15 Aug 2008

Controversial "faith healer" Todd Bentley a child sex offender

The Vancouver Sun - Canada   August 15, 2008

Abbotsford faith healer proves divisive for Christians

Followers of controversial B.C. preacher line up and pray for a miracle

by Douglas Todd | Vancouver Sun



With his full-body Jesus tattoos and facial piercings, Todd Bentley looks more like a bike-gang member or World Wrestling Federation fighter than an evangelical preacher.

But in the past few months, the burly B.C. bad boy has turned into the hottest, most divisive Christian faith healer in North America.

Bentley, 32, who preaches about once being a young criminal in Gibsons and who now bases his ministry in the Bible Belt city of Abbotsford, has drawn roughly 300,000 people since April to his wild revival meetings in southern Florida.

Up to 10,000 people a day have been flocking to a Florida baseball stadium to lose themselves in ecstatic music and appeal to Bentley for divine healing, which the T-shirted, bling-wearing redhead sometimes offers by kneeing the sick in the stomach or kicking them with his biker boots and shouting "Bam!"

Despite drawing tremendous crowds to his mesmerizing, rock-music-filled services, Bentley has sharply polarized North American evangelicals.

A number of rival conservative Christian radio hosts, apocalypticists and charismatics have attacked the Canadian preacher for, among other things, claiming to have gone to heaven and met and talked with angels, Jesus and the apostle Paul.

Those critics have called his ministry "demonic," "occult," "deceitful" and "plain silly."

Bentley's growing legions of defenders, however, say God often uses "flawed people" to perform miracles and heal the sick.

Bentley's controversial revival meetings, which have been running every day in Florida for more than 18 weeks -- replete with people writhing on floors in religious ecstasy -- have also taken a toll on Bentley's family.

His large Abbotsford office, called Fresh Fire Ministries, acknowledged Monday on its website that Bentley and his wife, Shonnah, who have three children, have separated.

His wife and children have returned to Canada.

Bentley also announced he will end his Florida revival, called The Outpouring, on Aug. 23.

The revival has been mostly running in Lakeland, Fla., east of Tampa Bay, both at Ignited Church (where it started) and on the spring training ground of baseball's Detroit Tigers.

Bentley's imminent departure from The Outpouring, so he can instead travel throughout North America and to Britain, has come in the midst of rising media coverage questioning the authenticity of his healings.

London's Express on Sunday started a campaign last month to keep the Canadian revivalist out of Great Britain and, as of this week, Fresh Fire Ministries "postponed" a planned gathering in Birmingham, England.

Bentley was not available for an interview Thursday with The Vancouver Sun. An official at Fresh Fire Ministries, Bruce Merz, avoided answering questions, directing The Sun to the ministry's website for information.

The Fresh Fire website said the intense "worldwide awakening" started by Bentley in Florida has created "pressures and burdens ... which have helped to create an atmosphere of fatigue and stress that has exacerbated existing issues in [the Bentleys'] relationship. We want to affirm that there has been no sexual immorality on the part of either Todd or Shonnah."

- - -

How did this once-troubled young man from B.C. become the most dramatic Canadian faith-healer to hit the United States since Ontario's Aimee Semple MacPherson first stormed Los Angeles in the early 20th century with a mixture of Hollywood show biz and Christian revivalism?

Bentley preaches in public about his rough-and-tumble early days, including near-fatal drug overdoses, criminal burglaries and stints in prison.

Bentley has acknowledged in the conservative Christian publication, Charisma, that at age 14 he was arrested for sexually assaulting children in B.C.

In addition, Fresh Fire Ministries' website says: "In his late teens, Todd had a dramatic encounter with the saving and delivering power of God. This experience brought Todd out of a lifestyle of drug and alcohol addiction without cravings or withdrawal symptoms. He was also delivered from a lifestyle involving criminal activity, youth prisons, drugs, sex, satanic music and bondage."

Charisma magazine (which serves so-called charismatic Christians, including those who speak "in tongues" -- indecipherable utterances that are considered God-given) reported in an earlier article that Bentley was making a name for himself as a faith healer in B.C. almost 10 years ago, particularly in Kelowna and Abbotsford.

Internet videos of Bentley's faith healing in Florida reveal the intense emotion and theatricality of his revival meetings. The videos, available online through YouTube and other sources, show Bentley running toward a man with colon cancer and kneeing him in the stomach. The man buckles, wavers, smiles wanly and finally falls on the stage.

Bentley then tells the man, in front of the cheering congregation: "I had to be obedient to the Lord, sir. Why did the preacher just knee you in the gut? I tell you the Lord is working in you. You felt a quivering."

Several videos show people falling on the stage after Bentley heals them in a variety of ways, including by apparently punching one and kicking another.

Another video, which compares Bentley's events to a "rave," shows a thin woman dancing to pounding drum music while in an apparent trance. She repeatedly mimics shooting at the congregation with a gun.

In one of many Bentley books, CDs and DVDs that are available on the Fresh Fire website, the B.C. evangelist amusingly describes meeting the apostle Paul in heaven.

"As unbelievable as it may sound, I actually saw the apostle Paul come walking toward me onto the bridge," Bentley says.

"You might be wondering how I knew immediately that it was Paul. I just perceived it by divine knowledge and revelation. People have asked me what he looked like, and so I will attempt to describe his appearance. He was short, not more than 5'1" or 5'2" (I'm 5'6").... Looking very Jewish with a short, trimmed, white beard, my first thought was of a monk in a monastery! He actually had jolly cheeks and I thought: Paul, you've got a little weight on you! I mean he wasn't fat but he looked a little pudgy!"

Bob Burkinshaw, of Trinity Western University in Langley, an evangelical independent school, says he is aware of people who are "quite excited" about Bentley, who has drawn thousands to his revival meetings at a Pentecostal church in Abbotsford.

"But I suppose I'm one of those who is moderately skeptical. These things are rarely black and white," said Burkinshaw, a specialist in Canadian church history at the private evangelical university.

Evangelical Christians believe God does heal the sick, but "the issue is one of method," Burkinshaw said. "Many say, 'God doesn't do command performances.'"

Bentley's on-the-edge faith-healing appeals to "people on the margins of respectable society," a U.S. subculture Burkinshaw says was drawn to revivalism during much of the early 20th century, before evangelicalism expanded into the middle- and upper-classes.

Rather than thinking of Bentley's followers as gullible, passive sheep, Burkinshaw suggested understanding them as people who come to the events planning to build on the mesmerizing music and passionate preaching so they can "experience God's presence."

Told about Bentley's marriage breakdown and plans to end the four-month long revival in Florida, Burkinshaw said, "I'm sure the demands of that kind of life can be extreme, putting pressures on families."

Bentley's most recent posting on the Fresh Fire website makes it clear that, although his plans are changing, he's nowhere near giving up his mission.

Bentley will be conducting faith healing events in Spokane, Wash., and then Abbotsford on Sept 17. He also expects to lead revivals at dozens of other North American, and possible British, venues in the coming months.

Sounding as enthusiastic as ever, Bentley reassures his followers and asks for their continued support. "Pray for us as we walk the land, carrying the precious ark of His healing presence for His glory into those fields white and ripe for harvest. More details will be forthcoming!"

He signs off his message:

"BAM!"

dtodd@vancouversun.com

To read Douglas Todd's blog, go to www.vancouversun.com/thesearch

This article was found at:

http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/westcoastnews/story.html?id=d598a543-4156-4d31-907b-0f0b4d840ab9


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2 comments:

  1. British MP calls on government to block Canadian evangelist's entry

    BY RANDY BOSWELL, POSTMEDIA NEWS AUGUST 18, 2012

    A controversial Canadian evangelist who attracted a huge U.S. following in 2008 before his sudden fall from grace is now under fire in Britain ahead of a planned tour that one London-area MP claims could bring physical harm to unwitting Christians in search of a faith-healing experience.

    Todd Bentley, a 36-year-old preacher from Abbotsford, B.C., gained international attention four years ago when the charismatic sermoniser -- heavily tattooed and a recovered drug addict -- led a series of old-time Christian revival meetings in Florida that drew as many as 8,000 people a night during the summer of 2008.

    But the high-profile series of faith-healing events, aired by U.S. religious broadcaster God TV and which came to be known as the Lakeland Outpouring, ended abruptly that August amid accusations about Bentley's personal life and questions regarding the validity of his claims to have healed the sick and even raised the dead.

    "Some of the language used during the Lakeland Revival has created an almost sideshow atmosphere," the editor of Pentecostal magazine Charisma wrote about Bentley in 2008. "People are invited to 'Come and get some.' Miracles are supposedly 'popping like popcorn.' ... Such brash statements cheapen what the Holy Spirit is doing."

    Interviewed at the time by FOX TV journalist Geraldo Rivera and later by the ABC News investigative program Nightline, Bentley acknowledged publicly -- though not for the first time -- that he had been convicted of sexually assaulting a seven-year-old boy in 1990, when he was just 14 himself.

    In fact, Bentley had admitted in an earlier media interview in Canada that he had been "involved in a sexual assault ring" as a boy.

    "I was assaulted, too," he had told the B.C. newsmagazine The Report in 2001. "I turned around and did what had happened to me."

    But it was a revelation about Bentley's marital troubles in August 2008 that led organizers of the Lakeland revival to suspend his involvement in the Florida meetings, and there has been no significant news coverage of the Canadian's activities since.

    Now, however, Bentley's planned appearance later this month at a three-day soul-saving session in Croydon, England has prompted media attention there and led the area's Labour MP, Malcolm Wicks, to urge the British government to block the Canadian evangelist from entering the U.K.

    "This man is a very unsavoury character," Wicks said of Bentley in his Aug. 1 letter to Home Secretary Theresa May, a copy of which was obtained by Postmedia News.

    "I urge you to do all in your power to ban this man from the U.K. His visit can do nothing but harm and I would be grateful for any measures you can take."

    Wicks referred to Bentley's sexual-assault conviction and added that "apparently, as part of his so-called evangelism," Bentley "has been known to physically assault those who come to him for help."

    Bentley can be seen in an online video clip describing how he once kicked a woman in the face in order to infuse her with the Holy Spirit.

    "I inched closer and I went ... BAM!" Bentley is shown saying on stage during a religious gathering. "And just as my boot made contact with her nose, she fell under the power of God."

    continued in next comment...

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  2. continued from previous comment:

    Bentley couldn't immediately be reached for comment about the clip or Wicks' bid to prevent him from appearing at the Croydon events, which are scheduled to begin on Aug. 30.

    But an unidentified man reached by phone at Fresh Fire Ministries in Pineville, North Carolina -- Bentley's base of operations today, according to a robust website devoted to his evangelism -- indicated he was aware of the controversy in Britain and that there was no plan to cancel the Croydon appearances.

    "We're still moving on with the meeting," the man said. "Controversial things -- they are what they are."

    According to the Fresh Fire website, Bentley is also scheduled to appear at an event in Norway this month and at another in Pakistan in October, and has been taking his ministry to other parts of the world over the past few years, including earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

    Bentley has previously described how he embraced Christianity at age 17 after an encounter with a former drug addict who had turned his own life around after finding faith in God.

    The experience, according to a biography posted to Bentley's website during the Florida revival in 2008, saved him from "a lifestyle of drug and alcohol addiction without cravings or withdrawal symptoms. He was also delivered from a lifestyle involving criminal activity, youth prisons, drugs, sex, satanic music and bondage ... Todd was instantly transformed into a radical disciple and soul-winning evangelist for Jesus."

    Bentley built a large following in B.C. in the early 2000s before taking his conversion crusade to the U.S.

    "I don't look like a typical preacher," he told The Province in a 2008 interview. "I want to be relevant to a younger generation, to bring them confirmation that God loves them."

    He added at the time: "I never say you're healed. I pray for healing, and God does the miracle. People tell me they're healed."

    http://www.canada.com/news/British+calls+government+block+Canadian+evangelist+entry/7112283/story.html

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