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Bethel’s Non-Response; Meanwhile, Why Are Gay Clubs Popular Bethel Hangouts?

This is my response to Bethel’s supposed response to R.V. Scheide’s response to Bethel’s response to some pro-gay bills.

Got that?

A Letter From Bethel to Friends and Members of the LGBTQ+ Community,” was an interesting piece of writing. It was submitted as a response to two posts on aNewsCafe.com this month. First was R.V. Scheide’s column, “The Truth Behind Bethel’s Gay Panic,” (which has a record-breaking number of views of nearly 15,000 to date) and second, a follow-up piece written by James Crockett, someone who attends Bethel and openly took the church leadership to task over the gay issue.

Crockett, who’s also a Redding City Council candidate, was so critical of Bethel church that it makes me wonder if he still attends.

“As someone who has great admiration, respect and love for the gay members of our community, I am extremely dismayed at how you have approached this publicly,” Crockett wrote. “Is your desire to bring healing, or bring division?  I would strongly encourage you to apologize to your congregation and to your community. There is a way to hold and espouse your worldview while not ostracizing the community you are trying to serve.”

When I heard from Bethel’s communication director, asking if the church could submit a response, I said yes, of course.

But instead of an authentic response from Bethel leadership, we got a “letter” from Elizabeth Woning.

No criticism of her whatsoever. In fact, I admire Woning for putting herself out there in such a public way. That can’t have been easy.

Before I go on, this is a good a place to say that I do not believe all Bethel members think and/or believe identically. I know many incredible Bethel people who’ve made the north state a better place, whether it’s by opening businesses or as volunteers who improve our waterways and riverbanks, not to mention many of them are chic, snappy dressers who stand out – in a good way.

What’s more, I am dead serious when I say that it’s my prediction that if Bethel Church pulled up stakes and left Redding tomorrow, our city’s economy would collapse.

However, I have a bone to pick over the letter – benign as it was – we received from Elizabeth Woning. The truth is, her “letter” was a far cry from a true Bethel response to the pair of posts we’d published about Bethel’s stance on gays. It was simply, as it’s called in evangelical lingo, Woning’s “testimony”.

In her letter, Woning described how, thanks to her positive Bethel experience, she was transformed from a lesbian to a straight woman who’s now married to a man. She even offered visual proof of her transformation, complete with before-and-after photos that illustrate how she’s embraced a stereotypical heterosexual feminine identity by ditching her previous short haircut and manly shirts, and choosing a fetching bobbed do, accessorized with a pretty scarf.

Elizabeth Woning before  – as a lesbian  (left) and after her gay-to-straight conversion via Bethel Church.

That’s her testimony, and nobody can take that away from her.

Whatever floats your boat, sister. If you’re happy, I’m happy.

Even so, the term “bait-and-switch” sprang to mind, as well as two additional thoughts after I read Woning’s letter. First, where’s the beef? Second,  do you mean to tell me that it took a full 10 days for Bethel’s key leadership to put its collective heads together and do damage control after R.V.’s column, and this was its best response?

I agree with aNewsCafe.com columnist and reader Patty Bay, who made this observation in the comments section: “The title of this article is, ‘A Letter from Bethel to Friends & Members of the LGBTQ+ Community.’ It appears to me to be a statement that says, ‘Come let us fix you like they fixed me’ to the LGBTQ+ community.”

This is all a little crazy-making, in a gas-lighting kind of way, because you watch the Bethel videos and you read “clobber” scriptures that paint gays as depraved souls who “give in” to their Adam-and-Steve rather than Adam-and-Eve temptations, and those are certainly not messages of love and/or acceptance by any stretch of the imagination.

Then again, those unloving, critical messages also don’t square with Bethel’s flip-side messages that claim they accept and welcome everyone, and that Bethel loves gays (in a sort of some-of-our-favorite-worshipers-are-gay way).

I smelled a rat in Woning’s letter, and this sentence confirmed my suspicions: “I’m a member of Bethel Church and I’ve been invited by its leadership to share my thoughts here and speak on their behalf because of my background in the LGBTQ+ community.”

I’ll bet its leadership invited her to share her thoughts on their behalf. I’m picturing the damage-control session with the key Bethel leadership after R.V. Scheide’s column appeared, especially after it started picking up steam and gaining traffic galore. Bethel Church had a hot p.r.-disaster potato on its hands, and it needed to pass it off to someone quick-like before a “key leader” got burned.

My gut says this woman – Woning – was used, trotted out as the token former-lesbian to steer attention away from loose-cannon Vallotton. It’s kind of like dangling a piece of bacon in a tree at a picnic to keep the yellow jackets at bay, far from the real banquet.

Woning’s words seemed like sanitized, fluffy talking points, a great contrast to how Kris Vallotton characterizes people who engage in same-sex relationships as people living in cesspools of sin.

Woning wrote: We are committed to honoring and respecting one another where differences of opinion could cause offense, valuing relationship for the sake of our community. Members of the LGBTQ+ community have worshipped among us for years.

Really? And how do those LGBTQ+ worshipers feel about Bethel messages that describe the “gay lifestyle” as sinful?

Woning wrote: Bethel desires to protect these deeply personal faith journeys, no matter how the individual identifies, in order to protect free will.

Really? Free will? What about LGBTQ+ folks’ free will to love who they want, and live as they were born to live?

The thing is, for every Elizabeth Woning who claims she’s pleased as punch with her “successful” sexual-identity conversion, I’m guessing there are just as many gay people who’ve been scarred for life by Bethel’s gay-be-gone programs that impart the damaging belief that being gay is a perversion, that being gay is an abomination, and that somehow, the very gay essence of them is so flawed that it should be changed. And guess what? For the right price, Bethel has a program to put gays on the straight and narrow toward righteousness and virtue.

I’ve heard from two gay guys this week who tell heartbreaking stories of attempted /failed conversions at Bethel that caused irreparable emotional damage.

Do we really want to start a volley of Bethel sexual-conversion graduate stories between the happy former gays and eternally damaged gays? We can go there. Lucky for us, we’re online here, where we have unlimited space. Bring it.

I call baloney on Bethel’s claim that it’s … committed to honoring and respecting one another where differences of opinion could cause offense, valuing relationship for the sake of our community.

Valuing relationships for the sake of the community?

Tell that to the gay customers at the 501 Club, perhaps Redding’s only gay club, where Bethel students have made it part of their mission – literally – to show up, hang out, dance, and then engage in discussions with gay patrons about what the Bible says about homosexuality, citing scripture as evidence. Sodom and Gomorrah are favorite points of reference.

“I felt violated,” said one gay Redding man who’s a 501 Club regular, someone who’s been challenged by Bethel apostles there.

“They’re coming to my place – one of the few places I feel truly safe and can be myself as a gay man – and then they’re doing the whole clobber thing with scripture. If they want to dance, there are lots of other places to go to dance in Redding.”

Of course, assuming the Bethel students are straight, they aren’t at the 501 Club to dance. Rather, they’re there with an agenda to show gays the error of their sinful lifestyles. In fact, one Bethel disciple explained to a 501 Club patron how they were following Jesus’ footsteps, someone who wasn’t afraid to minister to all kinds of people, someone comfortable interacting with some of society’s lowliest citizens, such as prostitutes and criminals.

Here in Redding, some Bethel zealots have added gays to that list of depraved souls.

Another gay man, who was at the 501 Club on two occasions when Bethel evangelists showed up, said he resented that Bethel members felt it necessary to single out the gays inside a place the students knew was a bar created by gay people, for gay people.

“I feel very uncomfortable with their anti-gay agenda,” he said. “You know, because of who we are, and how we’ve been treated historically, we can be a fearful group, and with good reason. I have come to fear Bethel Church, and its power. It’s like they believe they have power on their side and money on their side and God on their side. I don’t go to Bethel Church or Bethel-owned businesses and preach to them, or try to convince them to be gay. Why can’t they just leave us alone?”

He said that Bethel’s infiltration into Redding places where gays used to feel safe has left him rattled.

“It’s a mind trip,” he said. “A gay club is the one place where you can walk up to a cute guy and say, ‘Hi’ and feel safe. Now, I don’t know.”

That’s why, for me, the very core of this particular issue isn’t Bethel’s sexual-identity conversion program, despite my personal belief that it’s a horribly flawed and even inhumane idea on so many levels. I don’t get the gay conversion program, any more than I get why someone would pay Bethel more than $1,000 to learn to dance with the Spirit, or thousand and thousands more to come from all over the world to attend Bethel’s School of Supernatural Ministry.

To each his/her own.

For me, one of the core troubling issues is the level of duplicity within Bethel Church with regard to the LGBTQ+ community. On the one hand, leadership like Vallotton lumps gays in the same category of depravity as pedophiles.

Only now, it’s not enough for Bethel to speak out from the pulpit against gay “lifestyles” and gay “choices” — but some believers have become emboldened enough to seek out gay people in gay-friendly places in an attempt to share a judgmental word of the Lord about their sexual practices.

On the other hand, Bethel disseminates messages like the one in Woning’s letter that claim the church respects and welcomes all people.

Which is it? Pick one. You can’t be both.

Either way, it’s clear that Bethel’s institutional belief holds that being gay is not OK. That’s not surprising, since plenty of religious organizations share that belief. But if that’s Bethel’s position, then leadership should own up to it and not be switch hitters, so to speak.

Woning wrote: My journey with Him led me away from lesbianism. Fundamentally, the power of the Christian gospel, being “born again,” leads to transformation and change. My attractions to women slowly dissipated as I embraced my born-again identity. Today I am married to my husband of 13 years.

That very statement – that God led Woning away from lesbianism – suggests that lesbianism is wrong and abnormal, while being straight is right and normal. Otherwise, couldn’t a straight woman become born-again and find her attractions to men slowly dissipate as she embraced her born-again identity, and suddenly find herself attracted to women?

It’s funny, because my whole life I’ve heard one particular phrase often spoken from the pulpit, and even at Bethel, as a matter of fact: God doesn’t make junk. In fact, the MIA Kris Vallotton himself said in his March 25 video, “God never makes something that doesn’t demonstrate his nature.”

Amen?

To my way of thinking, Vallotton was the guy who stepped in it royal when he made the public/pulpit pitch that gave marching orders to thousands of congregants about how to contact legislators to protest the pro-gay bills.

The way I see it, this kind of political preaching is right up there with lobbying, which the IRS has strong views about, I mean, unless a church isn’t worried about jeopardizing its 501 (c3) status. Here’s how the IRS defines the topic of improper behavior by religious organizations:

An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.”

Vallotton has set Bethel – a tax-exempt religious organization — skating on thin ice. I just quoted the dim view IRS takes of tax-exempt religious organizations that attempt to influence legislation by urging members to contact members of legislative bodies. It appears that’s exactly what Vallotton did during his March 25 sermon, during which cards were passed out, telling about the bills, and what action the flock should take.

“Basically, we want to call you to action over three bills,” Vallotton said between sips of water at the pulpit.

“Let me just give you a briefing of those three bills … These bills, they aren’t just pro-gay; they are anti-religion, anti-freedom of speech, and anti-God …We’re not mad at any people, let’s keep in mind that our battle is not against flesh and blood.

Kris Vallotton calls the Bethel congregation to action regarding three bills, including AB 1179

“…What we’d like you to do — we’re calling you to action — we’d like you to call or write to – in each one of these cases we gave you the phone number and email address. If you’re going to write, you need to do that by tomorrow. So if you write an email, it doesn’t have to be a three-page email; it just needs to say, ‘I’m writing to say .. I’m a California – citi – California resident – I’m writing about this bill, and I want to express my opinion that I am opposed to this bill.’ You don’t have to write a long letter of why. Just write that. And if you call, it’s about 20 seconds on the phone; they pick up the phone, you say, ‘I’m just calling to register the fact that I am opposed to this bill,”. They’re not going to have a conversation with you. They will register … and you’ll tell them that you’re a resident, and your first and last name and that’s it. Our goal is to have 10,000 people register that they are opposed to these three bills.”

…. Attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation. – IRS

Hello? IRS? Redding here. We have a problem.

As an aside, I’ve yet to hear exactly what Vallotton et al really find so distasteful and objectionable about the trio of bills, unless it really does just boil down to the loss of sex-conversion income.

More to the point, Vallotton was the guy who took the public stance about the “perversion” that is gayness (right down there with pornography, pedophilia and women who get abortions).

Journalist R.V. Scheide responded with his column, which turned up the heat. But when the going got rough, Bethel leadership got a woman – a surrogate spokesperson – to do their heavy lifting. They “invited” Woning, a converted gay woman, to “share” her thoughts, complete with those before-and-after pictures to prove she’d rejected her former lesbian ways and embraced a heterosexual lifestyle.

Seriously?

Who knows. Maybe there’s a disconnect within the church; a division in the ranks between the older, fire-and-brimstone pastors and the young, open-hearted hipsters. One can hope.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of full disclosure, I will acknowledge something I don’t think I’ve ever disclosed in writing: I was a Bethel Church member for nine years.

In an upcoming column, I’ll share some insights and observations about my Bethel experience.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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