- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

While the media try to find out whether Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin is a practicing Pentecostal, they’re missing the seething frustration in the Pentecostal-charismatic movement over someone else.

That someone is Todd Bentley, 32, the much-tattooed Canadian evangelist who arrived in Lakeland, Fla., in April to kick off a revival known as the “Lakeland Outpouring.”

Despite Mr. Bentley’s “healing” methods that sometimes include punching and kicking spiritual seekers, thousands poured into the city to hear him preach.

By mid-June, the national media were coming to see a guy who was drawing crowds of 30,000 a week. I wrote a column about him back then, suggesting that charismatic and Pentecostal Christians have had their fill of dubious celebrities.

By early August, he and his wife had separated, and his board released a statement describing his “unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff.”

The saga is now being called the “Lakeland disaster.”

There were warnings. After Mr. Bentley began talking about his visions of “Emma,” a female angel with a long white gown, some Pentecostals - for whom spiritual phenomena such as healing and speaking in tongues is commonplace - began to think twice.

R.T. Kendall, one of the calmer voices in the movement, wrote an prescient essay for the current issue of Ministry Today magazine saying the revival “isn’t of God.”

“Never once have I heard a clear message of the gospel of Jesus Christ from the Lakeland platform,” he wrote, “except when a guest speaker did it.”

When the revival imploded, the blogs exploded. Charisma magazine Editor Lee Grady, who was at first taken in by this evangelist (see his April 23 blog “A Holy Ghost Outbreak in Florida” at https://fireinmybones.com), ended up penning “Life After Lakeland: Sorting Out the Confusion” on Aug. 13.

“We’re just plain gullible,” he wrote. “I blame this lack of discernment, partly, on raw zeal for God. We’re spiritually hungry - which can be a good thing. But sometimes, hungry people will eat anything.”

“We have had enough of false prophets!” wrote Marsha West of Merlin, Ore., founder of www.newswithviews.com, a Christian Web site.

What infuriated her is how so many Christian leaders endorsed Mr. Bentley way too quickly.

“Many in the charismatic church are furious with them, but it’s too late,” she wrote Aug. 30. “The damage is already done and cannot be undone. What’s worse, thousands of people believed there was a ‘revival’ going on and traveled from all over the globe to be a part of it. Some went hoping to be healed. They weren’t.”

What particularly incensed her was a June 23 “apostolic alignment commissioning service” when several well-known Christian leaders laid hands on Mr. Bentley, anointed him with “revival oil” FedEx’ed in by one of their compatriots, then prayed and prophesied over him.

It was incredible theater. Watch it on YouTube.

“He’s given you the keys of David,” one of the leaders said of God. “He’s opened doors no man may close.”

Some of those same leaders are now issuing apologies. But what about the prophecies they gave? Were they false?

If Sarah Palin wants to distance herself from this type of thing, I don’t blame her.

Julia Duin’s “Stairway to Heaven” column runs Tuesdays and Thursdays. Contact her at [email protected]

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