A Hillsong staffer and the former Carl Lentz‘s nanny has come forward with allegations that she was both sexually and emotionally abused by Lentz.
Leona Kimes made the accusations, to which Lentz, 42, has since denied, in an essay she published on Medium this past Monday, titled: “Writing My Voice Back.”
And while she did not identify her abuser by name in the piece, Kimes confirmed it was Lentz in a statement to Religion News Service (RNS).
“I felt trapped and silenced. I also felt so ashamed and I had been told not to say anything or tell anyone,” she said of Lentz’s abuse.
An attorney for Lentz and his wife Laura revealed in a statement how the couple “vehemently deny” Kimes’ allegations.
“Laura and Carl Lentz vehemently deny the allegations and, in addition to that, have irrefutable proof the events did not happen as Leona Kimes has described,” the statement reads. “Further, due to the high degree of the ongoing reckless and slanderous misstatements by Leona Kimes, Laura and Carl Lentz are exploring all legal actions available to them.”
Kimes writes how she and her husband Josh moved from Australia to the U.S. 10 years ago to help build Hillsong NYC, which Lentz reportedly launched with Joel Houston, the son of Hillsong founder Brian Houston.
Kimes was hired as the nanny for the lead pastors. This included cleaning their house, running their errands and caring for their children. But Kimes revealed that “boundaries between personal and professional blurred early on, and an unhealthy bond and attachment was formed” as she began working in the family home.
“During the years I spent serving them, I was subjected to manipulation, control, bullying, abuse of power, and sexual abuse,” she wrote. “Having told almost no one before this, I am just now able to share what I experienced in their home as the result of intense therapy.”
The alleged incidents involving Lentz started with inappropriate comments, Kimes said, recalling a time when Lentz allegedly told her, “Gurl, you’re looking good. You’ve been in the gym?” and “After you have kids, we’ll buy you a boob job.”
He would also allegedly ask her to rub his feet and muscles, and noted there was a time when she was in her bathing suit preparing to swim with his kids and Lentz stared at her body, in front of his wife, “in a way that felt predatory to me.”
“After the intense glance that day, he started crossing more boundaries,” Kimes wrote. “Like, when I was sitting in the hot tub with the kids, he would get in, positioning himself close to me so his hands could graze my legs.”
“Then the physical encounters escalated,” she wrote. “While he never had intercourse with me and never kissed me, I was physically violated by his unwanted and repeated sexual touching of my intimate areas. I froze. Every time, I froze.”
Eventually, Kimes said, the “inappropriate touching and suggestive text messages were addressed by both lead pastors on two occasions.”
But, in both instances, Kimes stated how she was “blamed and silenced” and made to feel like she “was the problem.” She later thought of getting a new job outside of the church but said Lentz allegedly told her she wouldn’t be able to get a job in New York City without a college degree.
“I won’t forget how that made me feel, so alone, so worth absolutely nothing, so fearful of my future, so fearful for my husband’s future,” Kimes wrote.
Kimes revealed how she was fired from her nanny role in summer 2017 after conversations with Lentz and his wife — where they allegedly informed her “if his reputation was ruined, my reputation would be, too.”
Kimes admitted that she never spoke up because she didn’t have “any sort of ‘safe place’ to share concerns.”
“I can’t forget how he took away my confidence. I can’t forget how he took away my voice,” she wrote. “I can’t forget about the days I laid in bed that year believing that I didn’t deserve to be on this earth and entertaining ideas of how to end it all. Unfortunately, I can’t forget any of it.”
Kimes’ choice to finally tell her story comes just six months after Lentz was fired from the church in November and admitted to being unfaithful to his wife, with whom he shares three children.
“Even though I can’t forget it, I believe I can use it to become stronger,” she wrote. “Through intense therapy, I now recognize that it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t fail. Church didn’t fail me. God didn’t fail me. Man did… I’m breaking my silence and starting an important conversation.”
She also revealed how she decided to stick with Hillsong despite her challenging history with the church and is now employed as a pastor at Hillsong’s Boston location, “working toward a stronger future.”
In a note on their website, Brian Houston and Bobbie, his wife and Hillsong co-founder, addressed Kimes’ essay, calling her experience “very disturbing” and commending her “for her courage.
“[We] have assured her of our utmost compassion in their journey forward,” the Houstons wrote.
They also confirmed that they “initiated an independent and lengthy investigation into the culture of all four Hillsong East Coast locations” following Lentz’s firing last fall, and that “Leona’s experience will be central in our processes” as they rebuild.
“We have respected Leona’s privacy and her deeply personal story. She has now decided to share her experience so that she and her husband can continue moving forward as a family,” they said. “It will be a long process and they have our full concern and pastoral support.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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