“So it’s not a sin in your church to have an abortion?” Joy Behar asked Carl Lentz, senior pastor of Hillsong Church in New York City, during an interview on The View Oct. 30, 2017.
“I mean, God’s the judge,” Lentz said. “People have to live to their own convictions. I think to me, I’m trying to teach people who Jesus is first…before I start picking and choosing what is sin in your life, I’d like to know your name.”
Immediately after Lentz made this statement, major push-back came from the evangelical community about the way he avoided the question and minimized the issue of abortion by refusing to speak directly to it. Because of the controversy that arose, Lentz posted a statement on Twitter Nov. 7, clarifying his belief that abortion is sinful. He also said that he intends to love people without casting further shame on those “that deal with the pain of regret from personal choices.”
For those who have grown up in church or in the evangelical South in general, the Hillsong brand is more than likely familiar, if not a major component of Sunday-morning worship services. A megachurch based out of Sydney, Australia, Hillsong Church has established locations all over the globe, in places such as Los Angeles, France, Germany, Israel, Moscow, Norway, South Africa, New York City, and many more.
Lentz’s specific goal for the NYC church is to reach everyone of all different backgrounds – “from the faithless to the famous,” as he likes to say. He was introduced on The View as a “leather-jacket-wearing, bike-riding, buff hipster [who] rolls with music’s A-list, and even baptized Justin Bieber in an NBA player’s bathtub.”
Some see Lentz’s involvement with celebrities to be evidence of his abandoning Christian values and morals in order to be part of the “in-crowd,” while others see Lentz’s actions as strategies for reaching people who would otherwise never take the time to listen to or witness the message of the gospel in their everyday lives.
“We do live in a world that’s no longer the traditional church and we do need to be considering ways to reach the most people,” said Corinne Olund, a junior public relations major who has led worship since middle school.
“We can love fashion and we can love spots and we can love these topics and meet people on a common ground, but we don’t do that by losing who we are. There’s got to be some line drawn as to where does the leadership step in and say, ‘Yes we’re in the same boat, but because I love you I’m not going to just blend in with you.’
With the idea of tolerance becoming the subject of more heated arguments, it is less popular for Christians to offer definitive statements based on biblical reasoning rather than mere personal opinions. The situation Carl Lentz finds himself in after being interviewed on The View isn’t unique in today’s culture. It’s a constant balance Christians in the public eye must face of where their message will fall on a scale that has “grace” on one side and “judgment” on the other.
“I think he was just trying to be diplomatic on The View, and now he’s probably had a lot of backlash,” Hunter Baker, associate professor of political science said. “We’ve seen the same thing before. There are any number of instances where well-known Christians are interviewed in the media; then the time comes when they have to make a statement about something, and they kind of try to avoid it.”
While many in the evangelical Christian community were displeased with the way Lentz represented biblical truth about abortion, the disagreement has led many Christians into conversations about what it looks like in practice to speak the truth in love.
Baker believes that the issue at hand is larger than just the fallout from a conversation between Carl Lentz and Joy Behar. One conversation, one vague remark made about abortion, doesn’t warrant a definitive evaluation of Lentz’s faith or pastoral abilities, but it can provoke people to think more deeply about patterns of conversations and remarks that reflect the current condition of the church and its role in society.
“I think that one of the failings we have as the church in America is that we tend to minimize abortion as an issue. To the extent that we don’t want to address [it] or try to put it off to one side or say that other things are more important, I think that we are failing both the unborn children and their mothers,” Baker said.
“I would encourage students, when it comes to these things, to try to be both kind and courageous. Always be kind to people, always be loving to people, but don’t give up on the truth in the process.”