Sexual misconduct allegations against Fresh Fire USA leader Todd Bentley have now snowballed to include reports from victims overseas, according to Stephen Powell, the estranged protégé of the popular and controversial faith healer, whom he dismissed in a report last Thursday as “not fit for public ministry.”
“I’ve just had a written statement submitted by a pastor last night of all kinds of stuff, including how he is talking to multiple leaders in Pakistan that are claiming that Todd sexually assaulted three girls over there … I don’t know the exact nature of it but they used the word sexually assaulted. … We’re trying now to get the written statement from the (Pakistani) pastors themselves,” Powell told The Christian Post in an interview Monday.
He said they were being very careful in handling these allegations because “these girls, they are in the Muslim world. It is a very sensitive issue.”
Ben Burges of Healing Word Ministries, who said he was ordained under Fresh Fire USA in 2016, also mentioned the allegations in a letter cited by Christian News Network, noting that Bentley is “no longer welcome in Pakistan among the leaders and churches he works with” as a result of the allegations. Burges reportedly traveled with Bentley to Pakistan in 2017.
Burges also noted that during his travels with Bentley, he witnessed the evangelist jesting in a crude sexual manner with a female intern.
“Todd’s response was, ‘Oh, get over it. You better get used to [sexual act] soon; you are about to get married,” Burges noted.
“My concern is that if these things are not handled properly by leadership that Todd cannot get the help he needs,” Burges added. “There are people that are sexually scarred for life, and if leaders don’t handle this properly it will be because of the negligence of leaders that choose to not handle this appropriately.”
A Fresh Fire USA representative told CP Wednesday morning that Bentley would not be doing any interviews and when asked about the allegations coming out of Pakistan said, “I can’t respond for him.”
Powell, who leads the Lion of Light Ministries, first teased bits of a yet to be made public 30-page report on Facebook last Thursday in which he alleged Bentley has a “perverse sexual addiction” that has driven him to prey on interns in 2013 and beyond.
In his Facebook statement, Powell, who believes he got a mandate from God to call wayward Christian leaders to repentance, alleged Bentley “has an appetite for a variety of sexual sins, including both homosexual and heterosexual activity.” He also accused the evangelist of indulging in an open marriage with his wife Jessa. His report further criticized Bentley’s restoration process stemming from moral failure in 2008.
The 30-page report is said to have been shared with more than 100 leaders in the charismatic movement and some who have read it call it “damning.”
“I have seen the report. It’s bad. It’s bad,” Apostle Derrick Gates of Derrick Gates Ministries, who described himself as having working relationships with both Powell and Bentley, told CP Tuesday.
Powell confirmed with CP that Gates, who said he was also previously a member of Bentley’s camp, had joined him in confronting Bentley with evidence from the report earlier this summer. Bentley, Powell said, initially denied the allegations until he later began admitting to only parts of it.
Bentley has since publicly admitted to sending suggestive text messages to his interns in 2013 but vehemently denied any misconduct since that time. He also denied any homosexual conduct while arguing that many of the allegations made against him in Powell’s report are unproven, false and exaggerated.
Hard to deny
Some charismatic leaders argue, however, that based on what they have read in Powell’s report it might be difficult for Bentley to counter.
“My understanding from Stephen is that anything that made it into the report was stuff that had substantial evidence to back it up and people that were willing to back it up,” Gates said.
“Is there a possibility that some people may have had an axe to grind and make something up? That’s a possibility. But he (Bentley) would have to prove that they [all] made it up. When you look at that report, you have I don’t know how many different people and different stories that there are and they, the people, don’t know each other and they have the same type of stories. To me, that’s what makes it so damning. You have all these different stories and they all line up. I don’t know how you defend against that. I hope he can,” Gates said.
Powell said he has evidence showing that Bentley’s alleged predation continued beyond 2013 despite the evangelist completing a years-long restoration process in 2012 that was overseen by Rick Joyner, author of The Final Quest and founder of Morning Star Ministries and Heritage International Ministries; Bill Johnson, senior leader of Bethel Church in Redding, California; and Jack Deere, former leader of Wellspring Church in North Richland Hills, Texas.
Bentley was supposedly restored after he admitted to an emotional relationship with a staff member in 2008, which resulted in him separating from his now ex-wife Shonnah. It was also the same year that Bentley emerged as a superstar in the charismatic movement at the Lakeland Revival in Florida, which attracted an average of 30,000 or more people each week that came from across the U.S. and around the world.
In an open letter published on Tuesday, Ron Cantor, host of the “Out of Zion” television show on GOD TV, who leads Messiah's Mandate International, said there was strong evidence that Bentley has not been completely honest about his repentance.
“I was shown all the evidence, including recorded testimony. I also saw the letters that Stephen wrote to Rick Joyner. There is no threat, just disappointment that a leader in the body doesn’t seem to take these allegations seriously. Unlike what Rick Joyner continues to say—most of the allegations are not false,” he said. “For that to be true, all of these people (about a dozen) must be lying and have no fear of God. This includes a pastor, who just this May, saw a woman in Todd’s hotel room ‘till late nights and early mornings ALONE’ and his witnessed a pattern of extreme lying. He has banned Todd from going on their mission trips.”
He continued: “It includes asking a young single admirer by text to take photos of herself for him—he tells her she is beautiful, and then asks her what she is wearing. She immediately blocked him. Imagine that! She is talking to one of her heroes, and by the end of the conversation she has to block him for acting in a perverted way. What do you think that did to the girl? And Rick is still only talking about Todd in his videos…never the victims!”
Cantor argued that even for a “grace and mercy oriented” person like himself, the evidence against Bentley is just too compelling for him to remain in public ministry.
“I am not a nitpicker or faultfinder. I am not a hyper-holiness preacher. I am not super religious or legalistic. I am much more grace and mercy oriented. But I am telling you, I have seen the evidence and it is bad; it is creepy—and it is not pre-2013. I don’t know what is up with Rick Joyner, but I have been told he has seen this. I don’t know a leader in the body who, after seeing this, if they had the authority, and Rick does (even though he is claiming he doesn’t) who would not pull Todd from public ministry. I am dumbfounded. If Rick Joyner knows something I don’t, I am all ears. He knows how to contact me. But it is hard for me to believe that all of these people are making up stories. They have no motive."
Charismatic movement rocked
The charismatic movement is an interdenominational Christian renewal effort and is one of the most popular and fastest-growing forces within the Christian world today. It is most known for its acceptance of speaking in tongues (also known as glossolalia), divine healing, and prophecies as evidence of the Holy Spirit.
Powell would not share a copy of his report on Bentley and none of the more than 100 leaders who have a copy of it have shared it publicly. When asked why it is being guarded so tightly, Gates suggested that many leaders are concerned about how it could impact the charismatic movement.
“I think it’s probably because it’s so critical. If I could even say this, it’s so crude the things that are in it. Some people are of the idea that the body of Christ can’t take it. People are worried that it’s going to hurt the body too bad to see it. Probably everybody has their different reasons,” Gates said.
He further noted that the allegations against Bentley represent one of the biggest scandals to hit the charismatic movement in America in a while.
“I really do think so and it’s sad in a lot of ways. In a lot of ways I feel bad for Todd because if in the end, Todd is guilty, if that’s what they say, if that’s what comes out then in a weird way, I don’t want to seem critical of anybody, but in a weird way, Todd’s a victim,” he said.
Bentley’s botched restoration
Gates argued that based on what he has read in Powell’s report, Bentley’s restoration from his 2008 moral failure and eventual return to ministry was poorly handled.
“This reminds me of a football player that comes straight out of high school and is into college but he is not a good student," Gates said. "But he is really good at his gift which is playing. So what they do is every time he gets injured instead of sitting him down and let him get an education, and work him slowly back into it they just give him a shot in the knee and forget the grades and get him back out on the field until his senior year of college he blows his knee out and he’s done for the rest of his life and now he doesn’t have an education … but they used him for his gift.”
“That’s what the charismatic movement did to Todd by not getting him healed right in the beginning. Not having him healed right and get deep deliverance and get deep therapy and making sure that his family was right. For me, restoration is not about ministry. Restoration is about your salvation and your family. At the end of the day, it’s not about signs, miracles and wonders. Who could care less about that? Let’s care about salvation and your family and your relationship with God.”
If it were left up to R. Loren Sandford, senior pastor at New Song Church and Ministries in Denver, Bentley would never have been allowed to return to ministry after his 2008 moral failure based on the “mockery” he understood Bentley made of his restoration process.
“Once more Todd Bentley is being exposed in heinous sin. On several occasions after the fall of the Lakeland Revival in 2008, as I ministered both out of the country and here in the US, I was publicly asked what I thought about Todd’s restoration to ministry,” he began in a post on Facebook Monday.
“I had inside information concerning how he made what I considered to be a mockery of his restoration process. On more than one occasion as I answered the question I felt the wrath of God impact me and flow through me with such force that I saw stars and, in one instance, my vision went black for a moment. My answer was that I have personally overseen four restoration processes and that, if Todd had been under my care, having pulled what he pulled, he would never be allowed to stand on a stage again. Based on what he did, he can never make his current marriage right."
Joyner, who said he knew Bentley would mess up again when he signed off on his restoration in 2012, disagreed. He described Powell as a liar and argued that he is operating in a spirit of witchcraft by publicly calling out the Fresh Fire USA leader.
“If a brother is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore them, and do it in a spirit of gentleness lest we too be tempted. So I’ve resolved to obey that. I’m not going to turn away from anyone who is caught in any trespass. And I’ll be honest with you, working with some really public figures … my whole concept of any trespass got so stretched. And my concept of what God would give His grace and mercy to got so stretched. Even the deplorable things that Todd did do in this case, to me, they weren’t shocking anymore. And I’ve seen God help people through things way worse,” Joyner said.
He said Bentley got counseling and repented of the things he did in 2013, and he along with others will investigate the other allegations made by Powell. He suggested as well that the exposure will benefit both his ministry and Bentley’s as well.
Louis DeSiena, senior leader at The Gate Church in Jacksonville, Florida, who leads the Kingdom Revival Alliance where Bentley is also a leader, argued that the evangelist has already repented and suggested that Powell’s disclosure was a vindictive move to destroy the evangelist’s ministry.
“I don’t want to excuse what Todd did, but I have found no evidence to this point of affairs … only loose talk,” DeSiena said in a Facebook video.
“I believe in restoration, I don’t believe in the restoration process so much …. None of us are done ever being restored. That’s just the truth. None of us … would never come to a place where we have arrived … I love that Jesus has never told me once in repentance, ‘now only if you swear to never do it again will I forgive you.' That’s never been a mandate of the Lord. We’re to forgive when our brothers confess their sins and then they were to seek repentance from God in a place of renewal and get back to the place they were. And that’s my goal, is always to get people back in ministry,” he said.
“What Todd did disgusted me and when Todd realized what he had done, disgusted him,” DeSiena said.
He said while he was in India, Bentley sat with him and “confessed everything in his life to me … all the way back to when he was 10 years old and it was pretty rough.
“I looked at him and said ‘brother, I forgive you, you are forgiven.’ That’s my role. When someone confesses their sin to us our job is to forgive them. Jesus didn’t give us another option,” he argued.
“It’s only when somebody does not ask for forgiveness that we are to sit there and now take it to a new level.”
He then explained that Powell had threatened Bentley with the report of his alleged failings for six weeks and refused to share it with the ministry. He further noted that they were only able to get a copy of the report after he had shared it with the group of more than 100 pastors.
Powell told CP, however, that he only withheld the report from DeSiena and others on Bentley’s leadership team because he was concerned that they would attempt to twist it and work to discredit him.
Misguided theology of forgiveness?
Despite the allegations against Bentley, many of his followers continue to support his ministry, stating, like his ministry leaders, that he has already been forgiven by God for his moral failures.
Valerie Cooper, associate professor of Religion and Society and Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School, told CP in an earlier interview that this behavior is often due to what she calls a “sloppy theology of forgiveness.”
She explained that they are unable to separate the transformative work that the pastor has done in their lives from the destructive behavior.
"They look at this situation and say, 'now the pastor is in trouble, I need to show up for pastor like pastor showed up for me.' And there has not been, unfortunately, I think there is a need for the development of a way to think about this theologically," she said.
"There is a really great need for some thoughtful and theological attention to how individual Christians, our obligation, for when a crisis of this nature takes place. What is the Christian's obligation to forgive? What is the leader's obligation to repent?" asked Cooper.
"There has been some discussion about people stepping down and stepping out of the pulpit and invariably those decisions are made in the context of the economic pressure 'I need a job.'
"So pastors get caught but they don't step out of the pulpit … that's across races and denominations and traditions, and the like. I think we need to just think seriously about how or if it's possible for a pastor to be restored."
She continued, "We have, I think, a very sloppy theology of forgiveness — that 'Oh, he said he was sorry, we forgive him.' I think that the consensus that is emerging, and it's not just a theological consensus but also a legal consensus, is that organizations have an obligation to protect the vulnerable from folks who have been proven to be abusers," she explained. "You have to put your theological forgiveness on one side and the obligations of your institution on another side. You might forgive them but that doesn't mean that they get to go back to children's church next week. They shouldn't."
“The theology of forgiveness and restoration that people are trying to use in relationship to him is more of the hyper-grace version that basically everything that he’s done and will ever do God already knew about, He’s already died for, it’s already under the blood, so just forget about it and move on. But what those people aren’t considering is …. Where is the outcry for the victims?” he asked.
“I know nobody knows who the victims are yet. If I was a victim I wouldn’t want to be known either,” he said, noting that they would get attacked in the media and would not have any support from ministry leaders.
“I would say if the things in the report are proven to be true in the entirety … then if it was my choice to make, if it was somebody that I was over, I would remove them from public ministry and I would recommend that they never go back into public ministry but again the problem is he’s not really under anybody.
“Nobody has the authority over him to make him step down or to never do ministry again. The only thing that would be able to happen is that people just speak out and basically leaders of churches not have him,” Gates said.
He also argued that one of the reasons it’s so difficult for Fresh Fire USA to remove Bentley from leadership is because the ministry is built around him.
“That’s a one-man show. Fresh Fire will be no more if that’s what happens,” he said, commenting on the possibility of Bentley stepping down.
“And that’s part of the problem in charismatic Christianity. We really need to get back to the roots of just being Christians and stop focusing on signs and wonders, anointings and mantles and all this charismatic lingo and start focusing on the principles of the Bible, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”