The Truth Behind Bethel’s Gay Panic

Bethel Chuch senior associate leader Kris Valloton on Palm Sunday. Bethel TV screen-grab.

Danger, Shasta County, danger. The gays are coming. They’re building a freeway through your house. While you’re putting out the fire in the barn, they’re torching the bank. There’s no telling what these inherently immoral gay people will get up to next.

That’s the near verbatim message Bethel Chuch senior associate leader Kris Valloton delivered to the gathered faithful on March 25, Palm Sunday, to kick off Holy Week. You can watch it yourself on Bethel TV, one of the charismatic evangelical mega church’s many internet platforms. You get the first week for free.

Here’s another preview: “If the truth of who I am is who I am attracted to, there is no bottom to that cesspool,” the pastor stated during the sermon.

The sermon was titled, “What Would Jesus Do In A PC World?” In it, Valloton urged the church’s membership — claimed to be 10,000 local souls — to contact their state legislator in opposition to a trio of bills designed to halt conversion therapy, the scientifically unsubstantiated practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay to straight, also known as sexual orientation change efforts, or SOCE.

Virtually every professional mental health association in the United States now recognizes that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is part of the natural spectrum of human identity and is not a disease, disorder or illness. According to the American Psychological Association, there’s a paucity of hard data on sexual orientation change efforts, which are often conducted within a religious setting, and no conclusive evidence that they work. There are anecdotal ex-gay success stories, counter-balanced by conversion therapy survivor horror stories. The overall professional consensus is that SOCE is counter-productive and potentially harmful.

In 2012, California became the first state to ban practitioners in the healing arts, including physicians, surgeons, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, educational psychologists, clinical social workers, and licensed professional clinical counselors from performing sexual orientation change efforts on minors. The legislation falls under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, which protects consumers from deceptive business practices, and has survived a legal challenge from religious groups.

The three bills Bethel is now quite publicly opposing, AB 1779, AB 2119 and AB 2943, would further protect LGBT individuals from SOCE. AB 1779 prohibits performing sexual orientation change efforts on adults who are in conservatorships or guardianships. AB 2119 specifies that all minors and non-minors in foster care have the right to have access to gender-affirming health care and gender-affirming behavioral health care.

AB 2943 appears to be Bethel’s primary concern. If passed, it would prohibit licensed mental health providers from advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with adults, the same protection LGBT minors have had since 2012. According to Bethel’s reading of the law, any “conferences, counseling, teaching, books, or publications, where money is exchanged for the resource” that it currently provides or produces pertaining to sexual orientation change efforts may be prohibited if it passes.

During his Palm Sunday sermon, Valloton suggested his book —  “Moral Revolution: The Naked Truth About Sexual Purity” — could be banned under AB 2943. Presumably that might apply to the book’s accompanying website, or Bethel’s “Equipped To Love” website, both of which also promote sexual orientation change efforts using the Bethel method, which reportedly includes drudging up your past childhood traumas to discover what made you gay. “Let’s Talk About Sexuality,” a six-week DVD course co-authored by Vallotin that retails for $79 for the “leader’s kit,” looks like a definite candidate for the ban list, presuming Bethel’s interpretation of the new law is correct.

Valloton began his sermon by mentioning that he’d recently been in Washington, D.C., meeting with people behind the scenes who would “surprise you.” (Who? Conversion therapy proponent Vice President Mike Pence? No surprise there.) He apologized in advance for the spectacle he was about to make, noting that Bethel hasn’t been known for what it’s against. Then, in the name of “our children” he proceeded for the next hour or so to tell the world exactly what Bethel is against: The very existence of the LGBT community.

Valloton suggested that members of the LGBT community are not legitimate members of a protected class because there is “no scientific proof that homosexuality is genetic” and homosexuals are not an “ethnic group.” He cited an anecdotal case of a woman whom Bethel had ministered who’d been sexually abused by men as a child and became a lesbian as a result. Once she’d healed from the past trauma, she was no longer a lesbian.

He suggested that all such women need is a good therapist from Bethel’s Sozo ministry, billed on its own website as “a unique inner healing and deliverance ministry aimed to get to the root of things hindering your personal connection with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Could that be added to the ban list?

Valloton repeatedly compared homosexuality with addiction to alcohol and pornography, blurring the distinction between desire and abuse. He cited Romans Chapter 1, one of the few “clobber passages” in the New Testament, as they are known to some former members of Bethel’s LGBT community. There’s a score of such passages in the Old Testament, and they’re frequently used to pound the idea that being gay or lesbian or transgender is a willful sin literally “worthy of death” into the minds of anyone who thinks differently.

“It’s the love of God convicting you for something that’s killing you,” Valloton explained. One begins to gain an understanding of why such theology might be harmful in a therapeutic setting.

After all that gay sex—all that willful sinning—you wind up with a “seared conscience,” Valloton said, which presumably resembles an overcooked slab of ahi. Bethel can help with that, he claimed, citing another anecdotal example, a woman who had responded to one of his Facebook posts who claimed she’d been cured of gender dysphoria after believers laid hands upon her. This is apparently Bethel’s way of conducting scientific research. Valloton’s No. 1 reason for opposing the three conversion therapy bills?

“Jesus has changed therapy!” he proclaimed. “When you receive Jesus Christ you are changed!”

“This is my life!” he exclaimed a few second later, and it’s easy to believe him. He’s totally panicked that “children are being taught homosexuality from the youngest age,” which he compared to someone “building a freeway through your house.”

He called the three bills “anti-religious, anti-free speech and anti-God.” For any potential secular listeners, he noted that homosexuality, in addition to being an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, is also “inherently immoral.”

“If the truth of who I am is who I am attracted to, then there is no bottom to that cesspool,” he said. It’s that old slippery slope sliding down to pedophilia and bestiality.

As Valloton himself noted, it’s unusual for Bethel to take such a public stand on a highly-charged political topic. Which begs the question, why do it now? Is Redding being overrun by gaydom? Has all that glitter dropped during worship services at Bethel created an internal LGBT problem for the church? Did Vice President Mike Pence whisper sweet nothings in Valloton’s ear?

“Do you really want people who are godless running this country?” Valloton asked during his sermon. “We’re just being responsible citizens.”

Bethel Chuch senior associate leader Chris Valloton urged congregates to call their legislator to oppose three “pro-gay” bills.

Valloton also said, “Jesus loves us enough to tell us the truth.”

He’s right about that. In fact, right now, Jesus is revealing the truth, through me.

And the truth is, here in Shasta County, we know firsthand where this type of religious persecution of gay people can lead, don’t we? What can happen when you preach the clobber passages in the Bible, which state homosexuality is an abomination punishable by death, over and over to young boys as if it were literal truth?

In the case of local brothers Benjamin Matthew Williams and James Tyler Williams, who formerly attended services with their parents at Bethel back when it was still affiliated with the Assemblies of God denomination in the 1980s, the answer is murder.

On the night of June 30, 1999, the Williams brothers, then 31 and 29, armed with a .22 pistol and heads full of clobber passages, drove their father’s Toyota Corolla to the Happy Valley home of Gary Matson, 50, and Winfield Mowder, 40, a prominent local gay couple known for their civic activism, and shot them dead in bed.

While living in Idaho in his 20s, Benjamin Williams had become immersed in Christian Identity, a racist, anti-Semitic sect associated with the American neo-Nazi movement. After the brothers were arrested on July 7, it was revealed that they had also torched three synagogues in Sacramento in the weeks before they murdered Matson and Mowder, causing millions of dollars in damage.

For three years, the prosecutions against the Williams brothers, first for the arsons in Sacramento, then for the murders here, placed Redding in an uncomfortable national spotlight. Benjamin Williams, who boasted to the press that he was simply carrying out God’s law by executing a gay couple, garnered much of the attention. He shaved his head and sprouted a Hitler mustache. He complained that local ministers who’d been preaching God’s law to him his entire life didn’t openly support his cause. He committed suicide in his jail cell Nov. 17, 2002, just before he and his brother were to face the death penalty at trial.

Shortly after his brother’s death, James Tyler Williams pleaded guilty to murdering Matson and Mowder. Media reports cast James as the quiet brother, the follower, and it’s not clear how wrapped up he was in the exceedingly bizarre Christian Identity sect. At any rate, at his sentencing hearing, he fell back on the old standard clobber passages to explain the motivation for his murderous behavior.

“I acted with my brother because, until just recently, I was still operating in the sincere belief in Christ’s call to obedience as set forth in John 14:15 and John 2:3-5, the punishment in Leviticus 20:13, and the saint’s right to judge in Psalms 139 and Psalms 149,” he stated. “I was convinced that scripture mandated our acts.”

Williams informed the judge that after extensive pastoral counseling in jail, he’d come to realize the error of his ways. His mistake was not waiting for God’s return to earth, when God himself would smite the gays dead for their wickedness, and instead taking matters into his own blood-soaked hands. He’s currently doing consecutive sentences for murder and arson in Mule Creek State Prison south of Sacramento, where he will probably spend the rest of his life.

I realize I’m bringing up old memories that may be painful to survivors of the Williams’ brothers crimes. But the fact of the matter is, there’s still evangelical preachers in Shasta County who profess to love the sinner but hate the sin when it comes to members of the LGBT community. I suggest that’s a distinction without a difference. Now Bethel would have us believe that the very same passages from the Bible that teach that homosexuals are an abomination worthy of death can somehow cure them of an affliction virtually no medical authority recognizes.

If Bethel persists in launching this cultural war, the city of Redding should re-think its relationship with the church. Redding has turned over the Civic Auditorium to Bethel. It has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to the police department. It has permitted the church to dramatically expand its geographical footprint. For better or worse, Redding is wedded to Bethel, what Bethel does reflects on Redding. Its attack on the LGBT community casts an extremely ugly reflection, indeed.

Maybe it’s time Redding got a divorce?

R.V. Scheide

R.V. Scheide is an award-winning journalist who has covered news, politics, music, arts and culture in Northern California for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in the Tenderloin Times, Sacramento News & Review, Reno News & Review, Chico News & Review, North Bay Bohemian, San Jose Metro, SF Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, Alternet, Boston Phoenix, Creative Loafing and Counterpunch, among many other publications. His honors include winning the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Freedom of Information Act and best columnist awards as well as best commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists, California chapter. Mr. Scheide welcomes your comments and story tips. Contact him at RVScheide@anewscafe.com..

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