This is the twenty-eighth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section. Let’s have some fun!
Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a clip from a sermon preached by Suzanne Hinn, wife of fake healer Benny Hinn.
I know there’s no way you would remember me. I’m just some random woman at one of the churches in Virginia that held a deliverance ministry weekend taught by you and the members of your church many years ago. I’m the one who our overbearing pastor’s wife forced to make all those fancy half round flags for your church as a gift from our church. I’m still several hundred dollars out-of-pocket for the materials, and I’m still annoyed at that even if you had nothing to do with it.
You and your church pushed the deliverance ministry that your church did, telling tales of people set free from all sorts of weird demonic infestations. Your goal was to get people to sign up to come to your church — Vineyard, in Wilmington, North Carolina.
During that weekend I had the chance to speak to you several times. I found that I liked you. Maybe it was the fact that you walked away from a high dollar career to preach, I don’t know. You are personable.
But, I know you don’t have a clue about the damage you and your fellow church members do. I suspect, seeing that the name of your church and the deliverance ministry has been changed more than once, that you have some small inkling that others think it sucks. Did you guys get sued by those you victimized while pretending they are demon-addled and need an exorcism? Something obviously happened.
For my husband and I, the damage was limited. We just lost some time, hotel and gas money, and spending time with our family for Thanksgiving. I feel pretty certain that your deliverance ministry likely did lots of damage, wreaked havoc, and destroyed marriages and few families. Let me explain why I think your deliverance ministry — that you now call a ‘prayer ministry’ at your renamed church, Global River Church — is a bad thing.
You preyed on my husband who was going through a long, horrible depression. Thanks to competent doctors, medical tests and therapy, we know his entire problem was that he had cancerous tumors on his parathyroid glands. He wasn’t under spiritual oppression, nor did he lack faith. He wasn’t filled with demons and in need of deliverance ministry. He was sick. With cancer that would have killed him if we hadn’t tossed aside the compete and utter bullshit that the church was saying and sought legitimate medical treatment.
Jim told me a few days before Thanksgiving in November of 2005 that he had scheduled a weekend deliverance that weekend, that you had arranged for a team of deliverance-ministry trained staff to remove our evil spirits and cleanse us. This meant that we had to abandon our children to others for the holiday, make the long drive from Northern Virginia to Wilmington North Carolina, and stay at a local hotel for several nights while the deliverance was going on.
I remember how angry I was, because even while at that time I was still a hard-core believer, I didn’t believe in what you guys did or your claims of demonic infestation. I was angry at the ruined holiday, angry I could not be with my kids, and angry that you insisted that I take part in the deliverance ministry too. Jim was told that you wouldn’t help one spouse without de-demonizing the other. I wanted no part of it.
One of my clearest memories of that weekend was waking up at 3 am on the Saturday morning before the first sessions. I felt fearful and angry, and l was suffering from extreme pain in my right arm due to an injury I was waiting to have surgery on. I sat in that ocean front hotel room, contemplating the Atlantic ocean in the moonlight while listening to praise music on my iPod, waiting for opioid pain medication to kick in. I wondered what the day would bring.
What the day brought was us being met at your church by the deliverance team. Jim and I were separated, and the sessions started. I wasn’t in Jim’s session so I can only imagine what happened. For mine, I was confronted quite starkly over things the two ‘counselors’ had received from God during their prayer time that week. The information that the women claimed to have heard from the Lord was wrong on so many things. They told me I was having an affair with someone named ‘Walt’, which made me laugh because, at the time, the only Walt’s I had heard of were Walt Whitman and Jim Walter Homes — a dead man and a corporation. No, I was not and have never had an affair.
I was also told that my husband was having an affair — again not true. I don’t know much, but I know that about him. He’s not the type, and he didn’t have enough downtime with his commute into DC on public transportation to have an affair.
Imagine how such false revelations might have affected a married couple having problems? We both were told this and neither of us believed it about the other person. If someone in a shaky relationship was told an outrageous lie like that, it would have blown apart their marriage. Somehow, I don’t think any of this is something Jesus would approve of.
The personal details and ‘problems’ listed on both of our prayer sheets were beyond wrong, right down to the smallest details. For example, Jim was told he loves ‘Star Wars’ and fishing, both of which he hates. I was also told Jim had a ‘demon of rage’ in him that would physically kill me if they didn’t exorcise it from him.
The women attempting to ‘deliver’ me gave up after about two and a half hours, realizing that I was highly skeptical, thought their words of knowledge were ridiculous, and I was not cooperating like they wanted. I was told by the staff to go back to the hotel and wait for a phone call to come back and pick up my husband. He was held and brainwashed a total of nine hours. Ten years later, he still hasn’t told me what happened during his session. I do know that when I picked him up he clung to me and would not let go for many days (either holding my hand or hugging me).
We went home; it was anti-climatic by that point. We spoke very little about what had happened and things continued as normal until the point Jim was diagnosed with parathyroid cancer and had the first of several surgeries.
I get it. You somehow think you are ‘helping’ people by doing this type of prayer and deliverance ministry. But you’re not. You are, at best, confusing people, and at worst blowing up homes and families and/or causing people with serious medical conditions to die because they believe their conditions are demonic. You take advantage of desperate people.
Scripture tells us that spiritual battles are taking place all around us because we live in two atmospheres at the same time. One is a physical atmosphere that we can see, smell, hear, touch and taste. The other is a spiritual atmosphere that we cannot see with our natural eye or experience with the rest of our natural senses but which is very real.
The devil knows the power of atmosphere, and as believers, we need to know it as well. Whenever possible, Satan will try to tempt you into the wrong atmosphere in order to make it easier for you to fall into sin.
Channeling Frank Peretti, Franklin believes that there is a physical atmosphere (world) that consists of what we can see, smell, hear, touch, and taste. Most people call this reality. Franklin believes that there is also a spiritual atmosphere (world) that cannot be seen or experienced with our senses. Most people call this insanity. In this beyond-reality world, Satan and God are busy fighting to the death over the lives of Christians. God wants winners, Satan wants losers. If God is all that Christians such as Franklin say he is, why doesn’t God tell Jesus’ brother to knock it off? Surely the creator of the universe has the power to stop Satan from molesting his children. And if he does has this power, why then is it up to Christians to have demon-free lives? What good is God if he can’t at least be the Orkin man of the spiritual realm, ensuring that Christian lives are demon free.
According to Franklin, yes God is everywhere (omnipresent), but he doesn’t manifest his presence equally. If Christians want God to manifest himself, they need to be living in the “right” atmosphere. The reason that most Christians have demon-infested lives is because they are living on the wrong side of the tracks. If Christians want to be demon-free they must be willing to change where they live.
Franklin reminds Christians that they are at war with Satan, and this war cannot be won through education or money. Instead, poor and stupid Christians are called on to wage war against Satan in the power of Spirit. Franklin must not have a TV in his home. When I turn on any of the dozen Christian channels I am “blessed” to receive with my DIRECTVpackage, all I see are $1,000-suit and Rolex-wearing modern-day Elmer Gantrys attacking Satan’s strongholds. These mighty men of God have no need of more soldiers. Cash, MasterCard and Visa will suffice.
Franklin gives Christians a surefire way they can know whether they are battling demons:
A sure sign of demonic possession is someone empowered with incredible strength. Demons will often energize people in this way (Mark 5). Those who are demon-possessed may have spontaneous reactions of uncontrolled cursing when the name of Jesus Christ is spoken. An evil spirit can cause contortions in facial features and countenance. People’s eyes can become glazed and even roll back in their heads. Their appearances and even their voices will change. When people are set free, they will usually come immediately back into their “right minds.” Their voices will normalize, and you will see a total change in demeanor.
Wait a minute. I thought Franklin was concerned with Christians demon-proofing their lives? If demon-possessed people are the problem, wouldn’t it just be easier to form Demon-Free Colonies® and avoid contact with the demonic denizens of the world? Perhaps Franklin — a seasoned charismatic pastor — knows that there are just as many demons in the church as there are outside. Demons, demons, demons, everywhere. What’s a Christian supposed to do?
Franklin reminds Christians that they are to be demon molesters:
Satan and his demons prefer to do their work without being exposed. They definitely don’t like to be identified and cast out. Demons will resist exposure and will resist anyone who attempts to bring the light of God upon their hidden works. Once the enemy has gained ground and set up the kind of culture he desires, he wants us to buzz off and leave him be.
According to Franklin, the best way to hassle Satan and expose his works is to create a climate of light. In other words, megachurches needs to quit dimming the lights when the praise and worship team strikes up the band. Evidently, when the lights are dimmed Satan and his merry band of demons are free to attack those who are watching the show. Want a demon-proof church? Turn on the damn lights!
Franklin concludes his post with advice for demon-proofing one’s life:
We are to fast, pray, praise, worship, intercede, and stand and wage war in the spiritual realm so that our enemy, the devil, cannot work his way into our lives and squeeze the life out of us, rendering us ineffective for God.
Why, this is what Evangelical pastors have been preaching for as long as I can remember. Generations of Evangelicals have heard that they need to do these things, yet Christians remain every bit as “worldly” and “sinful” as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Perhaps it is time for the Franklins of the world to change their message, admitting that the real problem is not Satan and his demons, but human want, need, and desire. Evangelicals continue to “sin” because they are, above all else, human. Instead of blaming negative (sinful, bad) human behaviors on Satan, perhaps it is time to put the blame where it belongs — me and thee. Satan isn’t the problem, humans are. Instead of focusing on mythical beings such as Satan, Franklin would better serve his readers by challenging them to alter their own their behavior.
Jennifer LeClaire, senior editor for CHARISMA Magazine, is a Charismatic Christian version of Joseph McCarthy — the noted Communist hunter of the 1950s. Everywhere LeClaire looks, she sees Satan and his demon worker bees. In a March 18, 2016 article published on Charisma’s “news” site, demonphobic LeClaire warns that Satanism is on the rise. LeClaire writes:
Satanism is rising—and rising rapidly. Beyond shows like Lucifer that paint the devil as simply misunderstood and the distribution of Satanic Temple materials in some schools and the Satanic black mass at an Oklahoma City civic center and the monument to Baphomet in Detroit—these are just a few recent examples—there are the senseless deaths of young men like Edwin Juarez Palma.
Police in Mexico arrested a trio of Satanists who allegedly killed a friend in the process of trying to morph him into a vampire. Palma, the victim, was reportedly strangled, beaten and slashed in the neck before he died. The Satanists wrapped his body in a plastic bag and ditched him.
“Police say Edwin, known as Piwa, was killed after being fooled into taking part in an initiation ceremony to become part of a satanic cult called the Sons of Baphomet 1,” the Daily Mail reports. “Instead, he was tortured after having his hands tied behind his back after one of the alleged killers persuaded the others their victim should be sacrificed so he could return to life as a vampire.”
Clearly, these kids are deceived at best and deluded at worst. Two of the suspected killers are 18 and the other one is 25. According to Encyclopedia Satanica, the average age of a Satanist is 25 and most are single male Caucasians. Satanists are politically diverse, work a range of occupations and come from Jewish, Catholic, Protestant or agnostic backgrounds. Most were involved in other religions before they converted to the literal dark side.
Who knows? A devil worshipper might live near you or sit next to you at work.
By the best statistics I can find, there were 50,000 Satanists in the world in 1990, according to the Ontario Consultants of Religious Tolerance, and that number rose to as many as 100,000 in 2006. Of course, that was a decade ago—and a lot has changed in a decade. More recently, the Catholic Church warned of the rise of Satanism and the occult. And God’s Ghostbusters reports there are more than 200,000 registered witches and up to 8 million who have not officially unveiled themselves.
Dark forces are also invading Christianity. Three out of every 10 teenagers have played the Ouija board, had their palms read, and eight out of 10 have read horoscopes, according to a Barna Study called “Teens and the Supernatural.” The survey reports 29 percent of Christian teens did not see anything wrong with it. Eighteen percent said they read horoscopes, but do not think it really predicts the future. And another 8 percent said they read it, but feel guilty about it.
Clearly, the prince of the power of the air is working overtime and seeing the fruits of his labors. Books and movies about boy wizards captured the attention of a generation and a fascination with vampires is ultimately what some believe led to Edwin Juarez Palma’s demise. (Palma had interest in vampires as a hobby, according to news reports, allowing an open door for the Satanists to deceive him.) We know that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), but he’s really the father of lies (John 8:44) and he wants to take a [sic] many people to hell with him as he can. Palma was a victim of the devil’s empty words.
Got all that?
LeClaire warns readers that many Christian teenagers have “played the Ouija board, had their palms read” and have “read horoscopes.” Sadly, where most thinking people see entertainment, LeClaire sees dark forces out to steal the souls of unwitting people. Many readers of this blog can remember when they too thought that inanimate objects were demon-possessed and had the power to lead people into darkness. Who can forget the 1980s and all the hysteria over certain toys. Here is a video of Phil Phillips, author of Turmoil in the Toy Box, warning Christians about the demonic forces that lurk in toy boxes:
The 1970s gave Evangelicalism the dangers of Satan-inspired rock music and backmasking. The 1980s and 1990s found Christians all worked up over the occult, Satanic human sacrifices, and ritual child abuse. Sadly, Evangelicals have a propensity for believing any explanation that helps them to understand what they perceive as the collapse of Christian America. Who and what gets the blame changes with time, but the perceived power behind it — Satan and his demons — remains the same. It is hard to believe — in the twenty-first century — that there are still people who think that the Devil and his minions lurk in the shadows, working to overthrow the Christian God.
LeClaire thinks the increase of news stories about the Satanic Church is proof that Satanism is increasing. LeClaire seems ignorant of the fact that members of the Church of Satan do NOT worship Beelzebub. I wonder if demon hunter LeClaire has ever bothered to read the FAQ on the Church of Satan’s website? I doubt it. Had LeClaire read it, she would have found out:
Why do Satanists worship The Devil?
We don’t. Satanists are atheists. We see the universe as being indifferent to us, and so all morals and values are subjective human constructions.
Our position is to be self-centered, with ourselves being the most important person (the “God”) of our subjective universe, so we are sometimes said to worship ourselves. Our current High Priest Gilmore calls this the step moving from being an atheist to being an “I-Theist.”
Satan to us is a symbol of pride, liberty and individualism, and it serves as an external metaphorical projection of our highest personal potential. We do not believe in Satan as a being or person.
Do Satanists perform sacrifices?
No. We are atheists. The only people who perform sacrifices are those who believe in supernatural beings who would consider a sacrifice to be some form of payment for a request or form of worship. Since we do not believe in supernatural beings there is no reason for a Satanist to make a sacrifice of any sort.
Where would Christianity be without Satan? Created by God, Satan is Jehovah’s protagonist. Without Satan, how would Christians explain the existence of evil? Without the prince and power of the air, sin would lose much of its power. Without Lucifer, Evangelicals would lose the greatest excuse ever cooked up by religious fanatics — the devil made me do it!
LeClaire thinks that much of the evil in the world can be attributed to Satan, demons, and their influence over people. As Joseph McCarthy did sixty years ago rooting out people he thought were Communists, LeClaire warns that Evangelicals could have neighbors or fellow employees who are devil worshipers. How will Christians know if Morningstar’s followers are nearby? LeClaire doesn’t say. Perhaps enlightened Evangelicals have some sort of spidey-like tingling that comes over them when Satanists are nearby. Or maybe the Holy Spirit warns Christians with some sort of radar-like beep that demons are near. I wish LeClaire would be clear. How can Christians KNOW when Satan and the Demonettes are playing nearby? From everything that I have read — reports of religious leaders committing horrible crimes — people have much more to fear if pastors, priests, and church leaders live nearby. Of course, LeClaire would respond by saying that predator preachers are under the influence of Satan and are being used by him to give Christianity a bad name. Funny how Le Claire and her fellow Evangelicals never become aware of Satan’s influence until AFTER a crime has been committed. I would think God would have some sort of advance warning signal set to alert Christians that certain pastors are under the influence of the Evil One. Surely God doesn’t want Christian children and teenagers raped, molested, or abused, right?
People need not fear Satan or God. Both are fictions of the human imagination. It is when we allow God, Satan, and their imaginary powers stand in for goodness and evil that we become deceived. As a humanist, I believe that the power to do good and evil rests solely with people. God and Satan become middlemen who rob humans of rewards for doing good and responsibility for doing bad. Once people break free of the Christian God and his sidekick Satan, they are then free to see and experience life as it is. Ouija boards? Horoscopes? Palm readings? Harry Potter? Wizards? Witches? Occult-themed movies? Harmless fun. I have yet to meet or know of person who was led over to the mythical dark side by Potter and his Hogwarts friends. To LeClaire and her fearful compatriots I say, SATAN IS NOT REAL! Repeat after me, SATAN IS NOT REAL! Yes, Satan has his own program on FOX, but the star of the show — Lucifer Morningstar — is actor Tom Ellis, not the mythical Bible character with the same name.
Of course, Fundamentalists such LeClaire will view this post as PROOF that Satan is real. Here’s Bruce Gerencser — once an Evangelical pastor — now saying that God and Satan are a myth. There is nothing I can do about such accusations. People prone to think inanimate objects have power and evil hides under every rock have lost the ability to think and reason. They will remain this way until they come to the place where they realize that they have built their entire lives on what Jon Stewart affectionately called: Bullshit Mountain.
Bethel Redding, an Evangelical charismatic multi-campus church, is located in Redding, California. Its senior pastors are Bill and Beni Johnson. What follows is a compendium of information about Bethel and its methodology.
Bethel offers a surefire way parents can help children troubled by depression and discouragement. Let me introduce you to Vintz, the puppet.
*Vintz the Puppet: He lives in a barrel and brings the message of God’s presence and joy as priority number one.
*Manual: The manual contains 13 lesson supplements. Short lessons designed to incorporate joy into every week in your children’s ministry.
*DVD: On the DVD is a demonstration of one of the lessons, as well as an interview with Seth Dahl.
Seth Dahl believes in raising a generation of children who are strong (joyful) in the Lord. One of his passions is for them to encounter God and experience His works, preventing them from living a life of Christian form without the Reality. Seth and his family live in Redding, California where he is the Children’s Pastor of Bethel Church.
Here is a video from Bethel detailing how children are taught to prophesy and speak in tongues:
On Sundays, children gather together at Bethel and recite the Bethel Kids Declaration:
Here is another I Declare statement Bethel uses in its children’s programs:
I think I can safely add Bethel Redding to the list of churches that emotionally and mentally manipulate children in the name of Jesus.
Bethel Redding attracts thousands of people to its services. Attendees come expecting to see God work in supernatural ways. According to a 2010 Record Searchlight article, Bethel provides healing rooms for those in need of a touch from God. Amanda Winters reports:
Every Saturday morning from 9 to 10:30 a.m., two large rooms in Bethel Church are transformed into the Healing Rooms Ministry; a place where people can come and receive prayer for any kind of ailment.
Randy Castle, who was acting director that Saturday, said the healing rooms generally see 100 or so visitors – and up to 300 on a busy weekend.
Four teams with about 70 people each work the Healing Rooms. Many pray over visitors, commanding the body to be healed, speak in tongues and invite the presence of the Holy Spirit through impartation, or laying on of hands. Others, Castle said, play worship music in the “Encounter Room” where people can go bask in the presence of God.
Music performed in the Encounter Room made its way through the Healing Room speakers, repeating “God is good, God is good, God is good,” while worshippers prayed, danced, laughed, cried, fell down and lay on the floor under what they say is the power of God. According to Bethel leadership, this is the room where people are cured of cancer, broken bones, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and a host of other diseases.
Later in the article, Winters writes about an interview she conducted with Bethel senior pastor Bill Johnson:
Bill Johnson, Bethel’s senior pastor, settled into a plush black couch in his office, his arm around an animal-print pillow. Before anything else, he wanted to talk about healing.
“We just had another brain tumor case of cancer healed,” he said. “We have a lot of that kind of stuff happen. It’s verified by doctors, they do the tests and the cancer’s gone. We have a lot of that sort of thing – miracles.”
Johnson, who himself required hernia surgery last year and wears prescription glasses, teaches that the supernatural miracles that happened in Biblical times still happen today if people just value God’s presence and open themselves up to receiving it.
“Because we have such value for his presence with us, things just happen,” he said.
Johnson said that healings happen all the time and he doesn’t feel he needs to provide any documentation or hard evidence to inquiring minds. He also said he doesn’t check up on people who come to Bethel for healing – he doesn’t have the time.
“If you’re sitting here and you say, ‘I’ve been deaf in my left ear since childbirth,’ and I pray for you and then I have you close your right ear and I whisper 10 feet away and you can hear me, I don’t feel like I need to get a doctor’s report,” he said. “I’m happy you’re happy you can hear. That’s enough for me.”
Though he had people praying for his hernia to heal early in 2009, the condition still required surgery and Johnson said that was OK because God can use doctors as well as he can use Bethel’s healing teams, though both are necessary.
“The doctors serve a great purpose but they’ll tell you they can’t fix everything,” he said. “Some things need to be fixed by a miracle or just aren’t fixed at all.”
Johnson said in his sermons he often tells the congregation stories of miraculous healings to encourage them. One such story was about a group in the small, rural city of Shelton, Wash., whose goal it is to raise people from the dead.
Bethel Redding also operates a college of sorts, Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) . According to its website, in 2012-13 over 1,800 students took classes through BSSM. Much of BSSM’s training consists of reading books. Students receive little theological training. The focus of the school is the impartation and use of supernatural gifts.
Think all this supernatural mumbo jumbo is funny and of no consequence? Think again. In 2008, Jason Michael Carlsen, along with Sarah Koivumaki and Zachary Gudelunas, both students at BSSM, traveled to a California cliff to have a party. Already drunk, Carlsen fell off the 200 foot cliff. Instead of immediately dialing 911, Koivumaki and Gudelunas decided to put their BSSM skills to work. The Record Searchlight reports:
Rather than call police when their drinking partner fell ? or was pushed ? off a nearly 200-foot cliff, two students at a Redding Bible school tried first to reach the severely wounded man and pray him back to life, a lawsuit alleges.
In a lawsuit filed this month in Shasta County Superior Court exactly two years to the day after he was pulled by search-and-rescue crews from the banks of the Sacramento River, Jason Michael Carlsen alleges that when Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry students Sarah Elisabeth Koivumaki and Zachary Gudelunas couldn’t reach him to heal him with their prayers, they spent hours debating whether to call the police.
Bethel’s members purport to have the ability to heal people through prayer and bring the dead back to life.
The two later told police they thought Carlsen was killed in the fall.
Worried that they would be exiled from the church, the two Bethel students also went so far as to try to cover up evidence they’d even been at the top of the cliff, the lawsuit alleges…
Carlsen, by the way, is now a paraplegic.
According to Beni Johnson, in 2009 Martin Scott came to Bethel and gave the church a prophetic word about the California drought. Johnson thinks the recent rains are proof that God fulfilled Scott’s utterance.
(video no longer on Vimeo)
Beni Johnson also practices what is commonly called grave sucking (or mantle grabbing). What follows is a picture of Johnson lying on the grave of C.S. Lewis, hoping to suck out of Lewis’ corpse some of his supernatural power.
According to a February 20,2016 Record Searchlight article, Bethel has submitted plans to the planning commission for a new church facility. If approved, Bethel’s new 39.3 acre church plant will include:
A 171,708-square-foot campus
1,851 parking spaces
An auditorium that will seat 2,600
Classroom space at the School of Supernatural Ministry to enroll up to 3,000 students
There is no question is my mind that Bethel Redding is a dangerous Evangelical cult. While people often think of cults being small, secretive, out-of-the-way sects or churches, Bethel is a reminder that some cults hide in plain sight.
If you have ever attended Bethel or had any interaction with its members, please share your experiences in the comment section.
Molly Hensley-Clancy, a writer for Buzz Feed, recently wrote a feature article on Bethel. Here’s an excerpt from her insightful article:
The basic theological premise of the School of Supernatural Ministry is this: that the miracles of biblical times — the parted seas and burning bushes and water into wine — did not end in biblical times, and the miracle workers did not die out with Jesus’s earliest disciples. In the modern day, prophets and healers don’t just walk among us, they are us.
To Bethel students, learning, seeing, and performing these “signs and wonders” — be it prophesying about things to come or healing the incurable — aren’t just quirks or side projects of Christianity. They are, in fact, its very center.
This is the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry’s real goal: creating spiritual warriors, young people who will go out into the world armed with just the kind of supernatural gifts that Bethel believes will bring people into the Kingdom of God.
“Jesus is bringing the Kingdom, and he’s doing it through signs and wonders,” says Dann Farrelly, BSSM’s dean. “They’re the things that make people go, ‘Huh, there’s something about you, about this.’ Jesus even said: You don’t have to believe in me, you believe in the signs I’m doing.”
More simply: Miracles are a really good way to convert people.
BSSM is built on the idea that we are all “naturally supernatural”: We all have the potential to heal the sick and to hear God’s vision for the future. It’s ours because it’s Jesus’s, says Farrelly: Jesus does the work, and humans act as conduits. The school’s job is to foster the supernatural gifts of signs and wonders — to teach people to hear God’s voice and turn it into prophecy.
Stefan, who spent three years at Bethel before eventually leaving evangelicalism, felt for his first few weeks at Bethel like he was really seeing miracles: healings and prophecies that felt like they had come directly from God. Eventually, that changed.
Stefan looks back at his time at BSSM and sees an array of “psychological mind games” — healing via placebo, prophecy through confirmation bias. He’s done some reading lately, he says, on how magicians convince crowds that they are seeing magic and not magic tricks; how believing that you are going to recover from an illness or that your injured limb has been healed can, sometimes, be enough to accomplish healing.
“I think, for me, Bethel was the beginning of realizing, like, this is all bullshit,” says Chris, who went to Bethel in the mid-2000s and asked that his last name not be used because he still has close friends in the church. “When you do it, you convince yourself that this is all really real. But it’s cold reading, that’s what it is. You just dress it up in Jesus.”
Chris was a good prophet, his teachers told him. While he was studying at Bethel, he once had a vision from The Song of Deborah as he prayed over a woman whose name he did not know. As he told her this, she cried out in surprise: Her name was Deborah.
“What I see now is, those are random thoughts,” Chris says. “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, your prophecies are horrible misses. But you don’t remember them being a terrible flop — you remember the one time it worked.”
At BSSM, Chris said, the focus was on testimonies of success — retelling to a group of fellow students the stories of the one “holy shit” moment when their prophecy had worked. No one talked about the times they had failed.
Bethel has offered tens of thousands of people a chance to be healed at its massive conferences and on mission trips across the globe. And hundreds of people make the pilgrimage to their Healing Rooms in Redding every week. Many, I am told, practice Bethel’s brand of Christianity, but others are mainstream Christians, dipping their toes in the waters of more radical faith. Others, like me, are not religious at all.
On a Saturday morning, I sit in the lobby of the Healing Rooms, clipboard in my lap and a pen in my hand. On my right knee is the big, ugly black brace, one that I’ve been sporting for six weeks, since a soccer injury left me with two completely torn ligaments. I’m here to have my knee healed — or at least that’s what I write on the Healing Room intake form I’ve been given, which asks me to list my “Physical Prayer Needs.”
I have a lot of physical prayer needs: At the moment, I can’t ride a stationary bike, go down stairs, or even bend my knee at a right angle. I write those down. The form also asks whether I’m “born again” and if I’ve been “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” I check “no” for both.
After an introductory class on the “Biblical foundations of Healing,” we’re led into the main sanctuary, a kind of holding room which is already buzzing with people. Concentric circles of chairs, some of them draped with colorful blankets and pillows, have been set up around a large group of easels where people are painting prophetic art on giant canvases: a pair of hands touching each other, a tree shedding blue leaves. A praise band of beautiful young people wearing flannel plays up on the stage, crooning hypnotic, repetitive strains of viral Bethel Music songs. In the corner, in front of a cross draped with sequined gold cloth, a woman lies prostrate and unmoving, her forehead pressed to the carpet. She does not move the entire time I’m in the sanctuary.
In the back of the room, a row of people with telemarketer-style headphones and laptops are conducting healing sessions via Skype. A pair of large screens in front of us remind us that only Bethel’s ministry team are allowed to heal.
I settle in the corner, waiting for my number to be called, and watch as a trio of prophetic dancers, barefoot and carrying colorful scarves, gather around a woman near me who looks very much like she has just emerged from a brutal chemotherapy treatment. They ask if they can dance for her. She begins to cry, clutching her husband’s hand, as they twirl around her.
After a while, a woman interrupts the praise band to tell us that there is a “healing pool” forming in front of the stage. “It’s a pool where the impossible is possible, where oil and water mix, and here there’s going to be real healing,” she says. As dozens of people come up to the pool, collapsing to their knees or raising their hands in the air, the woman’s voice becomes a hypnotic chant: “Oil and water mix here, outside in the world they don’t, but in here they doooo. Oil and water mix here…”
The ailing woman and her husband make their way to the pool and begin to dance with each other, swaying slowly.
Later, we’re herded into another, smaller room, one where intense healing is going to take place. We wait our turn and watch Bethel’s healers do their work, stationed in pairs in front of people clutching their intake forms.
The woman next to me, who looks about my age, has a squirming little boy on her lap. I peek at her form, which lists just two ailments, scrawled in all-caps: PARASITES and HEARTBREAK.
Finally it’s my turn. “So, you’re not saved, and you’re not born again, right?” one of my healers asks, scrutinizing my form.
I explain clumsily that I was “raised Catholic,” which is only barely true. With my utter lack of faith made clear, the prayers focus not just on my knee, but on my own relationship to God, asking him to “help me on my journey towards faith.”
I can tell I’m a tough case, because a third healer comes over to us, and then a fourth. Soon I’m surrounded by people praying for me, one woman’s hand on my shoulder, another on her knees in front of me, and the force of their expectation — desperation, almost — is palpable. Unrelentingly, every few minutes, they ask me how I’m feeling, whether I’m better.
I try to deflect some of their questions, but it never works. When one healer asks me what I feel, I tell her I feel “your energy and prayers.” She jumps back, “But what about your knee?”
“Well, it’s a really serious injury,” I try. “So I think it might take some time.”
The woman seems almost offended. “Time?” she says. “Jesus doesn’t need time! Jesus can heal you right away.”
We start praying again, and I start feeling a little desperate, like I’ll never get out of here. The next time they ask me how my knee feels, almost automatically, without thinking, I lie.
“I think it’s more flexible now,” I say. I move it back and forth, and I can see my healers’ eyes light up. “I think it’s getting better. Thank you.”
“Thank you, Father!” one of them cries out, taking my hand. We’re both, I think, relieved, though maybe for different reasons. “Thank you for beginning this journey to healing.”
It’s finally over, and my healers ask me to give them my intake form. When I take the paper off of the clipboard, I notice there’s a back side, too, meant to be filled out by Bethel staff: a checklist labeled “Miracles Performed.” It includes healed shoulders and knees, zapped tumors, cured cancer, and limb-straightening, as well as soul-saving. At the very bottom of the list is the very miracle that the Stanford professor told Stefan would convert him: “Limb regrown.”
I hand the form over, wondering if they’re going to check me off as a Miracle Performed. As I leave the room, I think I see one of my healers do just that.
A week later, when I’m back in New York, I pull myself up onto my physical therapist’s table, facedown. The excruciating process of recovering from my injury has, so far, involved forcing my locked-up knee to bend slightly farther at every appointment, a process that always makes me cry out in pain, and sometimes leaves me with tears in my eyes.
“All right, let’s see how you’re doing,” she says. Before I left for Redding, I had told her where I was headed and why, and as I lie there on the table, she jokes, “Maybe you’re healed! This could be our last day.”
I squeeze my eyes shut and feel her bending my knee back. “Wow,” she tells me. “You’re doing really well. You’ve got much more flexibility, actually. I’d say at least 20 degrees.”
I had a lot of downtime in Redding, and I spent most of it doing physical therapy — several hours a day of excruciatingly painful work, lying on the hotel room floor and using a strap to force my knee to bend farther and farther. But still. I turn around to my physical therapist, and she and I exchange a look: just a split second.
Is a great shaking coming to America? An amazing convergence of events is going to take place during the last several weeks of September 2015.
Many are suggesting that this could indicate that something really big is about to happen. In fact, some vendors of emergency food are reporting shortages because so many people are stocking up on food and supplies in anticipation of what is coming…
…It all starts with the end of the Shemitah year on Sept. 13. During the last two cycles, we witnessed historic stock market crashes on the very last day of the Shemitah year (Elul 29 on the Biblical calendar)…
…On Sept. 29, 2008 (which was also Elul 29 on the biblical calendar), the Dow plummeted 777 points, which still today remains the greatest one-day stock market crash of all time in the United States.
Now we are in another Shemitah year. It began in the fall 2014, and it ends on Sept. 13, 2015.
So will we see a stock market crash in the United States on Sept. 13, 2015?
No we will not, because that day is a Sunday. So I can guarantee there will not be a stock market crash in the U.S. on that day. But as author Jonathan Cahn has pointed out in his book on the Shemitah, we have witnessed major stock market crashes happen just before the end of the Shemitah year and we have also witnessed major stock market crashes happen within just a few weeks after the end of the Shemitah year. So we are not necessarily looking at one particular date.
And this time around, a whole bunch of critical events just happen to fall in the period of time immediately following the end of the Shemitah year.
The following are 10 things that are going to happen within 15 days of the end of the Shemitah:
Sept. 14: Rosh Hashanah
Sept. 15: The Jade Helm military exercises are scheduled to end.
Sept. 15: The 70th session of the U.N. General Assembly begins on this date. It has been widely reported that France plans to introduce a resolution that will give formal U.N. Security Council recognition to a Palestinian state shortly after the new session begins…
Sept. 20 to Sept. 26: The “World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel” sponsored by the World Council of Churches.
Sept. 21: The U.N. International Day Of Peace. Could this be the day when the U.N. Security Council resolution establishing a Palestinian state is actually adopted?
Sept. 23: Yom Kippur
Sept. 23: Pope Francis arrives at the White House to meet with Barack Obama….Francis is the 266th pope, and he will be meeting with President Obama on the 266th day of the year, leading one Internet preacher to wonder if “something is being birthed” on that day, since 266 days is the typical human gestation period from conception to birth.
Sept. 24: The Pope addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress.
Sept. 25 to Sept. 27: The United Nations is going to launch a brand-new sustainable development agenda called “The 2030 Agenda.” …
…”Unlike Agenda 21, which primarily focused on the environment, the 2030 Agenda is truly a template for governing the entire planet. In addition to addressing climate change, it also sets ambitious goals for areas such as economics, health, energy, education, agriculture, gender equality and a whole host of other issues. As you will see below, this global initiative is being billed as a ‘new universal Agenda’ for humanity. If you are anything like me, alarm bells are going off in your head right about now.”
Sept. 28: This is the date when the Feast of Tabernacles begins. It is also the date for the last of the four blood moons that fall on biblical festival dates during 2014 and 2015…
…Many have also suggested that the Large Hadron Collider “is scheduled to perform a controversial experiment in September,” but so far I have been unable to find any solid confirmation of this.
Just recently, author Jonathan Cahn released a new video in which he expressed his belief that a “great shaking is coming to America and the world.” He points to the biblical pattern of desecration preceding judgment, and he is convinced that we recently witnessed a historic act of desecration here in the United States…
Snyder makes sure he covers his prophetical ass by saying:
I am fully convinced that the months ahead are going to dramatically change life in America, but whether it happens right now or not, I am 100-percent convinced that a great shaking is coming to this nation at some point.
Snyder operates The Economic Collapse website, a site with dozens of affiliate and advertising links. While Snyder dispenses all sorts of financial advice, the real purpose of his site is to make money for Michael Snyder. While the world collapses into to chaos, Snyder wants to make sure that he has a pile of gold and silver so he can continue to live the good life. Wait a minute, I thought the rapture was imminent? No worries, Jesus is delaying his return so people like Snyder, John Hagee, Jim Bakker, and the numerous charismatic TV preachers can gather up enough wealth to make them quite comfortable in God’s new heaven and earth. Either that or these preachers of doom and gloom are the descendants of Elmer Gantry, out to fleece the flock. My money is on the latter.
The charismatic landscape is littered with false prophecies, yet spirit-inspired prophets continue to utter prophecies, hoping that the gullible will forget the past, fear the future and keep sending them money. Driven by fear of the unknown, well-meaning Christians buy into the what people like Snyder are selling. Sadly, for many Christians, they’ve spent their whole life fearing things that never happen. Could the U.S. stock market collapse? Sure. Could the U.S. economy collapse resulting in massive unemployment, inflation, and poverty? Sure. But, if these things happen, is it because of God?
Uncounted Evangelical prognosticators are certain that God is going to judge the United States because of abortion, homosexuality, the legalization of same-sex marriage, or any of a number of Sodom and Gomorrah like sins. But, here’s what I don’t understand. If God judges wicked, vile, sinful America, won’t his judgment fall on devout, sincere Christians, the very people who are watchman on the wall and standing in the gap, two of the popular descriptions for those who love what God loves and hate what God hates? What kind of God punishes people for doing what he commanded them to do? Shouldn’t God open a can of whoopass on people like me and give the faith the keys to a Mercedes? Why punish Team Jesus?
The U.S. stock market could collapse and the global economy could slide into a worldwide recession or depression, but the reasons for this will be greed, consumption, and market manipulation. No God needed. Humanity is quite capable of plunging the world into financial chaos all on its own.
Linda Italiano is the latest person to publicly profess that Jesus has delivered her from a life of carnal relations with the same sex. Italiano, age 52, was a practicing lesbian for 34 years. In 2014, she started attending Life Church in Williamstown, New Jersey, a garden-variety Evangelical church with a charismatic flavor. Italiano writes:
It wasn’t until I started attending church in early 2014, that I saw a different way of living and thinking. This was where my plan and God’s plan collided. As I began attending week after week, I started to understand the Word of God, but I had it in my mind that lesbianism was going to be the deal breaker. I thought that if the church wasn’t going to condone it that I would leave. I also thought that once everyone found out about me I would be asked to leave or I would feel unwelcome.
Thankfully, I was wrong about all of this. I requested a meeting with the pastor where I told her everything and I was met with love and respect. I was also shown exactly what the Bible says about homosexuality and it was made clear to me that it was unacceptable and wrong. I came away from that meeting still feeling welcome and accepted in the church, but understanding that homosexuality is a sin like any other sin. I understood that the Word of God is more important than anything else, and He is the answer to all of my problems. It did not take very long before I was completely delivered from the homosexual lifestyle and I totally renounced it. God did for me what I had been unwilling or unable to do for myself.
Normally, I would leave sexually confused people like Italiano alone. It’s her life, each to their own. However, she has published her story and it was recently featured on the CHARISMA website, so I thought I would give her story the attention it deserves. Italiano recently posted a link to her coming-out story on Facebook. (link no longer active) Here’s how some of her friends responded to her born-again heterosexual experience:
In 1980, a month before I turned eighteen, my older brother was killed in a car accident. This was the event that changed everything for me. I went from a stable person with goals and dreams to an angry, hopeless, directionless person. My family started growing apart immediately after the accident as we each dealt with the loss separately. This began many years of victim mentality thinking, which hindered me in a big way as it colored all of my decisions going forward.
In 1980, the drinking age was eighteen, much to my detriment. It had become increasingly difficult for me to spend time at home because my mother was taking out all of her unhappiness and hurt on me. I had become her target for all that was lost in our family. I began to spend much of my time in bars. I drank to excess from the start and I quickly became an alcoholic. I also met a woman who introduced me to lesbianism. I chose this lifestyle for thirty years or so until I became a Christian in 2014.
Drinking for me was like a job. I lived in fear of withdrawal and tried unsuccessfully to walk that line between maintenance drinking and blackout drinking. Blackout always won. This lasted until the age of thirty-three when I finally stopped drinking.
Even though I was sober, I was aware that there was still a huge void in my life. I started living a more solitary existence and was full of fear. I had very little self worth and was settling for crumbs from people in my life when I should have been expecting more.
I developed a plan. I was going to find a woman who would treat me well and I would spend the rest of my life with her. I had convinced myself over the years that I was born a homosexual, even though there was evidence to the contrary, and I thought this was the only path I could take. Being around homosexuals for so long, the idea was reinforced in me that I was only attracted to women and that same-sex attraction was a positive thing.
Was Italiano a homosexual? Is she still a homosexual? I don’t know. Only she can answer that question. What I do know is that homosexuality is as normal as heterosexuality and bisexuality, and all the Bible quoting in the world won’t change this fact.
I find it interesting that Italiano sought out a church where most of the staff, including the lead pastor, is female. The pastor of Life church, Jamie Morgan, also has a deliverance story to tell. According to Morgan, at age 26, she was “miraculously delivered from alcohol, agoraphobia, fear, anxiety attacks, depression and nicotine.” In a blog post titled, Fear is a Liar, Morgan writes:
I was saved at twenty-six years old. I was an alcoholic, filled with fear, anxiety, worry, and depression. One night, I fell to me knees and said, “God, I can’t do this anymore. The way I’m living my life isn’t working. I’ve even tried living like others thought I should. That’s not working either. I want your plan for my life. I don’t know you, but your plan for my life has got to be better than anything that I can come up with. I give you my life. I give you my heart. I ask you, Lord, to take this messed up girl, and if you can do anything with her life, to do it.” And He did it. He delivered me from all my fears. He delivered me from alcoholism. He delivered me from panic attacks. I was agoraphobic. I was so scared of panic attacks that I couldn’t go anywhere. I was a prisoner in my own home. But I sought the Lord, just as Psalm 34:4 says. I cried out to Him and He delivered me. After I prayed that prayer of salvation, it felt like shackles fell from me. From that point on, I had to renew my mind according to the Word of God. As I did, I was able to maintain my deliverance.
Dear Christian who has embraced the apostasy of same-sex marriage:
I ask you to prayerfully read, and somberly consider, this plea…
“Did God really say…?” was the strategy the enemy used in the Garden and the same cunning he uses today. Getting us to doubt any part of God’s Word remains his deadliest weapon. A true follower of Christ makes the quality decision, from which there is no turning back, that God’s Word is the Truth – no matter the cost, public opinion, philosophies of this world or political correctness – even if we have close friends or family members that are in the homosexual lifestyle. It is a non-negotiable for which the true Christian will die (and many have). If you are a Christian, and have caved to societal views on this or any issue, you have been deceived by Satan. Deception, when given root and not repented of, will spread to your entire life – and could eventually effect where you will spend eternity. I implore you to repent for doubting God’s Word as the Truth and for practicing “Cafeteria-style Christianity” which is no Christianity at all. And I implore you to recommit yourself to believe and stand on God’s Word as the only authoritative, inerrant and infallible Truth that exists on the face of the earth.
In Christ’s infinite love, Pastor Jamie Morgan
The assistant pastor, Marie Campbell, also has a similar deliverance story, having been delivered by a divine encounter with Jesus from “IV drug addiction and alcohol.”
Cults like Life Church are the worst of their kind. They deliberately seek people who are substance abusers or are struggling emotionally and mentally. They offer them them a hot shot of Jesus, neglecting to share with those they prey on that once they are hooked on Jesus they will be expected to conform to Morgan’s fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. (Morgan is a graduate of Oral Roberts University)
Sadly, Italiano has surrendered her will and reason to Morgan, Life Church, Jesus, and the Bible. Whatever her problems might have been or still are, they have been swallowed up by Evangelical moralizing and puritanism. Time will tell if Jesus is enough to keep her from returning to the arms of another woman.
Every once in a while, I read something that reminds me that there are Christians who believe things that in any other context would get them placed in a straight jacket and thrown into a padded room.
Jim Croft is a deliverance minister. According to Croft’s website (website no longer active):
Jim Croft’s ministry career spans four decades. The renowned Bible scholar, Derek Prince mentored Jim. Early on, it became apparent that Jim was an anointed Bible teacher and minister of physical healing and deliverance from evil spirits.
Croft is known worldwide for his unique ability to share profound biblical truths in a simple and interesting way that encourages people to incorporate the truths into their everyday lives. One of his primary delights is to train and liberate laymen into fulltime ministry. There are at least 40 ministries functioning globally that came up under his tutelage.
Jim has ministered in more than 40 nations. His books and articles have been translated into Spanish, German, Portuguese, French, Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian, Farsi and Swahili. He has written 13 books. The most recent are: The Muslim Masquerade; Faith’s Decision For The Abundant Life; Heaven on the Links; Charismatic Superstitions and Misconceptions; Dysfunctional Doctrines of the Hyper-Religious; The Heritage Factor; Miracle of Miracles; Bless the Chosen; and Invisible Enemies: How to recognize and defeat demons.
Croft is considered by many to be a foremost authority on Islamic Issues. He ghostwrites books and newsletters for several international ministries specializing in ministry to Muslims. Each week Jim’s Bible studies are translated into the various languages of the Middle East for distribution among secret house churches in closed Islamic nations.
Jim founded Good News Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. It was the home church of Derek Prince. Jim serves as a pastor of pastors and on a number of ministry boards including that of Derek Prince Ministries. He currently pastors a network of house churches and is the senior pastor of Gold Coast Christian Church of Boca Raton, FL.
I have authored 13 books. Invisible Enemies: How to recognize and defeat demons is the most recent . It’s a great read for those who have ongoing unresolved issues and those who have inlaws whom they suspect might be hosting uninvited passengers. I also ghostwirte books and articles for varius ministries. My emphasis of life is to be naturally supernatural. (spelling errors in the original)
According to the Gold Coast Christian Church website (link no longer active), the home church Croft pastors:
God is not boring! Christianity is not a religion designed to revolve around man-made rules. Redemption through faith in Christ paves the way for people to enjoy God; their relationships with His people; and to become the type of people whom God enjoys. Therefore, it is our conviction that all of life is spiritual. God enjoys His people when they are involved in their vocations, recreations and families as much as He does as when they are engaged in religious activities. Every aspect of life can be enhanced through one’s spirituality. Proof of one’s devotion to God is not determined by interjections of religious language into every conversation 24/7. We believe that God’s purposes are best served when people take the relaxed stand of becoming naturally supernatural. Our leaders teach our folks to minister salvation and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the unconverted in an unobtrusive manner during the routine events of everyday life. By the leading of the Lord, hearing someone in a store checkout line saying they feel ill can turn into a spontaneous healing event. It can be accomplished without the fanfare of a revivalist’s campaign. If you are looking for biblical Christianity without the religious hype, we could be a safe haven for you.
With this biographical background information in mind, here’s an excerpt from an article Jim Croft wrote for CHARISMA. The title of the article is When Demons Attack Your Children With Sickness. Croft is an older man, so the story he tells about his daughters took place decades ago. Here’s what he had to say:
Our two oldest daughters, Kari and Sharon, were born with serious asthmatic conditions. Regular medical treatments kept them functional. Then, shortly after I became a Christian, Prudence and I prayed for the Lord to heal them. We thank God that He erased every symptom from their lives.
The situation with our third daughter, Holly, was quite different. She was saved and filled with the Holy Spirit at an early age. Nonetheless, her health history and certain aspects of her behavior puzzled us. None of the symptoms she exhibited was alleviated until she received deliverance ministry at the age of 5.
Holly had a stubborn streak that was uncharacteristic of her siblings. In the area of health, she did not respond to prayers for healing in the same way as her older sisters. For instance, all of the girls would catch the sniffles and we would pray for them simultaneously. Invariably, Kari and Sharon would be completely healed within several hours of our prayer—or they would recover fully within a day or two at most. But that was never the case with Holly. Her condition always seemed to worsen…
…Prudence and I grew weary from concern, sleepless nights and enormous medical bills. Above all, we were both disappointed by the fruitlessness of our prayers for her healing. And we were mystified that our every attempt to help her cultivate a more agreeable attitude failed.
One evening, Prudence came to me full of optimism. She told me that while she had been praying about Holly’s condition, the Lord had given her a spiritual revelation. He had reminded Prudence of several pertinent facts. Holly had been born under traumatic circumstances. First, she was more than a month premature. After her birth, she was hospitalized with a life-threatening respiratory ailment. In addition, after the delivery, Prudence had approached death’s door due to massive hemorrhaging.
As she shared all this with me, Prudence beamed with confidence. She was certain she had heard from the Lord.
“Jim, God gave me a vision of demons of infirmity and death entering Holly during her birth. The reason she doesn’t respond when we anoint her with oil and pray is because we are dealing with evil spirits, not routine sicknesses. We must take authority over them and cast them out in the name of Jesus.”
As Prudence spoke, something like inner agreement clicked within my spirit. I knew that what she was saying was absolutely on-target. We were very familiar with seeing people liberated from evil spirits, and I was filled with hope sensing that we were on the brink of a breakthrough for our child. Prudence and I both agreed that the best approach was immediate action. So we asked Holly to sit down with us in the living room for a talk.
As we all sat on the couch together, I explained to her as best I could what we were going to do. “Honey,” I said gently, “God has shown Mommy that there are some naughty spirits inside of you that make you sick all of the time. Daddy is going to tell them to come out of you in Jesus’ name.”
Holly looked a little unsure. Prudence slipped her arm around Holly’s waist, and I continued to explain.
“I’m going to speak very firmly to those nasty spirits while I’m looking at you, and I’m going to tell them to come out. It may sound as though I’m angry, but I’m not mad at you. We know you want to be a healthy and good girl. I am mad at the devil and the mean spirits that make you sick.”
Holly nodded at this point, seeming to understand, so I went on.
“I want you to look straight at me. When I tell the spirits to leave, you just open your mouth a little bit and breathe them out through your mouth.”
At that, Holly again looked puzzled. I thought to remind her of her experience of being baptized with the Holy Spirit. “Holly, do you remember how you breathed in the good Holy Spirit?” She nodded. “Well, after I tell the bad spirits to come out of you, I want you to huff and puff them out so the good Holy Spirit will have more room.”
What happened next was astonishing. As soon as I commanded the demons of death and infirmity to come out of my daughter, she gagged as though something were lodged in her throat.
Her tiny frame shook convulsively. Her face went ashen white, and her eyes rolled back into her head with only the whites showing. She then collapsed on the couch as though dead. In fact, she actually looked like a little corpse. But rather than panicking in concern at her appearance, I picked her up and began to laugh and sing and thank the Lord. I knew the troubling entities were gone.
Suddenly, Holly opened her eyes and smiled shyly up at me. She looked different. Her face was bright and her eyes were clear. Prudence and I knew in that moment that Holly was free from the chronic sicknesses and demonic forces that had attempted to snatch her life…
Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner (generally known as Marjoe Gortner; born January 14, 1944 in Long Beach, California) is a controversial former evangelist preacher and actor. He first gained public attention during the late 1940s when his parents arranged for him at age four to be ordained as a preacher, due to his extraordinary speaking ability; he was the youngest known in that position. As a young man, he preached on the revival circuit and bought celebrity to the revival movement.
He became a celebrity during the 1970s when he starred in Marjoe (1972), a behind-the-scenes documentary about the lucrative business of Pentecostal preaching. This won the 1972 Academy Award for Best Documentary Film. This documentary is now noted as one of the most vehement criticisms of Pentecostal praxis…
…Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner was born in 1944 in Long Beach, California, into a long evangelical heritage. The name “Marjoe” is a portmanteau of the biblical names “Mary” and “Joseph”. His father Vernon was a third-generation Christian evangelical minister who preached at revivals. His mother, who has been labelled as “exuberant”, was the person who introduced him as a preacher and is notable for his success as a child. Vernon noticed his son’s talent for mimicry and his fearlessness of strangers and public settings. His parents claimed that the boy had received a vision from God during a bath, and started preaching. Marjoe later said this was a fictional story that his parents forced him to repeat. He claimed they compelled him to do this by using mock-drowning episodes; they did not beat him as they did not want to leave bruises that might be noticed during his many public appearances.
They trained him to deliver sermons, complete with dramatic gestures and emphatic lunges. When he was four, his parents arranged for him to perform a marriage ceremony attended by the press, including photographers from Life and Paramount studios.Until his teenage years, Gortner and his parents traveled throughout the United States holding revival meetings, and by 1951 his younger brother Vernoe had been incorporated into the act. As well as teaching Marjoe scriptural passages, his parents also taught him several money-raising tactics, including the sale of supposedly “holy” articles at revivals. He would promise that such items could be used to heal the sick and dying. He was however for the majority of his childhood unknown and “relatively insignificant” as an evangelist, as he found fame much later from his documentary…
…Gortner spent the remainder of his teenage years as an itinerant hippie until his early twenties. Hard-pressed for money, he decided to put his old skills to work and re-emerged on the preaching circuit with a charismatic stage-show modeled after those of contemporary rock stars, most notably Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. He made enough to take six months off every year, during which he returned to California and lived off his earnings before returning to the circuit.
In the late 1960s, Gortner experienced a crisis of conscience about his double life. He decided his performing talents might be put to better use as an actor or singer. When approached by documentarians Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan, he agreed to let their film crew follow him during 1971 on a final tour of revival meetings in California, Texas, and Michigan. Unbeknownst to everyone involved – including, at one point, his father – he gave “backstage” interviews to the filmmakers between sermons and revivals, explaining intimate details of how he and other ministers operated. The filmmakers also shot his counting the money he had collected during the day later in his hotel room. The resulting film, Marjoe, won the 1972 Academy Award for best documentary…
If you have not watched the documentary Marjoe, I encourage you to do so. While it is over forty years old, it still provides a behind the scenes look at what goes on in pentecostal and charismatic tent meetings, revivals, and healing services.
As a Baptist, I had a healthy mistrust and hate for all things pentecostal and charismatic. I saw their preachers as charlatans and false prophets. A good friend of mine and fellow non-believer was a charismatic pastor for twenty years. We never could have been friends while we were in the ministry because I thought people like him were being used by Satan to deceive the masses.
When it comes to stories like Marjoe, the question I have is whether the person was sincere. Were they a true blue believer? Did they really believe they could heal people? Did they really believe God used them to work miracles? In Marjoe’s case, he was conditioned and indoctrinated by his parents to believe that he really had these gifts. Were his parents true blue believers? That’s the bigger question. Were they just passing on the gifts to their talented, precocious son or were they con artists, Elmer Gantry-like hustlers for God?
Thanks to modern technology and dogged investigative reporters, we now know that many of the pentecostal and charismatic evangelists are frauds. People like Peter Popoff, Ernest Angley, Robert Tilton, WV Grant, Leroy Jenkins,Bob Larson, and Benny Hinn are hustlers out to fleece the flock of God. Many of the prosperity gospel preachers are con-artists who have found a way to become fabulously rich off the pain, suffering, and poverty of others. One quick way to judge an evangelist or ministry is to look at their checkbook. Where’s the money going? Whose being enriched by the “ministry” of Bro Heal Them All? In the case of Marjoe, not only did he make quite a bit of money, so did his parents. The family business was hustling for Jesus and it paid quite well. In the end, Marjoe’s father ran off with the cash and left his son and wife behind.
When I was in college, I cleaned a local Sweden House restaurant. One night, a couple of pentecostal evangelists had rented one of the banquet rooms for a healing service. After the service, not knowing I was standing around the corner, I heard the evangelists bitterly complaining about how poor the offering was. This was my first taste of money driven Christianity. As I would learn later, Baptists had their own problem with money-grubbing con-artists, men who preached up a storm only so it would rain twenty-dollar bills. I think the average Christian would be shocked to find out how many of the preachers they love, trust, and support are in it for fame and money. I know of several well known IFB preachers who retired from the ministry as millionaires. Ain’t God good?
In the mid 1970’s, I lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona. I worked for a local grocery store. Every week, several van loads of Pentecostals would come into Food Giant to shop. They were from Miracle Valley, Arizona, the home of evangelist AA Allen. Allen, an alcoholic died in 1970 after a heavy drinking binge. He was 59. The van loads of long dressed women were from one of the Miracle Valley pentecostal ministries or colleges. This was my first exposure to Pentecostals. At the time, I thought, nice looking women, too much clothing. My girlfriend, at the time, wore skirts and dresses that were in keeping with style of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s In other words, I could see her legs.
As I was doing some research for this post, I came upon an interesting story on Wikipedia about one of the pentecostal groups that took up residence in Miracle Valley:
In 1978-80 approximately 300 members of the Christ Miracle Healing Center and Church (CMHCC) moved from Mississippi and Chicago. They purchased property in the subdivision on the north side of Highway 92 across from the bible college. Thomas was a former disciple of Allen’s at MVBC and attempted to purchase it after his death. Over the following two years numerous conflicts arose between the church and its members, and the local community and law enforcement on the other. Tensions escalated when it was discovered that five young children of church members had died over the previous year, with one and possibly four due to the church’s refusal to seek medical attention. Faith healing was a major component of the church’s teachings. Conflicts also arose when the church refused access to parents and law enforcement in retrieving he children of at least two families who had been illegally transported to the Valley against their parents’ wishes. Racial tensions arose between the African American church members and the mostly white residents. In late 1982 a variety of incidents with law enforcement culminated when local sheriff deputies, with backup by state law enforcement, attempted to serve bench warrants for the arrest of 3 members of the church. A large group of church members confronted the officials and in the ensuing “shootout” two church members were killed and seven law enforcement officers were injured. One church member and one sheriff’s deputy would later die of their injuries. The church and its members departed Miracle Valley in early 1983.
My brother lives near Miracle Valley in Tombstone. He was, at one time, the marshal of Tombstone. He can tell all kinds of stories about all kinds of crazy that went on in out-of-the-way places in Cochise County, Arizona.
I attended a charismatic healing service in the mid 1980’s at the Somerset Elementary School in Somerset, Ohio. At the time, I was pastor of the Baptist church and I want to see firsthand what went on at a healing service. The show was quite intense and towards the end the evangelist started going down the rows laying hands on people. Next to me was an old scruffy woman with dirty and greasy hair. When the evangelist came to her, he looked at her head and kept his hand a few inches above it. Right then and there I knew that this guy was a con artist. What, a bit of greasy hair going to keep you from healing someone? When he came to me, I gave him my keep on moving look. I wonder, did I miss out on God healing me? Am I cursed with sickness to this day because I didn’t let Elmer Gantry’s cousin lay hands on me?
Here’s my take on Marjoe, pentecostal evangelists, and faith healers. I think some of them are true blue believers. Indoctrinated from an early age, they sincerely believe what they are preaching. When it comes to the money they make, they view it as God blessing them. But, I also think that a large number of preachers, evangelists, and faith healers are scam artists, frauds who have found a way to make lots of money without doing much work. They are, at best, entertainers, at worst they are predators who prey an ignorant, gullible Christians.
If you happened to watch the videos above and see the emotional craziness that went on at Marjoe’s meetings, I should let you know that I saw similar behavior at Baptist revival meetings, preacher’s meetings, camp meetings; especially those held south of the Mason-Dixon line. The only difference? Everyone spoke in English. I’ve seen aisle running, pew jumping, flag waving, shouting, and screaming at countless old-fashioned revivals or camp meetings. I’ve seen churches and preachers collect Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets of cash; thousands of dollars collected for “the Lord”,
An Open Letter to Lifeway and Other Sellers, Buyers, and Marketers of Heaven Tourism, by the Boy Who Did Not Come Back From Heaven.”
“Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.
I did not die. I did not go to heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.
It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though He committed none of His own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of heaven outside of what is written in the Bible … not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.”
The gist of what has happened here is that Alex and his mother Beth, have repudiated the fundamentalists charismatic/pentecostal beliefs that are the foundation of Alex’s book. Sadly, they have taken up with a different group that is almost as bad. To the best of my knowledge, Alex and Beth are now in a John MacArthur-like Reformed/Calvinistic church. Their recent statements reveal that they have been deeply influenced by Reformed/Calvinist thinking, especially its emphasis on sola scriptura. For more information on this connection, please read the Pulpit and Pen blog and John MacArthur’s right hand man, Phil Johnson’s article, The Burpo-Malarkey Doctrine.
Are Beth and Alex Malarkey in a better religious setting? That’s for them to decide. They should, however, realize that they have traded one form of fundamentalism for another.
What follows is the review I wrote when The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven first came out. I thought it was lost, but I was able to retrieve it from The Wayback Machine.
The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, a remarkable account of miracles, angels, and life beyond this world is written by Kevin and Alex Malarkey.
At the bottom of the front cover are the words True Story. The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven recounts the story of six-year-old Alex Malarkey, who was seriously injured in an automobile accident that left him paralyzed. While in a coma, Alex was taken to heaven and given the grand tour. He returned to earth and his body so that he could share with all of us the story found in the book. The book also records post-coma trips to heaven by Alex and even includes an angel appearance to Alex’s father Kevin Malarkey.
I almost stopped reading the book after reading the introduction. Kevin Malarkey, an Evangelical Christian therapist in Columbus Ohio wrote:
I’m not here to beat a drum, convince you of a theological argument, or force you to validate Alex’s experiences. But I humbly offer a challenge: suspend your judgment for just a few chapters. I think your life may be changed forever.
If Alex’s story is to be taken as a TRUE story, then why do I need to suspend my judgment? Should not the truth of the story be clear to all who read it?
According to Kevin Malarkey:
Heaven is real. There is an unseen world at work—an intensely active spiritual realm right here on earth , all around us. And much of this activity keeps us from focusing on our future destination, the place where we will spend eternity. Alex has been there….
The only thing the book actually proves is that some people believe there is a heaven. The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven may be a true story, but it is a “true” story without one shred of provable truth. In other words, you are going to have to take the word of six-year-old (or 11-year-old by the time the book is written) Alex Malarkey that what he shares is the truth.
The story begins when Kevin and Alex Malarkey are involved in a horrific automobile accident. Kevin, while talking on his cellphone, turned in front of an automobile coming in the opposite direction. The driver of the other car was a woman with two young children. Alex was injured far worse than anyone else. The accident left him paralyzed and in a coma for 2 months.
At the accident scene, unconscious Alex saw:
Five angels carrying his father outside the car. Four were carrying the body and one angel was supporting his head and neck (the police report said Kevin Malarkey was ejected from the automobile).
The devil sitting in the front seat of the automobile accusing Alex of causing the accident.
While in a coma, Alex was taken to heaven. What did Alex see and experience while he was in heaven?
His father was in heaven too, but only for a short time.
Alex saw the five angels that carried his father’s body outside the automobile. The five angels stayed with Alex so his father could have time alone with God. He pleaded to trade places with Alex, but God told him no. God sent his father’s spirit back to earth and Alex remained in heaven. God told him that he would heal him later on earth to bring more glory to His (God’s) name.
While in the emergency room, Alex watched everything that was going on from the ceiling. Jesus was standing right there beside him. Alex felt safe and he was not afraid to die.
While in the emergency room, Alex saw 150 pure white angels with fantastic wings who were all calling his name. After a while, they said “Alex, go back.” Alex did go back and Jesus came with him and held him during his time in the emergency room.
Alex found himself in the presence of God. God had a human-like body, but a lot bigger. Alex was only allowed to see God from the neck down because the Bible says anyone who looks on the face of God dies.
There is an inner heaven and an outer heaven. The outer heaven has a hole that leads to hell.
There are lots of colorful, beautiful things to see, and beautiful music too.
Heaven is a lot like earth, but it is perfect in every detail.
Angels are white, have wings, and are sexless.
Some angels are short, 2 feet tall, and others are much taller.
There are different types of angels, with different jobs to do.
There are lots of buildings in heaven, but Alex only really noticed the Temple. God never leaves his throne in the Temple. There is a scroll in a glass container that only Jesus can read.
After Alex came out of his coma, he continued to see other world beings. Angels were present in Alex’s hospital room. The angels helped Alex and the angels talked to Alex and he talked back to them.
One day, Alex told his father that he had something important to tell him. He wanted to make sure his father would not be sad after hearing what Alex had to say. Alex said:
There are two days I look forwards to more than any others in my life. The first is the day I die. You see, I can’t wait to get home. It’s not that I want to die right now; I’m not sad…. The second is the day when the devil goes to the Lake of Fire. I can’t wait for him to be gone for good.
According to Alex, demons and evil spirits came to visit him. He was thankful that his father taught him how to pray and how to take authority over the demons.
Alex had this to say about the devil, about demons and evil spirits:
They are evil, scary, and ugly.
They accuse Alex of things, bring him doubt, make him feel sad, tell him he will never be healed, and that God won’t protect him.
The devil has three heads and all three heads have hair of fire (is the devil a redhead?). Each of the heads speak different lies at the same time.
The devil has beaming red eyes with flames for pupils. His nose is nasty and torn up.
The devil speaks English to Alex. His voice is screechy like a witch and changes into different sounds. The devil’s mouth is funny-looking with only a few moldy teeth.
The devil’s body has a human form but has no flesh.
The devil wears a torn and dirty robe.
The devil personally appeared to Alex. Sometimes, the devil came along with other evil spirits but sometimes he came alone.
Demons are often green and they have hair made of fire. Their skin and robes are just like the devil’s. Their eyes are like the devil’s and they have long fingernails.
According to Alex, demons walk around telling lies. In Frank Peretti style, Alex says that there is a spiritual war going on—angels against demons.
Towards the end of the book, Kevin Malarkey lets readers know that Alex has continued to take periodic trips to heaven. Readers are also told that Kevin himself had an experience where an angel named John appeared to him.
The angel John gave Kevin a message:
I have anointed you with a message of hope…for the church….for the body of Christ…and for those who will be the body…..that He will be raised up and seen in His true glory…This is the word of the Lord given to you by the angel John.
Speak of Me, for Me, and about Me. Use Alex to show who I am. I have chosen him as a screen upon which to show myself. I am unity, the Trinity, a complete circle. Your story will lead to praise and worship, there will be altar calls. Your bills are the least of my worries. I will be with you all the days of your life. I will speak to you, I will guide you, I am in you. I am about you, you be about me. My love is unconditional. My vengeance is restricted for the holy. My apostles died for Me, will you die for Me? I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.
Most of the book is Kevin Malarkey’s explanation of Alex’s trips to heaven and how God is using them to reach other people. One chapter is devoted to the things that Alex knew about his time in the coma. To many people, this is proof above all proof. Alex talked of things that were not possible for him to know.
The story is what it is. Either you believe it or you don’t. Just like the book Heaven is for Real, you have the story of a young child being taken to heaven. Both boys waited for years before their story was put into print. Both stories show clear signs of being shaped by adult human hands (whether by parents or book editors).
I have no doubt that the Malarkey family believes what is written here. As with many Christians, they are desperate to know that their lives matter and that when death comes there is a new life that awaits beyond the grave.
As a non-believer, I found that the story said little that I would consider as proof that there is a God, a devil, a heaven, a hell, or that life continues beyond the grave. I found myself angry, once again, at the idea of a god who paralyzes a kid in an automobile accident so he can get some praise and glory. With all the suffering, sickness, disease, and death in the world, it seems to me that God has plenty enough praise and glory.
My conclusion? Kevin Malarkey asked me to suspend my judgment as I read the book. I could not do so, and, in my judgment, the book is a bunch of malarkey (meaningless talk and nonsense).
In June of 2014, I wrote the following update:
Last week, I reposted a review of The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven by Kevin and Alex Malarkey. After my review hit the internet, Beth Malarkey, the mother of Alex, contacted me via Twitter. She let me know that Alex, now a teenager, did not write the story and he does not agree with what is in the book.
I never intended this blog to be a place that I would have to defend my son ALex’s indentity [sic] let alone the journey that he and he alone has endured. I started this blog as a “fun” thing to do and with the intention of maybe sharing some hope and bits of wisdom that has been learned through the struggles. I have taken this blog down from time to time not sure what to do with it and NEVER wanting to make it appear as if any of the people that I write about are extraordinary individuals…
,,,This past week a movie based off the book Heaven is for Real came out. I have not read the book, do not plan to, and am strongly opposed to the movie. Let’s just say that the Burpo book and the book that has Alex’s name listed as coauthor (The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven), as does the Tyndale Publishing website (can not understand how that can be), have a few things in common which I will not get into on here. I am trying to defend my son and truth. Here is something to think about….
It is both puzzling and painful to watch the book The Boy who Came Back from Heaven to not only continue to sell, but to continue, for the most part, to not be questioned. I could post facts and try to dispel many of the things contained within the pages of that book (have done a bit of that), I could continue to try to point out how Biblically off the book is (a few strategically placed scriptures does not make a book Biblically sound) and how it leads people away from the bible not to it (have done that as have others including John MacArthur and Phil Johnson), I could talk about how much it has hurt my son tremendously and even make financial statements public that would prove that he has not received monies from the book nor have a majority of his needs been funded by it (a fund that was set aside by a friend a few years ago has actually been paying for most things in the past few years but that fund is dwindling), I could…..but it seems like many people want to believe what they are given despite the wrong that it may be doing or the wrong that was done in the making of it.
When Alex first tried to tell a “pastor” how wrong the book was and how it needed stopped, Alex was told that the book was blessing people. Ok…first, Alex said that while he was struggling physically and trusting this person as someone who seemed to be concerned so the person was invalidating Alex’s feeling while justifying the wrong that Alex was trying to make that person aware of. . The person told Alex to “trust” him. Alex is the ONLY one that supposedly had the experiences being written about(Alex was a 6 year old and coming out of major brain trauma…note I am not saying what is true and not just that Alex was a kid with major brain trauma which alone should raise questions as to validity) Alex is the ONLY one who has endured not only a horrific set of injuries, but having his journey capitalized on. His struggles are NOT past tense nor is the “story.”
The ones making money from the book are NOT the ones staying up through the night, struggling for their breath, or were they the ones at six years old, waking up unable to move or breathe and in a strange place after last remember seeing a car coming right at the car he was riding in. What I have walked through with Alex over the past nine years has nearly broken me personally and spiritually. I have wept so deeply for what I have watched my children go through, been made aware of how ignorant I was of some things, how selfish I was, and how Biblically illiterate I was which allowed me to be deceived! Sure, I had read my Bible A LOT, but I had not studied it. I had listened to teachings but probably enjoyed more ear tickling than I am still even aware of(for that I repent and have experienced deep sorrow) I am so thankful that God is so merciful and patient. I am thankful that God allowed me to go ahead and fall for the junk that I did(and it was that junk)for I am fully aware of what it feels like to be pulled in.
There are many who are scamming and using the Word of God to do it. They are good, especially if you are not digging into your Bible and truly studying it. They study their audience and even read “success” books to try to build better and bigger…”ministries/businesses”. Please, examine what you see and read. I see many things from a different vantage point because of how much I have witnessed and am witnessing first hand…not second hand. I will remain puzzled and remain seeking truth in the Word of God! One more time..Alex did not write the book and it is not blessing him! Saying that it is blessing others to try to justify its wrong is just that…justification of wrong!
Beth is divorced from Kevin Malarkey and continues to be Alex’s primary caregiver.