Friday, August 15, 2008

Todd Bentley, Marital Problems and Evangelical Hypocrisy

It's been reported that Todd Bentley, of Lakeland Revival fame, filed for separation from his wife, Shonnah on August 11th. You can read one of the news stories here.

Considering some of my recent blogs regarding Bentley's heresy, some might suspect that I would jump all over Bentley like flies on the proverbial manure. After all, how could a man who claims the power to raise the dead, usher in international revival, put gold fillings in people's cavities, and impart revival blessings to others have irreconcilable differences with the woman he promised (before God) to love and cherish "till death do us part"? One is reminded of the line, "Physician, heal thyself." Indeed.

Bentley is an easy target at this point. There aren't many other evangelists who have been featured on Nightline or interviewed by Geraldo recently. His ludicrous claims, thoroughly undocumented "healings" and aversion to preaching anything resembling the Gospel sets him up for the tirades of bloggers like myself.

Those thoughts notwithstanding, I think we conservative evangelicals do ourselves a disservice if we don't point out some of our own hypocrisy. Yes, Bentley deserves just about all of the flaming that can be dished out on blogs. However, when it comes to his decision to begin divorce proceedings (in Canada, filing for separation is the first step towards divorce, something which ought to be done in the United States since the trial period before the divorce might actually reconcile some marriages) against his wife, keep in mind that if you believe that this disqualifies him from ministry, "what's good for the goose is good for the gander."

For example, if you think that this incident ought to oust Bentley, I wonder what you think about other prominent Christian leaders and celebrities who have done the same thing? Charles Stanley's marriage problems and subsequent divorce did not oust him from his prominent pastorate in Atlanta. This, in spite of the fact that Stanley, before he himself was divorced, took a hard line against divorce. Amazing how things change when the shoe is on the other foot, isn't it?

I wonder if you were a Sandi Patti fan back in the 1980's? Patti was a favorite amongst conservative Christians during that time for her Christ-centered music. If you were a Christian teenager at that time, you probably had her music foisted on you from a well meaning but severely misguided grandparent, in an effort to wean you off of that "devil music" such as Petra or Stryper. But what happened when she divorced? Did her fan base disappear? Perhaps for a time, but she is now back in evangelicalism's good graces.

Amy Grant's slightly more recent divorce has not diminished her popularity for many professing Christians. And Michael English was quickly reinstated in Christian pop culture just a couple of years after his admitted infidelity with another Christian musician named Marabeth Jordan of First Call.

Know this: if past performance is any indicator, those who follow Bentley will welcome him back with open arms. It's not surprising considering the dramatic rise in divorce statistics WITHIN the evangelical community.

The question is, as it always is, "What does the Bible say?" We know that God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). Jesus said that the only just cause for divorce is adultery (Matt. 5:32). Having said that, it's a sin like any other. It can be forgiven through the work of Christ (1 Cor. 15:3). Does it disqualify from all ministry? 1 Timothy 3:4-5 indicate that an elder must "control his own household." A Christian musician is definitely not the same thing as an elder, but what category does Bentley fall under? This is something that the governing body of Fresh Fire Ministries will have to consider seriously.

Can we hope that they will take this seriously? Probably not. They have already shown their blatant disregard for truth by promoting Bentley. At the very least, they have put Bentley's plans on hold for the time being. Chances are, this is a temporary stop gap procedure to stop the PR bleeding.

In the meantime, this is a good time for us to ask ourselves, "How highly do we professing Christians view marriage?" Is it possible that for all of our posturing in the "culture wars", all of our campaigning against homosexual marriage, we are nothing but rank hypocrites? Satan does not need the homosexual agenda to destroy marriage. We're doing a pretty good job of it on our own.


ProRege said...

Jon, you are exactly right. There seems to be a double standard for those of high social standing in the
church. My husband, a cardiologist,
was placed under church discipline for repeated, unrepentant, very public adultery with more than one nurse, yet not a few people from my church continued to fellowship with him and disregard his family's state
in order to enjoy the benefits of
knowing him and receiving free medical attention.
This was a great offense to me and
to my children, who were well aware of what was going on. My
husband even used these associations to make us feel rejected and unwanted in our church. Thank God that God's true
people refused to wink at sin, and
continued with us, to pray for his
repentence and refuse to ignore his outrageous behavior.

Jon Speed said...


I am sorry to hear about your experience. Unfortunately, it is all too common in the church. Rare is the church that will exercise church discipline consistently. Those that did not honor the church discipline in your case should have been disciplined themselves.

There is no power in the church these days because we don't take the Scriptures or holiness seriously. We are overdue for judgment.


Steve said...

The hypocrisy in the church is sickening. At the church I got saved in and where I met my wife of 12 years, the counseling "pastor" told my wife, who wanted to end our marriage on umbiblical grounds (she wasn't happy), that divorce was ok (God would forgive her) He then asked me "Don't you think God wants her to be happy?" In my grief, I couldn't even respond. Now I would say "I can see God wanting her to be happy; but even more He wants her to be holy." My wife divorced me, feeling justified by his "counsel." I found out later that the "pastor" had left and divorced his wife years earlier, and his current wife (in high leadership at my church) is his second wife. His "counsel" nullified the plain words of Scripture. Now my wife is getting ready to marry another "christian" (that she is fornicating with) that cheated on and divorced his wife, and they will probably have the ceremony in our church. Should I confront the leadership at my church? Please pray for me, our children, and this situation. P.S. My church has about 3000 members, and is considered by many people as the best church in the city, and probably this part of the state.

Wayne Zeitner said...

"And Michael English was quickly reinstated in Christian pop culture just a couple of years after his admitted infidelity..."

If by "a couple" you mean thirteen, then yes...Michael only had to wait a Baker's Dozen years AND come clean with a total mea culpa.

I was at a golf tournament with Michael the morning after the 1994 Dove Awards, when he won SIX trophies, and wondered why he was sittin' in a corner scowling after such a wonderful night. His life only went downhill from there. Next time I saw him was in 2007 when he came to an employee meeting at Thomas Nelson Publishers to talk about his tell-all book. Nobody I know "winked" at his sin.

How are we to think about this matter, given the behavior of King David with Bathsheba? His throne wasn't taken from him, nor was he punished as a murderer. He was a horrible father and ended up as a disastrous king. And yet he's celebrated in scripture as "a man after God's own heart". I don't agree with your dismissal of "Christian pop culture" just because we forgive fallen brothers and sisters when they repent and ask us to forgive them.