The latest videos from the friends of shamed Canadian evangelist Todd Bentley show that his divorce and instantaneous remarriage is central to their thinking as they seek to "restore" him to ministry. Evidently, they hope that he will be the first of thousands, if not millions, to be restored in this way.
Mr. Bentley, they are determined, will be making a comeback....and if his friends have to change the beliefs of millions of Christians about marriage and divorce to do so, that is merely incidental.
One feature of the developing restoration campaign may be doing the evangelist himself a disservice. Another feature of the campaign may do a disservice to the Christian church as a whole, particularly the charismatic Christian subculture that Mr. Bentley and his friends are in a position to most influence.
You may recall that Mr. Bentley separated from his first wife Shonnah immediately after the collapse of his internationally famous revival in Lakeland, Florida, last summer. The separation was attributed to an "affair" that he had been conducting with Jessa Hasbrook, whom he married shortly after his divorce was finalized with his first wife.
Although there are several reasons to view Mr. Bentley and the fruit of his revival with dismay, it appears that Mr. Bentley's friends--led by his mentor, U.S. charismatic evangelist Rick Joyner--see his instant trophy wife as the biggest obstacle to his being restored, as their series of videos thus far have concentrated on Mr. Bentley's divorce and the resulting fallout.
Mr. Bentley is to be definitely restored to the ministry, no ifs ands or buts, Mr. Joyner explains in a video released a few days ago, or Mr. Joyner has failed in his task:
At the 1:20 mark of the above video, Mr. Joyner, citing Galatians 6:1, argues that when the verse "...talks about being restored....it really does mean to restore them, to put them back where they were. That has to happen." This restoration, moreover, can be as short, or as long as necessary.
In Mr. Bentley's defense, this sort of thinking may harm him. Things are being structured to not allow him the chance to do a deep soul searching, rethinking everything including his work, his theology and what God might have called him to.
For example, his tapes and CDs are being sold by Mr. Joyner's ministry. So, his mentor is saying that there is nothing wrong with his way of looking at the Bible. This discourages Mr. Bentley from studying the Bible, learning in-depth theology, and praying about whether the fruit of what he teaches is good--let alone considering the views of those who fear that he has lapsed into heresy, and whether they might have some valid points to consider.
Mr. Bentley has had what some of his friends consider two extramarital affairs. They are being blamed, at length, on "burnout", in statements issued by Mr. Joyner. Mr. Joyner, moreover, notes that Mr. Bentley's first wife Shonnah wanted to keep him grounded, more often at home with her and the kids. Perhaps Mr. Bentley is not suited to have a high pressure, international ministry and should be a pastor or a lay worker who should only do evangelistic work in addition to his day job. I don't know, but in the best interest of Mr. Bentley, he should be free to consider options like these. [I can argue that his first wife seems to have been a check and balance that could have kept him better grounded, and not burned out. His new wife, Jessa, will have less ability and authority to tell him to slow down, being younger and less mature in the faith.]
Everything, however, is being set up for him to be an evangelist again. He already has a new ministry office, Fresh Fire USA, based at Mr. Joyner's ministry. It seems, from the subtext of what Mr. Joyner and his friends are saying, that they would have a hard time explaining that Todd Bentley was restored if God didn't "put him back where he was". Todd Bentley could be very happy and content operating a skid road soup kitchen, but with a theological build-up on the need to "restore" Mr. Bentley, anything less than full-time evangelism would be seen as something continuing to be "wrong". And that's not fair to Mr. Bentley.
An example of true soul-searchhing comes to mind, one that should come to Mr. Joyner's mind as the evangelist recently, in great humility, reminded the entire Internet that he had helped Jim Bakker get back on his feet after he was released from prison. Jim Bakker, as his book I was Wrong shows, had a crisis of conscience while in prison. He came to believe that the "prosperity gospel", a feature of his PTL ministry theology, was quite wrong, and in the years since leaving prison has developed a different mindset about Christianity and how it should best relate to the world.
It would be a good sign if Mr. Bentley would be open to putting everything on the table. But, there seem to be overt and subtle pressures to leave doors and drawers locked in the spiritual house of his ministry, so that he cannot re-examine everything, as God may wish him too. Of course, Mr. Bentley's critics would suggest that his theology and ministry are so aberrant that he should blow up everything and start over. But that can't happen if restoration must, of necessity, mean that Mr. Bentley goes back to preaching the same things in the same way.
A last point about "restoration". Mandatory restoration to doing the same thing in perhaps the same way opens up questions of prudence, discernment and common sense. Mr. Bentley may have been removed by circumstances precisely because, in the great scheme of things, it is very unwise to have him doing this sort of work. Had Christian leadership thought things through, it may have been wisest to leave him working in that Fraser Valley sawmill, for various reasons. That can't happen now.
As sad as this reluctance to allow true self-searching to take place is for Mr. Bentley, what is sadder is his friends' attitude to the ease of fixing divorce.
After decades of ministry, Mr. Joyner and his friend, California minister Bill Johnson, have perhaps discovered only recently that divorce is endemic in the Christian church. And, lo and behold, the process that will "restore" Todd Bentley will restore millions of Christians too.
In the very first video made by Mr. Joyner, he notes that more than half of U.S. church members have suffered from a divorce. He defines it, however, as having "been through something similar to what you've (looking at Todd Bentley) gone through." Not so. If accounts are correct, Mr. Bentley precipitated an affair and got married as soon as possible, an explosive end to a marriage which is not the norm in most divorces.
Divorce, though serious and sad, is not the end of the world. Shortly after the 8:58 mark of this video, below, Mr. Joyner remarks that "God is divorced". But, happily, He is going to "re-marry Israel", so all will be well in the end, one assumes:
More odd thinking is prominent in a recent video, which was saved to YouTube in two parts. I'm citing the second of the two parts. Mr. Joyner is on the right, Mr. Johnson the middle and Mr. Bentley the left:
"We've got people hiding in the thousands," Mr. Johnson says, contuing (at 1:32 into this video) to add that "he (i.e. Todd Bentley) is going to raise a flag of hope for these people."
This leads Mr. Joyner to chime in a few seconds later with the note that allegedly many divorced people have been contacting his ministry to say that the Bentley restoration process "gives them hope."
Mr. Bentley's example, adds Mr. Johnson "is going to prophesy to those without hope, to those without jope, to those who have given up, to those who are outside the church for any reason".
This leads Mr. Joyner to add, "We have a terrible scourge of divorce. It is tragic, but if you've been though it, it isn't the end. God hasn't given up on you and we haven't given up on you, even if it was your fault."
The two ministers decry all the giftings that are going to waste because excessively conservative Christians are not allowing divorced people to step up and do Christian work. They express hope that Todd Bentley can be an example of the restored diroced and remarried person being an example to the church, and Mr. Bentley chips in with "I want to be that message."
It is self-serving for Mr. Bentley's friends to appeal to the thousands of divorced Christians in their audience, hoping that he will get some residual sympathy from those who think that they have been treated unfairly after their divorce. Mr. Bentley's divorce and remarriage is different in scale and public impact that the divorces suffered by most Christians. His divorce and remarriage is arguably worse because as a minister with a very public ministry he had a thousand times more reason to want to avoid a divorce and remarriage. The Bible holds ministers to a higher standard than lay people as well.
As one gets "restored" from one's divorce, one shouldn't be surprised to see Mr. Bentley in front of you in line, with a shy grin on his face. His work is arguably so important that he has to butt in line, and who are you to say that the grace extended to you shouldn't be extended to him?
I do realize that Christians have very differnt views on divorce, but what troubles me is that historically charismatics have been very conservative on the issues of divorce and remarriage. (I'd respecfully argue that reading the Bible to mean what it says would seem to imply that men and women should only marry once in their lives.)
What disturbs me about how Mr. Bentley and his friends are approaching this is that it isn't being addressed Biblically so far. Theological liberals, who have, well, liberal views on these questions are at least trying to parse the Greek, look at history and such. There's none of that so far in the videos, and if Mr. Joyner, Mr. Bentley and friends really want their audience to rethink their views on these questions, they need to start here. (Start and end here, my theologically conservative friends would say, as they probably would be hard pressed to do that without reading into the text and dismissing things that are there.)
It's chilling to see these issues being addressed on grounds of utility. People are not in the church! Their gifts aren't being used! Their offerings aren't being taken--er, strike that. Perhaps I'm too much of a conservative, but I would like to see some solid theological arguments. I hope that Christians hearing Mr. Bentley's appeal would demand them.
One last note. If what is being reported on his behalf is true, Mr. Bentley's affair caused him to act quite peculiarly. See if you agree.
Mr. Joyner, issuing a follow-up statement on what has been happening to Mr. Bentley, discusses his affair with Jessa. A few days ago, Mr. Joyner wrote:
....After Todd hit the wall with burnout, he then fell to an emotional attachment to a staff member. There was no physical relationship, and the girl did not return even the emotional attraction. When Todd went to his leadership team about what he was feeling, they immediately sent the girl away. Todd, trying to be open, then went to his wife to confess this attraction. Todd was trying to be transparent, but he is convinced that this was what killed what was left of his relationship to his wife.
Todd often called this attraction “an affair,” but it was not one. There was no physical adultery or even physical contact with the girl. However, Todd said that he knows he would have entered into such a relationship if she had been willing, and therefore, he felt that he needed to repent of it as if it had been an affair. I can appreciate Todd feeling this way. Because of the way rumors spread and grow, many still think that Todd had an actual affair several years ago, when in fact he did not.
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that this is true for a moment. Wouldn't the ultimate defense for this be Todd and Jessa themselves issuing a statement to this effect in print and in video. Or were things seen and overheard that would lead to the pair being openly rebuked for what they said?
One assumes that Todd Bentley would have said these things privately to people before Mr. Joyner sent his trail balloon to fly. Where are the retractions and apologies from Robert Ricciradelli, C. Peter Wagner and Stephen Strader, often cited as the most reliable sources that something like an affair (at least) was going on? One would think that even one apology would be trumpeted by Mr. Bentley, but there is silence so far.
The governing board of Todd's old Fresh Fire Ministries defined Todd Bentley's actions as "adultery" in an open e-mail last fall. Are they so conservative that they would define something harmless, conducted in the brain according to Mr. Bentley, as adultery. One assumes that Shonnah Bentley would know the most details. As her reformed ministry is under the guidance of Califormia pastor Bill Johnson (a friend of Mr. Bentley's, as noted above), the first Mrs. Bentley may well be under an-offer-she-can't-refuse kinds of pressure to smooth over her ex-husband's affairs. But she has let her statement, as part of the board, be.
Mr. Bentley's critics will argue that Mr. Bentley may be testing how credulous his audience is. If so, he may have some success, as I have read commentary from people who wouldn't believe that something was amiss unless Todd and Jessa had (speaking purely hypothetically out of respect to the two in case they were good) gone to Tampa Bay and consummated an affair on the 50 yard line during Bruce Springsteen's performance at the last Super Bowl.
Sorry but I am more sceptical. Puzzled too. If Mr. Joyner's account is correct, we have a Mr. Bentley who is very conservative on sexual questions that can lead to an affair, then a divorce. Following Christ's admonition that looking at a woman with lust is essentially the same as adultery, he even polices his thoughts. Not necessarily thoughts that are a problem, thoughts that could lead to thoughts that are a problem.
Then, following his separation, Mr. Bentley goes from being very conservative on these questions to quite liberal. A church leader should be the husband "of one wife"? Shrug. Christ notes that the Isralaelites were allowed to divorce as a concession to their sinful frailties? Yawn. Off to the Nevada marrying parlour!
This is not the same person before and after. We have no evidence that Todd Bentley came to an epiphany in his understanding of these manners which, if he had rethought matters so profoundly, should have been amongst the first things he has said. Unless, Mr. Bentley is considering his very conservative audience and trying to put the most positive spin on matters that is possible, sadly even if at variance with the facts.
If Todd and Jessa Bentley were innocent friends, I'd like to hear and see them say it. Their reputations are at stake and I myself would be indignant and wanting to clear my name if falsely accused.
One wonders if they would be that brave. Sadly, one must wonder if the appropriate word, instead, would be "brazen."