A current Hillsong pastor previously accused of taking advantage of congregant labor has claimed that she, too, was once taken advantage of — and sexually abused — while working for an unnamed ex-Hillsong pastor.
In a bombshell essay published on Medium on Memorial Day, Leona Kimes, 37 — currently a lead pastor of Hillsong Boston — has alleged that in the seven years she spent as a nanny for Hillsong NYC pastors, she was “subjected to manipulation, control, bullying, abuse of power, and sexual abuse.”
Her allegations join a months-long stream of claims about the formerly celebrity-adored church and its leaders, beginning with the shocking news that its now-fired head “hypepriest” pastor Carl Lentz had cheated on his wife. His “moral failure” exposed rifts across the church, fraud accusations and congregant allegations of abuse. The global mega-church’s Australian founder Brian Houston has since apologized, and the church conducted an internal investigation into its culture and whistleblower policies. However, allegations such as Kimes’ continue to roil the once-praised institution.
Kimes’ essay claimed that an “unhealthy bond” formed between her and the lead pastors for whom she would nanny. Although Kimes did not name the specific pastor who is the subject of her allegations, it has been previously reported that she served as a personal assistant to Lentz and his wife, Laura, around 2014. In addition, ex-church volunteers said that Kimes was one of their babysitters between 2010 and 2017, according to Business Insider. The Lentzes co-founded and led Hillsong’s NYC branch during the timeline Kimes details in her essay.
The Post could not confirm that Lentz is the subject of the accusations, and a legal representative for him did not respond to The Post’s request for comment. However, in a statement to the Religion News Service, a representative for Lentz said that the Lentzes “vehemently deny the allegations and, in addition to that, have irrefutable proof the events did not happen as they are being described.”
Neither Kimes nor Hillsong immediately returned The Post’s requests for comment.
Kimes, however, alleged an experience of increasingly inappropriate behavior during her time as a nanny.
“The sexual abuse started small, too. My pastor would look at me and say, ‘Gurl, you’re looking good. You’ve been in the gym?’ ” she wrote. “There was a lot of flirty teasing like this. I had been around long enough to know that’s just how he was with women. But after a while, the comments started to escalate. I remember being told, ‘After you have kids, we’ll buy you a boob job.’ ”
Over the years, the behavior began to feel “predatory,” Kimes claimed, adding that she felt powerless to speak up. Once, “when I was sitting in the hot tub with the kids, he would get in, positioning himself close to me, so his hands could graze my leg.”
Later, she claimed, the situation “escalated” further.
“While he never had intercourse with me and never kissed me, I was physically violated by his unwanted and repeated sexual touching of my intimate areas,” she alleged. “I froze. Every time, I froze.”
In 2017, Laura Lentz dismissed her from her nanny duties but, despite being let go from the job, Kimes still “couldn’t even imagine reporting my experiences. [Hillsong was] 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.”
Her disturbing experience led her to conclude that the ex-head-pastor “was an unhealthy leader who lacked accountability,” she wrote. “It seems to me like he held himself accountable to no one and took too much power.”
However, multiple women who formerly babysat for Kimes and her husband, Josh Kimes, have claimed that, despite her disturbing experience, the couple helped continue the cycle of abuse at Hillsong.
One Montclair, New Jersey-area woman — who babysat for various Hillsong pastors including the Kimes family for five years, beginning in 2014 — told The Post that she was routinely underpaid, paid weeks late, or not paid at all for “10-, 11-hour days.”
Former Hillsong Boston communications team co-lead Tiffany Perez previously told Insider that, during her time at the branch in 2017 and 2018, she was often paid a mere $6 an hour to babysit the Kimes’ then 4-year-old daughter for 25 hours a week, in addition to working 60 hours a week as an unpaid Hillsong administrative assistant. “Hillsong refers to it as ‘honoring,’ ” Perez said of her labor, “but over the years, I wondered, is it really honoring or is it that you’re just being taken advantage of?”
Multiple people have also accused Josh Kimes of numerous instances of race-related discrimination. “Our Hillsong Boston team has taken some intentional steps to improve racial diversity and equity at Hillsong Boston since we launched and we’re committed to make further strides as we continue to listen and learn,” Josh told Business Insider in response to the claims when they were first reported.