The woman who says she had a consensual affair with the high-profile former pastor of a New York City megachurch, which led to his shocking firing, is speaking out about what happened.
“I still cherish what we had,” Ranin Karim told ABC News' Amy Robach of her involvement with Carl Lentz. “It was always gonna be part of my past. I wish I can just like, delete it, but you can’t.”
Lentz became a high-profile pastor during his time at Hillsong Church, a megachurch once frequented by celebrities including Justin Bieber, Chris Pratt and Vanessa Hudgens. Lentz, who was fired earlier this month, developed a celebrity status of his own, followed online by more than 500,000 people.
Karim says her story with Lentz began five months ago when they first met at a park near her New York City home.
Their meetings at the park became a regular thing, according to Karim, who said that Lentz refused to tell her his last name or even what he did for a living. Lentz also asked her not to Google him and saved her phone number in the Notes app of his phone, instead of in his contact list, according to Karim.
“He was like, ‘You know, I work with celebrities … I manage celebrities, and I travel with them,'" Karim recalled. "He didn’t want to say what he does."
Karim said she did a reverse Google search with Lentz’s phone number and found out about his role at Hillsong, which was founded in Australia in 1983 and has over 150,000 members worldwide.
Karim said she attended Hillsong once, years before meeting Lentz, a father of three. After finding out who he was, she said she asked him directly about his marriage.
"I was, like, 'Are you married?,' and he said, 'I am,'" said Karim. "But he doesn't wear a ring. You never ever see him wearing a ring."
After finding out Lentz was married, Karim said she stayed in touch because she did not "want to judge him."
"I was like it's all good. I was married before, and I didn't want to judge him," she said. "I like to meet people, and feel like they're a blank canvas, you know?"
"You get to know them, and you let them paint their warm colors on it," Karim said. "You don't go and just stick or put stickers on people and think they're going to be that, and going to be this, and I didn't want to do that to him, because I don't want to judge him."
Lentz, who has not identified the woman with whom he had an affair, did not respond to requests for comment from ABC News.
Karim described her connection with Lentz as one that is "hard to explain in words." She said Lentz's wife found out about the alleged affair in October.
“He called me at midnight and he said ... 'My wife find out. And I gotta go. She saw the text messages,’” said Karim. “I was devastated.”
Shortly after, on Nov. 4th, Hillsong Church’s global senior pastor Brian Houston released a statement on the church's website announcing that Lentz had been fired.
“This action was not taken lightly and was done in the best interest of everyone, including Pastor Carl,” Houston wrote. “The action has been taken following ongoing discussions in relation to leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures.”
Lentz addressed his firing in a lengthy Instagram post the next day.
“I was unfaithful in my marriage, the most important relationship in my life and held accountable for that,” Lentz wrote. “This failure is on me, and me alone and I take full responsibility for my actions. I now must begin a journey of rebuilding trust with my wife Laura and my children and taking time to work on and heal my own life and seek out the help that I need.”
“I am deeply sorry for breaking the trust of many people who we have loved serving,” he added.
Houston later announced that Hillsong Church is launching an “independent investigation into the inner workings of Hillsong NYC/East Coast.”
“We need a solid foundation for a fresh start and new beginning,” Houston wrote in a Nov. 12th tweet. “The best is yet to come.”
We are launching an independent investigation into the inner workings of Hillsong NYC/ East Coast. We need a solid foundation for a fresh start and new beginning. The best is yet to come.— Brian Houston (@BrianCHouston) November 12, 2020
Karim said she believes that Lentz's rising celebrity status may have contributed to his behavior.
“When you give somebody so much power, they become God to people, and I think people forgot the concept of religion and beliefs," she said. "I think that people look at Carl like he is God to them.”
Karim said she is also sorry for what happened to Lentz’s family due to the affair, and is especially sorry to his wife, Laura.
“I feel bad for her,” she said. “Woman to woman, I don’t think she deserved to be hurt the way that she did, and I never meant to hurt her.”
Now that Karim has shared her side of the story, she said she wants to move forward and leave the past behind.
“I know people [are] gonna hate me, think whatever they want to think, but in the end of the day, it’s my story,” she said. “I wanted to free myself of what people think of me.”