By Julie Lyons
J. Lee Grady is the finest commentator on the charismatic-Pentecostal church movement today and one of the best religion columnists in the country.
He is also an ordained minister, author, and conference speaker who has launched a ministry, The Mordecai Project, that is dedicated to empowering women and confronting domestic and sexual abuse worldwide.
I’ve followed Grady’s weekly column for Charisma magazine, Fire in My Bones, for years, and have been encouraged by his willingness to take on corruption, immorality, and craziness in the charismatic movement to which both of us belong.
Grady was one of the first to publicly declare that he smelled a rat in the outrageous antics of healing evangelist Todd Bentley, the burly, tattooed central figure in the Lakeland Revival of four years ago that was famously played out in real time on GOD TV. Bentley would smack some of the people for whom he prayed, claiming the Holy Spirit prompted him to do these things.
After a few months of worldwide fame, Bentley abruptly left the revival, which started at Stephen Strader’s IgnitedChurch in Lakeland, Florida. It was later revealed that Bentley, who was married, had been involved in an inappropriate relationship with a ministry intern even as he was taking the stage to talk about mystical events and visions of angels.
A year later, Bentley had divorced his wife and married the intern, and Rick Joyner, a best-selling Christian author and pastor with a prophetic ministry, quickly rallied believers to support the evangelist and his “gift.” Grady spoke up in one of his best columns, “The Tragic Scandal of Greasy Grace,” writing:
“Many Christians today have rejected Biblical discipline and adopted a sweet, spineless love that cannot correct. Our grace is greasy. No matter what an offending brother does, we stroke him and pet him and nurse his wounds while we ignore the people he wounded…because, after all, who are we to judge?”
Grady’s columns provoked a 10-minute retort from Rick Joyner on YouTube that can be viewed today. Joyner brands Grady as self-righteous and questions whether he has a right to criticize any leader in the body of Christ.
None of this deterred Grady in the least—but his response wasn’t the righteous indignation I’d expect from a skillful investigative journalist and bold columnist. Grady, in fact, waited six weeks before he even watched Joyner’s statement, because he wanted to keep his heart right. And first he spent quality time praying for Joyner.
That’s why Grady’s the kind of man I want to listen to in this long, trying season of upheaval in the charismatic churches, and why MannaEXPRESS has chosen him as the first subject of our new “Men of Valor” column. I caught up with Grady last month at the home in Orlando, Florida, that he shares with his wife of 28 years.
What kind of reception do you get in developing countries to your message about women?
It’s a mixed bag, because you’re coming against cultural strongholds and cultural mindsets that have been ingrained for a long, long time. And I make it very clear from the very beginning that I’m not bringing American culture—what I’ve come to bring is the culture of the kingdom of God. So then I get into the nitty-gritty areas—polygamy is not God’s culture. Wife-beating is not God’s culture. Female genital mutilation is not God’s culture. And so you hit up against things that some people in their minds are struggling with, because 70 percent of women in Uganda [where Grady recently ministered] believe that it’s OK for a man to beat his wife if she burns his dinner. When I tell the women God doesn’t look at you as inferior, well, they want to believe that, but they’ve been conditioned to believe something else.
When I was with the guys, I really hit hard on the wife-beating and the attitude that men are superior. These are Christians, and they want to believe that the Word has the final say. And when I show them Scripture that directly contradicts cultural strongholds, they respond positively. But typically, preachers are not addressing those issues from the pulpit.
Why is that?
Because the culture has been in control. In Guatemala, 65 percent of the pastors in some regions think it’s OK to beat their wife. So you can imagine how it is in a church if the pastor believes that. They’re just gonna have lots of praise and worship, and they might have great passionate preaching about other things, but they don’t address those issues. So I come in there, and it kind of messes up everything, because they weren’t thinking about those things. And then you get lots of men who come to the front to repent for abuse.
Do you ever have to deal with anger when you confront some of these things?
I don’t think anger is going to help resolve this. I have compassion for the men who are abusers, because I know that they’re just under the bondage of a cultural mindset. And I know that when it’s exposed, a lot of them are gonna repent and want to change, and I’ve seen a lot of these guys change.
My personality doesn’t necessarily come out in anger so much as, I know that people are evil and people are sinners, so yeah, I’m mad at that, but I also see the devil in all of this, so I probably direct most of my anger toward him [laughs].
Because when you look at something like female genital mutilation, the devil’s fingerprints are all over that. If anybody doubts that there is a devil, they need to go to Eastern Uganda [where the practice—in which girls’ external genitals are sliced off without anesthesia, supposedly to curb promiscuity—is prevalent] and see that. Because the devil hates women, and you see his anger, you see his fury at people when you look at this, or when you talk to abused women or abandoned women in Uganda. That was something I really had to face on this last trip—how much abandonment goes on there. Because there’s no repercussions for it. If a man gets married and then has four kids and decides he wants to leave the woman, he can just walk out on her, and she has no money and there’s no law to make him pay for anything.
What are the churches doing about it—and what do you encourage them to do?
I’m teaching that the women need to rise up and become the arms and the hands of Jesus to minister to other women who are suffering, and then encouraging the churches to come up with compassionate ways to provide care for these people. In the natural, that’s going to be things like domestic violence shelters, which are very rare in Africa, because the mindset is that women are just supposed to put up with that.
You’ve spoken out a lot about immorality in church leadership, especially in the Pentecostal-charismatic churches. Why do you think there is so much immorality?
I think we fight just as much with cultural strongholds here. And I believe that there’s a cultural stronghold in America right now that’s very much about sexual immorality. Our country is saturated in pornography—you can’t live a normal life without running into it all the time. The values of our nation have shifted so we’re being force-fed a diet of licentiousness. Our culture is totally gone off into that, and so it affects the church. If leaders are looking at pornography, then how can you preach that it’s wrong? Basically, a lot of the church has bowed its knee to Baal, and that’s where we are.
Has the problem become worse among church leaders?
It’s not like there was never adultery or immorality before. But I think the degree of it and the percentage affected by it has certainly increased. I do think that a lot of the reason why it has become so prevalent is pornography. Most guys that I counsel that have fallen into some kind of immoral act, you can always trace it back to pornography.
What do you think the church’s answer is to this epidemic of immorality and pornography? Are we dealing with demonic forces here?
Of course the devil wants to destroy human relationships. The devil hates human sexuality. He wants to destroy that, because God created man and woman in his image, and His nature is reflected through man and woman, so satan hates that and wants to destroy that through all kinds of immorality and perversion. But how we fight that is we have to expose the agenda. Repentance has always been the answer, but we have to preach that.
You were pretty outspoken about the Lakeland Revival, and Todd Bentley shedding his wife and having a relationship with the woman he eventually married. I know you were rebuked pretty harshly by Rick Joyner afterward.
As I said many times in print, I believe in restoration. What concerned me about the situation with Todd is that he didn’t go through the process. He was hurriedly “restored” by Rick coming to his defense. Some of the things Rick said were to me very irresponsible for a leader in the body of Christ. He made some comment about how we really are rough on divorced people, and why do that, because God himself is divorced—he made the analogy that God divorced himself from Israel.
I’ve never heard that one before. Wow.
So, it was just so hurriedly put together, and meanwhile you have the former wife in Canada with three kids, and there was no mention of her in Rick’s initial letter where he was pleading for people to support Todd. I don’t have any regrets about what I said in that situation, and many people I’ve run into have thanked me for saying it.
There’s a desperation for signs and wonders and miracles, and I don’t fault people for wanting that—I believe God wants to bring that. But I do believe that we got so aggressive and desperate for miracles that we forgot that you have to have character to go alongside anointing. There’s just a tragic lack of discernment in the body of Christ. We have somebody stand up and say something totally flaky to a huge audience, and everybody jumps up and down and gets excited. They don’t smell a rat.
The Pentecostal movement has a history of highly gifted individuals whose character didn’t stack up, yet they performed verifiable signs and wonders. So how do you reconcile that when you say character is necessary too?
Obviously we haven’t learned from our mistakes. The devil really doesn’t have that many tricks in his bag; if he can’t get gifted leaders to stumble into pride, he’s gonna try to get them to stumble into sexual immorality. If that doesn’t work, he’s gonna try to get them to do something that lacks integrity. If that doesn’t work, he’s gonna try to tempt them to believe some weird doctrine and go off theologically. And if that doesn’t work, he’s just gonna try to discourage them. A lot of people quit or go off for those reasons—they don’t finish well.
One thing Rick Joyner says on YouTube is that basically you have no right to criticize any church leader—any person called and anointed by God.
I wasn’t really sure where he was coming from on that What I don’t think Rick understands is that I’ve been an ordained minister of the gospel since 2000, I’ve been in ministry pretty much my whole life, I preach all over the world. Obviously those people recognize that I have some kind of right to speak to these issues. It’s kind of an arrogant thing to say.
I can’t tell you how many times people have told me all over the world, thank you, thank you, thank you for writing those things that you did about Lakeland. Because your writing helped us make sense of the whole thing. I’m not saying that every word I wrote was perfect. But the Lord was involved in using me in that situation. I don’t lose any sleep over it, honestly.
Rick Joyner called you self-righteous.
I’m assuming he thinks I’m self-righteous because I’m holding up a standard. I’m saying we shouldn’t be restoring people quickly to ministry when they’ve just run out on their wife and left their family and married the girl they were having an affair with. My view is, how are we going to hold up a standard in the body of Christ if we don’t actually practice church discipline?
What does your wife think of your work with the Mordecai Project?
My wife is 100 percent behind me. She’s obviously the mother of our four daughters, so she understands the passion that I have.
What do you see prophetically for the church in the U.S.?
Some people are very negative about this season, but I am not. I believe that really what’s going on is we’re in a clean-up phase—the church is in reform. A lot of leaders out there have had it with this craziness. So they’re making changes; they are emphasizing things like holiness and integrity and healthy leadership. We’re throwing a lot of things overboard right now that need to be jettisoned–a lot of the hyper-prosperity emphasis, the unhealthy styles of leadership, the quirkiness and the lack of authenticity. God is building His church, and I’m not the least bit worried that He won’t finish the work.
Julie Lyons is a journalist, author, and editor. She lives in Dallas with her husband and son.