Tithe money funded Hillsong pastors’ luxury lifestyles: Former members01/27/2021
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The pastors at scandalized Hillsong Church were anything but humble servants.
As the Australia-based institution continues to come under fire for allegations of “slave labor” and homophobia, ex-congregants and staff are now claiming that pastors used tithe money to help fuel their decadent lifestyles.
At Hillsong NYC, many pastors frequently splurged on fancy restaurant meals, designer clothes and weekly manicures while living in the same Kent Avenue Williamsburg high-rise and zipping around the neighborhood on ATVs, disgusted former members told The Post.
Indeed, it appears once celebrity-beloved star pastor Carl Lentz — who was canned in November after admitting to cheating on his wife — wasn’t the only one with a propensity for costly kicks and million-dollar real estate.
Pastors and staff apparently freely used debit-like “PEX” — or pre-paid expense — cards for whatever their hearts desired, several former members and staff told The Post. The source of the funds came from money donated or “tithed” by members, said former Hillsong LA service pastor Nicole Herman, who personally loaded the funds onto the PEX cards.
“I was instructed to fill them,” said Herman, who helped found the church’s California branch in 2013. “We had a team count the tithes after every service and they would allocate X amount of money for the PEX cards.”
The PEX cards were reloadable and given to volunteers to make purchases for the church and pastors, said Herman, who left the church two years ago. Pastors, including Lentz, got their own Hillsong credit cards in addition to the PEX cards they delved out to their volunteers.
While the pair are now acrimoniously divorced, Herman’s former husband was the CFO of Hillsong LA, “so everything on the PEX cards had to be refilled through him,” she told The Post, confirming “none of that money was coming from anywhere else” besides church tithes. Herman’s ex did not respond to a request for comment.
Former Hillsong congregant Jenna Babbitt, 27, began attending the church’s NYC branch in August 2011 and soon started nannying for various pastors, including Reed and Jess Bogard, who recently left the church under unknown circumstances. She was given access to a card, but for the purposes of buying food for the children she baby-sat.
Recently, lawyers involved in the internal investigation into Hillsong’s East Coast branch — launched after the firing of the adulterous Lentz — contacted Babbitt and asked if she ever had to explain the purchases she made when using PEX cards, a typical step for all business-card use. She was never told to reconcile anything, she said.
Tithe money is by far the biggest funder of Hillsong, according to the church’s various annual reports: Of the $12.7 million Hillsong East Coast made in 2019, 88% of it came from “tithes & offerings.” Over 66% of that revenue went to a combination of staff salaries, benefits and expenses ($3.8 million) and operating expenses including venue rentals, staffing and production costs ($4.9 million). And as a church, Hillsong is exempt from paying income tax in the US.
Hillsong did not return repeated requests for comment on the many instances of excessive spending former members claim they witnessed throughout years of administrative work at the beleaguered church.
What they bought
During her time in New York, Babbitt watched the cards be used on decadent purchases from luxury presents to Manhattan hotels.
Before every single Sunday service at Hillsong NYC, volunteers would buy huge quantities of food for the pastors, from sushi spreads to Chipotle. Often, staffers such as Babbitt were also asked to roll out the red carpet for visitors.
“I bought a designer purse and $100 or $200 of food from Dean & DeLuca for visiting pastors,” said Babbitt, a Texas native and current Dallas resident.
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