By Rick Hiebert 2009Â Used by permisson. All rights reserved
Todd Bentley, the Canadian-born evangelist, finally sat down to field questions from the public via an Internet “webinar” on Thursday September 10, 2009, shortly after 9 PM Eastern time. You can tell, however, that he wasn’t fielding questions from reporters. And the “answers”, as is so often the case with Bentley, raise even more questions in turn.
The webinar is on Todd’s website as the top item under The Instant Streaming Audio section. This post however, works off the raw audio feed as it was broadcast live that evening. (There may be some differences in the two, one that you can spot right away is that the directions for webinar participants, by one of Bentley’s assistants, weren’t broadcast over the Internet due to a signal failure, but it appears in the version as saved on the website.)
It might remind you of an infomercial in that it has the barest of specifics, if any. It is designed so that you will sign up now. Operators are standing by.
Mr. Bentley began with one of the themes of the videos that he has been making with Rick Joyner.
“Restoration. Restoration is a process and I’m in a process. God is a wonderful healer and I’ve been having some of the best days of my life, really,” Bentley said. He then continued with an argument that everyone needs to be restored by God in some way. “And that’s my prayer. God restore my soul. Not just my mind, will and emotions. Restore my relationships, restore my family.”
[This raises the question of how this can be done, given that Bentley is now divorced from his first wife, Shonnah. He now lives in North Carolina, on the opposite end of the United States from Abbotsford B.C. where his family lives. He mentions later in the webinar that he only meets with Joyner periodically right now, which raises the question of why Bentley doesn't live someplace like Sumas, Washington, where he can be an active parent of his three children. You know, do their laundry, feed them dinner, help with their homework. Be a real parent. But instead, he lives on the other side of the U.S.A. So much for Bentley putting himself in a position to allow God to answer this prayer.]
[As this is being written, Bentley has just put up an entry on his blog discussing a recent vacation trip to New York City. So, if he cared to go to Northern Washington state to devote himself to his kids, money is not a barrier. And if he wanted to devote himself to study, as he says he is doing, the Vancouver B.C. area has fine libraries, theological schools and a Christian university not far from his old house. He could read up on theology, as he says he wants to do, and be home in time to make his kids dinner and do their laundry.]
He continues, explaining what ‘restoration’ would mean to him.
“Restoration means to bring back to the place for your former condition. That’s what I want God. Not only do I want to be back in the place that I was, but beyond. I’m not only going back, I’m going beyond ’cause the glory of the latter house shall be greater than the former house.”
[If God intends that Bentley be restored to relationship with Him, but do something else with his life, Bentley has just told the Lord that he will refuse to listen to what He said. He is also refusing to listen to those Christians who fear, for various reasons, that he was never suited for evangelist work in the first place. Charismatics often complain about putting God in a box, but it would seem that Todd Bentley is dictating to God what answers to his prayers are appropriate and which are not.]
“If a man dies, will he live again?” That’s the question we are asking tonight. Can a man that has died lived again? And I believe that he can,” Bentley says in reference to himself.
Bentley then admits that some of his failures have been very public, and then turns to passages in Jeremiah and Job which he thinks apply to his case.
“God will restore Peter. God will restore David. God will restore Israel, God will restore You, God will restore me. We must believe and call forth the ministries of restoration in this hour”
[God will restore Saul, God will restore Judas Iscariot. Er, strike that. Seems that repentance is involved, and that Bentley needs to begin with that before restoration can take place.]
Bentley cites the problematic interpretation of Galatians 6:1 that his friend Rick Joyner has been using. He then goes on to say that he feels a need for constant repentance in his own life:
“I’ll never be good enough. I”ll never be righteous enough. I’m just pressing towards the mark, I’m learning from my mistakes. I’m repenting of my sin and I’m admitting my failures and I’m humbling myself, one, before the Lord. My repentance has been over the past year, over and over again. Two, my repentance has been before my leaders in accountability.”
Bentley, you’ll remember, willingly came into a formal leadership “covering” under the leadership of C. Peter Wagner’s group and then, in a later video, tried to lie his way out of it by saying that nothing took place. Rick Joyner is probably the next to be thrown under the bus if he thwarts Bentley’s plans in any way.
“My repentance has been public in some of my videos. There’s been over 24 videos.”
“I know that in the future that God’s going to anoint me to be one who restores.”
This allows us to look at a rhetorical trick that Bentley and his friend Rick Joyner have used over and over again. If you throw on one of their videos, they will say something like “We”re going to answer some questions”, without actually answering questions. Bentley will say that he is going to repent of something, without actually doing it.
Bentley uses this trick for two reasons. First, he is assuming that you will not pay close attention to his statements, and assume that saying that he is about to do something is the same as actually doing it. Secondly, he is keeping in mind his audience. Some Charismatics are happy with pretty well any sort of action or statement from someone who has “the power.” Others are more conservative and careful, judging statements and activity by careful use of the Bible. Bentley’s vague non-apologies allow people from either ‘side’ of his audience to assume that he is apologizing for the issue that they are most concerned about. He can give the impression that he is going to ‘apologize’ for something that would dismay a ‘conservative’ while not alienating the ‘liberal’ in his audience who thinks that that is nothing to apologize for. Cunning as a fox, he keeps the unwary of both “sides’ supporting him.
How can we judge whether he is repentant when you have to guess what he is repenting of? How can we judge whether he is truly sorry for his ‘mistakes’ when he invites us to assume that they are whatever we assume them to be, and not something that can be objectively measured against the Bible and what it teaches?
A repentant statement would be something like this, pointed and specific. A hypothetical example would be: “When I was in Lakeland, I made the statement from the stage that God had told me that He wanted 1,000 donors to donate $1,000 towards the building of a site for the revival. I have since admitted to my associates that that was untrue. God never said that to me. I lied to you and I apologize for that lie.”
It’s funny that even though he has been ‘repenting’ for over a year, Bentley finds himself unable to make frankly contrite statements like this. Of course, if he made a series of honest statements like this, this might lead people to think ‘This Bentley fellow lies like a rug’,which would play havoc with his plans to return to ministry.
Bentley continues with a discussion of events at Lakeland. Naturally, a question uppermost on the minds of many is, “Were there any documented miracles?”
“Were there any people that we know were healed by doctor’s reports and medical reports. We do have those. People have asked me, ‘Todd, do you have the doctor’s reports?’ Of course after everything was over in Lakeland and I resigned from Fresh Fire Canada, the ministry in Abbotsford, and I’ve been in a season of restoration, I myself don’t have those documents, but I know that they are still being put together and there’s been an investigation and that’s gonna be available. You’re gonna hear more about that later. There were healings though. And yes, there were resurrections from the dead. I don’t have all the numbers, but the important thing is, God knows.”
Did you notice that Todd said that he had the materials and then that he did not almost in the same breath?
What happened to the package for materials that was given to the reporters from the ABC program Nightline, from which they were unable to confirm that medically validated miracles took place? Bentley, you’ll recall, pulled himself off the stage for a night, needing an ‘immediate rest’ after the program aired. Given that their debunking of his work would certainly come up again in the future, wouldn’t it be wise to hold onto this material? Unless, of course, you realized that it was a house of cards that would topple in the lightest media breeze. Which means that you need another set of ‘miracles’ to bring forward. That is what Bentley’s staff is doing now.
Is it reasonable to ask Bentley for this? Well, when you recall the Biblical story of the ten healed lepers, you’ll remember that Christ did not get indignant and insist that they were healed without a confirmation. They were sent to a rabbi to be examined, and it, moreover, was Christs idea. So asking for medical confirmations for healings is Biblical.
Bentley then cited the Internet outreach of the events at Lakeland, and claimed that during the revival he preached for 127 consecutive nights. (Can we get a fact-check on that?)
“We want to remember that revival and say that it isn’t over, and as we talk about the future and [hear] ˜Todd are you coming back to ministry?’
“I’m making plans to see that revival move to England, to Australia, to visit many of the cities that we planned to [while] in Lakeland.”
“It’s been a bump in the road. It’s been a time out. I thank God that I’m in the season that I’m in right now so that God can get done in me what He needs to get done so that we can continue to see what we saw in Lakeland spread all over the Earth.”
He makes a passing reference to his website, suggesting that if any of his viewers had a question, more often than not, the question has already been answered. Why the question-and-answer portion of the webinar then? (Viewers of the videos looking for concrete and frank answers to their questions will probably be disappointed.)
“We are gonna take trips to the nations at one point.”
When is that gonna happen?” he adds.
“At this point, it’s day by day, week by week. We’re listening to the Lord. I’m just resting. I’m just spending time in His presence, reading a lot of books, meditating in the word, just enjoying life; it’s been over a year, and I’m still saying God cleanse me.”
Those who are skeptical of Bentley may detect a note of forthrightness in what he says next:
“You know, people have asked me, Todd are these videos that you are doing with Rick [Joyner] is it just to get you back into ministry? Is that the whole goal? Well, yeah! I do want to fulfill the call of God but the restoration process isn’t just a end to a means [sic], a means to an end just to get me into ministry again. I love Jesus first and foremost, I love my family.”
“Well, yeah” was spoken with a subtext of ”well, duh!” by the way.
One would think that a spectacular failure would lead most people to think that they weren’t suited for the job of a world-famous evangelist in the first place. Is that the case with Bentley? Well, we see no evidence of rethinking on his part. It’s all full speed ahead.
Bentley then implies that having a huge organization contributed to his collapse. “Over 70, 80, 100 employees, television’ I’m not going to preach 300 meetings a year again.”
He is counting on his listeners not having paid close attention to him again. The latest records available from Fresh Fire Ministries from Canada’s taxation employees reveals that his ministry from 2008 -bear in mind the name change -lists 20 full time employees and seven part time employees for the year of the Lakeland revival.
Here is the link to the 2008 Canadian tax returns for Bentley’s old ministry.
Something else is interesting in these listingsthe Canada Revenue Agency (Canada’s IRS) lists that Fresh Fire Ministries which Transform International was before the name change–took in $8,076,116 Canadian in Total Revenue and spent in Total Expenditures $ 4,912,252 Canadian.
Is Transform International sitting with over $3 million in the bank?
What happened to it?
Bentley would almost certainly have been the employee earning between $80 and $120,000 Canadian per year in the CRA listings. So, when he took the stage in Lakeland and said ”I’m only getting a salary”; Well, what a salary!
Bentley, under provincial law in British Columbia, would have been owed his vacation pay on leaving his job. Severance pay, when let go without cause is also the norm in Canada.
Also, a gift of $95,000 Canadian to qualified donees is listed there as well. Bentley, one may guess, was perhaps given a years pay to leave quietly.
Bentley was never really on television. GOD TV filmed what he was already doing, so there was no extra energy expended on his part.
Preaching at 300 meetings a year is an overstatement. He did travel and teach extensively, but at the time, Fresh Fire Ministries sent out his itinerary regularly. It revealed, to those who were on his e-list that at the most he would be involved with one conference per week. At most. Often there would be several weeks in between engagements. He did work, but a Google cache of his itinerary would reveal no harder than many evangelists do.
Continuing his arguments that he was overworked, Bentley adds that he is vowing not to make the same mistake again. (Longtime observers of Bentley will remember that his ‘Dark Night of the Soul” in 2005-2006, also blamed on overwork, resulted in an extramarital affair that Bentley says made their marriage touch and go from then on. Would his adultery with Jessa as the old governing board of his former ministry put it be the second example of this sort of thing happening?)
Bentley also said that he does not have the time to answer all the questions regarding his divorce and remarriage, so he plans to put a statement up on his website, which makes it almost a year and counting now for some of those wanting to know what went on.
The evangelist is accepting invitations to speak, and says that he will go wherever the ‘the Lord’ sends him. Bentley added that he is tempted to go back to his roots and speak to smaller churches of 200-500 people as he is led. (What may be happening is that these might be the only bookings that he expects to field, smaller churches hoping against hope that they will be able to get the ‘star of Lakeland’ to preach. Also, at smaller churches, he is more likely to be received with less criticism and more awe.)
People seem to be noticing, as noted above in the Canadian tax authority’s return for Bentleys old charity for the year of Lakeland, 2008, that the revival took in a lot more money than it spent. (The CCRA seems to note a $3 million surplus for Transform International Fresh Fires new name–for last year.)
Bentley’s response? “I didn’t make my millions.”
“I didn’t get any money from the offerings at Lakeland…Some months later they [the old Fresh Fire board] decided that they wanted to make a one time donation,”
Bentley implies that at one time he was down to his last $20 as he gave up all his personal property to Shonnah Bentley in the divorce.
The evangelist has referred to getting ‘Pentecostal handshakes’ before Lakeland. That is, someone shakes your hand and gives you money in their palm. If we note that later on in the webinar that Bentley complained that at Lakeland he was continually asked to meet partners, revival participants and ministers, which cut down on his prayer time, we can wonder if there were lots of opportunities for people to say “Here, Todd, buy something for your kids. Here, Todd, buy yourself something”, and give Bentley personal donations that never made it into the collection plate. If he was spending time outside of the services prayer for people, and they happened to give something to him ‘for the revival’, how much of that made it into the collection plates?
We have his annual salary of, let’s say $100,000 Canadian.
The $95,000 Canadian gift from the ministry to the ‘qualified donee’ was likely to Todd.
Add an unknown amount of money in ‘Pentecostal handshakes’ or other unclaimed benefits (“Let me buy you lunch”, “Why don’t you and your new wife stay with us for free?”)
This adds up to Todd Bentley going through $200,000 in a year and a half.
This doesn’t count personal property and assets squirreled away in a banks safety deposit box, say, that Shonnah Bentley might never have known of.
The $20 story, then. What has Bentley been spending his money on?
Talk of finances in the webinar naturally leads to whether Bentley is paying support to his ex-wfe and children. Bentley says he is “taking care of them as God enables me.” (With trips to Kansas City and New York City, let alone trips that we may not know about, we can assume that such payments are timely and plentiful from Bentley, right?)
“I’m involved in my children’s life. I can have as many video conferences, Skype as I want,” says Bentley. And how many does he want? How often are they?
“I’m able to go to Canada and have free access with my children,” he adds.
How many times?
(This raises the question of whether Bentley is a landed immigrant in the U.S. now. Given his burden in the past, think of his Canada Awake tour of a few years ago to see Canadians saved, Canadians might wonder why Bentley feels the need to become an American. Of course, the answer is that is where the big money is in the charismatic wing of Christianity is, but Bentley owes Canadians an explanation of the switch, given that Americans already have lots of workers and evangelists while in Canada, relatively speaking, the harvest is plentiful and the workers are fewer. This entire issue is ducked in the webinar.)
Bentley mentions, in another place in the webinar, that he only meets with Rick Joyner every week at most, usually. What about Bentley moving to Washington state, as places where Bentley has ministered in the past, and even did preparatory work for starting a church plant, are only a 30 minute drive from Abbotsford B.C.? Instead of being merely a vacation host for his children, he could help his kids with their homework, take them to church, make them dinner, do their laundry; all the things that a fully involved parent does. Isn’t his new wife Jessa interested in taking part in their lives as a stepmom? Someone who is interested in the “healing of his family” as Bentley professes to be, would be thinking in this way. Does he have to be on the other side of the country from his kids? Or does he want to? Has Joyner, at this time in his restoration, suggested a move to be closer to his kids?
We are now well into the question and answer section of the webinar and the next query was about balancing forgiveness with the need to live with the consequences of one’s sin. I’m dealing with guilt and shame was Bentley’s answer, but I have overcome it. “God, I’ve lost it all. And nobody did it to me. It was my own foolish mistakes.” While citing his alleged overwork, he made sure to mention that he had just felt the Holy Spirit.
“2005 was when my marriage fell apart. It wasn’t Lakeland, but back in 2005 we were on the verge of divorce.”
(Left unmentioned was the fact that this was due to an affair with a different lady, whose name has circulated amongst Bentley’s internet critics and has had nothing to do with Bentley for some time.)
“People asked, What about Jessa? Jessa wasn’ t in the picture, I didn’t know a woman named Jessa,”
Very shrewd from Bentley. He takes the fact that Jessa wasn’t the one that he had an affair with in 2005 and uses that to make his listeners doubt that he has ever had an extramarital affair. If people mess up and confuse the two incidents, such confusion can be used to ‘prove’ that Bentley has no no extramarital affairs, instead of two.
A little later comes a question about his tattoos and what they really mean. Speculation was rife during the Lakeland events that his tattoos were actually satanic. Bentley’s frankness and detail in denying during the webinar means only that he realizes that he has a straw man that he can easily knock over.
“They are all religious tattoos. I’m not taking this body to heaven with me anyways. I didn’t have a motive; Motive is everything. It’s just art. I don’t think that whether I have art in my skin has anything to do with my salvation.”
If we obey one letter of the law [in not getting tattoos], take off that cotton T-shirt, don’t eat bacon and when your wife has her period, ‘send her out of the camp for seven days.
I’m not under the law. I’m not prepared to live under any of those things. I’ m sorry I got them. It’s been a few years now,”
Many Christians do get tattoos. What we need to recall, however, is why the Israelites were told not to have them. The surrounding peoples did use tattoos, cutting the skin–as part of their religious life. Motive is all-important, of course, but Jewish laws having to do with religious practice should give more pause than the ones saying don’t cook an owl on your barbecue and eat it.
Bentley’s getting of tattoos was probably not a sin, but it was perhaps unwise. As a public figure and minister, why have the sorts of tattoos that could be misread and misunderstood? Has Bentley decided to have cosmetic surgery to get rid of the tattoos that he is ‘sorry’ that he now has?
Bentley is being dishonest here. He got his tattoos in 2006, which is not ‘years ago’ for those wanting to think that they date from his pre-Christian days (as many around the time of Lakeland did). At the time he had a blog on MySpace, which has since been scrubbed. However, a post on his tattoos was saved from August 2006, in which Bentley’s tattoos are explained by one of his assistants.
“This is what Todd feels”, was added to the post. “For us as Christians, living under the covenant of grace and the law of love, whether someone gets a tattoo or not is between them and God. They need to take it to God and hear from Him whether it’s right for them or not. God’s concerned with the heart motive of why people get tattoos rather than the act itself. He wants people to do all things, even getting tattoos, with a right heart motive and for the right reasons. So, if someone feels like they can, in clear conscience before God, get a tattoo, then it is not forbidden. If someone cannot get a tattoo in clear conscience, they they should not. However, no other Christian can judge others who get tattoos, because we don’t know people’s heart motives–only God knows.”
Todd then begins to describe his tattoos with notes like:
This tattoo is of the Star of David – and the Hebrew writing on either side says King David this is significant to me because my dads name is David and King is my family name on my mothers side.
“This is my most recent tattoo got it in Hawaii this week when I was there with my wife for holidays. It says Yeshua, Ruach, Yahweh Yeshua = Jesus, Ruach = the hot firey breath of God, Yahweh = God. It has the harvest wheat running through it. I wanted the triune God bound around my neck.”
“This arm piece consists of many tattoos. The fire around the wrist then goes into the Star of David, and then goes into a scene from Revelation 4:7 the 4 living creatures which are surrounded by the eyes and wings. The next part is the 3 crowns cast down before the throne which have my 3 kids names on them; Lauralee, Esther and Elijah.”
“Then on the back of that arm is the sun on my elbow (that hurt so much, had to get it done twice), a portrait of Jesus up top, and I have the crown of thorns around my arm, piercing my skin. (this was my first tattoo ever!) Then you see the eyes and wings as well. Then we have Jesus coming out of the Secret Place surrounded by the glory of God.”
Bentley continues in similar manner describing his 25 tattoos in language that states emphatically that they had personal or Christian significance for him. And now they mean nothing to him once they have been publicly questioned? It’s interesting to see Bentley maintain the courage of his convictions here.
A question on the mind of Bentley’s listeners was when they could expect to see his doctrine of divorce and remarriage.
“Shortly I’d like to have it [up on his website] tomorrow [Septmber 11], next week [September 13 to 19]“
Readers can check on his website to see if this promise to his listeners was kept.
Not surprisingly, Bentley planned to argue that, “if you are remarried God can use you.”
The next listener question asked whether, “the bitterness between you and Shonnah had been resolved.”
In replying, Bentley mentioned that he actually had a marriage counselor with him in Lakeland, and they met weekly while the revival was going on. (This while he was reduced to spending only a hour per day with his family, engaged in all these meetings with pastors and donors, engaged in all these media encounters that never took place.)
“I had a clear conscience in my heart that I did everything that I could,” he said.
(Really, what else do you expect him to say?)
His following remarks need to be quoted at length:
“I did get remarried. Because I believe that it is better to get remarried than to burn. I said, God, I’m in love. This woman is in love with me. God I want to honour you; I;m going through a season of restoration. I want the love of my life to stand with me and support me and it’s gonna happen anyways. I’m gonna get married now.” That may not have been the best decision at the time for all of you, but today I’m very happy. I’ve never been this happy. Sorry for you to hear that. I am happy. Very happy. And I’m glad that I have the lady of my life today that I have today and that doesn’t mean that I dishonour Shonnah. I love her, we’re moving on and I ask you to move on with me.”
Some comments on this:
One; at the time that he and Jessa married, which was very quickly after the laws for no-fault divorce in Bentley’s home province of British Columbia allow, they had been in a relationship strong enough to allow Bentley to say that she was “the love of his life”. This proves that Bentley was dating Jessa – if not more – while still legally married to Shonnah.
Two; if we recall that Bentley and Jessa had, supposedly, no relationship at Lakeland. This means that this relationship came out of nowhere. How plausible is this?
Three; note the chilling language from Bentley that should probably be edited from the webinar feed on his website. I’m happy, and if you don’t like it, too bad. He also tells God in his alleged prayer that the marriage with Jessa “is gonna happen anyways.” Guess that God is going to have to deal with it. No miraculous getting back together with the mother of his kids.
Bentley does admit that he remarried quickly. (But, speaking ironically, if you want him to be ‘happy’,”and isn’t that the superior guideline for moral decisions for any Christian, why quibble?)
“Now I’m guilty of getting into a relationship too quick. I’ve had to repent and say, God, it was wrong the way that I did it. It was messy. But thank God it is today, and not yesterday,”
(Anybody brazen enough to dictate to God whether he will remarry shouldn’t worry about when, perhaps.)
The next question asks about what, practically, Bentley will do to ensure that he doesn’t fall again? Bentley replies that his friends, who have told him that they won’t restore him umpteen times, will kick his butt. Also, he won’t adopt the same schedule.
“My new wife won’t have it, wherever I got my wife will go with me, she’s gonna be at my side.”
(After two extramarital affairs by Bentley, one involving Jessa, one has to conclude that she is a smart lady to insist on this!)
Bentley promised, by the way, to answer many of the unanswered questions online, in a ‘top 20 or top 30′ most asked questions page on his website. Has he done it yet?
The last question that Bentley took asked what parts of the Lakeland revival were fleshy. Replying, Bentley said that in April and May 2008, when the revival was purest, he spent a lot of time in prayer. But as the revival got busier he spent hours dealing with the media and meeting with friends, associates and pastors. “There were days that I spent only 1 hour with my family,” he complained. Prayer suffered.
Oh? Then why does Stephen Strader, pastor of Ignited Church, which hosted the revival, write in his book on Lakeland that he never could get to talk to Bentley for weeks at a time?
The media coverage of the revival was sparse, comparatively speaking, until things started to collapse and by that time Bentley wasn’t speaking to anyone.
Nothing prevented him from taking time off. Indeed, he was able to take a day off at short notice right after the ABC Nightline expose aired. Bentley says about Lakeland:
“It became too much of a marketplace. Too much marketing. Too much promotion. It was like a circus. Everybody wanted a table. Everybody wanted and I thought we’ve gone from the revival to building something and I don’t want to build something.”
Viewers of GOD TV may have gained that impression on the night that Bentley said that God had told him that He wanted 1,000 to give $1,000 each towards the building of a facility for the revival. It turns out that Bentley admitted to his friends that God had said no such thing, so this particular part of the webinar would have been a great time to publicly apologize for that. No apology was given.
Speaking of marketing and promotion, Bentley then, his last question answered, went on to promote a $30 package of materials, a ‘healing bundle’ that he wanted to sell listeners through his website. He cited his ‘partners area’ of his website, accessible only to those who had paid $25 US once in donations to his ministry.
He closed with a time of non-specific prayer for his listeners. “I’m praying that sometime in the next year,” that he would start preaching again.
Whether he should, given the sorts of things he said in the webinar, is perhaps an open question in the minds of some.