A young woman targeted by a married Hillsong Church leader who sent her photos of his bulging manhood claims church officials were aware of his lecherous behavior but didn’t acknowledge it until the scandal became public.
‘They already knew about it,’ Lezeth, 30, a former Hillsong member who wished to be identified by her first name only, told DailyMail.com in her first interview since the story broke last month.
‘I think they were just waiting to see if it got out. If it didn’t, they’d just keep going on as if nothing happened – which is what we’re finding to be a common thing with Hillsong.’
Darnell Barrett, 32, resigned as creative director of Hillsong’s New Jersey chapter on April 27, citing ‘infidelities’ in his marriage. It was the same day DailyMail.com had approached him for comment at the West Orange, New Jersey home he shares with his wife.
But it also came two months after the church leader had shared the lewd photos with select friends on Instagram.
He direct messaged Lezeth a link to the two selfies, which showed him posing in front of a mirror wearing nothing but white Nike Pro tights, barely concealing what appeared to be his engorged penis extending down his thigh.
Screenshots published by DailyMail.com at the time showed Barrett had initially tried to play it off as a mistake before apparently trying to lure her into a conversation.
He claimed the explicit photos were ‘some real raw s**t I send to my friends. Lol.’
‘Seriously, sorry about that. I guess…’ he continued.
Only after DailyMail.com broke the story the following day did Hillsong put out a vague statement saying they had accepted Barrett’s resignation and ‘were disappointed to learn about choices he made that were unacceptable for any Hillsong staff member.’
Rumors of the scandal began circulating on social media a week before the story broke, when influential celebrity Instagram account DeuxMoi shared a tip about a senior Hillsong leader who had been sending inappropriate messages.
And Lezeth said she learned of at least one current member who had also received the lewd photos and reported them to church higher-ups.
Hillsong officials declined to comment when contacted by DailyMail.com.
However, a source close to Hillsong acknowledged that the church began ‘reviewing’ Barrett for other indiscretions before the photos were posted and that he was already under suspension.
‘There might have been some other situations with Darnell that they were working on,’ the source said.
But the insider insisted Hillsong hadn’t known about the photo incident before the DeuxMoi posting.
‘I know he was under review and had been suspended. But specifically about the photo, Hillsong leadership was not informed about the inappropriate photo before it was publicly reported.
‘They refute suggestions that such careless action would not be addressed immediately.’
According to Lezeth, however, the photo scandal fits a pattern of Hillsong pastors misbehaving for years and getting away with it.
She believes it’s a result of a church culture that allegedly normalizes misogynist behavior toward women and said officials only acknowledge wrongdoing and do their customary finger-wagging when someone gets caught.
Lezeth likened Barrett’s departure to the cheating scandal that brought down Carl Lentz, the lead pastor of the megachurch’s six East Coast branches who was fired in November after word of his mistress got out.
However, reports of Lentz’s alleged sexual improprieties had first emerged three years prior.
Lezeth said she was reluctant to report Barrett’s indiscretions directly to Hillsong because of their alleged initial coverup involving Lentz.
She thought they might have already known about Barrett’s behavior since she and her Hillsong friends had been hearing rumors of his own extracurricular activities with women.
‘The church has done a really good job of keeping these things really quiet,’ she said.
‘I just knew the church isn’t the place to go to because the pastors are here to protect themselves.’
She said she experienced it firsthand when she volunteered for the New Jersey chapter between 2014 and 2016.
She described a male-dominated culture where pastors are regarded as royalty and pampered like celebrities, while women are treated like second-class citizens, relegated to support roles, serving as volunteers, babysitters and sex objects.
‘Men are to be respected and be leaders and women are to be followers,’ Lezeth said.
‘There’s a common idea that women are supposed to be submissive to men.
‘And I think it’s what allows these big pastors on stage to think, “If I send a shot like this of me shirtless showing my penis, she’s definitely going to be interested in that and I can definitely do that even though I have a wife.”‘
‘Normally, you’re on a stage seeing guys like Carl preaching, whereas their wives are on the stage for like five minutes,’ she added.
‘And the guys are like, ‘this is my hot wife.’ That was a whole thing that always made me feel uncomfortable. The whole idea of ‘Here’s my smoking hot wife. She’s also great, she’s going to open prayer.’ Then she sits down and the man takes over and preaches.’
Lezeth joined Hillsong shortly after moving to New Jersey, where she worked as a property manager.
Growing up as a churchgoer listening to Hillsong’s Grammy-winning records, she was blown away when she finally got to experience a live Sunday service with nearly 2,000 parishioners at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair.
She sat by herself in the dark hall, looked up as the countdown clock ticked to zero, smoke filled the stage, the lights flickered on and musicians began to play.
‘It feels like you are at a concert,’ she said. ‘You have this charismatic speaker, pastor Carl Lentz with his tattoos, his leather jacket and ripped jeans speaking a message.
‘I remember seeing a banner that says ‘Welcome Home’ and thinking, ‘Okay, I am home. I’ve finally found my spot where I can connect with people like me.”
She devoted herself to Hillsong as a volunteer, working in venue design. She’d arrive at the concert hall they’d rent at 6am to help set up the venue with Hillsong flourishes, hanging Welcome Home banners and placing crates over the bar area, which would normally be flowing with alcohol.
A few times, she was invited onto the stage as a backup choir singer, where she’d stand behind the lead performers and sing from moving lyrics displayed on a TV screen.
‘I would just fixate on the words,’ she said. ‘There was one time when I was in the choir, in the front row next to my friend and I just remember looking out into the audience, and that’s when I saw Justin Bieber.
‘I stopped singing and looked over, and was like, ‘Is that…?’ She goes, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, just keeping singing.’ I was like, ‘Oh my god. Here we go.”
Bieber was a regular at Hillsong in Manhattan and would sometimes attend services in Montclair, where Lentz lived with his wife and children.
Bieber, like other celebrities and bigwigs attending the church, would get special seats up front.
What Lezeth didn’t expect was that Lentz himself would expect the VIP treatment.
She learned this when volunteering to prepare the ‘green room,’ a backstage area where Lentz and special guests like Bieber would gather before the service. She’d fill a vase with flowers, slice up fresh fruit.
‘Pastor Carl specifically liked pre-boiled eggs,’ she explained. ‘You’d get his boiled eggs and dump it out into a little bowl.
‘The fridge, all the drinks would need to be very specifically placed with the labels peering out. You’d lay out the fruit in a nice spread.’
‘You’d do all this work,’ she said. ‘Then pastor Carl would come in. You’d be like, ‘okay, he’s here.’
‘I remember being told: ‘Well, Okay, don’t say anything to him. Just stand outside the room and just stand there, and if he needs you, he’ll let you know.’
‘I remember him walking into the room with his family and he doesn’t even acknowledge me,’ she said. ‘And I’m just standing there, thinking: ‘Okay cool, this doesn’t feel good.’
She received similar treatment when she volunteered as a teen leader, accompanying young people who attended Hillsong, joining them at services and taking them out for bonding activities such as pizza parties.
The man who led the group, Diego, invited all the volunteers over to his house once as a thank you for their efforts. But Lezeth said he didn’t even know her name.
‘He was very cool, talking like the kids, wanting to be friends,’ she added.
‘I would see him outside that setting. He would never know my name. He never took time to get to know me as his essential supporter in this section.’
‘It was obvious that if you weren’t someone that the pastors deemed worthy of getting to know, then you weren’t going to get to know them.
‘Even if you sacrifice your own personal time to support what they’re doing, if you weren’t known, if you weren’t a model, celebrity status, well connected, then they weren’t going to take the time to know you personally.’
She called it ironic when all the women of Hillsong would be invited to take the stage once a year for a special ‘sisterhood’ ceremony celebrating their role as women.
‘We have this night to hang out and be worshiped and doted on by the men in the church,’ she said, laughing. ‘You could wear a crown and you would do these beautiful photo shoots where you’re queens.’
It just reminded her of the obvious.
‘There’s no women that are leading and getting on stage and speaking, in these positions of power,’ she said. ‘They’re just the ones doing all the work.’
She barely knew Darnell Barrett when she volunteered for Hillsong and recalled that the only time he seemed to show her any interest was at her going-away party in 2016, when he showed up at the bar.
‘He came up and was like, ‘I’m really going to be miss you,’ she recalled.
Then they followed each other on Instagram.
Barrett would occasionally remark on photos she’d post, particularly ones where she was wearing a bikini, she said.
It wasn’t until four years later and two months after the Lentz scandal broke, that Darnell sent her a private message saying he was heading to Austin, where she had moved.
‘I’m looking to be off the grid,’ he wrote in January. ‘Wouldn’t be upset if I didn’t have cell phone signal – but need a local liquor store,’ he added with a heart emoji.
Then in late February, she woke up to find a direct message from Barrett linking to the penis photos and called him out for his behavior before blocking his account.
Days later, she shared an anonymous tip about it with DeuxMoix, which posted it a month later.
Lezeth further elaborated on the incident in an interview with DailyMail.com.
When confronted by DailyMail.com reporters about the story, Barrett acknowledged he posted the photos and said he’d resigned earlier that day so he could work on ‘infidelity issues’ in his marriage.
Hillsong acknowledged the resignation the next day, the latest in a string of departures rocking the church in recent months.
In January, former Dallas pastor Reed Bogard and his wife, Jess Bogard, resigned after revelations they used donations to fund their luxury lifestyle.
Hillsong issued a statement in April stating that is was shuttering the Dallas branch, adding: ‘It was very disappointing to learn that, while some of you experienced the Bogards as dedicated pastors, many others have experienced leadership that failed to meet the commitments and standards of Hillsong Church.’
Lezeth said these departures aren’t the result of just a few ‘bad apples’ in the global megachurch, but rather they are part of a systemic problem.
‘From the very beginning, Hillsong started out in controversy,’ she said, noting that Hillsong founder Brian Houston’s pastor father was accused of sexually abusing children in the 1960s and 70s.
‘Brian started another church, disassociating himself from his father. And throughout the years, they’ve had multiple controversies they have been able to just kind of snuff out,’ she said.
‘The whole point of why I’m doing this is not to say I want to cancel Hillsong.
‘But I think something needs to be brought to light, that there is something going on here that isn’t right, that’s not Christlike. There’s something a little more sinister, a little bit dark, a little bit f***d up that’s going on that I hope people can start recognizing.
‘This has been going on for years,’ she continued. ‘People have been covering up a bunch of stuff and getting away with it.
‘There’s a saying that a spoiled fruit ruins the harvest. I think that’s what’s happening here. You have a few bad apples messing up something that should be beautiful and should be great.
‘But it’s gone on for too long now where it’s all starting from the top, and these top people are creating this really bad situation for a lot of people.’
Source: Shawn Cohen, Daily Mail