Todd Bentley Gets By With A Little Help From His Friends

Todd Bentley Gets By With A Little Help From His Friends January 7, 2020

Hello and welcome back! Last time we met up, I showed you a recent development in the evangelical world: Todd Bentley is in trouble again. Today, let’s look at what’s going on with his current troubles and ask why he’s still being allowed to drop-kick sick people for Jesus.

a cute red fox resting against rocks in a forest
(Cameron Sanborn.)

(In this post, I use the phrase “toxic Christian.” Here’s info about what those are. Please note that I did not make up this term. I don’t know who did or exactly when they did, but it was almost certainly a Christian active in the mid-to-late 1990s to 2000s. In fact, the earliest sources I found for it–like this 2009 book and a Pentecostal newsletter from 2000–were all evangelical. Christians use it and its variants often to describe Christians who aren’t Jesus-ing like they think Christians should.)

An Algae-Clogged Wheel Turns, Again.

Evangelicals tend to think fondly of the 2008 Lakeland Revival. Not all, of course. That crowd doesn’t agree on much at all. But many of them look back on that whole event with satisfaction and pleasure.

And they jolly well should. It was exactly the shot in the arm they crave at regular intervals.

In the 1990s, John and Carol Arnott pastored what was then called Toronto Airport Vineyard (TAV). TAV soon became the epicenter of the entire Toronto Blessing. And they themselves think that the Lakeland Revival is a “new strain” of that earlier movement.

Of course it is. It was, after all, begun and run by the many of the same people! Those hucksters all exhibited the traits and skills perfected by the sorts of conniving weasels who typically run such explosive hysterias:

  • the eternal drive to seek the tribe’s lowest common denominator
  • a willingness to constantly push hard at all boundaries of decency to find stuff that shocks the tribe
  • an uber-wingnut’s drive to find the best way to out-hardcore all the other wingnuts in the tribe
  • the dishonesty to exploit his tribe’s greatest needs by any means possible
  • utter ruthlessness, complete lack of compassion, malignant narcissism, and no sense of accountability whatsoever

So no, nobody should even be surprised that a lot of the same names keep showing up around big fundagelical movements: Rick Joyner, John Wimber, John and Carol Arnott, and the grandmaster of it all–Rodney Howard-Browne, who might well have been the first of the modern-day hucksters to figure out how to win the game.

All these movements needed was leaders who hit upon the winning formula.

The tribe is always ready for them.

Anxiously, eagerly waiting.

The Passing of a Radioactive Torch.

But by 2008, these older names were, well, old.

John Arnott learned huckstercraft as a whelp in the late 1960s at the knee of faith-healer conjobs like Kathryn Kuhlman and Benny Hinn. (Arnott ran a travel agency at the time, but clearly wanted to become what my then-husband Biff called “a professional Christian.”) The Lich-King Benny Hinn himself was in his 50s by then. Kuhlman herself was long gone, but before she died she successfully passed her bag of tricks to John Arnott. Howard-Browne was likely in his late 40s–about when people begin to feel their bad decisions in their joints every morning–so his role seems like it was already gradually subsiding to that of inspiration to the next generation of showmen.

Now, years after their big moments, these big leaders and their crowds of followers needed young blood.

And they got it.

The 2008 Lakeland Revival could not have happened without huckster showman Todd Bentley to orchestrate it. He possessed all the ingredients necessary–the same ones his predecessors had needed in the Toronto Blessing almost 15 years earlier. He had a showman’s soul–powered by the animal cunning to catapult himself straight to the top of his tribe’s ladder of power.

Most of all, he was young enough, in his early 30s, to have the energy to push the pieces of traits + tribe + huckstercraft + ruthlessness together like it was a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces mashed haphazardly into place. He would turn out to age very poorly, but at the time at least he was spry enough to sell a big huge revival.

The Flipside of Revival.

The revivals toxic Christians chase have a serious downside, however. And here it is:

You can’t have an explosive, huge revival movement without also running into all the negative repercussions those traits inevitably bring with them. You can’t. There’s not a way to have the one without the other. They go together like mold and dank cellar corners.

Toxic Christians keep trying to split that atom. They ache to have the explosive revivals and the wild euphoric bacchanals–but without the scandals and abuses that erupt constantly around these movements’ leaders. They don’t realize that their cherished mass revivals are the result of their leaders’ malignant traits, which cause scandals and abuses.

So they can’t have the revivals without also getting the malignancy. Malignancy is the flipside of the source of the high they eternally crave.

But man alive they do keep trying to have the one without the other.

That’s how people like Benny Hinn and Todd Bentley end up as superstars in toxic Christian circles.

Silencing the Victims of Those Traits.

I noted years ago that toxic Christians have very, very bad luck with mascots. Similarly, they keep choosing leaders who turn out to be racists or have extremely sketchy pasts or a tendency to prey upon anybody they possibly can.

Todd Bentley doesn’t deviate in the least from that simple truth.

Hell, one of their current leaders has actually admitted that his tribe can’t adequately predict which of their leadership candidates is a monster! And once one reaches a position of real power, nobody can protect the flocks from these monsters!

In years past, though, that didn’t matter. Christianity chugged along just fine with monsters in leadership.

Indeed, Christian leaders could appoint any number of monsters without facing any repercussions. Christians enjoyed a supreme level of dominance that allowed them to effectively silence and mute anybody discussing anything they’d suffered because of those leaders’ total inability to vet their fellow leaders or stop monsters.

And so that is exactly what they did. They utilized all the tools available to them at the time–from legal pressure to cultural coercion.

As a result, Christians seriously thought that they were getting these amazing revivals and blessings and outpourings and awakenings and whatnot because of Jesus Power, rather than from their very earthly source. They had no idea what the link is between those movements and the abuse constantly springing up in their tribal ranks.

An Encouraging New Development.

But a lot’s changed since the salad years of Kathryn Kuhlman and Benny Hinn.

A whole lot. 

Well, sort of.

All that’s changed from then to now is the diminishment of Christian dominance. But it’s proven to be a total game-changer of a development!

Modern-day people aren’t as easily silenced as they used to be. And we’re a lot better at uncovering and then broadcasting necessary information about terrible people.

So even if Christians refuse to vet their leaders, even if they try their hardest to suppress such information from reaching public awareness, their scandals still reach the light of day.

Thanks to the Lakeland Revival, Todd Bentley got a lot of attention and scrutiny. He could withstand none of it. And none his tribe’s leaders could stop it from happening.

Lifting the Mortgage.

I can only imagine that “professional Christians” like John Arnott, Benny Hinn, Kathryn Kuhlman, and Stephen Strader, the pastor of the Lakeland, Florida church who invited Todd Bentley to lead his church’s revival in 2008, all yearn for revival.

Sure, they consider the intense experiences that often break out during a good revival as PROOF YES PROOF of their religion’s claims. Of course they do. I mean, it’s not, but they definitely take it that way.

But revivals also involve massive profits for all involved. Check out this list of 20 benefits one revival-preaching business claims will come to churches who hire them. Oh, sure, they include all the usual glurge about ZOMG MUH INCREASED JESUS-ING, but don’t miss #20: “Finances become biblically aligned and typically grow in size.” LOL! That ain’t there by accident, mi frenz. It’s incredible how amateurish, arrogant, and lacking in any kind of training these businesses’ operators seem–and yet I don’t doubt they’re feeding themselves and sending their kids to fundagelical for-profit colleges on these ventures. (“Biblically-aligned.” <snerk> Oh, is that what we’re calling it now? Cuz I gotta remember that one.)

Even if the evangelists’ motivations remain pure, which is by no means assured, the churches hiring them are definitely hoping that the (usually huge amounts of) money they spent on the hire will return tenfold to them in the form of tons of new–and tithe-paying–members. Should their recruitment goals fizzle, then at least the hiring pastors hope for increased visibility for their churches in the community and maybe a boost to their own group’s credibility.

Christians–leaders and followers alike–just believe whatever the hell these businesses wanna say about themselves! Little wonder so many evangelism businesses operate in the United States. It’s a real live mortgage-lifter

The Implosion.

So now, we’ve got a number of threads dangling in our tapestry. Let’s draw them together.

Starting in April of 2008, Todd Bentley led the Lakeland Revival. This went on for several months until some secular news outfits (like this one) finally noticed him.

They did what journalists are supposed to do: they looked into him and his past. And that process did not, not, not go well for him.

The resulting scandal didn’t center on him hitting and kicking people, nor behaving on Lakeland’s stage like an old-school vaudeville villain chewing scenery in a bad melodrama, nor making blitheringly-ludicrous claims–without any credible corroboration whatsoever–that his “ministry” was totally raising dead people back to life again and sprouting miracle healings and I’m-n0t-kidding new breasts right and left.

No, instead the scandal materialized around an apparent “emotional affair” he had with a female staffer of his. He and his wife ended up filing for separation, and then divorcing.

Once again, fundagelicals reveal their priorities.

All the other stuff? Ah, that’s just Satan chasing after God’s anointed. But getting a huge crush on a woman who ain’t his wife? RELEASE THE HOUNDS, GEOFFREY.

But Todd Bentley’s friends sprang into action to keep him from complete disgrace.

Why Everyone Protected A Complete Creep: MONEY.

Rick Joyner was a pastor who’d been instrumental in creating the atmosphere in evangelicalism that allowed the Toronto Blessing to happen. And he really liked what he saw in Todd Bentley. Joyner wasn’t part of Vineyard, nor a formal part of the Toronto Blessing. But he was thick as thieves with the people closely involved with it.

Around 2007, he seems to have taken Todd Bentley under his wing. Bentley appears in pretty much every revival and conference Joyner’s run since 2007. It’s clear that Joyner’s media company, MorningStar, carried news about the Lakeland Revival almost immediately–always with a very complimentary, sympathetic eye toward its violent bully of a star. His support has always been full-throated, unequivocal, and beyond bizarre in its lengths and depth. His blatant pandering around Bentley’s so-called restoration can be categorized in the same way.

And I can totally understand why he’s hard-selling this notion of Bentley getting back on track easily and quickly with Jesus Power. Todd Bentley represented a huge money stream for these guys, all of it dependent on Christians attending his revivals and paying money into the “love offering” baskets these churches passed around. He glommed onto Rick Joyner as soon as he could–and Joyner declared that he was totally divinely-picked to lead revivals and whatnot.

So yes, obviously Joyner won’t want to admit that he allowed an undeserving cretin into the hallowed halls of leadership. None of them would want to go there! They all closed ranks around him, not just Joyner. They had to. If Bentley got eviscerated and lost his career over his behavior, that would devastate their money train as much as his.

Why Everyone Protected A Complete Creep: POWER.

The other reason centers around power.

One of the foremost principles of power is that those with power protect each other first.

The corollary might well be that they protect each other because nobody else will.

Fundagelicalism functions as a broken system. It no longer even can fulfill its own goals or honor its own mission statements–even if its leaders wanted to try to do that. But they don’t. Instead, fundagelicalism serves the interests of its leaders at the expense of its followers. It is simply a mechanism for the growing and holding and seizing of undeserved power.

Thus, broken systems hand a lot of undeserved and unilateral power out to leaders, while stripping power from those designated as inferior. Declared fiat represents the only way leaders can acquire power. They can’t gain it in the usual ways, following the usual paths taken by people in non-broken, functional systems. Their educations do not prepare them in any way for good leadership. Their superiors have no idea how to pick good leaders. Those who actually could lead decently well get frozen out of the race before the starting gun even fires–or driven out after being worn to a husk in the corner of the hall.

So nobody involved in fundagelical leadership is really qualified to be there. 

Thus, when one fundagelical leader pulls a Bentley, the sunlight of scrutiny edges dangerously close to all of them.

Their goal, therefore, centers entirely on pushing themselves out of the path of that sunlight.

The Foxes Guard the Henhouse.

Something I read about the Toronto Blessing comes to my mind now.

Ernie Gruen’s accusation against Mike Bickle from 1990 contains a prayer in its beginning:

Finally, pray that God Himself will open the eyes of Mike Bickle, John Wimber, Rick Joyner, the Kansas City leadership, and national leaders to the heretical doctrine and destructive nature of this “Movement.” [He means the Kansas City Prophets, Joyner’s friends.] We sincerely desire that our taking a stand will be redemptive and that there will be repentance and restoration of Mike Bickle and his “Movement” to the Scripture and truth.

I’m sure that many Christians have prayed a similar prayer regarding Todd Bentley, and for many of the same exact reasons.

And they received the same exact response from their god: silence.

That’s because long ago, their Dear Leaders decided to let their fellow foxes guard the fundagelical henhouse. Yes, they all decided that this was just fine–for them, and thus for everyone! Then they convinced the hens that a god had commanded them to do that.

Gruen’s prayer begged his nonexistent god to move an entangled rat-king of fundagelical leaders to act with integrity for once in their miserable lives. But there is no way it could have happened. No way, no how would any of them move against one of their own number.

Well, not until it’s totally and completely safe to do so, at any rate.

The Breaking Point. Maybe.

That might be the situation we find ourselves in now with Todd Bentley. As accusations mount against him–many of them quite serious–his peers in Christianity might have finally hit their breaking point. The pressure on Rick Joyner and his other protectors must be intense right now.

But it is not his protectors and friends who wrote the letter recently denouncing him. None of those ministers have any authority over him. As Relevant points out, Bentley doesn’t appear worried by their denunciation, though Christianity Today notes that he also claims to have lost a lot of congregants recently.

before she tries to turn my computer off again
GOOD.

And as far as I can tell, Rick Joyner himself still defends his protege. In August, he literally denounced in turn one of Bentley’s newer critics.

As long as Todd Bentley is enabled and sheltered by his fellow foxes, the henhouse remains a predator’s fantasy hunting-field.

That’s just how the foxes like it.

Ya know, for all that fundagelicals accuse us of not converting cuz “muh accountability,” you’d think they’d, I dunno, maybe be more accountable themselves instead of fighting it every step of the way, kicking and screaming.

NEXT UP: The Toronto Blessing, and the narratives of power and hierarchy it perpetuated and ignored. See you soon!


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. And she still can't carry a note in a bucket. You can read more about the author here.
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