Hillsong founder Brian Houston said cheating pastor Carl Lentz was ‘narcissistic’ but admits he created a culture in the church where there is ‘one rule for celebrities’ and one for everyone else.
Houston spoke to Savannah Guthrie for the Today show on Wednesday in his first interview since a wave of scandals hit the celebrity-adored megachurch.
Among them are Carl’s affair with a Brooklyn woman and a series of claims from former staffers and parishioners that the church fostered an environment where they were bullied and exploited.
Houston said on Wednesday that he feels ‘a lot of disappointment’ over the series of scandals, but that he ultimately believes Hillsong is a ‘good church’.
Hillsong founder Brian Houston on Today on Wednesday morning. He said there was a ‘lot of disappointment’ over the various scandals that have hit the church over the last year
Celebrity pastor Carl Lentz with Justin Bieber, one of the church’s most famous parishioners. Lentz left the church last year after admitting to cheating on his wife
‘Carl was Carl. He’s a unique character. There’s a lot of things I miss about Carl. But having said that, there were leadership issues that I believe included lying, included what I would call narcissistic behavior.
‘I’ve had concerns and many conversations over the years with Carl.
‘I think there’s a lot of things I should’ve known earlier, and hopefully, moving forward, we’ll make sure we have far better systems in place and better accountability,’ he said.
He maintains he was not grooming Lentz to take a senior position in the church, and says he does not agree with claims that the two are alike.
‘On one level, if people say Carl was like me, I’d see it as a compliment because (he’s an) incredibly gifted guy, but on another level, I don’t think Carl really is anything like me.
Ranin Karim, the woman Lentz had an affair with
‘I am ultimately responsible. I am ultimately accountable,’ he said.
Asked by Guthrie what he thinks Jesus Christ would have thought of it, he said: ‘Do you want the honest answer? I think he would like it. We’re focused on glorifying him.’
He added: ‘I’m not sure a church can be too big. I just think we have to grow into ourselves’
Lentz, who is married with children, was the church’s most famous pastor. He had a celebrity persona that involved him being chauffered to services and being held in a green room before emerging on stage to carry out the type of trendy sermon the church is famous for.
His affair with Ranin Karim emerged in November last year. He has since left his role in the church.
Houston said that while Lentz’s behavior was bad, it wasn’t beyond redemption.
He compared him to Justin Bieber, who years ago was ‘on the verge of deportation’ and ‘wrecking hotel rooms’.
‘Look at the Justin Bieber of today. Anyone could see a radical change, not everything about it is bad,’ he said.
Afterwards, former parishioner Noemi Uribe claimed to Business Insider that she had been told not to ‘act’ on being bi-sexual because the church didn’t approve of same sex relationships.
Lentz and his wife Laura were the golden couple of the church but have both since left
‘Womanizing’ pastor Carl Lentz, with one of his kids, in L.A. last year after being fired from the church
On Wednesday, Houston said that while he has no personal bias against gay people, the church is ‘conservative’ on the issue.
‘I don’t have any personal bias at all against gay or lesbian people. But unfortunately, as a pastor, you don’t represent what you think. You represent what the Bible says.
‘And so at this point, we’re still a conservative one on the subject of active gay relationship, etc.
‘Everyone’s welcome. Many, many people who are gay come to Hillsong Church.’
Houston also said that some of the claims against Hillsong were true, but others weren’t.
He didn’t say which were true and which were false, but added: ‘In my mind if one person is treated badly, that’s one too many. If people have been treated badly or bullied I am 100% committed to moving that out of our church.
‘I have reflected many times I am acknowledging mistakes have been made and there are things where we can do far better. I am not shrinking back from that.
‘I think larger churches everywhere are needing to scramble to put the things in place for a 21st century mindset that enable us to be stronger,” he said.
‘But Savannah, I look you in the eye and tell you I genuinely believe in my heart Hillsong is a good church.’