Friday, July 02, 2010

Sorry about the adultery, please send us money

[Originally posted at Bene Diction Blogs On, Oct. 22, 2009]

Earlier this month, evangelist Todd Bentley wheeled out his heavy artillery. He is still being assailed by those who think that his divorce, and remarriage to his former intern and nanny Jessa Bentley. So, amongst the latest batch of videos is Personal Thoughts From Jessa Bentley, featuring Todd Bentley, Wife number Two and Rick Joyner

(To help in following along on this post, here is the full video, which Joyner calls Jessa Tells Her story on his website:

The full video on Todd Bentley’s website is called “Personal thoughts from Jessa Bentley”. As I write it is the top video on his public videos page.

If those videos disappear, here is a highlights video as posted on YouTube

Rick Joyner and Todd Bentley make use of an old PR agents trick. Don’t want the media to report on the video? Release it either one day before the weekend including a stat holiday or on the actual holiday itself. (Columbus Day in the U.S. and Canada’s Thanksgiving.)

Those with a fondness for bloopers might be able to spot Joyner calling Jessa by the name of Todd Bentley’s first wife, Shonnah, twice. But what they are trying to pull off in this video is perhaps not as amusing.

Rick Joyner begins by citing the Biblical story of David and Bathsheba, “one of the most deplorable things in the Scripture”. However, he adds, despite the infamy of the sin, “David repented and God restores him, didn’t make him quit being king or anything.” Joyner adds, “There was a terrible price to pay…”

The implication is clear. Todd, likewise, is a “man after God’s own heart” who is paying a “terrible price”, but is not to be removed from ministry.

We can be glad that God is gracious and forgives, as the story of David shows, but isn’t it an act of great hubris to compare oneself to him after a great fall?

Have Todd and Jessa paid a “terrible price”?. Aside from fielding derision from Christians, not really. Todd can afford vacations. There are no indications that either of the pair has had to start working at a real job. The only “price” that they have had to pray is that Todd is not working at full bore as a famous evangelist and that people disapprove of what he has done. Poor baby.

Joyner reminds us that Bathsheba was the mother of Solomon, leading Jessa to exclaim “Wow.” We’ll see no problems with excessive humility amongst her kids, I am sure. (Shonnah’s kids? Not being from the relationship that started out as adultery, they get a “Thank you for playing and here’s a lovely copy of our home game…” as the game show host shoos them off stage.)

(If I were Jessa, I wouldn’t want anyone citing an overt act of Biblical adultery in the context of starting to talk about me. But that would be having “sense”, which Joyner is about to assure us that she has in bucketfuls…)

Joyner adds that people who meet Jessa say that:

“This is the most perfect girl that I could ever imagine for Todd. She’s rooted and grounded and has sense. Not that you don’t (looks at Todd and chuckles), but an amazing thing…”

Let’s recall, for a moment, Todd Bentley’s remarks about the vision that led to his marrying the former Shonnah Andres, as recorded in the various editions of his autobiography:

“…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.”

If God knew that Jessa Hasbrook, then a little girl, would wind up being “perfect” for Todd, then why didn’t He tell him to wait and not marry Shonnah? Could God have gotten it spectacularly wrong? Why did He help him marry the “non-perfect woman”. (One can guess that Todd has a lot more fun being an evangelist than being a husband and dad, so why didn’t the Lord tell Bentley to wait?

The truth may well be that this vision was a lie. Bentley has never explained why he is doing what he is doing if that vision was real. This video might have been a good opportunity to, but he doesn’t bother to take advantage of it. Joyner:

“I can imagine that it is going to be uncomfortable for Shonnah, I mean to meet Jessa…I so appreciate her courage in saying ‘We gotta do this…"

How accurate would his assessment of her character be if he doesn’t know her name?

Jessa took the floor. She is 26 and hails from Sacramento, California. This would explain all the Nessie-like sightings of the pair in the area before Todd entered the restoration process. They were probably hanging out with her family. She is part-Korean—Bentley mentions his new wife’s Korean family on his Twitter feed—so if they are not very fluent in English, awkward questions would be easy to deflect.

Jessa said that she and Todd have been friends starting in 2007, when he came to Sacramento to work at a conference.

We became pretty good friends. We met through ministry. He came through Sacramento and did a conference and I did the book table. And through there we just started a relationship with other members of the church...

“We”, in this context, refers to Jessa and Todd. Isn’t it odd that she would develop a “relationship” with another woman’s husband with members of the church. What sort of friendship was this? Did they hang out together at the church?

She interned at Fresh Fire Ministries. “I wanted to have my own ministry” she said, “to learn about ministry. She hoped to learn how FFM had developed and grown to help her own work.

How better to develop her own ministry by making herself an indispensable part of another? Especially when Shonnah Bentley is a homebody and not interested in participating in what drives Todd Bentley and is crucial to him?

Did the gears start to turn in her mind a couple of years ago?

Joyner asks her how the relationship started. (Jessa tends to speak in run on sentences, so that is how I will be quoting her.)

…I was doing the book table and the partners stuff, so I was always at the [Lakeland] meetings, I knew that Shonnah and Todd were working through some issues that happened a few years ago and anyone who was involved with Fresh Fire and were friends with Todd knew that they were working through their marriage, that it wasn’t perfect, but that they were working towards that. But when Lakeland happened, you could see that it started to crumble…

Jessa is going off the page here. Todd has maintained throughout that Lakeland did not wreck his marriage. She undercuts him by saying that either something happened at Lakeland or the revival itself made the marriage crumble.

She continues.
…It wasn’t getting better, it was starting to get worse in the midst of the revival and Todd was preaching every night and travelling a lot and doing the best he can to hold together the marriage. But when it broke, he broke. Basically he crumbled and fell apart.

Todd interrupts:
The public didn’t know that Shonnah and I had separated.

She continues:
Yeah, you guys got separated. This was all behind the scenes and this wasn’t obviously in the public [eye] where everybody knew. This was behind the scenes. So when it broke, that’s when he started to not preach every night to take some personal time to himself…

Let’s pause for a moment to parse this.

Todd Bentley was continually in Lakeland. He had hoped to get to the “travelling a lot” phase after Lakeland, but he only went to two or three places during the revival to preach.

Todd, it turns out, was hiding the fact from the worldwide audience that he had separated from his wife. “Obviously”, if the public had known, the revival would have immediately collapsed. Save the revival. Be quiet about it.

It was only then that he started to take breaks from preaching. If Todd was so necessary to the revival, why did he not see the collapse of his marriage as an attack from the devil. If everyone knew about it, they would withdraw from Lakeland as he was.

It logically follows that anything contributing to the further collapse of the marriage could be Satan’s doing as well--to stop the revival—per the hyper-charismatic mindset that Todd Bentley frequents. Like a divorce, a new girlfriend and a second wife. He couldn’t return to the stage at Lakeland and say, “This is my new girlfriend.”

Jessa continues.
He forgot what he wanted to do. And there was a group of us—there were always about 3 or 4 of us—that would hang out with Todd either during the meetings or after the meetings and talk with him because the leaders over the meetings were already at the meetings or in Canada. So he didn’t have a lot of those people to really go to.

Todd interrupts:
Everyone was so busy…

Oh really?

Then why does Stephen Strader, in his book on the Lakeland revival, say that the wanted to meet with Todd and help him and pray with him, but wasn’t able to because of Todd’s handlers.

We also recall Todd mentioning in his webinar that he even was meeting with a professional marriage counselor. Isn’t helping someone with the fallout of their marriage something that counselors do?

We also recall Todd mentioning in his recent webinar that he was constantly with partners, friends and ministers. He could trust none of them with what he was going through? Ministers have no experience in counseling and no Biblical wisdom that they can use to help Todd?

Hmm. Perhaps it may be more truthful to say that the circumstances were such that if he had taken their counseling, they would have also said. “Look, you’re doing Shonnah a dirty. Smarten up.” I don’t know the circumstances, but it seems odd that he would drop the advice of adults and turn to a small group of young people. Unless he wanted counselors who unconditionally accepted his side of the story and lionized him.

Jessa continues.
Yeah and everyone was so busy trying to keep the revival going, trying to keep it out of the public until Todd figured out what he was going to do, what he was gonna do with Shonnah, and when all that was happening, you know, as Todd was crumbling. It was hard for me to see, as he was a leader that I respected, a leader that I honoured, and a leader that I loved and had gleaned a lot from. As I said, I was in the internship, I was on staff and he was someone I really valued.

To see him crumble and fall apart was hard for me to see. At the time, in our group, I was the only girl most of the time. There were other girls. He was weeping a lot, he was crying out to God and praying and when there was a group of us, there were a lot of guys and not a lot of them were there to comfort him when they needed it ‘cause they were men and men don’t take well to vulnerability so…

Todd interrupts:
I’ll share with my buddies. I’ll talk it through…

Jessa continues:
It was so easy just to be there for him…

(Yes, I am sure it was. And only you, and no pair or group of women could do it…)

Jessa continues:
It was so easy just to be there for him and yeah, I’d hold him when he cried. Well there were other people there. No one else knew what to do and I wasn’t going to walk away from that. There was nobody there for him, really except the few of us, you know. And so, I held him one night when he cried. I listened to him when he cried over his marriage, when he cried over his ministry, and he cried over himself.

So if Todd got some hugs from some guys, he would still be married to Shonnah.

In the message that I heard from Shonnah Bentley, she seems like a longsuffering person. Anyone who would let you stay married to them after an extramarital affair in 2005 is very patient. There would have to be an incident, a proximate cause for Shonnah to pack up and leave.

Yet, later on, in the video, Todd mentions that *he* hired a lawyer, *he* filed for divorce and such. Why would he be so sad if the divorce was his idea?

We could guess that Shonnah was tired of Todd being at the revival and said “I’m leaving. You love the revival more than me…” Then, “one night”, Jessa “holds” Bentley when he cries, perhaps to be spotted by Shonnah.

It could be something like Todd choosing to stick with the Lakeland revival…and a pretty girl who likes the revival too and always takes his side.

She continues:
I was there listening to him and through that, there was something that did spark, but not until after—they were already separated—not until after the divorce filings were already in process.

Todd interrupts;
The public didn’t know that I was in the process and a lot of my staff didn’t know. They knew that we were separated but even that was hidden and they didn’t know that I had been in contact with a lawyer. I wasn’t divorced, but I was in the process.

So you were filing for divorce during the Lakeland revival…saying, in public that Christ could heal the sick and raise the dead and, in private, that He couldn’t fix your marriage?

You wonder why Todd didn’t see this as a threat from the devil to stop his part in the “revival” if not the revival itself. If he did, why did he co-operate with the devil’s scene. Someone who used to sell teaching tapes and CDs on the subject of “spiritual warfare” seems to have been blindsided.

Jessa continues (emphasis added) ,
What I do want to say in all this is when it was happening and I and Todd did spark a relationship, even though Todd was getting a divorce and Todd was already separated, it was still wrong for us to have anything romantic REGARDLESS IF ANYTHING PHYSICAL HAPPENED OR NOT that emotional line that we crossed I think was wrong. It was a sin. I think it was a mistake. I missed it. I don’t regret having a relationship with Todd and marrying him, but I do want to repent of the mistakes, the sins that we created along the way.

Contrary to what has been reported on the ‘net, Jessa is not admitting to a physical act of adultery. But neither do we have a Bill Clinton sort of statement here. (“I did *not* have sexual relations with…”) Can she make one?

Viewers of the video might think it odd that Jessa has a nervous smile throughout this part of the video. Even Todd had the sense to at least pretend to choke up a couple of times in the video. (Perhaps this is the closest to an ingratiating Southern belle that you can do nowadays. “I’m so sorry for that li’l ol’ act of adultery…*bats eyes*, *flutters fan*)

Jessa is learning quickly. She is apologizing for whatever you want her to apologize for. Todd admitted to at least an emotional affair to his old board—but they called it “adultery”—so she has to at least acknowledge that. If you think that she did adultery, she’s sorry for that without explicitly stating as much, which will help Todd to get bookings in more conservative churches without her being turned away at the door.

Not that we want to know the gory details, but as a Bene Diction Blogs On commenter discovered recently, if you call Todd Bentley, he will say there was no adultery. If you call his old ministry, they will tell you there was. For the historical record, and for judging who is telling the truth (and thereby judging the character of their ministries), it would be good to know whether physical adultery took place.

My guess? It did.

There is a Biblical ground for wanting some information. After all, you read that David and Bathsheba committed adultery, not that “David sinned grievously”. You read that Paul hated Christians before his conversion and wanted to kill them and you don’t just start with the Damascus road account.

Jessa continues.
I want to ask your forgiveness for being deceived, for allowing things to happen that should never have happened. Todd and I should have waited 6 months to a year after his divorce, not during…

I want people to know that I wasn’t just walking blindly through the whole mess, like ‘Oh whatever”…I want to say that part of the time I was deceived and I did make excuses to justify it and I did try to say that this was right. In hindsight I look back and recognize that it was wrong period.

What leads her to conclude that she is no longer misguided?

Let’s assume, for a moment, that the Christians who argue that there should be no divorce and no remarriage if divorce happens. Judging by some of the reaction on the Internet, a lot of would-be Todd fans feel this way and he would have to make allowances for their beliefs if he intends to get their support again.

What is preventing Todd and Jessa from remaining legally married but starting all over again—dating but not living together—seeking the Lord and wise counsel in a courtship process for a time before living together as man and wife? If a six month to a year delay would have been much better, why not “take one”. Appealing to the “you can’t unscramble an egg” argument won’t satisfy the most conservative Christian critics.

If Todd was so howlingly wrong about Shonnah Bentley—guess he made up that vision—why is he sure that he is so right about Jessa. Wouldn’t a step back help with that too?

Perhaps this is too conservative a suggestion, but what would acting like they should have delayed for up a year look for the new couple if they believed that and didn’t just say it?

Todd adds his two cents:
I knew and nobody else really know—and I had communicated with Shonnah. This had been going on for three years with Shonnah and I, it wasn’t just I met another woman and decided ‘I want a divorce.” You know, in the midst of my separation. In the midst of my ‘I’m gonna get a divorce’, I let myself, in my vulnerability, I nurtured a relationship that should have never happened the way that it happened. One thing that people need to realize that Shonnah and forgiven me and that Shonnah has forgiven Jessa….Other people are more upset than my family is.

It’s funny that Shonnah remains so quiet. Would a brief statement from her help Todd. Unless Todd’s lawyer’s negotiated a property settlement in the divorce that trades property for silence. (Has Todd Bentley reportedly offered “hush money” to his critics in the past?)

If she does forgive her ex-husband—would Shonnah be a moral authority on the appropriateness of divorce and remarriage? A theologian of some kind?

Todd continues.
When you’ve lost a marriage, when you’ve lost love and intimacy ministry doesn’t matter any more nothing matters. You don’t want to keep something together when you lose that intimacy and we lost that and we couldn’t get it back. People say ‘You didn’t try’…we couldn’t get it back.

So Christ could resurrect anything in Lakeland—“31 people raised from the dead!” –except Todd’s marriage?

I gave up. Two people gave up. But I have it now and now because of what I have with Jessa, I’ll never let it go and now I am ready for what God has for me.

So feelings are the most important thing in a relationship? But Todd was convinced due to that vision in his book that Shonnah was the one. God even helped him write love poetry for songs for Shonnah, through Todd, by the Holy Spirit. Did all that mean nothing?

Todd continues:
It’s cost me my entire family, my ministry, my repu (sic)—Nobody did that to me. Not anybody in Canada. Not a leader. Me. My sin cost me. And you don’t see it all at the time. You think it’s going to be easier, it’s going to be a bed of roses. You have no idea…

Yes Todd, “you have no idea” is an apt thing to say.

Rick Joyner concludes the video with a couple of observations on the story of David and Bathsheba, inviting the viewer to suspect that Todd has ever been as godly as David was on his best days. He neglects to notice that this portion of the Bible is more “descriptive’ than “prescriptive”

Evidently, you are supposed to be satisfied by the video as an ad for Bentley’s webinar on the 22nd is superimposed on the screen.

Joyner adds. “We also appreciate Shonnah and the incredible grace…that girl deserves to be a right hander or a left hander in heaven…(i.e. sitting On Jesus’ right or left hand.)

This is an interesting observation as Todd’s thesis that his marriage couldn’t be saved depends on bother parties being equally responsible for the break up. Shonnah being painted as incredibly godly makes the divorce seem almost all Todd’s fault. Which it was, but Joyner shouldn’t want anyone to think that.

Todd Bentley hopes against hope that this video will work, but if I can find his autographed and personally inscribed book (“Candy…”) at Value Village a couple of days after this video was released, evidently unread, he's going to have his work cut out for him in getting back in the public's good books.

Christians can differ on the subject of whether the Bible allows divorce and remarriage. Bet dollars for doughnuts that Todd Bentley eventually finds in that overdue theological statement delayed by workouts, and trips to amusement parks and to watch the Yankees play that both are okay.

Writing this post inspired me to open a very useful book on this subject: Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (IVP, 1990).

Although I am not opening that debate in this post, I thought that some observations by J. Carl Laney, who argues for no divorce and no remarriage in this book, are very useful for another reason. Mr. Laney makes an interesting point that marriage is intended in the Bible to be a very covenantal thing.

He writes:
"What is marriage anyway? While many have thought of it merely as a legal agreement, the Bible reveals that the marriage union involves much more. Based on our study, marriage could be defined as God’s act of joining a man and a woman in a permanent, covenanted, on-flesh relationship."

“The Bible calls marriage a “covenant” (Mal 2:14; Prov 2:17) and God is not in the business of breaking covenant relationships…God’s Word instructs that “a man shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” (Numbers 30:2) NASB). Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 warns of God’s displeasure toward those who make a vow they refuse to keep. Psalm 15:4 highlights the priority of faithfulness to one’s word in spite of the personal cost.”

“Marriage is built on a promise made before God, friends and family members. Perhaps promise-keeping is the key issue of the doctrine of the permanence of marriage…..”

Dating back eight years ago to when I was covering him for the Report newsmagazines…there is abundant evidence that Todd Bentley has often resorted to lying. He played fast and loose with the truth at Lakeland as well.

Can we expect that someone who has made a lifetime’s practice of not keeping a promise to be true and faithful would not be true to his marriage? Could we not instead have feared and predicted that that would happen?

Wouldn’t you have expected that if he broke faith with his audience that he might break faith with Shonnah as well?

It remains an undercurrent in discussion of Bentley that he has proven to be a false person in the past. Why hasn’t Joyner addressed this in the many videos that he and Bentley have made?

“Trust me” talk won’t work with Todd Bentley anymore.

Thank God.

[My headline is adapted from an aside by religion editor Frank Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat who, on his religious news blog when the videos started appearing, titled his note on Mr. Bentley's restoration process: "Sorry about the adultery. Please send $$$” So thanks, and credit, to him.]