Faith healer Todd Bentley separates from wife, draws criticism from charismatics
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--With controversial faith healer Todd Bentley announcing that he is separating from his wife, charismatic leaders J. Lee Grady and Stephen Strang have reacted by saying someone should have raised questions about Bentley earlier.
Grady, editor of the popular charismatic magazine Charisma, said the way thousands celebrated Bentley despite his moral and theological shortcomings demonstrated a lack of discernment that pervades the charismatic movement.
"We're spiritually hungry -- which can be a good thing," Grady wrote in an Aug. 13 column. "But sometimes hungry people will eat anything."
Bentley, who led a heavily publicized revival in Lakeland, Fla., beginning this spring, announced in a statement Aug. 12 that he and his wife Shonnah were separating. The staff of Bentley's Fresh Fire Ministries said "an atmosphere of fatigue and stress" created by the daily revival meetings "exacerbated existing issues in [his marriage]," according to Charisma. On Aug. 15, the board of Fresh Fire released a statement saying it had learned Bentley had been involved in "an unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff." The statement said Bentley had agreed to "to refrain from all public ministry for a season to receive counsel in his personal life."
Bentley and his wife had been attending counseling for the past three years, but the counseling was suspended for the last four months while Bentley was away from his home in Abbottsford, British Columbia, Charisma reported. The Bentleys have three children.
Bentley is known for his multiple body piercings and tattoos, his violent healing techniques, his claims of angelic visions and "holy" laughter and "holy" vibrating shakes. He even claims to have raised dozens of people from the dead.
Bentley claims to be visited regularly by angels, including a 20-foot-tall angel in his apartment on one occasion and on another occasion an angel that knocked him out of his body. One angel's name supposedly is Emma. Bentley also says that Jesus Himself appears to him.
Charismatic leaders who endorsed Bentley, Grady wrote, should have known better than to thrust him into the spotlight prematurely and owe the public an apology.
"Many of us would rather watch a noisy demonstration of miracles, signs and wonders than have a quiet Bible study," Grady wrote. "Yet we are faced today with the sad reality that our untempered zeal is a sign of immaturity. Our adolescent craving for the wild and crazy makes us do stupid things. It's way past time for us to grow up."
God TV, the network that televised the Lakeland revival meetings, is particularly blameworthy because it told viewers in a pre-revival segment that "any criticism of Todd Bentley is demonic," Grady wrote, adding that the network's hosts also warned listeners that if they listened to criticism of Bentley, they could lose their healings.
"This is cultic manipulation at its worst," Grady wrote.
Though America needs true revival, any leaders who wholeheartedly endorsed Bentley promoted heresy rather than revival, according to Grady.
"Godly leaders are supposed to protect the sheep from heresy," he wrote, "not spoon feed deception to them. Only God knows how far this poison traveled from Lakeland to take root elsewhere. May God forgive us for allowing His Word to be so flippantly contaminated."
Charisma publisher Stephen Strang also took aim in a column at Bentley and those who supported him. Strang said the charismatic leaders to whom Bentley submitted himself in an accountability relationship -- John Arnott, Ché Ahn and Bill Johnson -- "should have seen it coming." He listed several indications that Bentley's ministry was not of God.
"Anyone who is in services 4 to 6 hours a day, 7 days a week for weeks on end is bound to have some type of breakdown," Strang wrote. "Anyone who covers himself with tattoos while in the ministry raises questions about his stability.
"Anyone who talks about the 'Angel of the Healing Revival' that ministered to A.A. Allen and William Branham must have overlooked the fact that Allen and Branham both were discredited with moral shortcomings. Anyone who baptizes people in the name of the Father, the Son 'and BAM' is playing lightly with the Holy Spirit and is bordering on blasphemy."
While God uses flawed men to do his work, Christians must hold spiritual leaders to the highest standards of conduct, Strang wrote.
"Perhaps some of the problems would have been prevented if men had spoken into Bentley's life several months ago," he wrote. "As good as it is to have an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff to help the injured, it is much better to have a fence at the top of the cliff to prevent someone from going over."
Chad Brand, professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said that while all denominations within Christianity have been touched by divorce, the charismatic movement is particularly susceptible to overlooking its leaders' moral failures.
Brand is the editor of "Perspectives on Spirit Baptism," a book detailing the charismatic and non-charismatic views of baptism in the Holy Spirit. He published several additional papers and articles on issues related to the charismatic movement.
"There is a dynamic that makes charismatic leader situations sometimes treated differently, and it is partly tied to the very term, 'charismatic,'" Brand said. "Because this person is perceived to have charismatic power or anointing, his or her failure in marriage is often easily forgiven and overlooked. So, while in many traditions, a divorce for a pastor or key leader means a loss of prestige or influence, it is not necessarily the case in charismatic circles.
"John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio divorced his wife of 15 years in 1975 and the next year remarried, but his ministry and influence only grew in the years after that. Richard Roberts, son of Oral Roberts, also divorced his first wife after 11 years of marriage, and 10 months later remarried. Paula White and her husband Randy divorced last year. It was Paula White's second marriage. While these divorces have had ramifications for their ministries, in every case the ministry only flourished afterwards. In most other evangelical traditions, the impact of divorce has been more deeply felt by the ministers in question."
More important than focusing on Bentley's marital difficulties is noting the fact that he is a false teacher, Brand said.
"We do not know all the details of Bentley's marital situation, and so we should withhold judgment on that matter," he said. "What is plain is that he is teaching false doctrine and that the claims to his ministry's 'successes' seem pretty spurious."
Brand speculated that, like William Branham in the mid-20th century, Bentley relies on hype to promote his meetings but has few real healings.
"I spoke with a very influential Swiss Pentecostal theologian and pastor a few years ago, Walter Hollenweger, who had invited Branham to Zurich to hold meetings in the early 1960s," Brand said. "He said Branham pronounced scores of people to be 'healed' of their ailments, but a half year later not a single one of those persons was actually healed, and many had died. Branham's personal charisma had carried him, and I suspect something similar is happening with Bentley."
David Roach is a writer based in Louisville, Ky.