Josh Kimes was hired at Hillsong NYC in 2013 as an associate pastor and “looked after youth and young adults, evening college, midweek services,” Leona Kimes told RNS. She did not tell him of the alleged sexual assaults by Lentz. “Even though I knew Josh loved me with his whole heart, I was also terrified that I would lose my family and that added to my fear,” she told RNS. She said she also worried he might lose his job.
Kimes said she was afraid to say anything to higher-ups at Hillsong. “It seemed to me like my pastor had ensured that there was great distance between him and any sort of accountability or communication with his oversight. So, I couldn’t even imagine reporting my experiences. We were growing so quickly that we didn’t really have the things that are supposed to protect against situations like this — Human Resources, whistleblower policies or any sort of ‘safe place’ to share concerns,” Kimes said in her statement.
Kimes finally told both her husband and Hillsong leadership on the night she found out Lentz had been fired from the church in November — “After I was safe,” she said in her statement.
Rachael Denhollander, an abuse advocate and attorney who has worked with faith organizations in addressing sexual abuse, said abuse and power dynamics in religious environments often prevent victims from taking action.
“When you have somebody who is ostensibly speaking as a spiritual authority, then it starts meshing with your beliefs, your convictions and how you define yourself,” said Denhollander. “It makes it difficult to be able to point to something and say ‘this is wrong,’ because you’ve been conditioned to believe your godliness is dependent on your submission, essentially, to what is taking place.”
Denhollander raised questions about the work culture at Hillsong. “The situation this survivor was in, the way she was employed in the home,” Denhollander said, “that raises very legitimate questions about Hillsong’s policies and procedures.”
Those procedures have been criticized by Anna Crenshaw, an American student at Hillsong College in Sydney who was touched inappropriately by a Hillsong staffer, Jason Mays, the son of the church’s human resources chief, at a party in early 2016. Crenshaw didn’t tell Hillsong leadership about the incident for two years, but told RNS that Brian Houston initially excused Mays’ behavior, saying Mays was “just young, drunk, stupid, and in a bad situation.”
Crenshaw said Hillsong seemed to initially take her accusations seriously but was slow to take action. After Crenshaw’s father, a pastor, became involved, Hillsong reported the assault to the police in 2019. Mays pleaded guilty to indecent assault in 2020 and received two years’ probation and mandatory counseling. A church spokesperson told Vanity Fair magazine that Mays was banned from ministry for 12 months, before being reinstated in his administration role and as a volunteer singer.