Once Upon a Time, I Attended Bethel Church

It's true. I attended Bethel Church for nine years: 1969 until 1978; age 12 until age 21, when I left Redding with my then-husband so he could attend college. I was pregnant with our first child, a daughter, who was later dedicated at Bethel Church - known then as Bethel Assembly of God Church on Bechelli Lane in Redding. Our second child, a son, was dedicated there, too.

I was 12 when I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior and became a born-again Christian at Bethel Assembly of God Church. I had a total-immersion baptism by Pastor Earl Johnson in Bethel's huge spa-like baptismal tank behind the alter. I sang in Bethel's choir and I attended Bethel's Sunday school, where I remember once debating an elder over the concept of healings.

If Jesus is so good at healing, why was this Sunday school teacher still wearing glasses? 

I was so into Bethel and so into being born-again that by the time I was a Nova 9th-grader, I was a full-fledged "Jesus freak" -- as they were known then. I wore Jesus loves you buttons and carried fire-and-brimstone religious tracts that I left in school restrooms.

A 19, I walked down the aisle of Bethel Church and married my high school sweetheart.

Doni's wedding, 1975, at Bethel Assembly of God Church in Redding, officiated by Pastor Earl Johnson.

But it was 1968 when I had my first official Bethel contact. I was 11, the year of the epic Redding snow storm that collapsed roofs of places like the skating rink and Wonder World department store. I walked home from Magnolia School one day to our Chestnut Street rental where I found my mother sitting at our round oak table with a stranger, a man. We never had company. This was unusual. He had a Bible opened on the table between them, and a cup of coffee in front of him. My mother was engaged in a heated debate with him about God. My mother introduced us: This was Pastor Earl Johnson. He'd given my mother a ride home from the post office when he saw her walking in the snow.

The last photo of the Chamberlain sisters with their mother, 1968.

Years later, as I reflected about Earl Johnson - Bill Johnson's father -  I often thought about Earl Johnson's character; the kind of man who was brand new to town, the pastor of a fundamentalist Assembly of God church, someone who saw a beautiful woman - a divorcee', no less - trudging alone through the snow. He offered my mother a ride home, despite how questionable it might have looked to outsiders.

He was the kind of gentleman who once told me that his policy was to accept whatever refreshment was offered in someone's home, even if he wasn't hungry, and even if the refreshment didn't look particularly appetizing. To me, he was a real-McCoy Christian; a man of God. I believed it then and I believe it now.

By 1969, I was 12 years old and my mother had taken her own life that spring.  That was also the year of my first official Bethel Church encounter, where I experienced the kind of old-time Pentecostal religion that brought a group of church elders into my new foster parents' home to enjoy coffee and snacks and cast out demons that surely occupied my twin and me.

Backstory: At age 9 we'd been misdiagnosed with epilepsy. Decades later - in our 30s - we were correctly diagnosed with familial paroxysmal kinesigenic dyskinesia - an inherited condition in the dystonia family (think writer's cramp, but along the entire length of your body).

Apparently, there's a scripture about some poor soul who suffered "fits" (epilepsy?), so demons were cast out, and the person was healed.

So there my twin and I were in our foster parents' grand living room inside that magnificent rock house that so convinced my mother these people would be ideal parents - and rich, to boot - that on the afternoon of her death she said that if anything should happen to her, I should contact these virtual strangers and they'd take care of everything: me, my three sisters, our dachshund, and all of our mother's belongings. That's exactly what happened. There was nothing legal about it.

Chamberlain sisters, in happier times. From left: Doni, Shelly, Bethany and Jaimie.

Anyway, back to the exorcism. Inside our new foster family's opulent home my twin and I were surrounded by "elders" - all men, speaking in what seemed foreign languages, something I'd later recognize as tongues. Some men's hands firmly held onto our heads, while other men clamped their hands on our shoulders as they shouted and prayed and gently shook us. They demanded that Satan leave our bodies, in the name of Jesus.

After the casting out of demons, the elders told my sister and me that Jesus healed us, but there was a catch: In order for the healing to work, we had to believe.

Oh, and by the way, they also had a "word" for us about the eternal damnation of our mother's soul, because sorry to break it to you, girls, but people who commit suicide go to hell, which means you won't be seeing your mother in heaven.

The night of the casting out of demons, as proof of our complete healing, my foster parents took all the anticonvulsants my sister and I had been taking since age 9 - Mysolene, Phenobarbital and Dilantin - and threw them away. I suppose the greatest miracle of all that night is we didn't die from drug withdrawals.

Apparently, we didn't believe strongly enough, because without our medications, our "seizures" quickly resumed with a vengeance, which was distressing, especially through those self-conscious teen years, because those episodes were damn ugly, and difficult to conceal. Our particular genetic condition was triggered by a startle effect ("... on your marks, get set, GO!"), and in all its glory our muscles - from face to feet -  would twist like a wrung-out washcloth. Shelly and I are mirror twins, so my spasms were on the right side of my body, while Shelly's were on her left. These spasms continued from 12 until 19 when I escaped the foster home and married, which is when, as my first act of independence, I went to the doctor and got a prescription for Dilantin. Taken in subtheraputic doses - a mere 100 milligrams - that did the trick and controlled the dystonia spasms. Thank God!

My sisters and I hadn't been in our new home very long before our foster mother discovered that we could carry a tune (attribution to our cultured mother). Faster than you could say von Trapp fashion statement we were all decked out in matching green-clover patterned dresses, for not just us four Chamberlain girls, but all the kids in this house, including their one biological child, their four adopted children - one was just a toddler - as well as a bunch of new foster kids, including a pair of inseparable little brothers, a little girl who'd been sexually abused by her father, one boy with reactive-attachment disorder, one severely developmentally disabled girl (who truly did have epilepsy), and a hearing-impaired girl whose hearing aids squealed when we sang.

We were a motley group of children hauled around via Dodge van on the circuit of nursing homes and churches to far-flung places like Burney. We sang songs like "Sweet Jesus" and "Jesus Loves the Little Children". Our foster mother selected the songs and venues. Our foster father drove the van.

Foster parents.

We kids not only attended Bethel Church, but we sometimes performed and spoke there, too. My twin and I were invited to the front of the church to read from 3-by-5 note cards - written by our foster mother - that shared our personal "testimonies" that spilled humiliating details of our tormented years with our troubled mother. Each testimony concluded with the same theme: ... once we were lost but now we are found ... and thank you, Jesus, that we're blessed to be one of those 15 lucky kids to live with this generous, loving foster family.

Privately, I referred to us "lucky kids" as foster turds.

Looking back, I cannot for the life of me figure out why nobody at Bethel smelled a rat or recognized that these foster-parent Bethel members were impostors or that something wasn't right inside that House-Beautiful-decorated home with food aplenty but not a toy out of place; so Mr. Clean-clean and library-quiet you'd never guess a mouse lived there, let alone 15 children. (Hint, look in the basement.)

Granted, as the song says, nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors, and I suppose the good Bethel folks - and there were many - couldn't know what they couldn't see. They couldn't see all manner of abuse, some so traumatic that by comparison it made life with our mother look like June Cleaver in Disneyland. No, the Bethel congregants couldn't see, for example, that the two times my foster father broke my glasses - once when I was 12, once at 17 - he did so with a closed-fisted backhand while the glasses were still on my face.

Doni Chamberlain, age 17.

I could go on and on with enough emotional and physical abuse examples to fill many column inches, but why? Suffice to say our Bethel-Church-attending foster parents didn't subscribe to the How-Would-Jesus-Parent philosophy. In a word - or three - they were hypocrites.

So I attended Bethel Church during those formative foster-home years, and while there I grew from a girl to a woman. I knew and admired the entire Johnson family, not just Pastor Earl Johnson, but his lovely wife, their two beautiful daughters and their two handsome sons. I admired the way, when Earl's wife - so beautiful, so elegant and fashionable - drew criticism from the Assemblies of God diehards for departing from the stereotypical drab-and-dowdy church-lady look, that Pastor Johnson defended his wife and her right to wear makeup if she wanted, and her right to wear beautiful knit suits that didn't hide her figure.

Sometimes, I swear I could feel the spark between those two: Earl at the pulpit, a man so earnest he'd sometimes weep as he spoke; his wife at the piano, those huge eyes glancing toward her husband over the sheet music. Theirs was an incredible, enviable love story.

Happy times at Bethel

My time at Bethel Church from 1969 until 1978 held some positive highlights. The good parts included being in Bethel's Christmas Cantata, which was fun, and took weeks' of practice. And as a young-married couple, my husband and I met other couples with whom we formed life-long friendships, some of which exist for me to this day.

At our wedding reception, the Bethel group Wild Olive performed, whose members were my brother-in-law Jeff Shively, Bob and Cindy Kilpatrick and Bill and Brenda Johnson.

Wild Olive, from left: Jeff Shively, Brenda Johnson, Cindy Kilpatrick, Bob Kilpatrick and Bill Johnson.

I remember when Bill Johnson, Pastor Johnson's eldest son - older than me by a few years - was viewed as a rebel who endured finger-wagging from some of the elders, who said Bill looked like a hippie. There was one time in the small sanctuary, which was where we young folks worshipped, and Bill played "Spirit in the Sky" at full volume, which garnered scorn from elders who said it wasn't proper church music. As Pastor Johnson had done when he defended his wife, Pastor Johnson also stood by his son and defended him, too.

My husband and I were friends with Bill and Brenda (as she was then called) Johnson. We'd have each other over for dinner, simple stuff, like soup or chili for dinner and ice cream or popcorn for dessert. We were all young and poor, and a big deal in those days was going out and sharing one large pizza between four couples. Everybody's furniture consisted of cinder-block-and-board bookshelves, and barbecued chicken was grilled on tiny back-step Hibachis.

To me, Bill Johnson the son was a more groovy version of Earl Johnson the father. Both were soft-spoken. Both seemed earnest, kind and authentic.

Bethel's dark side

When I think of my Bethel relationships and friendships formed in my youth, that's when my reporter self slips quietly into the back seat to fall asleep, and my former Bethel member self takes the wheel and wants to steer this story away from some uncomfortable truths and toward a place of silence, perhaps out of a sense of blind loyalty.

I remember those early years at Bethel Church and seeing the young Williams brothers running around in the foyer with other kids after Sunday school, sons of Ben and Sally Williams; cute little boys with sweet faces, bowl haircuts and round eyes. Those boys would later grow up to murder my friends Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder for being gay, as well as torch some synagogues. For good measure they wrote and mailed me death threats from jail, back when I worked at the paper, because my last name was then Greenberg. I still remember one notation on an envelope: "6 millions Jews. A good start."

I remember healing services at Bethel where people lined up for prayer,  which included the "growing out of limbs" healing specialty. What always perplexed me was the person who needed the leg-lengthening might have coke-bottle glasses, hearing aids and a cane, but instead of addressing those obvious maladies, the deacons would have the guy sit down, stretch his legs out, and point out that sure enough, one leg was a few inches shorter than the other. They'd pray for him, and wonder of wonders, his leg would miraculously "grow" out. It felt gimmicky then, which is the way I see it now.

The truth is, as far back as even my early born-again experience, I believed in God, but I was a skeptic at heart. Even as a young person, I questioned Bethel's extreme focus on some sins (adultery, fornication, idolatry) while ignoring others (no eating shellfish, no tattoos, no wearing mixed fabrics, etc.). It defied logic.

While I attended Bethel, I witnessed some bizarre, punitive practices, such as the time a well-respected married man - a deacon, for Pete's sake - was guilty of having an affair. Apparently, it's biblical that when someone commits a sin of that magnitude, the offender has to come before the church, confess and ask for forgiveness.

If I live to be 200 I will never forget the look of humiliation upon the face of that man and his family, standing in front of hundreds of us, sitting in pews (surely, all without sin ourselves) for this special service to witness this man's public shaming.

Gay as can be

Most recently, with the mess that Bethel leader Kris Vallotton has stepped in with regard to pro-gay bills and gay clobber scriptures, I recall my early years at Bethel and one unforgettable guy. He was a handsome, smart, kind and funny young man from a prominent Bethel family. His "true nature" - his attraction to men - was an open secret. Despite that, he did what was expected of all young, virtuous Christian men. He found a good Christian girl from an equally prominent Bethel family. They married. Two lives, two lies.

Over the years stories emerged about this guy's love of skinny dipping with other men and teenage boys, and at least one instance where he'd had a couple of glasses of wine, made a pass at a straight guy, and had the crap beaten out of him.

Fast forward to Bethel Church 2018 and it has a solution for that guy (for a fee): conversion therapy.

When I think of that sweet, wonderful man undergoing any therapy to change him from the amazing guy he was, into anyone else, it breaks my heart. For all I know, he's participated in that "therapy" -  and if he has, who am I to say whether he should or shouldn't? It's his choice; sort of. OK, not really. The fact is, he was raised in a church where, despite all the talk of Jesus loves me this I know, when it comes to deviating from the fundamentalist heterosexual script, you're a sinner who's unacceptable in the eyes of God unless you're straight.

The new Bethel

Having the bit of the historical insight that I do about the Bethel mindset, my hunch is that our coverage of Bethel here on aNewsCafe.com during these last five weeks, led by journalist R.V. Scheide's columns, will only solidify its leaders' resolve that they're doing God's noble work and are on the right path. They're not embarrassed or conflicted. Quite the contrary. They're righteously indignant martyrs who believe that they are God's saints and prophets being attacked by Satan, the enemy.  By the way, Christians who criticize Bethel Church fall into that enemy camp, too, you know.

Make no mistake: The stories we've published in which we've examined Bethel's stance on the LGBTQ community will not cause Bethel leaders a moment's discomfort. As the good book says, they are in this world, but not of this world. Frankly, they probably see me as a back-slidden non-believer.

They'd be half-right.

I knew the old Bethel, back when it was still part of the Assemblies of God denomination. The new Bethel I barely recognize, a place famous for such bizarre things as gold-dust glory clouds, feather droppings, tunnels of fire, Destiny Yoga Pants, grave-soaking, the supposed raising from the dead, plain fillings turning to gold, jewels scattered throughout the sanctuary, being drunk in the spirit, and people paying Bethel $1,200 to learn to dance with the Spirit, and thousands and thousands more to attend the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, and on and on. Many of these things fall under the signs-and-wonders category, or, as Bill Johnson likes to say, signs that make you wonder.

I realize that even my calling these signs and wonders into question would qualify as blasphemy in some Bethel circles. In my defense, I say if it's truly from God, then these spectacular signs and wonders can withstand some human scrutiny.

Lately, as part of our coverage of Bethel Church in these last weeks, I've watched lots of Bethel video sermons, many of which feature Vallotton, and not just his controversial Palm Sunday video, either. I've noticed that if Bill Johnson is sitting in the front row while Vallotton is preaching, Vallotton continually glances in Johnson's direction. I know that look. It's one of an anxious little kid who's learning to swim, hoping to catch his dad's eye for a sign of approval.

It's kind of sad, really.

Speaking of dads; lately, as I ponder the 2018 mega-church that is Bethel, my mind returns to Pastor Earl Johnson; that wise, kind, humble man of God who sat at my mother's kitchen table in 1968 with an open Bible and a cup of coffee, sharing the gospel of Jesus.

What would he make of what's happening at his old church? How would these signs make him wonder?

We can only wonder.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is 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 lives in Redding, California.
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101 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing, Doni. I would recognize the old Bethel as the type of church I used to attend back in Illinois in my late teens-early 20s. Everything you describe is right on the mark.

    I wouldn’t recognize the new Bethel, but my old AoG church in Illinois was heading that way by the mid-80s. The older I got, the less ‘Pentecostal’ I became. It got harder and harder to justify easily faked ‘signs and wonders’. The ‘growing out of limbs’ was one of the final straws for me.

    The end of ‘signs and wonders’ churches for me came when a little girl in our congregation fell off her bike, hit her head on the concrete driveway, and wound up in a coma. (This was before bike helmet laws. One of the reasons we DO have bike helmet laws.) The congregation prayed for her, the Word of Faith people claiming a healing and believing.

    She died.

    And then the blame-game started. The WoF people blamed everybody else in the congregation for their LACK of faith that killed the child. It was the ugliest thing I ever saw and church.

    The clincher for me…around the same time the girl fell off her bike, a friend of mine’s dad was in a motorcycle accident. This friend did not go to church, he didn’t know anybody from my church that was 25 miles away. His dad was on a motorcycle at a stoplight when he was rear ended by a city bus. It broke just about every bone in his body. And this guy, who had NOBODY praying for him, had a full recovery.

    Things like that make a guy think.

    • Thanks, George. The kinds of examples you give between the child who wasn’t healed and the man who was are exactly the kind of scenarios that make me question God and religion. I have so many things to ask God someday.
      One thing I didn’t mention, because this was SO long already (I get bonus writing in the comments), but something else that’s always perplexed me is when Christians pray for healing of someone – let’s say it’s their aging parent – they love who has something like cancer. What I don’t get is if you really believe in that great by and by, and the glory of heaven, if the person has lived a long life, it’s selfish to want them to stay here on dumb old Earth. You’d think that when someone is showing signs of dying, believers would be celebrating their soon departure to a better place, not praying for their healing to stick around.

      • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

        Pascal’s wager is one thing—it’s compelling to bet on eternity in heaven being true—but few people seem anxious to breath their last breath, or to have loved ones breath their last. That desire to keep living is better explained by biological imperatives shaped by natural selection.

        Of course, religious beliefs sometimes overcome the biological imperative, and we get young men wearing bomb vests and cult mass suicides.

        • Riiiight. Of course.

        • Tim says:

          In today’s news there was an exception to prove the rule: an otherwise healthy 104 year-old scientist traveled from Australia to Switzerland to commit assisted suicide because he was tired of living with declining mobility & vision: http://wtvr.com/2018/05/10/104-year-old-scientist-david-goodall-ends-life-life-circle-clinic-basel-switzerland/

          As for religious medicine, there are some “real” psychosomatic effects, particularly with patients more open to suggestion. You can see it in the blood pressure of an anxious patient vs someone who is relaxed. So if you combine the best of modern medicine with optimism from a deeply held belief that everything will be alright, you’ll probably have the best chances.

          That’s not a reason to avoid medical treatment altogether; doing so reminds me of the old story of the man stuck on his roof during a flood:

          ————-
          A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.

          Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.”

          The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.”

          So the rowboat went on.

          Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.”

          To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”

          So the motorboat went on.

          Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.”

          To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”

          So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.

          Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”

          To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”

      • Terry says:

        Yes, Doni! I firmly believe in the afterlife with the loving Creator of all, full of compassion and love for all. Therefore when someone I love dies, while I am sad for me because I miss them, I am so happy for them.

      • Nisa says:

        Or even worse, bringing them back from their heavenly reward.

      • AJ AJ says:

        I think the jazz musicians of New Orleans have the right idea!! Dirge me to the cemetery. Put me in the ground . then celebrate all the way home!

  2. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    Wow.

  3. bruce vojtecky says:

    Doni, one of the best articles that have been printed on Anews, or anywhere.

  4. Beverly Stafford says:

    Great column, Doni. And it’s obviously the short version. Between your childhood in foster “care” and being in the thick of what passes for Christianity, there are definitely many more columns or a book. You’ve just made up for missing a few Thursdays with your readers.

    • LOL, you know my writing style. You should see what was edited out! This is the short version. You’re right.
      Thanks for giving a pass for the missed Thursdays. 😉 I’ve been working on this piece for a while.

  5. Deb Deb says:

    Doni, I have no words.

    Well, okay, I have a few… (when don’t I?)

    It is courageous to share such painful, personal and terrible parts of your life story with us in order to show an “insider’s view” glimpse of what Bethel once was, and could have been, and has become.

    To have done so without melodrama or hand-wringing, but rather in a dispassionate recollection of facts and experiences devoid of self-pity or wallowing, increases my admiration towards you as a journalist.

    Thank you.

    • You’re funny. You have no words like I have no words. 😉

      Thanks for the observation. I really struggled to write it raw, and just relay it without drama, to tell the facts without portraying myself as a victim (as conservative eludes to in his comment), or for people to feel sorry for me. (Just someone saying something like, “Oh, you poor thing!” pushes all my buttons, because I don’t want sympathy. I do want people to see what kinds of things can happen in organizations with kids, whether it’s foster system, or a church.

      I’ve always said that I see myself as someone more interested in thriving than being just survivor, despite the crap that happened because of the adults in my life. I think the saving grace for me was having sisters. We had each other, and that made all the difference.

  6. conservative says:

    The suicide of a parent is unimaginable. I almost married a girl whose father committed suicide. She was intelligent and charming. More than one friend told me, “you are so lucky to be dating Mary”.
    Her father’s suicide would have haunted our marriage and parenting. Fortunately for Mary, she moved to a distant state and successful career. I wonder if she ever overcame the sense of victimhood.

    • Yeah, suicide leaves a mess behind, sometimes for generations. I guess the “victimhood” part would be something any suicide survivor would have to be aware of and work on.

    • Linda Cooper says:

      Seriously, I didn’t want to roll the cannons out early. However, since the author of this fine article mentioned you, conservative, now I’m game.

      Are you eluding to the author as portraying herself as a victim? Because I didn’t get that at all. That’s not what I read. I felt the power of the human spirit to not just survive, but to thrive.

      • Thanks, Linda. You’re sweet to stick up for me, but I’m fine. Really. (If I smoked I’d be blowing smoke rings in the air about now.)

        I’m not going to take his bait. (But I was somewhat glad for his comment, because I recognized something uniquely familiar in his wording that could identify him, which is kind of fun, in an illuminating way.)

        🙂

        • Linda Cooper says:

          Yeah, I should get over him as well. Meanwhile, grammar question (between your imaginary smoke rings) about elude verses allude. Should have written “alluding.”

          • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

            Some of us yearn for a day when ANC has an edit function. As a SNOOT (Syntax Nudniks of Our Time, as described by David Foster Wallace) and a guy who is easily humiliated by my own blunders, I hate clicking on “Post Comment” and then seeing that I’ve screwed the pooch.

            To some degree, I’ve been trained by Facebook to post before proofing. I can quickly fix a FB foible and say to myself: “Nobody saw that.”

          • Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

            ” . . . and a guy who is easily humiliated by my own blunders . . . ”

            Something made me go over a couple of emails I sent out last week, and I caught what was nagging me. In two different emails, I wrote “I must of” instead “I must have.” Geez. This from a guy who once planned to change careers to teach remedial writing at the community college level.

  7. AJ AJ says:

    An unflinching examination of your spiritual journey takes a huge dose of intestinal fortitude: GUTS . . . . you got ’em in spades, lady!! . can I get an AMEN here?

  8. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    Calling this post “powerful” doesn’t do it justice. It caused me to reflect upon my own complex relationships with imperfect parents, and my own inevitable drift away from organized religion. (Inevitable because I too carry the skepticism gene.) Only, I feel like the guy at the V.F.W Post going on and on about his bad-ass tank duty in Desert Storm, when he notices the smirk on the old guy hunched over a beer a few stools down the bar.

    “Hey old man. What’s so amusing?”

    “Kid, lemme tell you a few stories about my two tours in Nam.”

    I spent some time early this morning on a Facebook group’s page called “Bethel Church and Christianity.” It’s basically dedicated to throwing cow pies at Bethel—calling out the church’s brand of New Apostolic Reformation doctrine. The scheisse-throwing is being done primarily by other Christians, and it’s both puzzling and amusing. Largely, it involves criticism of Bethel’s belief that they are preparing a sort of Heaven on Earth in advance of Jesus’s return. Heresy! Because John the Revelator clearly (:::cough:::) laid out God’s plan, and the situation has to get really, really nasty before Jesus comes back and makes it all good.

    It’s amusing because from a mile-high perspective, it comes off as two people arguing over what the homeless schizophrenic guy who calls himself the Emperor of San Francisco means when he tells his dog Bummer that the stars are going to fall from the sky, and that he (the Emperor) will eventually have an army of 144,000 males, none of whom have been defiled by women (they’re virgins), because……uh……I mean, clearly because the Emperor of San Francisco is bat-shit.

    • You made me laugh. Yes, I, too, carry the skepticism gene.

      Love your V.F.W. comparison.

      Regarding the pie-throwing, I really didn’t want to go there with regard to Bethel. OMG, Bethel is under FIRE by hundreds, maybe thousands of people and groups around the world who describe Bethel as the anti-Christ and unBiblical and on and on. You’ve probably done this, but for those who haven’t, Google “Bethel critics” and variations on that search, and there are examples galore. Bethel has MUCH bigger fish to fry than this minnow here at ANC.

      If people want to attend Bethel, and believe all that stuff, that’s their choice. Many other religious organizations have beliefs in things that I find equally wacky, too, but I’m not going to examine those with a fine-tooth comb.

      What sends up red flags for me are things that look like outright deception, like claiming healings that aren’t real, and telling stories (testimonies) that are false (the cross-dresser at Walmart story comes to mind), which whips up the congregation, many of whom have sold everything they own to be here. I think Bethel needs fantastical signs and wonders to keep a fresh supply of followers and tithers.

      I have other concerns, too, but I’ll cut it short here.

      Thanks, Steve. Just thanks.

      • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

        I’m glad you liked the V.F.W. bit. The story requires an historical age gap that doesn’t exist between the two of us. I was a little worried that you’d take mild offense at being the grizzled ‘Nam vet, and me the relatively young pup.

        You took my meaning: psychologically, not temporally.

      • Christina Candelaria says:

        I don’t believe your story is a minnow. Your story and the many others that share similar stories are the elephant sized fish in the room they ignore whole focusing on the “bigger” fish. The God described in the Bible they sometimes preach from calls on a personal account to Himself. The things that go on there create a climate of abuse, there are so many stories. According to the way God has things set up in the Bible, if it all turns out to be true, God will be asking the individuals responsible about those they neglected rejected and abused. He isn’t going to care about how they handled anti-christ accusations. That is written in the Bible. But forget the Bible. The hundreds of people if not more that have suffered deserve their ear more than anyone else or any other issue. Thank you so much for your bravery and vulnerability.

  9. Vi Lam says:

    Thank you for your story, Doni. Similar childhood experience attending various Assembly of God churches in California with parents and siblings. Some generous church goers were truly helpful to our family when my dad was hospitalized with heart problems for an entire year. A few good, but mostly icky memories……My mother still watches TV Jimmy Swaggert & sends his ministry money.

    • Yes, there are always good people in the mix, and it sounds like you saw that with your own eyes.

      And God bless your mother. If that brings her comfort and joy, then good for her.

  10. LetsBeOpenMinded says:

    Wow

  11. Aleeta Stamn says:

    What a powerful (and heart-breaking) article. No matter how well-intentioned and sincere a church leader might seem, if he condones the casting out of “demons” on young children and throwing away their needed medications, he and anyone else who takes part in or approves this acitivty is guilty of child abuse. I have a sinking feeling that if these church leaders/members had been aware of the other forms of abuse Doni and her sisters experienced in their foster “home” (assuming they were not), it would either be considered good biblical “spare the rod and spoil the child” parenting, or (at most) these abusers would be quietly told to tone it down a little. I wonder if Bethel still engages in these practices.

    In addition to the nightmarish trauma inflicted on children by being told that a “loving god” could torture them for eternity in a fiery hell, fundamentalist religion lends itself to child abuse. Passage after passage in the bible commands parents to beat their children to the point of inflicting injury:

    http://humanismbyjoe.co/fundamentalist-fervor-increases-child-abuse/

    I suppose a lot of this garbage is passed down from generation to generation, but it seems like humanity should have evolved beyond this by now. I think the country needs a massive campaign to expose the harm in these kinds of barbaric religious practices.

    • Well, the more we pull away the curtain and tell the truth about what happened, the more we know and the more educated we can be so we can more quickly identify it and do something about it.
      I have no doubt there are many people in the church who had a clue what was happening inside that home, but they didn’t want to get involved. The same was true for my sisters and myself before our mom died, when I knew teachers had to know something was off, but they didn’t do anything. I was just discussing this with a friend the other day, and the truth is, in the late ’60s, if the “system” had swooped in and taken us from our mother, first, and the foster parents, second, we would have probably been split up and put in separate foster homes, possibly worse than the one we were in. (I know people who survived Shasta County’s foster care system, and the stories are horrific.)
      The greatest silver lining to our time in the foster home was my sisters and I were kept together. For that, I am supremely grateful.
      The biggest way to expose abusive organizations is for the victims to speak up and tell their stories.

  12. Matt Grigsby says:

    This is such an interesting perspective about Bethel that I’m not sure would come from anyone or anywhere else. You articulate both the good and the not-good in a direct and fair manner and it gives me a greater understanding of this titan church in our town. You said that all of this negative attention the church is receiving won’t cause them a moment’s discomfort, which struck me like a thunderbolt of truth because I can see how right this truly is. They aren’t bothered in the least over how their words and deeds are hurting others.

    I’m not sure I’m ever going to get past the awfulness Kris Vallotton has spewed about the LGBTQ+ community recently, but I’m trying hard to separate him and the church leaders from the members of the congregation I have met and like. I do admit it’s a struggle.

    • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

      I’m right there with you on trying to separate Vallotton and his cherry-picking fundamentalism from the Bethel members who I know and like. I have a feeling, though, that those of us who hope for a division in belief between shepherd and flock are setting ourselves up for disappointment. That gut feeling is so strong that I’m afraid to ask.

      Doni brings up the cherry-picking issue as well. I’ve raised it repeatedly these past few weeks, asking those Bethelites who have braved this ongoing discussion to please explain it. So far the response—again and again—has been: “La la la la la I can’t hear you.”

      I guess you can take that lack of response one of two ways: (1) It’s part of that “won’t cause them a moment’s discomfort” phenomenon—they are so certain of their beliefs that the theological cherry-picking accusation is a triviality that isn’t worth addressing; or (2) it touches a nerve because it’s impossible for a fundamentalist to explain the cherry-picking away.

      I want it to be the latter, because that discomfort would suggest that some honest-to-God thinking is going on.

      • Matt Grigsby says:

        I have the same gut feeling that the flock isn’t all that separate from the shepherd, which kind of makes me not want to know. I’d rather like the people I like, knowing I probably don’t know the whole truth, than be deeply disappointed. Perhaps that’s not a smart path to take in life, but I’m more hard-wired to cut people some slack. I know everyone is carrying around a big bag of troubles I’ll never know anything about.

        Still, it’s a struggle.

        • Well, you make a great point about us not really knowing what’s deep in the hearts of the believers.

          I saw an ugly illustration of this on FB the other day, and there’s still fallout from it … after a FB friend went off the rails with talk about how he and his ENTIRE family were against gays. He said his family business had a lot of Bethel business, and he wouldn’t mind losing customers who were pro-gay.

          He deleted everything the next day, but I did a recap on FB for those who missed it, in case people didn’t want to support that business. I got a private message from a young woman I know who was raised in Bethel, who said I smeared the guy and his family, and gosh, he has mental issues, and wouldn’t a good reporter get the facts first, etc.

          It dawned upon me that people like this guy are closet gay-haters, but in his case, maybe he did flip out momentarily, come out of the closet and show his true self, perhaps to the horror of his family (who he claims shares his sentiments). Honestly, I’d rather know. And that’s what makes it all weird. We DON’T know, until someone like Vallotton spouts off and lifts the hem of the tent and we get a peek at what’s underneath, but then he shuts it down and says we were mistaken. He loves everyone. It’s crazy-making.

          • Aleeta Stamn says:

            Matt – I don’t think it’s possible to separate the flock from church leaders, since by supporting the church they are also supporting its leaders and their teachings. In fact, it’s the flock that makes the Kris Vallottons of the world possible.

            This issue has been getting a lot of public attention for quite awhile now, and I’m not aware of any exodus from Bethel, or any attempt to replace its leaders. Head honcho Bill Johnson also promotes those beliefs, per the interview below:

            https://www.christiantoday.com/article/bethel.churchs.bill.johnson.why.i.voted.for.trump/100306.htm

        • Denise O says:

          If a divide exists, would not be the first time. Being no theologian, there was the Schism that split the sheets up til now from Orthodoxy. Can’t embarrass myself with bad statistics, but aren’t there over 30K denominations of Christianity in US Churches? We really can’t seem to get along too well for too long.

          History shows us that several kings of England used their power to actually revise text in the Bible. Henry actually added the line in the Lord’s Prayer: The Power and the Glory Forever.

          So the return lesson for me is to be wholehearted in my life, but DISCERN.

    • Dearest Matt, I know it’s hard to not paint all of Bethel with the Vallotton brush, but I know for a fact there are good people at Bethel. Having said that, you have good reason to be skeptical.

      And Bethel leaders’ attitude about how they’ve come “under fire” — that’s why, to some degree, I felt ambivalent about the protest outside Bethel Church last week, and it’s why I went, and took some photos (one of which I posted on FB, which resulted in some Bethel-apologists calling me a ‘hater” which I found highly ironic), but I did not cover the protest as a story.

      Maybe that was wrong of me. I’m still sorting out how I feel about all that.

      I tried to imagine how Bethel would react to the protest, and I was pretty sure it was water off a duck’s ass, more of the same old, same old attacks by the non-believers of this pitiful world. I honestly thought that Bethel would pass out rainbow cookies and “love on” the protesters, in a gas-lighting, “we don’t hate you, we love you!” way. But aside from sending out a message to the flock telling them about the upcoming protest, and reminding them that they love all people and don’t hate gays, the church basically put its head down and carried on like it was just another Sunday.

      I tried to decipher the looks on the faces of the drivers who left Bethel and passed the protesters. Mostly, they looked flat, perhaps irritated, and sometimes bemused. Bothered? No. The protesters were just more evidence that these saints are being persecuted for sharing “the truth of God’s word”.

      I could be wrong about this, of course, but this is my strong hunch.

      I love you, Matt. I know it’s been exhausting carrying the gay torch here on ANC, but you’ve done an awesome job. You’ve educated, enlightened, and yes, even entertained us (when Barbara and Joe weren’t looking) with your whip-smart writing. Unfortunately, you’ve also endured some horrible, hateful, ignorant comments. I’m so sorry for that. Please don’t let the idiots get to you.

      You’re my hero. xo

      • Matt Grigsby says:

        This discussion and debate and all of the intelligent and insightful comments (even the ones I disagree with) help me make sense of this messy subject. I haven’t changed my mind about Bethel but I feel like I’ve got a clearer view of who they are and what they’re about. The people slinging scripture at me (or any of us) are simply trying to scare me (or whoever) and I’m simply not having it. I’ve endured worse.

        Seriously, I love you too and you are *my* hero Doni.

  13. Judy Salter says:

    I am dumbfounded. Thank you for your courage in writing this.

  14. Carrie Dokter says:

    What a story! My mouth fell open a few times. I too cannot imagine losing a parent to suicide. Right now I am suffering the loss of my 19 year old grandson who took his life in March. I especially hurt for my daughter, who loved him so much.

    • Oh man, I am so, so sorry about the loss of your grandson, especially to suicide. It’s horrible. Just horrible — and beyond painful for you, your daughter, your entire family, and, of course, your grandson, and everyone who knew him. Hold on tight to each other. This is rough stuff. 🙁

  15. This perplexes me:

    “By the way, Christians who criticize Bethel Church fall into that enemy camp, too, you know.”

    • What I meant by that is that from the attacked Bethelites’ perspectives, those Christians who come after Bethel are considered wrong-headed, misguided and mistaken, and they are seen as tools of The Enemy, just like secular non-believers.

      From some Bethel leaders’ perspective, those who believe in Jesus but who criticize Bethel are considered nuts, and religious pharisees.

      Here’s a Vallotton quote featured in the post, below.
      “Jesus said to love your enemies so you have to have some,” he (Vallotton) explained. “If you’re doing anything for God you will have enemies. I hope to be doing enough good in the world that [He] knows my name. I count it a privilege to have enemies for I am in good company.”

      https://www.christianpost.com/news/benny-hinns-nephew-calls-bethel-church-leader-kris-vallotton-false-prophet-who-deceives-people-222731/

      Here’s another:
      https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=160778463948581

      And another: http://www.piratechristian.com/museum-of-idolatry/2016/1/bill-johnsons-followers-hes-equivalent-to-jesus-and-apostles-were-pharisees

      • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

        You posted while I was thumbing a response on my iPhone. ?

      • Matt Grigsby says:

        Wow. That quote troubles me greatly. He cherishes having enemies because it means he’s doing God’s work? Loving your enemies is about not carrying hate in your heart. It’s not about making people hate you so you can prove to God you’re doing His work. Having enemies isn’t the proof.

        Chilling.

        • Exactly. So, the more his “enemies” attack, the more it confirms he’s doing God’s work.

        • Linda Cooper says:

          Matt, I’m relishing your interpretation of the “famous” quote. Thank you so much. I am troubled as well. I never knew for sure what was brewing in Redding. Now I know. “Chilling’ for sure.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      Not too obscure in meaning. She’s saying that Bethelites dismiss the criticisms of its perceived enemies as Satan’s work. And that camp of enemies includes Christians who criticize Bethel—not just secular critics.

      Indeed, the most withering criticisms of Bethel come from other Christians, some of whom regard Bill Johnson as the Antichrist.

      Contrast that with my secularist ambivalence about Bethel: I’d rather we had a U.C. campus bringing all these hip, educated, energetic young folks to town, but instead we got Bethel. I’ll probably be okay with that right up to the point where they manage to take over local government….at that point I’ll have to reassess.

      • Darcie Gore says:

        I urge everyone left in Redding to watch the new six-part Netflix documentary about a small sleepy town in Antelope Oregon that first welcomed a religious cult into their Community. How can Bethel harm Redding when they now have businesses and serve on City Council? Watch “WILD WILD COUNTRY” and it well becomes clear.

      • Linda Cooper says:

        Priceless. If I knew how to post a rolling on the floor (laughing) thing, I would.

      • Aleeta Stamn says:

        Steve – You won’t have long to wait. Running in the very next Redding City Council election is a Bethel member and another candidate whose campaign manager is married to one of the three Board members of Bethel’s Advance Redding. All Bethel needs is 3 people to make a voting majority, and with Julie Winter they’ll have it. It’s early yet, so there may be even more Bethel people waiting in the wings.

        Also, anyone who thinks that being a Bethel member and running for city council is coincidental doesn’t understand how extremist Bethel’s 7 Mountains Dominionist theology really is. Local government is only one of the “mountains” (secular institutions) it seeks to have “dominion” over.

        • Gary Tull says:

          Aleeta, I must give credit. Your thinking in the above comment rings genuinely true. It contributes to our confirmation that we made the right choice in moving away to a county where they embrace a State University. Much aloha to you.

  16. Steve Du Bois Steve Du Bois says:

    Wow. Your article blows my mind. I didn’t know your history with the church. Fascinating. I am so sorry to learn you lost your mother at 12, and suffered abuse from your foster father. What a life you had there. What a life you’re had! And it’s very surprising to learn you knew the Williams’ brothers. I knew Matson and Mowder slightly and respected them both. Great guys. It must’ve been horrible for you to lose your friends.

  17. Stan w says:

    OK Doni that knocked me sideways when I read your stunning story this AM. Totally different stories but so many similarities growing up in the church for me. Thank you.
    Carrie I’m so so sorry for your loss.
    Matt if you ever want to knock back a cold one at the 501 with a old straight hillbilly it would be my privilege.
    One thing I have learned from hanging around the cafe is that your never to old to have new hero’s.

  18. Lisa says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  19. Richard Christoph says:

    Doni,

    What remarkable courage you have displayed in writing what must have been a very difficult and painful exercise in self-disclosure—your poignant recollections elicited mist in my eyes more than once. As one who also was raised in a fundamentalist religion, but also lacks the gene for faith and consequently has been a “Born-Again Agnostic” for more than four decades, I can certainly relate to the evolution of your spiritual journey.

    In contrast, my siblings and I were fortunate to have been raised by devout but very loving parents who fervently believed that God had brought them together, who always put the well-being of their children above their own, and considered that it was their duty and privilege to “train up a child in the way he should go.” I still have tremendous respect and affection for those sincere, loving, and kind members of the church who are committed to their beliefs and who sacrifice, as our parents did, for what they perceive as the betterment and salvation of mankind.

    I simply see no evidence that claims made regarding the supernatural have any incontrovertible supporting evidence, and realized at the age of 5 that when people disagree, they mathematically cannot all be right despite what claims they may make. Personally, I would support a “School of Super-Rational Ministry,” but doubt there would be much demand, nor much $.

    Many thanks for sharing your personal history in such an eloquent and moving manner.

  20. Melody says:

    It wasn’t just Bethel preaching signs and wonders, healings and the like. I attended Little Country Church in Red Bluff in the mid 80’s. I became a born again believer and truly never l9st my faith in God, however my faith in man has been irreparably damaged. I was injured in a car accident in 1986. I suffered a severe whiplash injury that progressed over 3 years to a debilitating spinal injury. Prayer didn’t heal me, My faith was challenged by leadership and at one point I was told I had a demon on my back. NO I had a greater than 75% compromise of my spinal cord and was lucky I wasn’t quadriplegic! Surgical intervention by a skilled and educated hand was God’s answer to my injury, faith that He had it under control and trust that He would guide the physician are what reassured me. I never saw the pastor or his wife again once I decided to pursue medical intervention. God didn’t let me down but man sure did. Looking back I believe that that church was cult like, if not a cult. Not much different than what I hear being said about Bethel now. My heart aches for those being wounded by the church the way I was. It is my hope and prayer is that they can separate the church from God and realize that He loves them no matter what they have been told. I can honestly say that my faith in God has never wavered however I remain skeptical of most people and their good inventions!

    • Oh, Bethel doesn’t have the market cornered when it comes to stories like yours. I’m so sorry your went though that awful experience. I’m glad you’re OK now. Thanks for sharing, Melody.

  21. Ann Webber says:

    Thank you so much for sharing, in such an even handed way, your history. You are an amazing woman and give hope to so many who struggle with similar circumstances.
    I especially appreciate your ability to remain positive about the good experiences, while also stepping back and assessing them from the reporter’s perspective.
    Your life is full of close ties to the best and the worst of our community, bringing light to both. I have huge respect for you and applaud your willingness to be completely open!

  22. R.V. Scheide Jr. R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

    Great story Doni. It’s interesting that Bethel has been dabbling in the supernatural since the beginning. It makes me wonder what exactly precipitated Bethel’s split from Assemblies of God some 15 years ago? Could it be Bill Johnson’s claim to be an anointed apostle with the same powers as Jesus? At any rate, the disagreement between Christian denominations offers an opportunity to limit Bethel’s power by sewing division among its ranks.

    • Mitsy says:

      I too, went to Bethel for many years. While I was a bit uncomfortable with the signs and wonders stuff, the slaying in the spirit and such…it hadn’t progressed to the gold dust and feathers. When Pastor Larsen was dethroned and Bill Johnson entered I felt all biblical teaching fly out the window in favor of the emotional sensationalism that crept in. While participating in a week long seminar by some traveling preacher I distinctly heard the command ‘Get out!’ and get out I did. I am still involved in fellowship, now in the Messianic community, and am finding a firm foundation for my faith. It concerns me that this 7 Mountain movement has gathered so much momentum since they want to rule over everyone with an ‘iron rod’ which can only be rightly wielded by the Master Himself. I feel most for the people who have given up home, money and time to something that bears little resemblance to Christ’s command to spread the Gospel to the world in love and patience, not overtake and beat it into society.

      • Mitsy, it had been years since I was reminded of Pastor Larsen, until you said something today. It’s a fuzzy memory, but I seem to remember some kind of tension and unpleasantness.

        I’m glad you found a place for fellowship that’s a good fit for you.

    • I sent you a private message, R.V., with some background that would be boring to most people, bu you might find interesting.

  23. Carla says:

    So much in this piece. Really riveting and compelling writing. One thing I would like to point out is that there seems to be kind of a syndrome, if that’s the word, in which some people foster or adopt many more children than is reasonable. I think there’s a big emotional pay-off that exceeds the quiet satisfaction one would ordinarily get from this selfless act after it turns into a big look-at-us circus.
    That being said, the vast majority of foster parents are wonderful and kind people who truly make a difference in children’s lives. I’m glad for the work done now by the foster agencies to try to make sure that placements are healthy places for children. I wish someone like that had been there for you.

    • Thanks, Carla.
      I have – as one might imagine – very strong feelings about the entire foster parent system. I agree there are some wonderful, loving foster parents out there, and to them, I say God bless you every one.

      And yes, how great it would have been if my sisters and I had landed in one of those stellar homes.

      However, regarding your observation about some foster parents having an emotional need to take in more children that what is reasonable … I submit that for many of them, it’s not an emotional need, but a financial one. And the more messed up the kids, the more money they get. And guess what, if take in a child, and lo and behold, you think that child needs meds for something like hyperactivity or depression or whatever, if the child is medicated then that’s a different level of kid – more challenging – so that child would be more lucrative.

      I personally think the foster system sucks. I would stand behind an orphanage system – standardized, clean, safe, etc., with lots of oversight.

  24. Sort of off subject, but I was watching another Kris Vallotton sermon today, and here’s my conclusion of the day: This guy is obsessed with sex.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrm9A7fKrOc&t=1991s

    • Damon Miller says:

      I wonder is Kris is close with Ted Haggard?

      • Exactly!

        Steve, if you’ve watched all of that often-mentioned Palm Sunday sermon, you’ll see a part where Kris prances around like a woman with his butt and chest stuck out and his shirt unbuttoned. It brought howls of laughter from the congregation, and Bill Johnson jumped up to snap a photo.

        He made reference to when he was teaching somewhere else and did that, he unbuttoned more of his shirt, so this is something he’s done before. Makes me wonder what all that’s about. The man doth protest too much about gays.

        • Sabina says:

          He pings my gaydar like a submarine…

        • Beverly Stafford says:

          I’m not alone when I remark that people who are the most demonstrative against LGBT’s most likely have a sexual identity of their own. Vallotton sounds like a J. Edgar Hoover type. I wonder what’s in his closet?

  25. Jennifer J Middleton says:

    Touching. An on-point and beautifully written article….Wow!

  26. Denise O says:

    Great piece, Doni!

    So many thoughts but pondering along these lines. A burning thought I have is, wasn’t life that way for many of us in the 60’s? It actually makes me laugh ( I mean barf) when people wistfully say, The Good Old Days. Not for too many of us when it came to home. But we sure LOOKED good from the outside. Kids hairdos spit shined, shoes in a row.

    But the wood under the veneer was rotted. We all know very well that if one was gay, you certainly did not acknowledge. You whispered about it and when you grew up the plan is, as you say, find a good woman, do the deed, have a few kids for looks and day trip seeking Happy Endings.

    The church my folks sent me to wasn’t Bethel, but a southern Baptist in Illinois. Worse, they sent me by myself to digest the happenings. I was 6 years old. By the time I was 10 I knew the God they were rolling around the aisles for was not the one I felt in my heart.

    At the ripe old age of 10, I marched across the street to the kinder, gentler version of God called Methodist. Helped me a lot to know a beloved teacher attended there.

    By the time I left high school, I thought I was an atheist I was so disgusted by many of the churches I has set foot in.

    As 40 year old, I laid my money down for a college degree from Simpson U, and left there with my piece of paper and even more disdain in my heart for organized religion. Can’t tell you how many times I nearly stomped out of there due to “professors” who had to make the Church’s face turn beet red with their version of theology.

    Oddly it was at Simpson with a professor who said something that really stuck with me and began my healing journey with organized religion. He said the Church is the bride of Christ – and She doesn’t always wear Her best face.

    For me, I no longer deny the presence of Christ in MY heart. I can be softer when I find myself judging “Jesus Freaks” harshly.

    You’re not alone, though your story is especially heartbreaking.

  27. Eleanor says:

    Dear Doni, I’ve been thinking what to say and haven’t come up with anything worthy enough in response to this. You live a brilliant life and your even-handed reporting and your grace under all kinds of pressure are examples to us all. ANC is certainly not a ‘minnow’ in this town; it attracts enlightened and educated commenters (yeah, OK, mostly) and started the hottest and most important conversation around here in a long while. And, ANC is ‘here’, where Bethel is, and I believe that makes a big difference. ( I smiled at the visual of the ‘smoke rings’ – your humor under pressure is pretty amazing too.)

  28. Stan w says:

    No we are not going to even put a bump in the road with the heads of bethel. They are way to distracted keeping their business going. Yes business they are selling something. Not clothing not cars not homes not even car or home insurance….nope they are selling soul insurance….

    Think about what is more important, our life and our after life. We want it right right? Nobody wants to burn their butts off for ever and for sure not longer then the eighty or ninety + years we where here on earth trying to figure it all out.

    So sign up and protect your self and don’t forget they are the biggest dealership in town. Bet they got some good god spring time deals going right now!

  29. Ryan Place says:

    I liked your story Doni. Religion has a way of confusing a whole lot of people and at it’s worst ruining them. I did a short stint in religion between the ages of six and eight, mostly slept through it. Even then it seemed a bit far fetched. As an aside it took me until about the age of five to put Santa to rest, another story for another time. Sometime around my thirtieth year in this world, I started reading the bible for the first time to better my argument against bible thumpers. After reading Matthew, it dawned on me that regardless if this Jesus was real or imagined if we could incorporate his teachings in our lives we would all be better off for it. I have been reading the bible for many years and continue to read it. One of my favorite passages is Matthew 23:15. Paraphrasing, it accuses the elders of the church of turning over every rock to make a convert and once having done so condemns him to hell.

  30. Liz says:

    The most important part of Christian religion is helping the adherent to find Christ. Once you have found Him, you will never be the same. Many spiritual people gravitate to Jesus on their own. I am truly sorry for what you have been through Doni. You are incredibly strong. I wish you the best as well as all the other people who tried and are still trying the find what works for them spiritually.

  31. Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    Great article Doni. It will take me awhile to process everything you wrote about. I am sad and I’m angry. I’m glad that you were able to tell the truth about your experiences in foster care. Thank you Doni.

  32. Jennifer says:

    A very powerful and courageous article! Thank you for sharing your story. I read a comment on Facebook which hinted that you should write a book- I second that! 🙂

  33. Karen C says:

    Amazing article, Doni. I wondered what your project was, as I missed you on Thursdays. I always check my cell on Thursdays, before getting out of bed. I read your article first thing in the morning, a great way to start the day.
    You really need to write a book about our life, maybe two or three books. I was wondering if you have kept journals of your life experiences? I never did until we started traveling in our RV and I kept a journal for every trip and everyday. Now, I wish I had done it for more of my life. It is very useful to have those facts and time spans in the written word to refer back to.
    Always love to read your articles. Thanks for this one.

  34. Tammy says:

    Doni, please write up your story in a book. Thanks for your candor.

  35. Karen C says:

    Your foster care experiences were not the best at times but possibly helped to make you the strong and wonderful person you are today. Our daughter was a foster mom for many years. she suffered bruises, brutal words, demands from the kids, bad behavior, wrecked furniture, kicked walls and so much more. Along with this, she could not touch the kids….grabbing an arm, nothing! The final episode after a child’s ball game happened when he demanded to go for fast food and she needed to get home. The child started throwing rocks at her and hit her several times. Her son, 13 at the time, had enough of this crap and grabbed the kid, took him to the ground and sat on him. He called the sheriff on his own cell phone. Our daughter remarried soon after that and her new and wonderful hubby, said, “no more!” Amen to that! She is a very strong woman and has spent the past 30+ years working with children who are challenged in many ways. Foster care was by far, the toughest.

    • I’ve often praised the good foster parents. It’s a thankless job. It’s especially difficult if the foster parents have biological children mixed with the foster kids.

      I have no doubt your daughter was a stellar foster mother.

  36. Brandon says:

    Doni – Reading this article was like listening to a close friend telling a story about their life. I’ve been a Doni fan for a long, long time now but I don’t really know you – though you feel a lot like a dear, old friend to me. I always enjoy reading about your experiences growing up in Redding, but this article was one of those that really cuts deeply into your life experience and examines those experiences closely. I can tell you write from the heart, and that’s one of the reasons I keep coming back to read more. Sharing your heart with the world at large must be an interesting experience. I can’t begin to imagine what that feels like.

    • Hello, dear Brandon. I’m always so happy when I see your name here, still reading aNewsCafe.com, long after you’ve moved away. I’m so glad!

      Thank you for your heartfelt words. They mean a lot to me. xo

  37. Doni, your revealing story was worth more than 10 hours on a psych couch, thank you !
    This community is so sideways about the ‘Bethel thing’. It’s the whisper conversation all over the City; even a group of folks are printing bumper stickers that say “Don’t drink the cool aid’, in reminiscence of Jones Town years ago; do we see a parallel here ? I certainly hope not. I do hope that fine folks like Julie Winter can come to their senses and realize that this particular church is doing more harm then providing loving kindness. Even the Mormon Church has had an epiphany about LGBT citizens. I’m not threatened by those power statements by Bethel leaders that they have 10,000 members; have given thousands of dollars to the City of Redding…those are a form of ‘watch out here we come, get out of our way’. Besides, a good deal of them are from other countries and other states. What if it were said the LGBT+ population of Shasta Co. was 10%, why that would be close to 10,000…sounds like a stand-off to me. What is it with this macho-ism from Bethel leaders, me thinks they brag-eth too much, not much love there.

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