Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Does forgiving mean forgetting?

[The second article by The Report newsmagazine on Todd Bentley. From the April 30, 2001 issue, page 50.]

Does forgiving mean forgetting?

A faith healer comes clean on his young-offender conviction for child molestation

by Rick Hiebert

Todd Bentley has a confession to make. A faith healer who has attracted international attention over the past several months, Bentley presents himself as a reformed bad boy who was once jailed for 18 months for “crimes of an assault nature” and breaking-and-entering in his home town of Gibsons B.C.. The truth is, his most serious crime was more heinous; the molestation of a seven-year-boy. “They were sexual crimes,” Bentley admits. “I was involved in a sexual assault ring. I turned around and did what happened to me. I was assaulted too.”

“I don’t like to talk about it publicly because it would hurt [my ministry],” he concedes. “I don’t whip it out in the newspapers or on TV because people will go ‘Whaaa?’ I’ll say ‘I was in prison, period. Let’s move on.’”

Bentley’s admission took place after he was confronted with information given to The Report following the magazine’s publication of a story (“Signs and wonders”, March 5) on his burgeoning ministry. Federal law protects young offenders by prohibiting the dissemination of any information that may identify a youth convicted of a crime, but Bentley, now 25, freely provided details of the offence. “I was 13 years old when I committed my crime,” he says. “I was jailed at 14.” (In fact, The Report has learned that Bentley molested the boy in October 1990, when Bentley was 14, and that he was sentenced in March 1991, when he was 15.)

Bentley, who is now married and is the father of three young children, stresses he has repented for his crime and has undergone three years of counseling. “There has not been and there won’t be other cases,” says the evangelical faith healer, who feels he needs no counseling to ensure he does not re-offend. ‘It’s something that’s dead and buried for me.”

But, in an age when the likes of Protestant televangelists and catholic priests have been ensnared by sexual scandal, the issue is far from dead. Denny Cline, pastor of the Albany, Oregon, Vineyard where Bentley launched a healing revival last year, looks on him as a spiritual son and says Bentley always exhibits a godly character. Upon learning of Bentley’s molesting offence, Pastor Cline remarks, “I don’t think he told me that, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. It wouldn’t have mattered in regards to what he is doing now, and the person that he is now…If he’s paid his debt to society and God’s forgiven him of everything, then who am I not to forgive?”

On the other hand, Lieutenant Jeff Johnston, a Salvation Army pastor in Port Alberni, B.C., who used to work in Bentley’s hometown is more skeptical. “There’s absolutely no way that I would allow my own kids to come within a million miles of anyone who had been involved in a youth sexual assault,” he says. Lieut Johnston notes a church group tried to bring Bentley to Gibsons for a series of meetings in 1998, but the gatherings were called off after Lieut. Johnston and other pastors threatened not to allow their youth groups to attend.

“It’s one thing to be forgiving, it’s another thing to be stupid,” Lieut. Johnston says. “If you, as a pastor, had someone in your church ministry who had been involved in these things and they ever re-offended, the fact that you knew and didn’t disclose it to parents, take every pfrecation, would be a huge liability issue.”

Forewarned is forearmed, says Canadian Alliance MP Randy White. Given the notorious recidivism of pedophile offenders, the federal government should pass the national sex-offenders registry bill he tabled April 4. Mr. White explains that police need to be able to keep track of sex offenders who enter fields such as itinerant evangelism. “It’s worse not to admit the offence from the start,” Mr. White observes. ‘If you hide it, ultimately someone will cross your path and expose you. It becomes twice as hard to deal with.”

Furthermore, Darrell Johnson, a professor of pastoral theology at Vancouver’s Regent College and a Presbyterian minister, says that although Bentley promises his past is “dead and buried”, his victim—and the victim’s family are likely still suffering. The professor is also concerned that Bentley admits he has no pastors or counselors to help him now. Says Prof. Johnson, “Openness, transparency and accountability would protect him, as well as the people he ministers to.”