'A Long Journey' (Exclusive): Carl and Laura Lentz Tell All About Life After Hillsong and Cheating Scandal

For much of the last four years, Carl and Laura Lentz have kept their personal lives under wraps

Published Time: 03.07.2024 - 16:31:05 Modified Time: 03.07.2024 - 16:31:05

For much of the last four years, Carl and Laura Lentz have kept their personal lives under wraps. Now, they are ready to open up about their lives after the scandal that shook their family to its core.

In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, Carl says he is “feeling really content and peaceful and sober and steady.” Admittedly, “it's taken a while to get there,” but for Carl, “that's been the goal.” 

“It's definitely been a long journey,” Carl, 45, says. “I've just learned to take it day by day and not to push my feelings down. I've had to really sit in them quite a bit and just feel what I've had to feel without the pressure of forgiving anyone.”

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In November 2020, Hillsong co-founder Brian Houston announced that Carl had been fired from his position with the church due to past “moral failings.” The former pastor later admitted to having an affair, and sought treatment at an outpatient facility "that specializes in depression, anxiety, and pastoral burnout." (Houston himself ended up resigning in 2022 after complaints were made that he had behaved inappropriately towards two women.)

Six months after the firings, the family's former nanny posted an essay on Mediumalleging that she was sexually and emotionally abusedby the ousted pastor, whom she did not identify by name, allegations which Lentz has repeatedly denied.

Carl tells PEOPLE that weathering the storm of the scandal “strengthened my relationship with God."

Not only has Carl asked God for forgiveness, but he believes “between me and God, that account has been settled.” Still, he recognizes that it takes much longer to make amends with people, especially for those who were in a public position, like himself.

“When I get a chance, when it's appropriate, and it's safe for that person, I have had many conversations where I've been able to apologize and that's a blessing when it happens,” he tells PEOPLE.

For Laura, it took until October 2023 to finally tell Carl that she forgave him, which she says was a journey in itself. “It's been a lot for me to put that last guard down … because you put yourself out there again to be hurt,” Laura explains. “So it's been a process, but I've learned to take it one day at a time.”

With Laura choosing to remain in the marriage, Carl says he was given “a great opportunity to carry the water for these mistakes,” rather than let it all sit on her shoulders. “I'm grateful every day that I get a chance to earn my right to be her husband and I don't take it for granted,” he adds.

Meanwhile, the couple's three children — who range in age from 20 to 15 — were eager for their father to speak out against some of the allegations publicly, but Carl says he tried to teach them that, as a family, ‘We have a bigger priority, which is the health of our family.” 

Carl promised his kids that, one day, he would eventually speak out. Now, Carl and Laura are doing just that on the third episode of their new podcast Lights On with Carl Lentz, which can be found on the faith-based platform The B-Side.

“They've been waiting to say some stuff,” Carl explains. “So they made me promise that, ‘When you do it, Dad, we want to talk.’ ”

Speaking out “was healing” for the kids, according to their father. Despite some critics, the podcast episode featuring the Lentz children received lots of positive feedback. “I figured that it would strike a chord,” Carl says. He and Laura are “humbled” to see how receptive their audience has been.

The goal of the podcast, Carl says, “has not been to be understood.” Rather, the couple hopes to help others who have experienced similar trials and tribulations in life.

“It makes sense for us to give that help that I, in particular, have gotten and give it to other people who might not have access to that,” he explains.

Laura adds, “I have lived a lot of my life, metaphorically, in the dark. And when you turn the lights on, what was intimidating, scary, or unknown becomes really clear. And so that, to me, is how I see life right now. … And we want to bring light to as much as we can to help people.”

Ultimately, Laura says their children “appreciated the honesty” they received from their father about the scandal. She even believes it has “made them closer to their dad, which has been a beautiful thing to watch.”

“They -

were able to express how they felt and he was able to give them what they were asking for in the questions that they may have had,” she explains. “So seeing them real-time ask the questions and heal and watching them progress as young adults now, I think it's been really healthy to see."

The kids have also had an up-close and personal look at how Carl and Laura have managed their marriage following the infidelity scandal, which hasn't always been an easy process.

“It's been tough,” Laura says, noting that the experience was “really hard on” the children. “But I think they're in a really great place,” she adds. “They got some good therapy in the beginning as well and still continue to do that.”

Meanwhile, the Lentzes’ love for the church has not faded. “We still love the church,” Carl confirms, but notes, “the way that we hold it is a little bit different” now.

Carl and Laura now attend a different place of worship: the Transformation Church. Led by pastors Michael and Natalie Todd since February 2015, the Tulsa-based church describes itself on its website as being multicultural, multigenerational and non denominational.

“If a church had big arms to hug, TC would have the biggest,” Carl tells PEOPLE. “That's what it's felt like being here. It just felt like no judgment. We're a regular family just like we are."

Pastor Mike has been a “really faithful friend” to Carl. The two met a couple of years ago in Florida, where Carl and his family were still considering where to relocate.

After paying the pastor and his family a visit, Carl and Laura were eager to make the move. “We wanted to be around people that we loved and it just made a whole lot of sense,” Carl tells PEOPLE, adding, “Our kids loved it in Florida.”

It was an especially “crucial time” for the kids, too, Laura says. “Just in their ages and where they were, we really felt like this was the place for them and they love Mike and Natalie, so it's been a beautiful place for them,” she adds. 

Currently, Carl — who began working for the church shortly after joining in Feb. 2023 — works as a strategist with TC, which “sticks directly to my strengths,” he says.

But does Carl plan to become a pastor again? “I don't have that in my heart to do,” he tells PEOPLE. “I don't tell God big absolutes like I will or won't do anything. I'm always open. If someday, I feel really compelled to do a church, then I would consider it with the help and support of a lot of people who would also agree. But I can't picture myself doing it.” 

He later adds, “What we went through, what I went through as a leader, was significant. I had to repair a lot and I feel the weight of that, and I think it's the most appropriate and healthy decision for me to stay out of that role for a long time.” 

At this juncture, Carl “fully” enjoys where he and his family are at. He is also grateful for everyone who helped him and his family following the 2020 scandal.

"Everything we do from here on out is, in some way, directly related to your love and your help and your prayer and your commitment. Everything,” he tells PEOPLE. “Every school my kids graduate from, every day that I wake up sober, every milestone we celebrate as a married couple down the road doesn't happen without those people stepping into a radioactive situation and standing strong in it."

As for their former church, the couple tells PEOPLE they “have no opinion on the Hillsong Church of today."

“We'll always love the people of Hillsong Church always, because they're the reason why you do it,” Carl says. “But as far as what the church is doing, we have zero relationship or opinion about what Hillsong Church does moving forward.”  

When asked about his relationship with Justin Bieber, who briefly lived with the family in 2014, and his wife Hailey, who are expecting their first child, Carl said they will always be "big fans" and "can't wait to see what they keep doing."

"Just like the rest of the world, we think they're incredible,” Carl says. "But beyond that, in this chapter...that's as far as we go when talking about that."

Instead, the Lentz family is moving in its own direction, with Carl saying,“We just wish everybody the best."

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