LAKELAND | Evangelist Todd Bentley, who led a Pentecostal revival in Lakeland from a modest beginning to near-historic proportions, has filed for separation from his wife, a former spokesperson said Monday, and will not return to the ongoing revival.
Lynne Breidenbach, a local woman who had been a media liaison for Bentley during the months-long Florida Outpouring Revival, told The Ledger that Bentley announced to his staff Monday afternoon that he and his wife, Shonnah, had separated. The Bentleys have two daughters and a son, and are Canadian citizens. Under Canadian law, separation is a preliminary step in divorce proceedings, lasting nine months. Breidenbach, who resigned as revival spokesperson Monday, called the news of the separation “very sad.”
The revival began April 2 at Ignited Church in Lakeland. Bentley announced two weeks ago that he would end his regular appearances at the revival on Aug. 23 to resume his traveling evangelistic work, but he was scheduled to lead services next week. The Rev. Stephen Strader, pastor of Ignited Church, said Tuesday that he was informed three weeks ago that Bentley and his wife had been undergoing marriage counseling for a few years.
“Last week, Todd shared with me that his wife had returned to Canada, and he’s following her this week. I’ve been assured by his people that there is no third party involved,” Strader said.
J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma, a magazine for Pentecostals based in Orlando, said Tuesday the news of Bentley’s marital troubles would likely further polarize those following the revival.
“A large segment of the movement has been skeptical from day one. They’re going to see this as a natural progression. Others who have been following Todd are going to be spiritually shipwrecked. We’ve most definitely seen through this revival a lot of people are not grounded in Scripture, so for them, it won’t be an issue,” he said.
Todd Bentley, the pierced, tattooed, T-shirted evangelist who has drawn thousands of people and brought international attention to revivals in Lakeland, will end his stint this weekend.
Although he still conducts some of the twice-daily revivals at Ignited Church, where he started the revivals in April, Bentley hasn’t been attending every night, said Elesha Greter, a spokeswoman for Fresh Fire Ministries, which is based in Canada. She didn’t know which day would be his last.
The stress of the successful “Outpouring” revivals also may have contributed to marital trouble for Bentley and his wife, Shonnah. The couple have separated, the Fresh Fire Ministries board of directors said in a message posted on the ministries Web site.
“Undoubtedly the pressures and the burden of the Outpouring, which approaches 144 days on August 23rd, have helped to create an atmosphere of fatigue and stress that has exacerbated existing issues in their relationship,” the Web site states.
The Web site adds that the directors do not think the revivals and their success were to blame for the separation.
The revival’s run has attracted attention from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
The BBC will send a crew from its program “Around the World in 80 Faiths.” The crew hoped for an interview with Bentley but learned late Monday he might not be in Lakeland when it arrives this month.
A spokesman said the BBC crew will proceed with its plans to film what remains of the revival for broadcast in 2009 as part of a series on global faith.
Bentley recently announced that he will be leaving the Lakeland meetings in order to conduct meetings overseas. His last day at Lakeland is scheduled for Aug. 23.
Hank Hanegraaff, author and host of the popular “Bible Answer Man” radio program, called Bentley “an absolute false prophet.” He calls what’s going on in Lakeland a “counterfeit revival.”
“Unfortunately, today people are looking for God in all the wrong places,” Hanegraaff wrote on his website. “They’re going to hear in Lakeland all kinds of things, from people being resurrected from the dead—not true, no details, no descriptions—to supposedly people being pickled and marinated in the Spirit…. In fact, they’re going to hear about vibrating in the Spirit now. This guy is an absolute phony. Unfortunately, people are falling for his ruse.”
Hanegraaff added, “When you say God did something He didn’t do or the Holy Spirit told you something He didn’t tell you, that’s blasphemous.”
Russell D. Moore, senior vice president for academic administration and dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, bemoaned the fact that people believe Bentley’s claims.
“Every few years here comes another fraudulent, scandal-riddled ‘faith healer,’” Moore said. “That’s, sadly, no surprise. I am not dubious about healing. I believe that God heals today…. We all know, however, that there are those who will use the power of God to peddle a product.
“What’s most tragic about this cycle, though, is the fact that there’s always a constituency for guys like this. I fear that it’s more than just P.T. Barnum’s famous old maxim about the gullibility of the American public. I fear that there’s something missing in our churches that drives even some of our people to charlatans. Might there be less of a demand for these traveling health-and-wealth revivalists if our churches spent more time on our knees in prayer for sick and hurting people?”
Moore encouraged believers to pray for the sick according to the commands of James 5:13-15 instead of looking to faith healers like Bentley.