LAKELAND | Evangelist Todd Bentley, who led a Pentecostal revival in Lakeland from a modest beginning to near-historic proportions, has filed for separation from his wife, a former spokesperson said Monday, and will not return to the ongoing revival.
Canadian evangelist Todd Bentley preaches June 12 on the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In grounds during the Pentecostal revival that started April 2 and has continued ever since.
Lynne Breidenbach, a local woman who had been a media liaison for Bentley during the months-long Florida Outpouring Revival, told The Ledger that Bentley announced to his staff Monday afternoon that he and his wife, Shonnah, had separated. The Bentleys have two daughters and a son, and are Canadian citizens. Under Canadian law, separation is a preliminary step in divorce proceedings, lasting nine months. Breidenbach, who resigned as revival spokesperson Monday, called the news of the separation “very sad.”
“God uses fallen, flawed people. … This doesn’t invalidate what Todd did,” she said. The revival began April 2 at Ignited Church in Lakeland. Bentley announced two weeks ago that he would end his regular appearances at the revival on Aug. 23 to resume his traveling evangelistic work, but he was scheduled to lead services next week. The Rev. Stephen Strader, pastor of Ignited Church, said Tuesday that he was informed three weeks ago that Bentley and his wife had been undergoing marriage counseling for a few years.
“Last week, Todd shared with me that his wife had returned to Canada, and he’s following her this week. I’ve been assured by his people that there is no third party involved,” Strader said.
Bentley’s Fresh Fire Ministries Web site indicates that a September appearance by Bentley in England has been postponed. Phone calls to Fresh Fire Ministries in Abbotsford, British Columbia, were not returned Tuesday.
Shonnah Bentley has made few appearances on stage during the revival, which is now in its 133rd consecutive day.
Bentley, 32, announced earlier this month he would establish a U.S. base of operations in Lakeland. Fresh Fire Ministries recently purchased a lot in Oak Landing, a development in Mulberry.
Pentecostals and evangelicals historically have frowned on divorce, citing scriptural prohibitions. Ministers who were divorced usually had to give up their careers, but there have been some notable exceptions in recent years and attitudes appear to be changing.
J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma, a magazine for Pentecostals based in Orlando, said Tuesday the news of Bentley’s marital troubles would likely further polarize those following the revival.
“A large segment of the movement has been skeptical from day one. They’re going to see this as a natural progression. Others who have been following Todd are going to be spiritually shipwrecked. We’ve most definitely seen through this revival a lot of people are not grounded in Scripture, so for them, it won’t be an issue,” he said.
Strader invited Bentley to Lakeland to lead the revival. The twice-daily services were streamed live over the Internet and also televised by God TV, a small Christian network, and attendance grew quickly. Young people were drawn by Bentley’s unorthodox appearance – with tattoos, piercings and a goatee – which resembles a biker, rather than a buttoned-down televangelist.
Many traveled to Lakeland from outside Florida and the United States, and the revival changed location three times in search of larger venues. At its peak, the revival drew at least 10,000 people to services at Joker Marchant Stadium in May. From late June to Aug. 2, the revival took place under two large tents on the grounds of Sun n’ Fun Fly-in that could accommodate up to 10,000 people, but it has now returned to Ignited Church.
Bentley and the Florida Outpouring have been controversial, even among other Pentecostals. Bentley has been criticized for making extravagant claims of miraculous healing and even claimed dozens of people in various locations have been raised from the dead as a result of prayers offered at the Lakeland revival.
Bentley’s flamboyant style seemed borrowed at times from professional wrestling, which Bentley has said he watches. He often exclaims “Bam” as he touches or shoves people to “impart” healing, and in a video circulating on the Internet, he is seen driving his knee into the abdomen of a man who said he had colon cancer, causing the man to fall to his knees.