Is Carl Lentz the Most Dangerous Person in Christian Ministry?
I can still remember the first time I pondered that question some years ago. I’ve shared that view with several people since and predictably got some raised eyebrows in return. How could such a cool and incendiary guy be dangerous? Wouldn’t his reach be diminished if he was spouting falsehoods and platitudes? Questions like these are actually part of the problem…
Lentz, the Lead Pastor of the megachurch Hillsong NYC, got himself into hot water recently because of the things that he said (or perhaps more accurately, DIDN’T say) while doing an interview on The View. This is the latest in a stunningly long line of awkward, concerning, cryptic, and weird public statements that Lentz has made about incredibly important and relevant issues over the years. We will dig into much of that and why his ministry is so dangerous, but before we do …
DISCLAIMER: I have seen many people go after Lentz for a myriad of what I would consider to be ridiculous reasons (i.e., they don’t like his hair, they don’t like his style, they don’t like that he hobnobs with celebs, they don’t like his preaching delivery, etc.). Those are personal attacks based on personal preferences and not much more. I’m not going to do that. This post has nothing to do with Carl Lentz the person because I do not know Carl Lentz the person. This post is about the things that Lentz has said publicly and how damaging those things have been and could be if they persist. Also, make sure you pay attention through the end of the post.
Last week, Lentz was a guest on The View where he fielded questions from the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar. Some of the things discussed were fairly innocuous; that was until Behar brought up the topic of abortion. The conversation went as such…
Behar: “So, it’s not a sin in your church to have an abortion?”
Seemingly, in light of what most Christians believe about the imago dei and the value of human life even in the womb, this should have been a softball question for Lentz. And yet, this was his answer…
Lentz: “That’s the kind of conversation we would have finding out your story, where you’re from, what you believe. … I mean, God’s the judge. People have to live to their own convictions. That’s such a broad question, to me, I’m going higher. I want to sit with somebody and say, ‘What do you believe?’”
Behar: “So, it’s not an open and shut case to you?”
Lentz: “Some people would say it is. To me, I’m trying to teach people who Jesus is first, and find out their story. Before I start picking and choosing what I think is sin in your life, I’d like to know your name.”
Cowardly. Weak. Dangerous.
You can watch the video of the entire interview here:
So, Lentz was given a golden opportunity on a massive platform to stand up for the sanctity of human life, and he decided to go this route. How easy would it have been to stand up for truth while revealing grace at the same time? Instead, he responded the way he did to the adoring cheers of those in the crowd. Apparently, the moment was too overwhelming for him.
As mentioned previously, Lentz is not new to controversy. In an interview with Katie Couric in 2014, he was asked to give his ministry’s stance on homosexuality and responded by saying this:
“We have a stance on love and everything else we have conversations… Very rarely did Jesus talk about morality or social issues. He was about the deeper things of the heart.”
You can watch that interview here:
In that first sentence, he managed to spout that they have a stance on love without actually defining what in the world he even means by that. However, that’s fairly forgivable considering many of us are guilty of using useless banalities from time to time. The real ridiculousness was when he baselessly suggests that Jesus rarely spoke about morality and social issues.
First of all, in worldly terms, Jesus was essentially crucified for not being politically correct. Jesus’ assertion that he was a conquering and ruling king was an affront to the power base of the leviathan Roman Empire and the order of Judaism. It doesn’t get much more social or political than that. Furthermore, throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus interacting with and treating women and children with a tremendous amount of care and consideration. He did this in a time in history where most Roman children weren’t even given names for several years because of their high mortality rate and where women were seen as commodities. Also, Jesus went headlong into incredibly controversial social topics like the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6), marriage/adultery/divorce (Matthew 19:3-9), and economic greed (Luke 12:13-21).
So, this notion that Jesus didn’t take on important social issues is simply untrue. Any statement to the contrary is just ignorant. But that wasn’t the only controversy Lentz kicked up in 2014.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Lentz was asked about the topic of homosexuality and he essentially said that he was unwilling to make any public declaration of his ministry’s opinion on that topic (video here). However, in an interview with CNN that same year, Lentz made the following statement on the subject:
“Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality, just like it is today, was widely prevalent… And I’m still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus addressed it on the record in front of people. You won’t find it because he never did.”
This is an incredibly egregious thing for Lentz to say, and it’s astonishingly concerning to see that he never recanted on that statement. It shows a certain lack of even rudimentary understanding of the Greek recordings of Scripture. Now, when you hear Lentz say this, it sounds good. It sounds like it should be true, right? Further still, if you open up a reference bible or any online Bible app and type in the words “gay,” “lesbian,” or “homosexuality,” you won’t have any of the results come up in red letters (the words of Jesus). So, this means Jesus never spoke about homosexuality, right? Sorry, Carl. Wrong.
Jesus says this is Matthew 15:19: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person…” (NIV, emphasis added). Yes, the word “homosexuality” never appears, but we’re reading this verse through the eyes of someone who understands 21st century English and the meaning of those words therein. In reality, the Greek word used here for “sexual immorality” is “pornea”, where we get the modern word for “porn”, and the first-century writer/reader would have understood that to mean any sexual relations or acts outside of a marriage between one man and one woman. So, in the mind of the first-century writer/reader, they would have known that to include adultery, polygamy, bestiality, and yes, homosexuality. Thus, Jesus 100% made reference to homosexuality during his ministry. Lentz is dead wrong on this subject.
Now, in all of these controversies, there seem to only be a few options for why Lentz would answer in these ways:
- He’s ignorant of the exegetical meaning of the Scriptures. (BAD)
- He actually believes what he says to be true. (WORSE)
- He knows the meaning of the Scriptures but is choosing to deceive people. (WORST)
Whatever the reality is, none of those things are very good for the scores of Millennials that flock to his services on a weekly basis and/or watch his sermons online. However, you might ask if this is really that big of a deal, right? Aren’t there pastors with snakes wrapped around their arms while preaching that is more damaging to Christianity? Shouldn’t we be more worried about weirdos like that? This is the exact reason for my contention that Lentz is the most dangerous person in Christian ministry: his reach.
In 2017, we are able to reach and influence millions of people through free social media platforms. If you add up the number of followers from all of Lentz’ Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, he has a following of ~764,000 people. Not bad for a pastor. However, Lentz has direct ties to people whose reaches are astoundingly large; namely Justin Bieber (~274,000,000), Oprah (~62,000,000), and Kevin Durant (~37,000,000). Crazy snake arms pastor guy doesn’t have any interaction with heavy hitters like this. So, when Lentz says something, however true or untrue it may be in reality, his reach and influence create a certain substantiation to his commentary that may or may not be warranted or appropriate.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m somewhat contrarian in my viewpoint that I really don’t mind if a pastor is famous. In fact, I prefer it! I would much rather see the major news outlets turn to trustworthy and prominent pastors for their insight, feedback, and opinions during newsworthy world events as opposed to a nimrod actor or sleazy politician. The issue is that most pastors that reach this “celebrity status” do so on the heels of the same kinds of nebulous, fence-straddling, pseudo-Gospel positions that Lentz has pontificated. It’s certainly hard to build a church that reaches that “mega” status if you take hardline positions on controversial issues like abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism, Islamic fundamentalism, etc.
However, we should EXPECT that of our pastors. For example, Matt Chandler of The Village Church in the Dallas area (a megachurch by most standards) is incredibly outspoken on such topics. In fact, every January he revisits the tough subject of abortion with his church to continue to shine truth and light into such a dark subject (here is the sermon he delivered this year) Pastor’s like Chandler don’t shy away from the subjects that may offend people. The Gospel is offensive. The reality of sin is offensive. More butts in the seats pales in importance.
After the predictable outrage that followed Lentz’ latest comments on The View, he offered up an apology on twitter (see it here) However, I think this is clearly a case of “too little, too late” for several reasons. First, this apology only came AFTER all of the indignation expressed by Christians, which begs the question: would he have recanted if his comments flew under the radar? Second, millions of people saw the interview he did on television or aafterwardonline. At most, only a few thousand people will see his apology which means most will only remember his initial statement. Third, he had his moment on TV, but he blew it. It seems as if the potential scorn from Whoopi and Behar was too much to stare down. Had he said that abortion was sinful, he very likely would have be booed by the studio audience. He’s apparently a lion when he’s behind the keyboard of his iPhone, but he’s a cowardly dolt when faced with potential public backlash.
It’s usually around this time when people start to go crazy at guys like me for “judging” men in professional ministry too harshly. Apparently, modern, liberal, or progressive Christians see it as inappropriate for a Brother in Christ to rebuke or correct another. To those people, I would say that you should dig into the story of Paul publicly rebuking Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). I go into a good amount of detail on this spat in Day 4 of the Undaunted.Life: An Undaunted Marriage YouVersion devotional. Now, I’m not comparing myself to Paul and Lentz to Peter, but it gives us a basis for when correction is appropriate.
Simply, for the sake of the unborn, it’s appropriate. For those that cannot speak for themselves, it’s appropriate. For those who are torn limb from limb while still alive and are then sucked out with a vacuum tube, it’s appropriate. I will not apologize if your feelings are hurt because I stand up against what hurts the heart of God. I won’t do it.
Still, regardless of how you thought this post was going to end, I have hope for Carl Lentz. I hope he can turn things around and be this generation’s Billy Graham. I hope that he can reach the word with the TRUTHS of the Gospel without feeling this need to water it down. I will continue to and would encourage all of you reading this to pray for Lentz. Our triune God is certainly capable and powerful enough to overcome any public statement made by anyone. However, we as warriors in the line of the Lion of Judah must not be silent and allow such things to go on. We cannot be passive. We have to hold churches and pastors accountable when they make mistakes; not because we are without sin but because the souls of the non-believers around us may depend on it. They may miss out on truth because we sat by and watched falsehoods be spread with regularity. Not on my watch.