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Carl Lentz, Pastor to Celebrities, Is Fired From Hillsong Church

Carl Lentz, a prominent Christian pastor known for his celebrity connections and outspoken position in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, was fired on Wednesday from Hillsong East Coast, the New York-based branch of the international megachurch.

Brian Houston, the church’s global senior pastor and founder, said in a statement on the church’s website that Mr. Lentz’s termination had followed discussions about “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures.”

He declined to provide further detail, saying it “would not be appropriate.” Hillsong and Mr. Lentz did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

“This action was not taken lightly and was done in the best interests of everyone, including Pastor Carl,” Mr. Houston said in the statement, adding that Mr. Lentz’s dismissal was “no doubt” the “right course of action.”

Mr. Lentz has been a rising star on the evangelical stage for years thanks in part to his numerous celebrity connections, which placed him in the spotlight as the church itself grew in size and popularity among young people.

One of those connections was the singer Justin Bieber, who according to a 2015 GQ profile, briefly moved in with Mr. Lentz in 2014 and was baptized by the pastor in the bathtub of an N.B.A. star’s Manhattan home.

Mr. Lentz’s Instagram account is sprinkled with pictures with celebrities and messages supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. In a post from September, he defended his use of the phrase Black Lives Matter as “perfectly reasonable and logical to say, no matter how many people try to convince you that somehow saying this sentence makes you a marxist endorsing, anti police, left leaning liberal loving, demonically powered and politically motivated activist pseudo warrior.”

Hillsong has stayed largely on the periphery of social battles, but in June, amid the nationwide protests against racism and police violence, Mr. Houston said in an open letter on the church’s website that it was doing its part to see racism “eradicated.” The statement, and another on Mr. Houston’s Instagram, followed comments from a pastor with Hillsong’s British chapter that were dismissive of the protests.

Like other pastors who have associated with celebrities, Mr. Lentz has also faced criticism that he was overly enamored with their star power, and he was criticized for wearing expensive sneakers and clothing. Mr. Lentz addressed such criticisms in his book, “Own the Moment,” saying he hoped to use the star power that came from his celebrity associations for “something redemptive and meaningful.”

Apart from his celebrity connections, Mr. Lentz, a Virginia Beach native and former college basketball player, is also well known in athletic circles. “I speak the same language as them,” he told Bleacher Report in 2015. “Basketball and life are so parallel; everything on a team dynamic is a life dynamic.”

Hillsong has grown widely since it opened in Sydney, Australia, in 1983. It now has churches in 30 countries including Brazil, France, Israel, Japan, Mexico and Russia, according to its website. In the United States alone, there are at least 10 churches spread across the country from New York City to Los Angeles. On average, 150,000 people around the world attend its services every week, it says.

In his statement on Wednesday, Mr. Houston thanked Mr. Lentz and his wife and fellow pastor, Laura, for their service to the church, adding that he and Bobbie, his wife and church co-founder, have known Mr. Lentz for more than 20 years. “In terminating his tenure, we in no way want to diminish the good work he did here,” he said.

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