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A pre-IHOP Mike Bickle story from the 1970s

Over the last several months, I have been fascinated to follow the story about charges of sexual misconduct by the founder of the International House of Prayer (IHOP), Mike Bickle.

IhopkcA week-plus ago, IHOP officials announced they were closing the old IHOP, based in metro Kansas City, and that they had plans to reopen as a much smaller center.

As for who Mike Bickle is, here's a recent answer from this Kansas City Star report:

"Mike Bickle, 68, founded IHOPKC in 1999. Allegations of 'clergy sexual abuse' against Bickle were presented to IHOPKC leadership in late October 2023.

"On Dec. 12, 2023, Bickle publicly addressed the accusations for the first time, saying in a statement on X, formerly Twitter, 'I sadly admit that 20+ years ago, I sinned by engaging in inappropriate behavior — my moral failures were real. (I am not admitting to the more intense sexual activities that some are suggesting).'

"About 10 days after Bickle’s statement, IHOPKC announced that it was 'immediately, formally and permanently' separating from Bickle, saying it had confirmed 'a level of inappropriate behavior' on his part."

I have been wary of Mike Bickle and his approach to theology for more than 50 years. In the fall of 1973, Mike's brother, Pat Bickle, then a Kansas City area high school football player, suffered a devastating injury in a game at North Kansas City High School. It left him a quadriplegic, unable to move except for the ability to turn his head a bit this way or that.

Within that next year or so, I traveled to Rosebud, Mo., to interview Mike and Pat. Mike then was running some kind of ministry in that small town an hour or so east of Jefferson City. Pat was lying in a bed in the home that was Mike's ministry headquarters.

I have tried -- but so far haven't found -- the story I wrote about that for The Kansas City Star then. But I remember vividly hearing Pat -- encouraged (egged on, really) by Mike -- say that he had deep faith that God would heal him physically.

I remember asking Mike whether he was giving Pat false hope that one day he would not just walk again but maybe even run and play football. Mike denied that it was false hope. And Pat really seemed to imagine that such a thing would happen to him. He said that he dreamed regularly that he could walk and run.

Mike used a kind of evangelical language that he became famous for using at IHOP. In fact, this link will give you a YouTube video in which Mike talks -- in a rambling, disjointed way -- about the divine miracle that would cure his brother, a vision of which, he says, came from two people who were active in the early days of IHOP.

But Pat died at age 50 without ever experiencing a miraculous physical healing.

And now Mike no longer is part of IHOP. None of that surprises me. I didn't have a vision (like Mike seemed to have regularly about various things) of the disastrous way in which Mike's ministry would end back when I spent some time with him and Pat in the mid-1970s. I just knew that I was put off by the way Mike filled Pat with the wildly unrealistic idea that he would walk and run and dance again.

But when you sell the idea of miracles -- and sell is the right word here -- you make them seem really miraculous and you never let on that the likelihood of them coming true is zero, or close to it. Why? Because you probably read Matthew 19:26 literally -- "for God all things are possible."

I'm not suggesting that miracles never happen or never could happen. I'm just saying that when you cherry-pick scripture passages to bend reality so that what you want to happen seems like an inevitable answer, you are abusing scripture.

In fact, it's one more example of the notion that you can take the Bible literally or you can take it seriously, but you can't do both.

* * *

IS THIS ANOTHER METHODIST ERROR?

Several years after lots of churches have left the United Methodist Church in a major schism, what's remaining of the denomination has, in effect, voted to try to close the barn door. Which is to say that the UMC, as this Religion News Service story reports, "passed a series of measures Thursday to restructure the worldwide denomination to give each region greater equity in tailoring church life to its own customs and traditions."

Umc-schismOne reason the UMC divided in the first place was that large segments of its churches that are located overseas, especially in Africa, did not want anything to do with the idea of approving the ordination of LGBTQ+ people as pastors. Whether this latest four-part division could have avoided the split by letting churches that felt that way remain in a larger body that allowed such ordination is just guesswork. But at first glance it looks as if this new four-part division will encourage a local option on such matters, resulting in a denomination that speaks with several voices on how to interpret scripture not just on LGBTQ+ issues but on any issue. In which case it may be unclear what the "United" in the denomination's name really means. We'll see.

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