Thursday, June 26, 2008

Oh, not again. Every few years we hear of another revival popping up in some obscure church that becomes famous worldwide, propelling the pastor who started it all into instant celebrity, a book deal and speaking tour.

There’s a new one with the marketable title of “the Florida Outpouring,” located in Lakeland, Fla., and starring the tattooed and lip-studded Canadian evangelist Todd Bentley, 32.

Launched April 2, the Florida Outpouring is drawing 30,000 visitors a week, half of them flying in from overseas, according to the Lakeland Ledger.

Unsubstantiated reports of peoplebeing raised from the dead have brought in national media - MSNBC, Geraldo Rivera and “Nightline,” for starters.

But I’m not going to be asking my bosses here for travel money yet. Why? Because every revival I’ve covered has ended with a whimper, not a bang.

In May 1994, I interviewed South African evangelist Rodney Howard Browne, whose specialty seemed to be getting people convulsed in paroxysms of “holy laughter.” He was not forthcoming about the money his ministry was raking in.

In 1996, I covered a “Toronto blessing” revival at a Vineyard church that was walking distance from the Toronto airport and also featured “holy laughter.”

The overwhelmed church didn’t have enough bathrooms and other niceties for the millions of visitors. But I could easily approach the lead pastor, and the Canadians weren’t endlessly dunning people for money.

By then, revival already was under way at the Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Fla. People stood for up to 12 hours in the summer sun to get into the place and hear evangelist Steve Hill’s riveting sermons that brought people running, not walking, to the altar to repent, confess and believe.

These church folks understood marketing. When I arrived there in June 1997, I was met by a media coordinator who supplied reporters with free photos.

Other churches got into the act, such as an enterprising Kansas congregation that took out ads in a leading charismatic magazine advertising its homegrown revival. It turned out their tiny town didn’t have enough hotels to house all the tourists, so they relocated to a larger city. I never heard much from them after that.

It’s been 10 years since the last revival, so I guess it is time for a new one. Whereas Toronto and Pensacola took at least a year to get on the media radar, Lakeland has only been around 86 days.

Watch this gentleman on YouTube yourself. On one video, Mr. Bentley is talking about angels that show up at his crusades, specifically a 14-foot-tall angel that appeared to him on Dec. 5, 2000. Didn’t this guy learn from the bad press Oral Roberts got from his 900-foot-tall Jesus visitation back in 1980?

And one need not search too much around the Internet to see the warnings Mr. Bentley’s fellow Pentecostals are circulating about him.

Part of the evangelist’s appeal is his insistence, according to his YouTube videos, that God wants healing to be so normative that every church will have its resident healers.

“God is at work in the meetings. There is a level of divine activity manifesting in the meetings that is clearly beyond what is our norm here in America,” Bob Sorge, a Missouri pastor whose ministry has been covered in this newspaper, wrote on

He flew to Lakeland for two days in early May to see what’s going on.

I am waiting for these evangelists to take vows of poverty, provide the media with their tax filings and medical verifications of actual healings. Maybe then I’ll say “Amen.” Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Thursdays and Sundays. She can be reached at

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