“Welcome Home,” read signs at every Hillsong Church around the world. To the organization’s members, a number that once exceeded 150,000 in 30 countries, that home likely feels broken now. The reasons why are outlined in the new four-part documentary series The Secrets of Hillsong, premiering May 19th at 10/9c on FX.
The series starts with Hillsong’s domestic New York City church phenomenon and the charismatic pastor at its center, Carl Lentz. He became not only the poster child for the church, but also the literal poster child for the series. However, as engaging and scandalous as the first two episodes may seem, The Secrets of Hillsong actually eases viewers into the more salacious aspects of Hillsong’s history, which goes back to its foundings in 1960 on the other side of the world.
The series deals with sexual abuse (including child sexual abuse), racism, sexism, homophobia, illegal accounting practices, infidelity, and lots of cover ups. The main shock value comes from the fact that this isn’t just an organization, but a religious institution full of people of deep-rooted faith. But with so many documentaries about people being abused within religious institutions, it retreads a lot of similar territory as other docs of its kind. What really sets The Secrets of Hillsong apart is the depth of the story and the non-linear way it’s presented.
The series gets bragging rights for having the first interviews with Carl Lentz and his wife Laura Lentz since the scandal first broke in 2020. Their story bookends the doc, although it mostly loses focus of Carl for a significant amount of the third and fourth episodes. Essentially, it showcases the Amerian portion of Hillsong’s scandals before going back in time and diving into issues with its founders and the internal culture they fostered. And then it examines the hypocrisy of how Hillsong dealt with Lentz given everything that comes to light by the end.
Produced in partnership with Vanity Fair, who did a lot of the discovery work, talking head interviewees include journalists Alex French and Dan Adler (both also serve as executive producers). Many of the interviews are with former Hillsong congregants who share their stories, including Survivor contestant Josh Canfield. The majority of congregants come from New York City and Sydney, although occasionally a member from another location is interviewed to showcase how ununique these issues were. Also included are a global network of journalists who weigh in about their local Hillsong chapters.
Mixing archival footage with talking head interviews, The Secrets of Hillsong depicts a trainwreck you can’t look away from. It’s addicting, particularly in the way the end of each episode hooks you into the next one.
I give The Secrets of Hillsong 4 out of 5 Versace neck ties.
The first two episodes of The Secrets of Hillsong air tonight, May 19th, at 10/9c on FX. The third and fourth episodes will air back-to-back on Friday, May 26th, at 10/9c. All episodes will be available to stream on Hulu after they air.