The New York Times rained hellfire on celebrity preacher Carl Lentz over the weekend.
Lentz, for anybody who doesn’t have TMZ alerts, was the so-called “Rock Star Pastor” fired last month by the Hillsong Church, for whom he’d spent about a decade ministering to an increasingly massive New York congregation when not counseling the rich and famous on Jesus matters. His greatest hits before the fall came in baptizing drinking buddy Justin Bieber in Tyson Chandler’s tub, and in telling Oprah Winfrey that people don’t need Jesus to have a relationship with god, before retracting the comment to Winfrey under heavy pressure from less tolerant Christians. (Winfrey has apparently removed videos of conversations with Lentz from her website and Facebook pages.) The Times highlights the chronic infidelity and serial phoniness that did him in. The piece will read like pornography to anybody pleasured by the downfall of devout adulterers, such as vintage hypocritical whoremongers Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, or more contemporary secret swingers Jerry and Becki Falwell.
The profile has more than accusations that Lentz violated vows, however. No portion of the article was more disparaging than a description of him as being beholden to a specific “look” dependent on “tattoos, edgy glasses and not just style but fashion” (italics theirs). And as is usually the case in the wake of these public defrockings, a takeaway of the Times’ takedown is surprise that it took so long for Lentz to be exposed. For a primer on Pastor Carl’s awfulness, dust off his 2017 appearance on The Ringer NBA Podcast hosted by Bill Simmons.
Lentz, 42, grew up in Virginia’s Tidewater region, historically a hoops hotbed, and before taking up the Jesus business was himself a good enough high school basketball player to earn a seat on the N.C. State bench from 1998-2000. (He scored eight points total in his two seasons with the Wolfpack.) But the podcast doesn’t find Lentz giving Simmons or the audience much about, say, a bird’s-eye view of the role spirituality plays in basketball today, despite the host’s occasional prodding to go there, or anything remotely interesting.
Nah, as soon as Simmons finished an introduction full of his guest’s pastoral bona fides, Lentz instead just started dropping names of NBA guys, lots and lots of guys. And never stopped. To make himself seem even more annoying, Lentz almost always just dropped a first name, last name, or nickname. Not that anybody should look to a Simmons ‘cast expecting a lecture fit for the Harvard School of Divinity. But even given the vapid-friendly setting, Lentz more than blended.
A roster of his droppings, generally in order of appearance:
Kevin Durant: “KD, some people saw us together… When KD started to take his faith in a different way, I was around.”
Jason Williams and Jason Williams: “I knew J-Will. The Duke J-Will, not the White Chocolate J-Will. Shout out to White Chocolate… J-Will, by the way, can still play.”
William Wesley: “Some guy tried to insult me one time [saying] I’m the white World Wide Wes… but I know Wes. I’m not him.”
Beno Udrih: “I think a lot of the German guys, I’ve found, you know, Beno’s one of my close friends, they’re just really, really good locker room guys.” (Beno Udrih is Slovenian.)
David Lee: “David Lee’s one of my great friends. Shout out to David Lee, who’s engaged! (Lentz tried unsuccessfully to drop the name of Lee’s then-fiancée, Caroline Wozniacki, but couldn’t come up with it and settled for the former top-ranked female tennis player in the world with $35 million in career earnings and 30 tournament titles as simply “an awesome chick!”)
Kyle Korver: “Interesting thing about Kyle Korver, because they were in town and I caught up with him, who’s just a legend, and you would love him…” (The interesting thing was that on the court LeBron throws hard passes.)
Andre Drummond: “I had Andre Drummond on my team.”
Russell Westbrook: “Nobody really going at it [in offseason pickup games] unless Russell’s in there… Have you ever seen his dad? His dad’s jacked! His dad looks like he’s 37! His mom? His mom is incredible. His brother Ray, who is awesome, he’s at everything!”
Chris Brickley: “My friend Chris Brickley…”
Dahntay Jones: “Dahntay Jones, he’s a monster out there [in pickup games]… He means business… He’s a huge asset, goes at it all the time.”
J.R. Smith: “I love J.R. He’s one of my favorite guys.”
Iman Shumpert: “Shump can rap! You heard Shump’s stuff? I don’t wanna get in trouble, but…”
Allan Houston: “Allan Houston’s involved. He’s awesome.”
David Griffin: “David Griffin is a friend.”
Draymond Green: “I caught a cab to a game with Draymond… that’s one of my best stories!” (Simmons got him to tell the Draymond cab story. It wasn’t a good story.)
J.J. Redick: “J.J. Redick, who I think is the best. Just shout out to J.J. for no reason!”
Joel Embiid: “Embiid… is hilarious. Got to know him a bit. Hysterical!”
Good god. At the end of the podcast, Simmons seemed to lament that Pastor Carl hadn’t dropped Jesus’s name much. The host said that they’d run out of time without ever getting “deep religious.” To give Lentz a last chance to save himself from coming off as far more focused on the superficial than the supernatural—from being the guy profiled three years later in the Times, in other words—Simmons asked him to end the hour with some godly wisdom, something to make listeners “rethink their purpose.”
Lentz gave it a shot. “You got a purpose. You need to figure out your purpose. You need to figure out what legacy you’re gonna leave,” Lentz said. “What people are going to say about you when you’re gone.”
After the Times’ story, Lentz’s own legacy seems pretty secure.