousands of congregants who believed him to be living an exemplary Christian life. Is he sincere? I can’t speak to that. Is he repentant? I can’t speak to that. I can only speak to the words I hear coming out of his mouth.
It cannot be denied when a celebrity is caught in unethical or illegal behavior it negatively impacts a far greater number of people than when I do. And because of that, I do believe celebrities have a much greater degree of responsibility when they betray the public’s trust. That being said, the mere condition of celebrity creates an environment which offers the constant availability of opportunities for indiscretion.
I will be the first to admit were I a celebrity, it wouldn’t take long for me to fall, and to fall in a major way. I have an addictive personality. If a little is good, A LOT is better. I remember during the Clinton Lewinsky scandal, I was not shocked. How could I be? I was Monica. I’d have been on my knees from the get. Self-control and moderation have never been my strengths. But I’m not a celebrity. Thank GOD.
I often say if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Lentz’s fall was in so many ways predictable and perhaps even inevitable. Howie Kahn, a journalist interviewed in the documentary, said, “I remember watching him and thinking, there’s no way what this requires can exist in the form of a man without that man breaking.”
Always always, when these things come to light, I admonish those who are quick to jump to conclusions and quick to judge, including myself about myself, there is always context.
Lentz was sexually abused as a child. He kept it hidden, because his abuser told him to and because he didn’t want to hurt his parents. Childhood sexual abuse does untold damage, and as long as it’s hidden, people never have the opportunity to address their pain and work towards healing. Unaddressed trauma is like a cancer that permeates every part of the mind and body, and it eats away at the soul. Unacknowledged, it impacts every decision the individual makes moving forward. I say this from personal experience.
Consider that context in conjunction with the fundamentalist Christian teaching on marriage.
“In Christianity, marriage is only second to salvation. So, you’re basically incomplete until that happens. You know, it was like I gotta find this, this missing piece that’s gonna make me whole. You don’t see true single people in high levels of leadership. Like somebody who’s a big-time preacher and they’re single. So, you knew that getting married was the next thing you gotta do. So, everybody had that aim. We spend so much time telling people to get married, how to stay pure until you’re married. Surely, I’m not gonna have these thoughts if I’m married. Surely, I’m not gonna have these thoughts when I get older. Surely if I know Jesus better, some of these thoughts and some of these feelings are gonna go away.” -Carl Lentz
I bought into the same sham of a mindset for most of my adult life. I knew better, I knew full well it wasn’t true, but I wanted to believe finding that person who really loved me and picked me would cover up all the wounded, twisted, and sick parts of me I found it impossible to accept and embrace. I knew that was a lie, but I held onto that lie with all my might. For decades.
The thing is, it just wasn’t happening for me. I was not finding a husband. I thought it was because of my sin, because I couldn’t get my act together, I couldn’t follow God’s laws, and so I was reaping what I sowed. Cause and effect were clearly at work, but my suffering was not a result of God’s correction.
The pain I experienced was largely brought on by my inability to get a hold of self-acceptance and self-love. As a result, I repeatedly sought out abusive men and relived the relationship with my father over and over and over. The more abuse I experienced, the less I valued myself, and the more abusive was the next man I picked. It felt so so familiar, because it was all I knew growing up, and it felt right. It felt like it was exactly what I deserved. But somewhere inside, I knew that was a lie, and I knew there must be a way out. So, I fought to find it. And I would not give up that fight.
Please know I am in no way excusing Lentz’s behavior. I cannot speak to whether or not he is entitled to forgiveness — nor would I. And, once again, I can in no way speak to his level of remorse or repentance. I don’t have to address those things, I don’t have to have an opinion on any of that because his character has absolutely no impact on me. It’s also important I note there is a great deal more to his story than I’ve covered here. I’ve only excerpted a few of his words from the documentary. Many people have more to say about Carl Lentz, including Leona Kimes, who worked for his family and who documents multiple episodes of sexual abuse. All of that is apart from what I’m attempting to communicate in this piece.
What I’m talking about here is context.
I am always accountable and responsible for my choices, but there is always a reason why I make the choices I make. Context.
I’ve said it so many times, if you read my work, you’re probably sick of hearing it. If I’m unable to forgive myself for the damaging choices I’ve made, if I stay in self-condemnation, if I’m stuck in self-hate, I deprive myself of the opportunity to learn and grow and improve my character. And then what use am I to anyone?
For me, absolution comes in the form of public confession, of laying bare the ugliest of who I am. I don’t do it for sympathy or forgiveness. I do it because I want others who have suffered as I have, as a result of the betrayal of others and because of my inability to love myself, to know there is a way out of the pain.
There’s no magic to it, it’s all hard work and perseverance and tenacity and refusing to blot out that still small voice in your deepest soul that says, “You are worth it.” Because you absolutely are worth it.
You Are God’s Beloved.
Once you get a hold of that, there’s no stopping you.