Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mr. Bentley enters his rehab

[Crossposted at The Shotgun, March 14, 2009]

At last, new trophy wife in tow, Todd Bentley, the Canadian evangelist who has been having many problems over the past year (to put it lightly) has entered rehabilitation. Over seven months after the collapse of his internationally famous revival in the U.S., he has at last gotten around to going to North Carolina to come under the mentoring of charismatic leader Rick Joyner. Mr. Joyner is to help him return to ministry. Yet, already, in the annoucements and videos that are coming out with Mr. Bentley, there's more backspin than at a convention of billiards players evident, which is not a good omen for those hoping that Mr. Bentley can return to his work with integrity and a good character.    

As videos began to be released a couple of days ago, there was a flurry of commentary and a bit of news coverage. Blogger Miriam Franklin has already weighed in with several pointed critical posts on Mr. Joyner and Mr. Bentley. I'd defintely agree with her on one point she has made, namely that people are concentrating too much on Mr. Bentley's divorce and quickie remarriage to Jessa, whose affair with the evangelist seems to be the proxinate cause of the "Lakeland revival". Not so. The affair was a symptom not a cause. That is to say, Mr. Bentley had a character problem that exhibited itself in lying from the pulpit about, for example, raising people from the dead. There were some aberrant, heretical things being said and done at Lakeland. And he was canoodling with a younger, prettier intern while his wife was either watching the kids or taking the pulpit herself to promote what her husband was doing. Marrying Jessa will likely not fix what leads to these sorts of actions.

My blogging friend Bene Diction makes an excellent point in a post that notes that many prominent charismatic groups and churches are slumping in the amount of people that are logging on to their sites. This relates to several things that I have been seeing on The Elijah List, an e-list that caters to charismatics, to the effect that people with alleged prophetic insight are commenting that God will bring Christians through the current economic woes, or bless them in amazing ways financially. There are reports of layoffs at ministries, and the tone of requests for donations has been stepped up. All this backs up Bene Diction's suspicion that there may be a lot of pressure to get Bentley out on the road prematurely so, as the "star" of the "Lakeland revival", he can start to draw the crowds again.

Mr. Joyner's first letter, announcing that Bentley and new wife had arrived, also noted that Mr. Bentley has a new ministry, Fresh Fire USA, which is organized under Mr. Joyner's own ministry for now. Those wanting to help Mr. Bentley were offered Fresh Fire USA's address. So, I had to smile when religion editor Frank Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat, on his religious news blog, titled his note on Mr. Bentley's restoration process: "Sorry about the adultery. Please send $$$" . 

Charisma, the magazine of record for charismatic Christians in the U.S., is covering this too. Their own story has an intestesting note. At the tail end of Bentley's time in Florida, a team of charismatic leaders and ministers lead by C. Peter Wagner held a special commissioning service for Bentley which was broadcast worldwide via Internet, in which the "Revival Alliance" members predicted that Bentley would go from success to success. They welcomed Bentley as a member of their group and even gave him a special ring, but Charisma's story quotes Revival Alliance member John Arnott (known for pastoring the "Toronto Blessing" in the 1990s) as saying that Bentley is no longer considered a "member in good standing" of their group. Mr. Wagner and Mr. Arnott revealed some of Bentley's misdeeds in the aftermath of his leaving the revival, so Mr. Bentley has evidently decided to form alliances with those who are more sympathtic to him, such as Mr. Joyner.

Mr. Joyner features in another Charisma item as well. Charisma editor J. Lee Grady, in his latest column,  is disgusted with the rush to bring Bentley back too quickly, calling it a "travesty". Mr. Grady is righteously indignant, but what I find telling is Mr. Joyner's response. He writes, in part:

Lee, I love some of the things you write, but I also feel that some are straight from the mouth of the accuser.

I'll need to translate this for non-Christians. Mr. Joyner is referring to Revelation 12:10 which mentions that Satan is the "accuser of the brethren" (i.e. christians). So, what Mr. Joyner is saying here is that Mr. Grady, editor of a charismatic Christian magazine, is channeling Satan, basically.

It should go without saying that if you are a professing Christian, one of the worst possible insults that you could use would be to say that your opponent is being used by the devil as a ventriliquist dummy.

One would think that "fighting dirty" would be abhorrent for a Christian such as Mr. Joyner.

Mr. Joyner, as the conservative site  Apologetics Index notes has a history of doing other things that would raise the eyebrows of many Christians. He has a reputation of being "prophetic" and having special insight from the Lord, but non-Christian sceptics would no doubt be amused that he occasionally sees through a glass very darkly, such as his prediction of Los Angeles being levelled by an earthquake and nuclear bombs in the 1990s.

Mr. Joyner's occasiional intemperance, as exhibited in his response to Mr. Grady, may also be shown in one of his famous prohetic words, in his book The Final Quest, about the "Blues and the Grays". He predicts a coming civil war in Christianity, with the winning side (of which Mr. Joyner is a part, of course) defeats the Christians who have been misled by Satan being defeated and removed from their positions of authority in the church.  We must "remove the cancer from our midst" he writes in his book. (I wonder, given the violence waged between Christians in history, and in our own time, whether it is appropriate to share these sorts of visions in public. Certainly, Christians should "contend for the faith", but so sadly, they do not need encouragment to turn to violence in the direst of circumstances.)

I note these things and note that Mr. Bentley, when not kneeing cancer victims in the stomach, has often delighted in telling his audiences about times that he has kicked old ladies in the head with his biker boot and such. (As I write, some of these stories are preserved on YouTube.) Amongst the fruits of the Holy Spirit that should be exhibited by an evangelist such as Mr. Bentley are meekness, gentleness and self-control. I have to ask whether Mr. Bentley's mentor, Mr. Joyner, would be effective in advising him here when Mr. Joyner himself--this week--accuses his opponents of speaking on Satan's behalf, and cherishes visions of winning a "war in the church". Yes, often the flawed have to help the flawed, but this is not promising. 

On to the videos that have been released to explain Mr. Bentley's rehabilitation process. The first video from Mr. Joyner's ministry has Mr. Bentley himself as a guest. I'm posting a copy of most of the first video that has been saved on YouTube in case the videos start to disappear from Mr. Joyner's own website:

Some things that jump out at me:

1. You'll notice that Mr. Bentley is full of talk of mistakes and errors, but never mentions the word "sin". Even Jimmy Swaggart had the grace to cry "I have sinned," when he next appeared before the public after he sinned.

Not that people would demand a pound of flesh, of course. But talk of sin and sinning would indicate that Mr. Bentley is a lot more serious about making things right than his critics think that he is. The evangelist already has the problem that it took him over half a year to begin this supposedly important process, so he needs to be seen to be taking it seriously.

2. I don't really believe that in an age of fax, e-mail and videoconferencing that it was impossible for Mr. Bentley to be working on his visa appeal with the U.S. custonms officials while moving to North Carolina. I'm sure that it is done all the time for compassionate reasons, for example. I sincerely doubt that it would be impossible as Mr. Bentley implies.

3. As a Canadian, I am a little dismayed to hear Mr. Bentley say this:

"....Shonnah's doing everything she can to help with my immigration process...."

It would appear that Mr. Bentley is tring to become a landed immigrant or even a U.S. citizen. No points for guessing that his marriage to Jessa was designed to help with this.

If we grant for a moment that Mr. Bentley's faith, giftings and burden to convert non-Christians are valid, this is sad. Yes, Canadian christians have been moving to the U.S. to pursue their calling since Aimee Semple McPherson, but the United States already has so many ministers and so much resources. If Mr. Bentley is who he says he is, the church in Canada needs  people like him. Of course, his critics would say that Mr. Bentley should not let the door hit him on the behind as he leaves Canada. But the need is acute. If Mr. Bentley's style of faith-healing evangelism is what is needed, then it is particularly sad that he never devoted much effort to the nearest major city to where he lived, Vancouver. (The last time that he himself ministered in the city was at a medium sized church over five years ago.)

Of course, Mr. Benley's citics could question how committed Mr. Bentley was committed to "revival" in Canada's cities and towns in the  first place, based on his decision to move.

4. Mr. Bentley, 7:30 into the video, starts talking about how he dealt with problems as an unsaved teenager:

"....That old [sin] nature in you is when you hurt someone, you just want to give up and run away from the whole thing. That's how I dealt with pain as I grew up as a child. If I was hurt or rejected or I disappointed my mother or disappointed my father, I just packed up and moved to the next town. When I burned all the bridges there, I just packed up and moved. This time we want to deal with everything square in the face...."

Let's follow his logic. Mr. Bentley says that it is sinful, or at least immature, to deal with problems by running away from them. This is after he has divorced his wife and not only "packed up and moved to the next town" but moved to the next country. He has "burned all his bridges" with his ex-wife, turning in for a new model, instead of "dealing with everything square in the face" of Shonnah Bentley, his first wife.

How can you teach someone to stand and deal with their problems when they have just run away from most of them? What is preventing Todd Bentley from packing up and giving up on Mr. Joyner's restoration process when by implication, spending the past few months running from everything that is painful to deal with is quite all right?

Did Mr. Joyner even try to persuade Mr. Bentley to stay with his wife and kids and stay in Canada? 

5. An offhand remark of Mr. Bentley's at the 8:55 mark will raise some eyebrows:   

"There's so much that I've learned on all this. There's triumph. There's tragedy. And, you know, there'll be a message. Ther'll be a whole series of messages...."

Tragedy I can understand. Triumph? The only triumph that there would be is Christ somehow cleaning up the pig's breakfast that the evangelist has made, but the "restoration process" has only just started. Rather, are we seeing a "triumph of the will" specifically Todd Bentley's will? He got the wife he wanted. He got the parenting situation that worked best for him. He got a very sympathetic mentor to counsel him. He has a lot that he wants, and that might not be good for him.

Watching this video may bring a sense that Mr. Bentley is not being asked to be serious about his mistakes. This is an unease that is shared, according to Cary McMullen of the Lakeland Ledger newspaper, who has done a lot of great reporting on Mr. Bentley's revival and its aftermath. In a post on the reaction to the plans to restore Mr. Bentley in "Pentecostal circles", McMullen notes that many  seem to fear that "this is just further evidence that Bentley and his supporters are frauds".

Mr. Bentley and Mr. Joyner have their work cut out for them. If they are truly wanting to do the right thing, there is a lot of scepticism to deal with. Well-founded scepticism, I am afraid.