When the late legendary Baptist minister Billy Graham’s health was declining, one of the few pastors invited to visit him for a personal blessing was John Bishop, the former lead pastor of Living Hope Church in Vancouver, Washington.
“We thank you for the great ministry you’ve given him already,” Graham prayed, as he cupped Bishop’s hands during the blessing, “and Lord we pray that it will only be the beginning.”
In December 2017 however, Bishop, now 55, was arrested for trying to smuggle more than 280 pounds of marijuana into the country from Mexico.
Speaking with Vanity Fair in a recent interview, Bishop explained how he got there.
Along with his wife Michelle, Bishop started Living Hope Church in 1996 targeting “people who don’t do church” and Christians who might be in need of grace and second chance.
With elaborate sermons featuring live animals such as a 350-pound tiger, a camel and a bear, the church grew to become one of the largest in Clark County. It was nicknamed the “Kmart church” because it now occupies a former Kmart building.
Bishop called Living Hope “the dangerous church” because it was a church “willing to do what’s not being done, to reach people who are not being reached.”
He soon began expanding his message through satellite congregations in New Zealand, the Philippines, and India.
“I modeled it (the church), in my thinking, after Starbucks,” Bishop explained to Vanity Fair.
As his ministry flourished, Bishop bought homes including a three-bedroom vacation home in a gated community in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He soon started a church there.
Bishop’s 22-year-old son, David, who was unable to cope with his father’s stardom, unlike his daughters, had also started taking drugs at the time. He was selling meth and heroin to the same people his father was trying to save at his church too.
“I definitely took advantage of being the pastor’s son,” David said. “Because he was untouchable, I was untouchable.”
As Bishop got older and his fame grew however he began drinking in 2015. Michelle told Vanity Fair she was confronted by a group of women at the church that year who told her that her husband had been having an affair with a church employee. Bishop confessed to his sin and the church fired him in November 2015.
It was after his firing, that Bishop followed his son into the world of Mexican drug cartels until his 2017 arrest.
“I would say I’m responsible,” Bishop said when asked what he would tell his former congregants. “I hurt thousands of people around the world. And I can’t change it. As much as I wish I could—I can kill myself, and it doesn’t change it. For me, I deserve prison. I deserve nothing.”
Using his father’s story as a cautionary tale, David told Vanity Fair that he’s considering following in his father’s footsteps into the kind of ministry he had before his fall. “I feel like one day I will be a pastor,” he said.
Last November, Bishop was sentenced to five years in prison for his crimes. He is however appealing the sentence.
His wife who filed for legal separation after his arrest, claims her husband was attacked by the devil.
“I think it’s a spiritual attack,” she said. “He was such an instrument of God that he had a big target on his back. We believe that Satan is real, and he’s out to destroy our lives.”
While Michelle was not charged with any crime, FBI investigators found more than 6,000 text messages sent and received by the fallen pastor during his time with the drug cartel that suggests she was also involved with Bishop’s drug operation.
While Bishop is currently leading Bible study for other inmates in prison, where he is known as “Preach,” he doesn’t believe he might want to be a pastor again.
“I want to be a guy focused on his family,” he told Vanity Fair. “I don’t care about starting a church. Maybe God has that plan, but that’s not my goal.”