A woman who quit Hillsong has accused the global religious organisation of a toxic culture where female volunteers were frequent victims of sexism, sharing her story amid ongoing controversy over the church’s firing of Justin Bieber’s disgraced pastor Carl Lentz.
New Yorker Janice Lagata, who joined the church in 2005, admitted that she was initially ‘deep’ in the Hillsong lifestyle, and even moved to Sydney to base herself at the church’s international headquarters for three years before deciding to leave in 2016.
In an open letter that she shared on her blog, Lagata went further into the details about her experiences in the church, blasting what she described as Hillsong’s ‘toxic’ culture, while admitting that she feels sorry for Lentz, who she believes is being used as a scapegoat by leaders.
‘The toxic leadership culture of Hillsong NYC was not a creation of Carl Lentz,’ she wrote. ‘It’s a preset of the structure. And he, unfortunately, ran with it. We all did.’
Janice Lagata (pictured) walked away from Hillsong in 2016, and she has now accused the church of promoting a sexist culture that saw women sidelined while men ‘waltzed’ into jobs
Disgraced Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz (pictured with his wife and kids), who served as mentor to Justin Bieber, is hoping to salvage his marriage after his wife learned he was cheating on her
Lagata first joined the church in Australian in 2005, becoming a member of the Hillsong Sydney Hills Campus, where she was under the ‘leadership’ of a couple she refers to only as R and J.
According to Lagata, R and J were ‘friendly enough’ to begin with, but after they felt that they had ‘pre-conditioned’ their followers to ‘overlook’ and even ‘expect certain nonsense’, that attitude changed, and they started treating volunteers more like ‘servants’.
‘Once they no longer had to be friendly to convince people to build their thing, we were no longer friends, we were all servant leaders, emphasis on leader for them, and servant for the rest of us,’ she said, recalling instances where she was made to rearrange R and J’s furniture, clean their apartment, and bring them snacks – all the while being expected to show ‘appropriate deference to them’.
Before Hillsong NYC was established in 2010, Lagata was introduced to Lentz and his wife Laura, who were soon named as the new leaders of Hillsong’s East Coast branch, where Lagata worked as a member of the Stage Managing team.
She says that she formed a close, but non-romantic, relationship with Lentz – who was fired recently by Hillsong founder Brian Houston after it was revealed that he had been cheating on his wife of 17 years – writing that she came to ‘know and love’ him.
‘I got to know and love Carl. I interacted with him all the time in the early days and we clicked,’ she said.
Lentz’s infidelity first came to light earlier this month when he was sensationally sacked by Hillsong founder Brian Houston, who cited the pastor’s ‘moral failures’ as the reason for his dismissal. The following day, Lentz came forward to confess that he had been cheating on his wife Laura, with whom he has three children.
Janice Lagata (pictured) saw a future with Hillsong, moving out to the Australian headquarters for three years before quitting in 2016
Lagata’s blog post comes after fashion designer Ranin Karim, 34, shared details of her five-month-long affair with Lentz, who was fired in early November
‘There was never any impropriety between us. Any abuse of power in our relationship was the good old-fashioned, irritating, mansplaining kind.’
Days after his dismissal became public, New York City fashion designer Ranin Karim came forward to confess that she’d had a five-month-long affair with the pastor – who once served as a mentor and adviser to popstar Justin Bieber.
However Lagata insists that Lentz is being unfairly used as a scapegoat by the church, claiming that his behavior is a consequence of Hillsong’s culture.
She described the fallen pastor as a ‘villain of the framework he was handed’ and that Mr Lentz was ‘spoiled, pampered and coddled’, before stating that ‘culture isn’t taught, it’s caught’.
In her open letter, Legata also stated how frustrating it was to be frequently overlooked for higher roles internally.
‘As a single, black woman who had given so much of myself, my time, and my talents, it stung to watch lesser qualified white boys waltz into positions I was never even considered for,’ she said.
‘The church also needs to stop taking advantage of people involved, especially volunteers.’
Lentz, who is close friends with Justin Bieber (pictured in 2017) and even baptized the popstar in 2014, confessed to his infidelity one day after he was sacked by Hillsong’s founder
Former pastor Lentz (pictured left) has also been accused of wanting to be a celebrity and bragging about his A-List Hollywood friends
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, she added: ‘I was there faithfully every week, and then especially in the months leading up to and after the [2016 presidential] election I just couldn’t see myself there anymore and was tired of fighting for justice and equality both outside and inside church.
‘I started resigning from the teams I was on and phasing myself out.’
Hillsong founder Houston is not specifically accused of any wrongdoing.
In the wake of Lentz’s infidelity coming to light, Hillsong has launched an investigation into the East Coast branch of the church – which the pastor helped to co-found in 2010, when Lagata first joined.
Hillsong has appointed a New York City legal firm to conduct an ‘in-depth review’ into its culture after a ‘number of people came forward’ with concerns following the revelation of Lentz’s affair.
In a statement to DailyMail.com, the church said: ‘Since last week’s announcement of a leadership change at Hillsong East Coast, we have heard from a number of people about their experiences and concerns.
‘It is important that we establish the truth and then do everything we can to ensure our church is both a safe place and one that seeks to glorify God in all that we say and do.’