An Abbotsford-based faith healer who has polarized North American evangelicals has agreed to step down as the head of Fresh Fire Ministries after it was discovered he had an "unhealthy relationship on an emotional level" with a female staff member.
The announcement about Todd Bentley, a 32-year-old Gibsons native, came Friday from the ministry's board of directors.
Bentley had recently separated from his wife Shonnah, who has returned to Canada with their three children. The board said the Bentleys were going through the "necessary steps towards restoration and wholeness."
"We want to affirm that there has been no sexual immorality on the part of either Todd or Shonnah, nor has there ever been," the board wrote in an earlier statement about their separation.
In stepping down, Bentley will also refrain from all public ministries, including his meetings in south Florida which have attracted about 300,000 people to a church and baseball stadium since April.
"In the meantime, he's going to get himself refreshed," said Ken Greter, International Missions Director for Fresh Fire Ministries. A 38-city stadium tour of American cities has been postponed. Greter, who is also a member of the board of directors, said Fresh Fire Ministries will be notifying ministries in the fall if and when a tour will occur.
Bentley is spending time with friends in California and was unavailable for comment Sunday. Greter said when he spoke with Bentley on Saturday, the faith healer was in a "good frame of reference."
Greter said the board started discussing Bentley's leadership role within the past 10 days.
"People have been asking when he's going to come back. That's hard to say," Greter said. "We'd rather not forecast because it's a difficult time for him."
As for the day-to-day operations of Fresh Fire Ministries, Greter said the board will continue its leadership role.
Greter said the ministry will be focusing its efforts on the Uganda Jesus Village as nearly 100 people from all the world will be heading to Africa later this month to help build homes that will accommodate 500 children one day. The village is situated on a 14-hectare property near Lake Victoria.
"[Bentley] wishes he could go to Africa because it's his favourite continent to go to," Greter said. "We said, 'Well dude, there's always next time.'"
Greter said that Ignited Church, where Bentley's revival meetings started, will take over the meetings in Lakeland, Fla., east of Tampa Bay. Bentley rose to prominence this year after thousands flocked to a baseball stadium to lose themselves in ecstatic music and his healing powers.
Bentley has full-body Jesus tattoos, facial piercings and was a young criminal growing up on the Sunshine Coast. His critics have called his ministry "demonic," "occult," "deceitful" and "plain silly." They have also attacked his claims that he has gone to heaven and talked with Jesus, the apostle Paul and angels.
Defenders have said that God often uses "flawed people" to perform miracles and heal the sick.