Could be grim…but I’ll probably watch it

On 2 June, we get a new docuseries on the Duggars, Bill Gothard, and the IBLP cult. It’s going to be ugly. It’ll be hours of hateful, stupid people manipulating each other…so kinda like Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, only with more religion.

It’s an interesting new genre: documentaries exposing the seedy, tawdry abuses within religious organizations. I saw one episode of another series, The Secrets of Hillsong, this weekend. So far, I’m not impressed, since it was dedicated to giving Carl Lentz’s side of the story, and we already know he’s a creepy sexual predator…so subsequent episodes better give the victims’ side of the story. It promises to get much juicier and unpleasant in the future.

Sexual abuse is a central theme of the first half of the four-part docuseries. Hillsong founder Brian Houston is the one who confronted Lentz on his inappropriate sexual relations and oversaw Lentz’s removal, but Houston, too, would be ousted from the church in 2022 for his own infidelities—and currently faces up to five years in jail for allegedly helping to cover up his father Frank Houston’s sexual abuse of children. In 1977, Frank founded the original iteration of Hillsong, the Sydney Christian Life Centre, but stepped down when pedophilia allegations against him emerged in 1998. Nonetheless, Frank was invited to pray with former President Trump at the White House in 2019.

Additionally, Vanity Fair reported in 2021 that a college student and congregant named Anna Crenshaw alleged that she was sexually abused in 2015 by Hillsong staffer Jason Mays, who had already previously pleaded guilty to indecent assault. Despite these allegations against Mays, Hillsong briefly suspended then reinstated him. Even back in 2018, according to Page Six, whistleblowers in the church sent a letter to leaders citing “verified, widely circulated stories of inappropriate sexual behavior amongst staff/interns,” and characterized Hillsong as “dangerous and a breeding ground for unchecked abuse.” The letter references an unnamed church leader who had “multiple inappropriate sexual relationships with several female leaders and volunteers and was verbally, emotionally, and according to one woman, physically abusive in his relationships with these women.”

Of course, the allegations levied against Hillsong in FX’s new docuseries expand beyond sexual abuse: Lentz acknowledges deep institutionalized racism that prevented anyone but white men from assuming leadership positions within the international church, while one of Hillsong’s few Black female congregants in Kansas City recalls in the docuseries that she was once physically removed from the church by police when church leaders learned she had spoken out against lacking diversity in the organization. The woman is one of several Black women to allege racial discrimination within the church in the docuseries.

These cults are rotten all the way through, as demonstrated by IBLP and Hillsong, but somehow their followers are so fervent and sincere, even as they are exploited.


  1. robro says

    My partner was telling me her horror story about getting tangled up with an evangelical cult when she was a teenager 50 years ago in Oklahoma. Because of trouble with her mother’s new husband, she was staying with a friend’s family and went to a summer camp with her friend. They had horses at the camp, which she loved, so she signed on to stay as a resident. That’s when the trouble began. She was cut off from talking to her mother. She wasn’t supposed to pay any attention to the horses. And she was beaten with a paddle because she was sinful. She noticed that one of the colts was bleeding from chest lacerations, so she reported it. They beat her for that. She just happened to be in the kitchen working alone when the phone range and it was her mom. She was out of there within hours. Fortunately I don’t think the abuse went any further than beating.

  2. says

    Also, 60 Minutes last week – “Mormon whistleblower: Church’s investment firm masquerades as charity”:

    Mormon David Nielsen left his job at Ensign Peak Advisors, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ investment firm, and filed an IRS whistleblower complaint. He speaks with Sharyn Alfonsi.

    It’s funny how in the Hillsong documentary during the discussion of racism in the church, Lentz basically has the same take as the idiotic Krylov paper: white men holding leadership positions came about organically, as the result of merit; while any efforts to diversify leadership are, in contrast, intentional violations of the natural, merit-based order.

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    @ 2′

    Of course, nothing will be done. Christianity–even a version of unorthodox as Mormonism–is America’s most useful Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. Anything is legal when it’s done in the name of someone’s filthy god.

  4. birgerjohansson says

    To spice up the documentary I am willing to hand out some free speed and knuckle irons. I am sure Jehowah will protect the members from things getting out of control.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    Akira MacKenzie
    Zebras do not alter their stripes.
    I bet there is plenty of other stuff, if you check the books of the worst crooks. It will be fun to see how much money has gone to things like .

  6. gijoel says

    I’ve despised Hillsong since their deafening silence on refugees and the whole children-overboard debacle. It’s an organization designed to pat the powerful on their heads and tell them how good they are. Former PM Scotty from Marketing proudly proclaimed Brian Houston as his mentor, which tells you a lot about Morrison.

    Brian Houston is also alleged to have told one of his father’s victims that said victim tempted his father into sexual abusing him.

  7. antaresrichard says

    I remember attending Bill Gothard’s traveling Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts seminar almost fifty years ago (my roommate and fellow Christian was really into his teachings, complete with home syllabus and all). Anyhow, thinking my older roommate more spiritually wiser than me, I sent away for more of Gothard’s material, but when I started reading through it, even as a “born again” believer, his writings just turned me cold, or should I say off. Too much Jesus freak, San Francisco hippie in me I guess.

    Ironically, Gothard’s unpalatability was one of the earliest of my bad Christian experiences to sow the seeds of doubt, leading to my eventual atheism. Perhaps I should thank him.


  8. birgerjohansson says

    Shortage of organs for transplants.
    Unapologetic sexual abusers.
    = solution.

  9. says

    birger @8 — eeeh, I understand the impulse, but that would be terribly unethical. (And it would lead to disabled people being used as unwilling “sources”, because it’s better we be “of use” than an endless drain on society…)

  10. DanDare says

    I remember when Hillsong first went public in Sydney. I had some friends who went along with that strange, glassy eyed excitement. I never really understood that mental state but it gave me the creeps.