Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ministry Answers for Bentley's 'Sins of the Flesh'

Ministry Answers for Bentley's 'Sins of the Flesh'
St. Petersburg Times

TAMPA | There are at least two sides to Todd Bentley, the unconventional, charismatic preacher who ministered to tens of thousands of people at a Lakeland revival earlier this year.

Up first, the tattooed revivalist with a classic bad-boy-gets-religion salvation story who said he spent hours praying and meditating in preparation for nightly services. And then, the darker Bentley, a man with a disintegrating marriage and a budding relationship with a former intern-turned-staff member, who also served as live-in nanny to his three children in Canada.

In a letter released Friday to supporters, Fresh Fire Ministries' leaders detailed Bentley's shortcomings in an attempt to answer lingering questions about what led to the preacher's downfall.

Bentley, 32, left Lakeland abruptly in August after leading the Florida Outpouring, a revival that lasted more than 100 days and attracted attention and attendees from around the world. The services centered on prophesy and faith healings.

When Bentley left, Fresh Fire leaders said the preacher had planned to take his ministry on the road for some time. The ministry, which also announced that Bentley and his wife, Shonnah, were separating, maintained that sexual immorality did not factor into that decision.

But the board's most recent letter described a different scenario:

"Todd Bentley has demonstrated himself unfaithful to his wife by entering into a relationship with another woman while still legally married. He has consumed more alcohol on a few occasions than is prudent or becoming (of) a Christian leader. … His sins have been sins of the flesh, and we do not defend them."

Bentley could not be reached for comment. Pastors in the bay area who both supported and condemned his controversial ministry methods, which once included kicking a woman in the face, did not return calls for comment.

A representative at Fresh Fire Ministries, which is based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, said the ministry no longer had staff members who could take calls from the media.

The directors' letter also laid bare their displeasure with Bentley's actions since he left Lakeland: The preacher had agreed to submit to counseling by a group of ministers but has not yet done so.

He has promised to move to Fort Mill, S.C., for counseling early next year.

Bentley remains "resolute" in his intentions to divorce his wife, and claims responsibility for the split, the directors wrote.

The board members do not condone the impending divorce or Bentley's ongoing relationship with another woman.

Lynne Breidenbach, former spokeswoman for Fresh Fire Ministries, resigned in August, just as Bentley left. She said she was uncomfortable with the direction his ministry was taking.

"It's a very sad situation," she said, "but this is what happens when people are allowed to minister unchecked."