On Tuesday this week, we watched a new show on the OWN network called Our America with Lisa Ling. The show is intended to spotlight “real” Americans and tell their story which could indeed be very sad or even bizarre. The first episode showcased Todd Bentley of Morning Star Ministries. Todd has facial piercings and lots of tattoos, a bald head, and he drives a souped up truck with flames on it.
Todd is also a Christian evangelist and claims to be a faith healer, meaning he can lay his hands on those who are ill and he can (sometimes) cure them. Todd has an army of young followers who also want to be healers. They are in their twenties and were once lost in the world of drugs and alcohol. Much of the show was taped during a revival that went on for several days. People paid as much as $600 to get there and listen to Todd, but the show focused on two individuals specifically.
The first was a man in a wheelchair, a victim of several unfortunate events. When he was a teen, he was in a car accident that damaged his spine and caused him to have a speech impediment. Years later he fell off a roof. Confined to a wheelchair, doctors told him he’d never walk again. The man claims God told him to go see Todd Bentley, and that in the last 10 minutes of the last night of the revival, he would stand up and walk again.
The second spotlight went to an elderly woman and her two daughters. They were there because the woman had stage 3 vulva cancer and with only Medicare for insurance, she couldn’t afford the expensive treatments. A miracle was her only hope at this point.
Lisa Ling did an amazing job of trying to stay neutral during her reporting, but she did express the sympathy she felt for these people and their situation. She could sense just how strong their faith was. Even on the last night, she left the room when Todd Bentley put his hands on the man in the wheelchair because she said there was “no room for doubt in there.”
Sadly, the man in the wheelchair did not get up and walk. Afterwards, Lisa interviewed him and he said, “I guess this wasn’t my night, but I still have faith.” He put his hand on Lisa’s head (transfering that energy to her, as she said) and prayed for her. We later learned that our cancer patient did not get a miracle either; her situation had actually worsened.
With a quiet Southern Baptist upbringing like my own, its hard not to look at a room full of excited people with their hands in the air, or screaming and yelling, some praying out loud, and some speaking in tongues, following a man like Todd Bentley who yells “Bam! Bam! Bam!” when he is healing people, and not believe them. It’s hard not to ridicule a man who says God spoke to him and that he’d walk again. It’s easier to say it was God’s will that put him there. It’s was God’s plan that the woman has cancer and can’t afford healthcare, and God will decide when to take her. It’s always God’s will when something is wrong or we don’t get our way, or we wonder why God is cruel or if he has a sick sense of humor. We never blame Satan for any of this, or if we do then we say a person’s faith must have faltered.
In my childhood church (I don’t attend a church today.), we sat there quietly and listened to a dull preacher read from the Bible or bore us with a non-inspiring sermon. Attending a friend’s nondenominational church scared me because people jumped and clapped and yelled and ran down the aisles speaking in tongues – but it did seem much more exciting and fun. In the end, weren’t we all worshiping the same God no matter what church we went to?
So, I tried to keep an open mind while watching this show. I wanted that man to walk. I wanted that woman to be cured of cancer. I didn’t want to judge them for having faith, more faith than I have probably ever had my entire life. Just because the church I was brought up in doesn’t jump and shout and heal people doesn’t mean that some other church that does is wrong. Does it?
I guess that’s why I just have so many issues today with organized religion. None of of us will ever know who was right or who was wrong until it is too late. Should my mother have never cut her hair? Should I have always worn long sleeves? Was live music in my church wrong? Does eating shrimp condemn me to hell? These things seem trite and silly, but they are parts of the foundation of beliefs some churches are founded upon because they take what the Bible says literally.
And so with a show like this I’m reminded that in the end how can I be wrong for just believing in unconditional love. In the end, is it enough to just be a good, geniune person who does believe in a God that would just want me to have a heart full of love, not judge, not criticize, and to help my fellow man to the best of my ability. Is it enough to secure my place in Heaven? I find it hard to believe that it isn’t.
I’m reminded of the poem by the great poet Emily Dickinson:
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —
I keep it, staying at Home —
With a Bobolink for a Chorister —
And an Orchard, for a Dome —
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —
I just wear my Wings —
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton — sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman —
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last —
I’m going, all along.