Todd Bentley Fires Blanks in Texas07/22/2008
By Danny Gallagher
DENTON, Tex.--The University of North Texas "Super Pit" indoor stadium is packed to the nosebleed seats with people hoping to see a knee to the stomach, a poke check to the ribs, or the classic swift kick to the cojones–because they all know that mega-evangelist demon stomper Todd Bentley is IN THE HOUSE for one night only.
As the crowd gets lathered up for the event, there are long slow lines snaking out of the ladies rooms that could rival the wait times at Disney World. Overpriced bags of potato chips and canned soda wait behind counters for families who don't stop to think about things like food budgets or their children's blood sugar levels. And almost every seat has a butt planted firmly in it, including the handicapped and disabled sections that are filled with people in wheelchairs.
They want God and they want Todd, not necessarily in that order.
Bentley doesn't wear $2,000 custom made suits or exotic Italian shoes to show how God helped him attain his empire. He wears blue jeans with holes in the knees and Jesus-themed T-shirts that look like they came off the rack of an evangelical chopper shop. His arms are filled with a gaggle of tattoos that are a mesh of mutating gangrene through eyes from 20 rows away, and his face has an assortment of metal piercings and barbells, which are reminiscent of his early days as a hard-partying, drug-snorting, whiskey-soaked juvenile criminal who has a colored criminal rap sheet of assaults, burglaries and even sexual molestations, according to an investigative report conducted by the news magazine Report in Bentley's native Canada.
A native of British Columbia, Bentley became famous overnight after just four months of tent revivals in a Lakeland, Florida, RV park that are picked up and re-broadcast by an internet network called GOD TV. Bentley breaks the mold for itinerant healing acts, using street cred and biker lingo instead of the usual light shows and altar calls, but his supernatural story-spinning is truly inspired: messages from angels, out-of-body trips up to heaven, fantastic healings that are not only instantaneous but backed up by “documented medical evidence” that, according to the Associated Press, doesn’t get widely produced.
His revivals resemble Pantera shows. He doesn't just speak in tongues and scream into microphones. Bentley rids people of their emotional and physical demons by beating, slamming or kicking them out of their bodies because a) God commands him to, and b) "Sometimes when you're dealing with a demon spirit, it's done with great force."
Unfortunately, Todd is making a rare venture out of Lakeland just as his tent meetings are starting to burn out. A recent "Nightline" story painted his church in a very unflattering light both from the perspective of a father who brought his sick child all the way from Seattle to the local townspeople who feel his presence has put a blight on their small Southern city. Eventually Bentley announced he was leaving Lakeland "to reflect and to rest."
Apparently he’s about to find out that skipping town is the best thing he can do for his credibility anyway. The nearest parking space tonight is on the other side of Fouts Field and takes more than a half an hour to find, so I know the crowd is going to be a large one. Families trudge through the cement-steaming heat with their Bibles in one hand and children in the other. The most popular themed T-shirts are a Reese's Pieces wrapper parody and the eye-grabbing "Under the Influence…of Christ!" Bentley also draws more than his share of actual bikers, complete with the jackets, the vests and the colorsas well as a noticeable number of biker jackets and leather vests on the backs of bikers for Christ.
The pre-show features a soft rock band, the same band that seems to pop up at every revival, singing the same religious phrases 30 or 40 times through cheap-sounding concert equipment to whip the crowd into the kind of spirit-shaking frenzy that only an epileptic seizure could replicate. Just off to the side stands Bentley, psyching himself up, changing positions from lying on his stomach (ground meditation?) to pumping his fist to the blaring beat of the drums.
On this night Bentley shares a double bill with preacher Keith Miller of the Denton-based Stand World Firm Ministries who tells the assembled 8,000 that "Tonight, we're going to have an early Fourth of July" (minus, of course, the fireworks, free hot dogs and constant replaying of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." until your ears bleed). Then finally, Miller asks the crowd to give Bentley "a great big God bless you" as he steps up to the mike and fulfills the crowd's insatiable appetite for some serious UFC-style demon ass-kicking.
Bentley knows how to work the crowd. He doesn't immediately launch into a barrage of BAMs or let the Holy Spirit ragdoll him into the "Curly Shuffle." Instead he starts with the revival equivalent of "Hello, Cleveland, are you ready to rock?"
"There was only two other times that I would go into another city and He was there," Bentley said, "but I didn't feel it the way I feel it now in Texas. This is the place where the fire of God will fall. It's already falling!"
The crowd feeds into his enthusiasm and Bentley launches into a rapid-fire repetition of "Holy Glory!" until the entire stadium can hear his vocal chords crack.
"Do you want the glory?!?" Bentley screams. "The smoking holy glory?!?"
He falls to both knees, shaking his head from side to side, as muffled screams reverberate through his rubbery lips.
"Let the outpouring come here tonight!" he shouts. "Let the coals fall tonight!"
Then he brings it down. Bentley talks about the early days of his ministry, visions of heavenly bodies and settings and divine prophecies as told through the mouths of angels. He talks about his legion of 10,000 "harvesters" who roam the streets of Lakeland looking to spread the word of his miracles and God's capacity to work through him. He even talks about his pilgrimages to cities and nations who are "hungry" for the word of God in a calm and registered tone–and all that lasts about eight seconds.
"I've come here to help spread the fire," Bentley says. "BAM! BAM!"
Four or five BAMs later Bentley utters an ear-shattering KABOOM in Miller's direction and the Denton preacher falls over backwards, shaking and twitching like a slab of bacon that's been thrown on a hot griddle.
Bentley goes on for another two hours about his divine medical miracles, supernatural surgeries, religious root canals and raising of 30 people from the dead, including one poor soul who asked his family to play his revival at the funeral and started knocking on the inside of the coffin. Unfortunately, there won't be any such miracles performed this night. No one in a wheelchair is pushed to the stage. No cancer survivors walk up the stairs to thank Bentley for kicking the carcinoma right out of them or a recently departed zombie for returning him to the land of the living. Not one crutch-clutching crowd member hobbles to the stage to get the holy head-butt from Bentley himself. Truth be told, I was a little disappointed.
So were a lot of other people who frankly had more of a right to be than I did. William Dembski, a research professor of philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, attended Bentley's Denton revival with his wife and their twin 7-year-old boys, one of whom is autistic, at the behest of his friends who told him Bentley had the healing touch. He couldn't even get his family down to the main floor to pray.
"Ushers twice prevented that from happening," Dembski said in the Baptist Press. "They noted that he was not in a wheelchair. . . . People with needs were shortchanged. It seemed that power, prestige and money (in that order) were dominating motives behind the meeting. Minimal time was given to healing, though plenty was devoted to assaulting our senses with blaring insipid music and even to Bentley promoting and selling his own products (books and CDs)."
Just before the revival reaches its third hour, Bentley asks for an offering. Badge-clad volunteers roam up and down the aisles with white plastic buckets while parents and adults whip out their checkbooks or pull some big bills out of their wallets, all of which would go to Miller's ministry, Bentley claimed. By that time it’s obvious there’s gonna be no carcinoma-kicking, so most of the contributors were probably just showing their gratitude for the absence of Lee Greenwood music.