Sunday, August 16, 2009

News Article Recalls Lakeland Revival

*The article belows recalls various facets of the infamous Lakeland Revival and its aftermath. As most of those reading out there already know, Todd Bentley has returned to ministry; he has been "refreshed" (really?) and underwent a "restoration process" by NAR muck and mire--he was ministered to by apostolic big-wigs such as Rick Joyner of Morning Star Ministries. Encouraging? Uh,


Ecstasy & Agony

A Year Later, the Lakeland Outpouring Still Stirs Emotions

By Cary McMullen

Last summer, hundreds, thousands of sick people came to Lakeland hoping to get well again.

They came not to see doctors but a balding, Canadian biker-dude evangelist named Todd Bentley, who was in the midst of leading a long Pentecostal revival at which many people said they were miraculously healed.

Among the sick were Robbie Susan Moore and Linda Chen. Both were told they were in the end stages of cancer. Both received prayers to be healed. Within months, one inexplicably was free of cancer. The other was dead.

Such were the contradictions of the Lakeland Outpouring revival. For 188 days, it was - depending on who you talked to - loud, frustrating, joyous and an event where sick people were miraculously healed or false and dangerous doctrines were presented. It drew as many as 300,000 people from around the world and polarized opinions in the Pentecostal world.


A year ago, on Aug. 9, 2008, Bentley left the revival just as news got out that he and his wife, Shonnah, were separating.

The revival continued for awhile, but the crowds who flocked to see Bentley, hoping for miraculous cures, melted away.

Within months, Bentley married a woman who had been a volunteer at the revival, further scandalizing opponents and followers alike. His reputation was in tatters.

According to a scholar who has studied recent Pentecostal movements, the Outpouring occupies a memorable, if not historic, place among religious revivals for its size and worldwide reach - and for its controversy over extravagant miracle claims and Bentley's conduct.

"This revival was unique in that it was quickly covered virtually every night through God TV and the Internet.

Also, the Florida Outpouring became quite quickly one of the most divisive moments in modern Pentecostalism because of all the controversies about Todd," James A. Beverley, professor of Christian thought and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto and associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, Calif., wrote in an e-mail interview.


The revival's leaders say they had no idea it would grow to such proportions.

The Lakeland Outpouring began on April 2, 2008, at Ignited Church, an Assemblies of God congregation on Lakeland's north side. Ignited's pastor, the Rev. Stephen Strader, had invited the flamboyant Bentley to lead a week of services.

At the time, he was an independent evangelist who headed Fresh Fire Ministries, based in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

A former drug and alcohol abuser who spent a short stint in jail as a teenager on a molestation charge, Bentley is covered in tattoos and favors biker-style attire.

A favorite technique while leading services was to shout "Bam!" as he touched (or in some cases, shoved or kneed) people to "impart" the healing power of the Holy Spirit.

From the beginning, the revival devoted a lot of attention to the miraculous.

After the first week, attendance swelled, fed by an international audience watching live streamed services on the Internet and, later, on a religious satellite channel, God TV.

People watching from remote locations claimed they, too, had been healed.

The stories of Chen and Moore were among the many "testimonies" gathered by revival staff, even though, as in Moore's case, not all healings were valid, a point Bentley himself concedes. (See accompanying stories.)

Two weeks of services stretched to four and beyond. People flew to Lakeland from as far as South Africa and Australia.

The revival changed venues several times in search of a place to accommodate the thousands who were arriving daily, some desperate for healing from physical and mental ailments, some eager to participate in the rapturous services, some simply curious. Others were dragged along by friends and relatives.

In a phone interview from Morningstar Ministries in Fort Mill, S.C., just outside Charlotte, N.C., where he has been undergoing a "restoration" process, Bentley, 33, said he noticed something different right away.

"I had never experienced such a tangible weight of God or the ease with which people would testify they'd been healed. So many testimonies were coming in over the Internet," he said.


By late July, as the services met in enormous tents on the grounds of Sun 'n Fun, as many 10,000 people attended nightly. The miraculous claims multiplied.

But there were plenty of critics. For years, Bentley had claimed he had supernatural visions, such as spiritual visits to heaven that included encounters with figures like the apostle Paul, and visions of angels, including one named Emma.

Bentley says now he did not emphasize those visions in Lakeland, but traditional Pentecostals were alarmed that they smacked of heresy.

The Assemblies of God published a document as the revival was going on that did not mention the Florida Outpouring by name, but warned pastors and church members to beware of teachings that could not be upheld by the Bible.

Others said Bentley and revival leaders made too many claims for miracles that could not be verified or strained belief.

Bentley routinely read testimonies that came in over the Internet claiming that someone who had died had been resurrected because of prayers offered at the Outpouring. News organizations from around the world descended on Lakeland. ABC News and the Associated Press reported they investigated claims of healings but could not verify them.

After a couple of hoaxes, Bentley and Strader say they began issuing disclaimers on unverified miracles.

"There were a few stories that turned out to be false. I don't throw the baby out with the bath water. I can't say I or anybody else claimed too much," Bentley said.

But Beverley said Bentley should have been more careful.

"Whatever Todd thinks now, he talked too much about angels and made so many unsubstantiated claims about miracles that he brought his credibility into question," he said.


And all was not well behind the scenes as Bentley began dealing with marital problems. Strader said he sensed something was wrong in June when Bentley became less accessible.

"I never dreamed it was with Todd. I thought it was his organization," he said.

Bentley said his marriage had been shaky for years.

"I can't say I would have done things differently with Shonnah. It was already falling apart," he said. "It was a personal problem I brought with me into Lakeland. The hope in the back of my mind was that we were going to work it out. I didn't want it to hurt the kingdom of God or the revival."

Shonnah Bentley and the Bentleys' three children came to Lakeland for a while, but in July, they returned to Canada.

"We couldn't get back that friendship and intimacy. She did her best to support me. There was just too much fighting and bickering," he said.

Bentley confided his problems to a revival volunteer, Jessa Hasbrook, who occasionally helped keep the Bentleys' children.

The Fresh Fire board later described the relationship as "unhealthy," but Bentley denied having an affair with Hasbrook, as was rumored later by bloggers.

"There was no sexual affair going on in Lakeland. It was wrong to get emotionally involved so quickly. It made things look more scandalous," he said.

There were also rumors that Bentley was drinking, a problem since Pentecostals generally forbid the use of alcohol.

He says now that after his wife left, he turned to alcohol on "a few occasions," including once in public, but "I did not become an alcoholic."


Before word got out that he and his wife were separating, Bentley left the revival.

He met with Strader and turned the revival over to him and made a farewell appearance on Aug. 9. He told his staff about the separation with his wife and flew to California, where he stayed with friends, he said. Strader said it was a few days later before he learned the true situation.

Bentley said he "went into a cave," made no public appearances and dealt with divorce proceedings.

Bentley resigned from the board of Fresh Fire but didn't formally separate from the organization until this year. Strader returned the revival to Ignited and continued the nightly services, but crowds dwindled to a couple of hundred.

The revival's final service was on Oct. 12, barely noticed at the time. Bentley and Hasbrook married in March, shortly after Bentley's divorce was final.

Beverley said the revival provoked intense differences that still linger.

"The Lakeland Revival brought out two dangerous traits in analysts, both pro and con. First, people often adopted an 'all or nothing' approach as if the revival was either pure gold or from the pit of hell. Second, it was also amazing how both revival fans and critics would pronounce judgments on the inner motives of the other side. A complex, messy revival - with complex personalities in the mix - demands nuance, especially since both good and bad things happened," he said.

Bentley has been undergoing "restoration" counseling from fellow Pentecostal evangelist Rick Joyner at Morningstar Ministries.

He said he has clarified his doctrines and repented of behavior that caused pain and disillusionment and is preparing to return to the ministry.

In an agreement with Bentley's former organization, Fresh Fire Ministries renamed itself Transform International, and Bentley started a new organization, Fresh Fire USA, and a Web site (


His supporters say his divorce and remarriage should not stand in the way of his ministry.

Colleen Fader, of Ellenton, who visited the revival in April and says her kidneys were healed, said Bentley's problems are between him and God.

"God uses imperfect people. Todd can't heal anybody. It's God," she said.

Critics say that while some good things may have happened, Bentley's leadership was too deeply flawed, both doctrinally and morally.

The Rev. George O. Wood, the Assemblies' general superintendent, or highest official, said recently Bentley's failings disqualify him from leading services in Assemblies churches.

"I don't understand why anyone in their right mind would ever give Todd Bentley a platform again. I believe in redemption, but for some things you forever forfeit your public ministry. This man has proven by his lifestyle to be who he is, and our churches shouldn't be using him, period," he said.

Others are more circumspect. Strader said he could not invite Bentley back to Ignited Church because Assemblies of God policy forbids divorced people from leading services. But he said he would be willing to visit services elsewhere led by Bentley.

"Divorce, adultery and fornication are not unpardonable sins. ... Do I feel like Todd has done everything he needs to do to be restored? No. He has a long way to go," Strader said.

Bentley said he hopes to preach within the next year.

"Don't count me out. I'm getting my personal life, my character and my doctrine in order.

"I'm going to take responsibility, humble myself and not be afraid to say I sinned, I'm sorry. ... I'm emotionally and physically ready. The fire and the passion is there," he said.