Thursday, July 16, 2009

Todd Bentley, Inc.

[Crossposted at The Shotgun Jan 2, 2009]

Canadian evangelist Todd Bentley once told an audience a few years ago that even before he became a born-again Christian he had the gift of gab—that he was “always good at speaking”. He put on a display last week, trying to explain away the collapse of his world-famous revival this past summer and his affair with a former intern. Those who understand Mr. Bentley’s history and theology, however, will likely find his explanations wanting.

Mr. Bentley fielded questions from Paul Steven Ghiringhelli, a writer for Charisma magazine. The reporter wanted some comments on a statement issued by the governing board of Fresh Fire Ministries, Mr. Bentley’s ministry, criticizing his affair as “adultery” and condemning his planned divorce from his wife Shonnah. Mr. Ghiringhelli deserves praise for getting Mr. Bentley to comment to the press for the first time in months, but his editors, posting the story on their website. were definitely trying to downplay Mr. Bentley’s remarks by implying that they were only reporting on the FFM statement (“Leaders of Todd Bentley’s Ministry Break Silence”) and by dropping his quotes to the second half of the story.

If we parse what Mr. Bentley has to say, it’s pretty scary. I’ll reproduce it here, and then offer what I hope is some useful background.

The relevant section of the article runs as follows:

On Tuesday, Bentley said there had been no sexual immorality between him and the former nanny. He claimed that for two years no “spark or interest” in the former staff member existed, and that the two developed only an emotional relationship several weeks after July 1, when Bentley filed for divorce.

He admitted, however, that the budding relationship was “absolutely” bad timing.

“I would call it an inappropriate relationship, in the sense that it was too soon, too quick, and should’ve never happened the way that it happened,” Bentley said. “Emotionally, she had stepped in to comfort me as a friend would.

“But I never left my wife to be with another woman,” he said. “There was nothing premeditated or inappropriate in my heart. I had never even entertained the idea that I liked this girl. It never went there.”

Claiming to have gone through years of counseling with his wife, Bentley said he is divorcing her over “irreconcilable differences.”

He denied disconnecting from his children and told Charisma he is in constant phone contact with them and plans to see them as soon as he sorts out issues with his visa.

Bentley said FFM let him review the letter before they made it public and that he was unhappy with portions of it. He said he felt the letter implied that the breakup of his marriage could be blamed on his relationship with his former nanny and the pressures of leading daily nonstop revival meetings in Lakeland.

“I have the utmost respect for my team in Canada and we have had a lot of years together,” he said. “[But] I’m not in agreement with my board on this. The point is, [the former nanny] wasn’t the cause. And I don’t want to blame Lakeland. I want to blame a bad marriage.”

Bentley said he is willing to take 100 percent responsibility for his actions and that he readily admits he’s guilty of doing a lot of things wrong over the years. “In a lot of ways, the ministry has been my mistress,” he said. “That did destroy my marriage. That I have to take responsibility for.”

….Bentley said he is still involved at an emotional level with his former nanny and soon plans to move to Joyner’s headquarters in Fort Mill, S.C., to “fully embrace a healing and restoration process.”

To begin, not only the board, but also Mr. Bentley’s friend, Ignited Church pastor Stephen Strader has said that the Mr. Bentley’s affair is apparently sexual. Before Mr. Bentley spoke to Charisma, he spoke to Strader. Pastor Strader, based on what Bentley told him, told his local paper that he agreed with the FFM board that what Bentley was doing was basically adultery.

People who have been following the evangelist will recall that three years ago he pulled himself off the road on the grounds that he had suffered a breakdown due to nervous exhaustion. He went into this in a full sermon-length message, which he sent to his contributors, describing his “dark night of the soul”. Left unmentioned in his message, however, was this was directly after a sexual affair with another staffer than the one we are mentioning now. Mr. Bentley was no doubt coming off the road in an attempt to save his marriage.

This has been remarked on twice. Once by Stephen Strader, immediately after Bentley left the revival, in the local newspaper.

Perhaps Pastor Strader was a source of information for C. Peter Wagner, a charismatic leader in the United States who wants Mr. Bentley to become one of his disciples. Mr. Wagner noted in a report on the revival in August that this first affair, during Mr, Bentley’s emotional “breakdown”, was sexual: “Their marriage has been torn for years by his emotional attachment with at least one other female whose physical contact went beyond hugging and kissing and holding hands. Enough said-maybe more details will be revealed later-but it was clearly immoral. All of this was skillfully concealed by lying and by swearing close associates who had observed his behavior to secrecy.”

It’s interesting that Bentley says that there was no “spark or interest” on his part for the intern. Really? Did he put safeguards in place, as many do, to ensure that nothing could come up that could threaten his marriage? If not, why not?

(One hopes that the lady in question does not take offense at the implication that Mr. Bentley was basically seduced, It takes two to tango.)

He couldn’t talk to the intern and another lady friend of his at the same time, so that they could both comfort him in a purely sisterly way ? (Someone who had fallen into an affair in the past would particularly want to be careful here.)

As I have noted, there is nothing preventing Mr. Bentley, a Canadian citizen, born in Canada, from being in Canada right now to be near his kids. The visa “issues” relate to re-entry into the United States, a big source of revenue for the evangelist. Does he have personal assets in the United States that he must access in person, such as, perhaps, safety deposit boxes in a bank stuffed with cash (that his wife may not know about)?

Mr. Bentley’s remarks, however, are troubling to someone who is a charismatic Christian, as he professes to be. Citing years of counseling, and a bad marriage as a reason to divorce, does not jibe with the account of the marriage in Mr. Bentley’s autobiography, Journey Into The Miraculous.

Mr. Bentley writes that his wife-to-be, Shonnah Andres, initially saw him as just a friend. Furthermore, she was interested in another fellow, and thought, after prayer, that she would marry this other man.

Then, Todd had a “vision from God”:

“…the Lord had actually shown me an open vision of Shonnah. It was my first open-eyed vision. I was in my living room and my fireplace opened up, kind of like a TV screen, and I saw us embracing in a wheat field that was ready for harvest. We were both weeping and I was wearing a tux and she was wearing a wedding dress. As the vision unfolded, her friend Roswetta (who was now my friend) was talking with me in the living room about Shonnah. I described the open vision to her as it happened. The presence of the Lord fell and we both wept. Roswetta said, ‘I can’t see it but I can feel goose bumps.’ During this vision, I also received an anointing of creativity, poetry and writing. In fact, I even received a three-page prophetic poem that I read at our wedding. I still write prophetic poems for my wife to this day.”

Shonnah’s friend then went off to tell her about the vision. Shonnah gradually fell in love with Bentley and they married.

Charismatics sometimes make decisions partly based on what they think the Lord is telling them. Ladies in charismatic churches sometimes need to tell ardent suitors who say, “The Lord has shown me that you are to be my wife!” something like “Well, I’m sure that he will ‘tell’ me too and he hasn’t said anything yet!”

What disturbs me about the account in the book is this. Mr. Bentley is alleging that he received special direction from the Lord to marry his wife, moreover, that he received special help from God to enable him to show love to her. If I were Bentley, I would be frightened to fly in the face of this alleged vision by pursuing a divorce. Would he not be going against the revealed will of God in what he is said to have seen…if we assume this vision actually took place?

Mr. Bentley is acting like this vision never took place, or is wrong. This poses a serious logical problem for the evangelist.

If the vision never took place, what other visions has he made up? He's had some doozies, which I won't get into here.

If the vision never took place, did he use his fib to prevent Shonnah from having God’s best for her life? What kind of selfish person would you have to be to do something like that?

This poses a problem for how he does his ministry as well. Many times, Mr. Bentley has explained how he often does ministry. Supposedly, he prays and tries to foresee what God will do at his upcoming meeting. In a vision, God will show him the faces of people, or tell him their names, or show him where they will be sitting in the meeting and then reveal extra information such as what their sickness is, or a special message from God for them.

If Mr. Bentley misread what he thought God was saying, this implies that in a “big question” that he can be horribly misled in hearing from God. Someone with terminal cancer, wanting healing prayer from Mr. Bentley, would certainly want to be able to put confidence in him being able to hear from God, especially if they were going to make medical decisions partly based on what he said.

If Mr. Bentley makes up what he says that God shows him, or uses the technique of “cold reading” to give those who come forward for prayer what they want to hear, that would certainly reflect on his character in a bad way.

If Mr. Bentley is to return to ministry, those counseling him will need to make sure that he has the character to be honest, and not to spin tales out of whole cloth. Alas, he has developed a demonstrated tendency of playing fast and loose with the truth and this must be addressed if he is to do good works.