The firing of megachurch pastor Carl Lentz, who confessed to having an affair, indicates a larger problem within evangelical culture: a lack of accountability for people in power. Especially if they happen to be attractive. Somehow, the rules of modesty that exist for young women in that culture don’t apply to men in the same church.
Writer Katelyn Beaty explains this disturbing pattern in an article for Religion News Service:
In the wake of Lentz’s “moral failures,” it’s worth asking what systems his church provided, or failed to provide, to hold him and other leaders accountable. Lentz made his own bad choices, but this week, a former member described a culture at Hillsong that “thrives on inequity” and rewards leaders with “privilege, power and self-importance” while asking “lesser” members to carry the behind-the-scenes load. It’s no wonder that he became untethered.
He also swam in waters that reward form over substance. Today’s sexualized, glossy version of the megachurch pastor is calculated to replace the stereotype of a frumpy pastor in pleated khakis and a combover. With skinny jeans, tattoos and tight abs, the hot pastor is commissioned to bring souls to Jesus by mimicking the temptations of social media thirst traps. But if you embody that culture, you risk becoming it. Hotness is as hotness does.
Lentz’s literal interpretation of muscular Christianity curiously conflicts with the evangelical subculture’s teaching to women, who are cautioned from a young age to manage men’s insatiable lust. In youth group talks I attended growing up, modesty was a uniquely female virtue, and we were trained to quell sexual temptation by how we dressed and carried ourselves.
None of this stays within church walls. Those same Christians are willing to let certain moral problems slide away if someone’s superficial character appeals to them for other reasons.
We saw that play out over the last four years. For all of Donald Trump‘s moral failures — arguably far worse than Lentz’s because of how many people were affected — most white evangelicals were willing to let them slide even before the election in part because his celebrity involved playing the part of a slick professional. His wife Melania could have been blasted by modesty-driven Christians for her nude modeling, but it was largely ignored by that crowd in a way I can’t imagine they would’ve let slide if we were talking about Michelle Obama. Mike Pence invoked the “Billy Graham rule” for himself, meaning he refused to be alone with women who weren’t his wife — which further perpetuated a culture of sexism by guaranteeing that no woman would be able to advance in her political career — but he was the quintessential stereotypical Christian in the White House so there was no need to go after him.
That hypocrisy had consequences. It led to many Christians ignoring Trump’s financial negligence and incompetence and rarely (if ever) questioning his actions. How many atrocities were committed by this administration which were overlooked by conservative Christians because they believed Trump was doing more good for Christianity in general?
As for Lentz, the question now is what will become of him. If past is prologue, he may take some time off and “rediscover himself” before launching an apology tour at churches across the country. Evangelicals will be quick to forgive him no matter what details come out. Forgiveness itself isn’t a problem, but ask yourself if they would do the same for someone who didn’t look or sound like him.