19 Aug 2008

Todd Bentley: "I was involved in a sexual assault ring"

National Post - Canada     August 19, 2008

Bentley bends

B. C. healer, televangelist withdraws for his own healing

Brian Hutchinson | National Post 

VANCOUVER -It wasn't his outrageous claims of raising the dead that finally landed Todd Bentley in trouble. Not the contradictory sermons, or even his criminal past. Not the face piercings, the neck-to-knee tattoos, the biker-dude lifestyle. His followers could live with all that; it was part of the act.

And what a performance it was: For the past few months, Mr. Bentley, a 32-year-old former drug addict from Canada's west coast, was the hottest thing going on the global televangelist circuit. A hog-riding faith healer with a devil-may-care attitude.

Then he failed his flock, the old fashioned way: By consorting with another woman.

Mr. Bentley is now taking a long time out from his ministry, for some healing and reflection. The news was delivered on the weekend. "We have discovered new information revealing that Todd Bentley has entered into an unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff," reads an Aug. 15 letter from his church, Fresh Fire Ministries, based in Abbotsford, B. C., an evangelical hotbed.

The letter, posted on the Fresh Fire Web site, followed another online note three days earlier acknowledging that Mr. Bentley's marriage had unravelled. "Todd and Shonnah Bentley are presently experiencing significant friction in their relationship and are currently separated. We want to affirm that there has been no sexual immorality on the part of either Todd or Shonnah, nor has there ever been," it reads.

The news comes just as Mr. Bentley's ministry -- which began a decade ago on the streets of Vancouver's miserable Downtown Eastside -- had found a worldwide audience. In April this year, the stocky preacher received an invitation to travel from Abbotsford to Lakeland, in southern Florida, to take part in a series of Christian revival meetings.

Audiences there were dazzled. Mr. Bentley was asked to stay. So began what became known as the Lakeland Outpouring, an unfettered expression of charismatic fervour that quickly became a full-fledged phenomenon, with 8,000

people daily packing into a baseball stadium, then inside a church building. Twice a day, seven days a week, through the spring and summer, with Mr. Bentley taking centre stage, yelling and exhorting, and sometimes smacking around the ill and infirm.

GodTV, a specialty on-line service dedicated to Christian worship, quickly made room for the Lakeland Outpouring in its broadcast schedule. Millions of potential worshippers were exposed to Mr. Bentley. Among others, people with health problems travelled alone or with church groups to Florida for his sermons, loud and aggressive multi-media performances punctuated with faith-healing demonstrations and requests for financial contributions.

Mr. Bentley claims that God uses him as an instrument to heal the sick. He demonstrated this capacity at one Outpouring meeting by taking a run at a professed cancer patient and planting a knee hard into the man's gut. The man fell to the floor, grimacing.

At another meeting, Mr. Bentley laughed about kicking a woman in the face in order to help deliver God's healing touch. He spoke of his encounters with angels and prophets. He waved letters in front of his audiences, claiming they were written by relatives of people declared dead. Their dead kin had risen, he explained, after being exposed to his sermons, via GodTV broadcasts.

"I have in my hands the 13th testimony as a result of this Outpouring, of somebody raised from the dead," he said a few weeks ago. "I'm saying to the media, the dead are being raised…Are you ready to hear the 13th story? Now, many of them, we've been following up. We still haven't had a chance to verify this. I can read it to you as I received it."

At last count, Mr. Bentley had been used by God to resurrect 20 people -- verifications still to come.

His claims have attracted plenty of skeptics, some of whom have carefully parsed his sermons, looking for what might be considered heresy, or simply false statements. Internet bloggers certainly found inconsistencies in his stories; for example, Mr. Bentley seems to confuse dates and events when describing his various visits with angels and his discussions with God.

His skeptics learned of a terrible incident. In 1991, Mr. Bentley, then 15, was convicted of sexual assaulting a seven-year-old B. C. boy. The case was outlined in The Report newsmagazine 10 years later; confronted with the facts, Mr. Bentley consented to a discussion of his conviction. "I was involved in a sexual assault ring," he told The Report, now defunct. "I turned around and did what had happened to me. I was assaulted too."

He said he considered the matter closed. "It's something that's dead and buried for me."

In June, FOX TV snoop Geraldo Rivera interviewed Mr. Bentley. The matter of his conviction did not come up; rather, Mr. Rivera asked for verification that he had helped heal the sick.

Again, Mr. Bentley waved a fistful of papers in the air but offered no names, no proof. ABC's Nightline examined Mr. Bentley's claims in July and was met with similar obfuscation.

But others have bought in. Several of Mr. Bentley's colleagues in the televangelism trade--including fellow Canadian Patricia King -- vouched for him, even after the unflattering FOX and ABC exposure.

"The healing of the sick, the casting out of devils, the raising of the dead, the cleansing of lepers, this was all taking place" at the Lakeland Outpouring, Ms. King insisted last weekend, during a sermon broadcast on her Extreme Prophetic Television program.

Ms. King, who is also based in the Abbotsford area, went on to describe in the barest of detail Mr. Bentley's latest transgression and fall from grace, and said that any form of sin is intolerable.

No one from Fresh Fire Ministries or its affiliate church organizations in Abbotsford responded to interview requests yesterday. Mr. Bentley is reportedly in California, staying with friends.

He will not offer any public ministry for at least a year, according to the latest Fresh Fire letter. He will not return to Florida for the rest of the Outpouring; it winds up on Saturday, after a 143-day run. A stadium tour across the United States has been cancelled. Gatherings in the U. K. have been "postponed."

There is no talk of resurrection, or revival. Just the hope of forgiveness.

This article was found at:



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


    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."

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    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."