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John Bishop saga continues: Vanity Fair runs interview with ex-pastor

Former Living Hope Church leader, son, wife tell their tale

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor, and
, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published:
2 Photos
Former Vancouver pastor John Bishop, left, arrives Sept. 21, 2018, to be sentenced for unlawful importation of a controlled substance-marijuana at the James M. Carter and Judith N. Keep United States Courthouse in San Diego, Calif.
Former Vancouver pastor John Bishop, left, arrives Sept. 21, 2018, to be sentenced for unlawful importation of a controlled substance-marijuana at the James M. Carter and Judith N. Keep United States Courthouse in San Diego, Calif. Amanda Cowan/Columbian files Photo Gallery

Disgraced former Living Hope Church pastor John Bishop is once again in the limelight.

The convicted drug-smuggler, who was ousted from the Vancouver church in the fall of 2015, was featured in an April 19 Vanity Fair story called “The Church of Living Dangerously: How One of America’s Biggest Pastors Became a Drug Runner for a Mexican Cartel.”

Bishop, 56, was arrested in December 2017 for attempting to smuggle nearly 300 pounds of marijuana into the United States from Mexico. He later pleaded guilty, and following a number of contentious hearings, was sentenced the day before Thanksgiving to five years in federal prison. He is being housed at the medium security Federal Correctional Institution in Florence, Colo. Bishop is set to be released Dec. 29, 2022.

In 6,015 words, the Vanity Fair writer, David Kushner — who’s also written for The New York Times and Rolling Stone, and authored a number of nonfiction books — tells Bishop’s life story, including unverified details about his dealings with Mexican drug cartels, as told by Bishop, his wife, Michelle, and their adult son, David.

Bishop gave a similar interview to The Columbian about a week prior, in September, days before the paper published a six-story series on Bishop’s fall from grace. The account he gave The Columbian, most of which he requested not be printed, largely diverges from the narrative he and his family shared with Vanity Fair. The magazine did not reference any of The Columbian’s reporting.

Bishop’s frequently changing story about his drug-running for the New Generation Cartel in Mexico got him into trouble with federal authorities as he approached sentencing.

His plea deal collapsed by September after new evidence showed he repeatedly had been untruthful with prosecutors and the FBI. Bishop was hopeful he’d receive a reduced sentence through a special provision for certain nonviolent drug offenders with little to no criminal history, but instead, he was sentenced to the five-year minimum.

In his interview with Vanity Fair, Bishop said that after he was ousted from Living Hope, he started using heroin and methamphetamine to better understand his son, David, who used and sold drugs. David Bishop, 33, told the magazine that he sold drugs to Living Hope congregants behind the church.

“I definitely took advantage of being a pastor’s son. Because he was untouchable I was untouchable,” he told the magazine.

John Bishop said he once had a friend of his son’s use a syringe to squirt several drops of heroin into his eyes, according to Vanity Fair.

“I wanted him to know I loved him enough to jump into his life with him. It sounds super weird, but it was the only way,” John Bishop told the magazine.

As the Bishops’ lives continued to unravel, father and son said they took a road trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where the Bishops owned a vacation home in a gated community. Along the way, the two used methamphetamine and heroin, they told the magazine.

John Bishop told the magazine that he earned the drug cartel’s respect after standing up for his son, who got into trouble selling drugs in Cabo. He eventually became the cartel’s “unofficial pastor” and was later asked by a Mexican friend if he would smuggle heroin into the United States. Bishop said he refused.

The same friend, a taxi driver, then offered Bishop work smuggling marijuana. Desperate for money, he agreed.

Bishop said he was introduced to the “big boss,” Pablo, who suggested that if they worked together, they could start a church in Tijuana. The cartel gave him a Volkswagen Passat to ferry marijuana across the border. They practiced making runs across the border, called a “drive dry,” a couple dozen times, “to test his ability to stay cool and see if his trips would arouse any suspicions,” according to Vanity Fair.

Bishop claimed he was a “virtual prisoner of the cartel,” which kept him safe from rival gangs. He said they called him “the asset,” according to the magazine.

Over the course of his drug-running, Bishop apparently made about $50,000. The Bishops reportedly spent the drug money on luxuries, such as a cruise vacation and a trip to a Disney theme park, and shared it with their three adult children, according to court documents.

Prosecutors say Michelle Bishop, 55, knew about her husband’s drug-running and helped him by laundering the drug proceeds. They also say that David Bishop held a position with the Mexican cartel. Neither has been charged with a federal crime to date. Michelle Bishop declined to answer Vanity Fair’s questions about her alleged involvement.

She told the magazine that she believes her family is under “a spiritual attack.”

“He was such an instrument of God that he had a big target on his back,” she told Vanity Fair of her husband. “We believe that Satan is real, and he’s out to destroy our lives.”

Michelle Bishop has ignored The Columbian’s interview requests.

John Bishop has filed to appeal his sentence to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The deadline for his appellate brief was in March, but he was granted an extension to May 15. His appellate attorney requested a copy of the sealed transcript from Bishop’s sentencing hearing.

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