Exploited Children in Churches and How Our Denial Fuels Abuse

Surprisingly, I had never heard of the televangelist sensation Todd Bentley until a friend of mine showed me an outrageous Youtube video (thanks, John!). Known as the “BAM, BAM, BAM” faith healer with hundreds of thousands of followers”1, Todd is known for outrageous claims and violence on stage.

Though I believe that Todd is an embarrassment to Christianity and everything that Jesus stands for, the purpose of this blog is not to poke fun at Pentecostals. There are plenty of genuine Pentecostal/Charismatic believers who openly distance themselves from Todd and others. The purpose is, however, to generally demonstrate how easy it is for people to be blinded, manipulated, and groomed into believing the unbelievable while denying the reality of sexual abuse.

I admit that I am, as millions of other viewers are, intrigued with Todd Bentley. It is easy to get sucked into his videos because of the entertainment and shock value. But I have a tendency to profile nearly everyone and the more I watched Mr. Bentley, the more I began to see major red flags common to pedophiles–narcissism, the ability to quickly groom a crowd and gain trust, intentionally and unapologetically crossing boundaries (there is a video of Todd kicking a man with stage 4 colon cancer in the gut and the man falls over in pain), offering unwanted rewards, too helpful, too eager to be around children, too aggressive when confronted, too good to be true, etc.

It didn’t take but a few minutes to find that Todd has a dark past and has spent time in prison as a juvenile for sexually assaulting a 7 year old 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.’”2 It is subtle and most people miss it, but narcissists begin most statements with “I.” Not only that, but when Todd speaks, the focus is all about Todd. “I” don’t like to talk about it. It would hurt “my” ministry. Sounds like a repentant sinner. . . or does it? Contrast him with King David, a truly remorseful sinner: “For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever before me. I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin” (Psalm 38:17-18 ESV). Never mind, though, that a 7 year old boy has to live the rest of his days with the shame and guilt that “you” placed on him Mr. Bentley. We wouldn’t want that to get in the way of your ministry.

The fact that Todd admits “I turned around and did what happened to me” would turn the head of every professional psychologist who works with pedophiles, and it should church leaders as well. That fact is vital for public disclosure, since adult pedophiles, who were themselves molested as children more than 50 times, begin assaulting others at a much younger age (Todd Bentley was 14 when he assaulted the 7 year old) and they commit well over 100 more acts of abuse as non-abused molesters (Gene Abel, The Stop Child Molestation Book, pg. 321). Todd admits that he was part of a sexual assault ring, which implies this was not a one time event that happened to him. If Todd was abused more than 50 times, and if he had objective testing by a sex-specific therapist showing that he is sexually attracted to children, he is by clinical definitions a potential lethal weapon to children. But he will never submit to testing, nor will any church demand he be tested. Mr. Bentley, who divorced his wife in 2008 following an inappropriate relationship with his current wife, says that the subject of his past sexual assaults on children is “dead and buried to me.”3

Surely this stance is unacceptable to people who look up to Todd, right? When pastor Denny Cline of Albany, OR, who happens to consider himself a “spiritual son” of Todd Bentley, was asked about Todd’s past abuse with children, he replied, “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?” “4

It wouldn’t have mattered anyway? To who? To the multiple young boys I’ve seen in Youtube videos with Bentley wrapping his grubby arms around them on stage as he nonchalantly caresses their shoulders? Should it matter to their parents who either blindly, like pastor Cline and God TV 5, ignore the fact that Bentley has a past of sexual assaults on a young boy, or who don’t know because Bentley insists on hiding it?

We parents and church leaders further exploit children by denying that abuse is going on in the churches. Children are extremely susceptible to suggestion, vulnerable, and malleable. Before blindly shoving our children into the hands of trusted church leaders, we ought to ask very hard questions and demand transparency. I close with a disturbing clip of Chris Harvey, a friend of Todd Bentley who put on quite the show when visiting Bentley at a Florida revival, tapping into the susceptibility of very young children. Shame on us when people like this go unquestioned by others:

6 Replies to “Exploited Children in Churches and How Our Denial Fuels Abuse”

  1. Jimmy,
    Thanks so much for yet another amazing article! I think this one really touched me hard because I see maniupulation and deceit on so many different levels.

    I’ve read this article three times now just to get the “whole” of it, and there’s a lot of information you’ve presented!

    I think your last few words sum it up so well: “Shame on us when people like this go unquestioned.”

    We’ve been silent far too long! It’s much easier to look away than it is to dig into the facts and look at them squarely and say, “This is wrong. This is very, very wrong.”

    Keep on writing! You’re educating so many of us!

  2. Wow, is this guy for real??? I can’t believe he’s actually saying (and doing) these things! I’m learning so much following your blog and your mom’s blog. Two different perspectives, both very useful and informative. I wish I’d found Finding a Healing Place 10 years ago! 🙁 (I know it didn’t even exist then.)

    Let me tell you something. I have always been “overprotective” of my kids. In high school, I dated a guy who had been molested for four years as a child by his best friend’s dad! I know bad things happen (not just pedophilia, either). My eldest child is now 6 and I’ve been feeling some pressure to ease up and not be “so paranoid.” Something in my gut just doesn’t feel right about that, though. I know lots of parents send their kids to a friend’s house for the night (or any number of activities) without thinking twice, but it doesn’t sit well with me. Now I know to trust my gut! And I know what warning signs to look for! I can’t thank you enough for sharing this information! God bless!

    1. Unfortunately, this guy is for real. And he for real has hundreds of thousands of people who have seen him. I don’t know what crowds he draws today since his comeback, but in 2008 he did a Lakeland revival in FL for months and was drawing a crowd of 10,000 a night. It’s crazy how many people grasp at straws because they have no hope. Todd knows this and capitalizes on it.

      I’m glad you’re reading our blogs. There is no hiding the fact that this is difficult material to read and digest. I was asked this morning by close Christian friends, “Knowing what you know now, and the darkness that is now in your head, how are you not way overprotective of your daughter?” It’s a fair question. I believe there is a difference between protecting our children and overprotecting them. Protecting our children means that we do not give access to our children (alone time) with one person. Period. Unapologetically. My daughter goes to daycare. An overprotective parent would not allow their child to have any interaction with people outside the home. A protective parent will allow their child to interact with other children and adults, but with clear guidelines. She is my daughter–my wife and I make the rules for her safety based on our knowledge. Fortunately, my wife is now working where our daughter goes to daycare. But we have both told the director that if certain boundaries are ever crossed, we will pull our child from daycare. This is not a threat, but it does let them know that we have boundaries that will not be violated.

      You are correct in going with your gut, even when people dub you as over-reactive or a loon job. These are your children and therefore you decide what is safest for them while they are in your care. Overnight stays at friends’ houses are another subject I will write about in the future. Boz Tchividjian of Net Grace Ministries, who is the grandson of Billy Gram, is an attorney and has a ministry for educating others in the field of child sex abuse. He does not allow his children to stay overnight at friends’ houses, and he does not allow his kids’ friends to stay overnight at his house. It sounds harsh, but when you know how easy it is for pedophiles to gain access to kids, we have an obligation to protect our children and keep them from high-risk scenarios.

      Anyway, much to blog about and you give food for thought. Thanks for your support! Blessings.

        1. I will write a specific blog on this topic tomorrow. It is an evolving list, and there is a foundation that needs to be laid for coming up with it. It may end up being a 2 or 3 part blog, so that it doesn’t end up being too long for people to read! This has been heavy on my mind and heart lately and my list is not exhaustive, which is why I have not blogged on it yet. But I feel ready enough to share with others. Be looking out for part 1 tomorrow. God bless.

  3. Why does it matter? Can I scream this? THE BIBLE DEMANDS THAT CHURCH LEADERS BE ABOVE REPROACH! Pastor Cline, I must question your wisdom in making such a statement. I feel better now

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