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Editor’s note: Portions of this column have been edited for clarity.
The following is an open letter to Redding Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jake Mangas in response to his blog post last week on the chamber’s website, “Hate Speech and Bethel Church.”
I read your blog post last week, in which you wrongly accused thousands of local citizens of religious discrimination, with concern from the very beginning. Having written thousands of articles over the course of my career, I know when “my palms are perspiring on the keyboard as I type,” something is drastically wrong and it’s time to take a step back and ask myself some serious questions.
Do I know what I’m writing about? Have I done the research? Am I too angry about the subject material? Questions like that, generally asked while vigorously pacing about the room. Why are my palms sweating?
Obviously, Jake, you didn’t do that. You, the well-paid president and CEO of the Redding Chamber of Commerce, barged ahead and went full Bethel, suggesting that thousands of members of the numerous Facebook groups dedicated to criticizing the charismatic evangelical megachurch in our midst are committing the sin of hate speech.
Full disclosure: I’m a member of two such Facebook groups, Bethel Affiliated Businesses and Investigating Bethel. These two closed groups combined have more than 2000 members, most of them local citizens concerned about Bethel’s growing influence on our economy, our politics and our lives. They come from all walks of life and all religious stripes, including Christians, pagans, agnostics and atheists. Some are even Trump supporters, so go figure.
Anyway, your post begins with some rather inauspicious analogies, which might explain the perspiring palms:
“What if you stumbled upon a post on social media that read ‘F’ing Blue People!’ or ‘That ethnic group is going to hell!’? How about ‘You can tell those with a certain gender preference run this business because it has that look.’?”
Who the heck are these Blue People, Jake? Did you mean the Blue Man Group? Were you afraid to write “black people”? Also, you know who else besides social media trolls say ethnic groups are going to hell? Evangelical Christians who follow End Times theology (ahem, Bethel) that condemns Jews and other non-believers to an eternal lake of fire! It says so right in the Bible.
I presume your third analogy, easily the clumsiest, refers to the shopworn trope that gay males have prowess in interior decorating, but you appear to have confused the term sexual orientation with gender identity. If you’re suggesting the chamber supports LGBTQ rights, you should know Bethel Church actively opposes LGBTQ rights at the local, state and national level, and spends a lot of money doing it.
You then assert the same sort of hateful things are being posted, with “Bethel” taking the place of “Blue People,” in Bethel Affiliated Business, Investigating Bethel and numerous other Facebook groups you say are “devoted to hating Bethel Church and its members.”
You write, “Any of these posts would create a huge issue in the human resources department of your business and perhaps land the author in court for libel, defamation of character, or perhaps even a hate crime.”
This is preposterous. At worst, based on your weak analogies, a person belonging to one of these Facebook groups could be in danger of being fired, if chamber HR members who’ve read your blog post now feel justified in handing out pink slips to those who belong to Facebook groups you’ve characterized as Bethel-haters. Likewise, this new Bethel-hater label could easily lead HR folks to feel pressured – just to be on the safe, right side – to take action against any employee who says so much as an unkind word about Bethel on social media.
The kids—and Glenn Beck—call this “cancel culture.”
It’s social media, Jake. People post mean things sometimes. You’re committing the fallacy of composition here, mistaking the part for the whole, missing the forest for the trees. These groups aren’t devoted to hating Bethel Church and its members, they’re devoted to exposing the grip Bethel has on Redding and their lives, and they’ve garnered national media attention with their efforts.
Hate’s a strong word. The fact that members of the group routinely observe and discuss what’s known as the “Bethel look” is not necessarily hateful. Bethel businesses do indeed have a trendy, over-designed-yet-spartan feel to them. I often find myself saying, each time a new Bethel business pops up, “The place looks nice, but why would I want that?” (This is probably because I’m old.)
Similarly, Bethel members, especially Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry students, have a certain look. They are predominantly well-coifed young hipster men dressed in skinny jeans and designer t-shirts with that preternatural glow that comes from a ramen starvation diet, abstinence from sex, cigarettes and alcohol and countless late-night sessions getting “drunk in the spirit.”
Again, it’s not necessarily hateful to notice this. A question you might have asked yourself before writing is why do so many local citizens have such negative opinions about Bethel?
Having participated in various Facebook groups critical of Bethel for the past year-and-a-half, I can help answer that question for you. There are three primary reasons members are concerned about Bethel, not all of them shared by all members.
First, many members view Bethel’s strange brew of Christianity and New Age as a straight-up cult, a holy rolling, faith-healing pyramid scheme sucking the lifeblood out of the town and preaching a false gospel. This view is shared by numerous Christian discernment websites around the world that consider Bethel pastors Bill Johnson and Kris Vallotton frauds and heretics.
Second, Bethel Church and its infinite number of horizontally networked sub-ministries has raked in hundreds of millions of dollars during the past decade and hasn’t been shy about spreading the manna around. People who haven’t “drank the Kool-Aid” find themselves on the outside looking in and naturally resent Bethel’s newfound economic power, attached as it is to the on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven Seven Mountain Mandate.
In English, that means its critics believe Bethel is taking over the town and re-creating it in its own image, as its theology commands.
Third, as a result of its newfound power and its dominionism, Bethel has become openly entangled in city of Redding finances as well as our politics on the local, state and federal level. Reminding readers Bethel saved the Civic Auditorium and funded the RPD’s homeless squad only rubs it in. This has become a great concern for many people who believe the separation of Church and State imagined by the Founders is a solid wall, not a picket fence.
Put all three of those concerns together, Jake, and Redding starts looking a lot like Clearwater, Florida, global headquarters for Scientology. Scientologists have bought most of downtown and the chamber of commerce. At stake is whose vision of downtown Clearwater will prevail: the city council’s or Scientology’s?
We’re talking about vision, Jake. Identity. Like the $500,000 Garden of Lights project dreamed up by Redding City Council member and Bethel Elder Julie Winter and recently passed by the council. It’s designed to attract shoppers downtown during the holidays and … drive-by stoners, I guess, for the rest of the year. You recently wrote fondly of the project.
But you know what else has pretty lights? A casino! A big fat $150 million casino on the south side of town, a den of iniquity to balance the $150 million purity palace Bethel’s constructing on the north side of Redding. You know the difference between Bethel Church and a casino, Jake? A casino is more honest about stealing its customers’ money, pays its taxes and rakes the cash in 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Such a deal! We could have heaven and hell on earth, twin beacons demarking our strategic position on the I-5 corridor. That’s a vision for everybody, Jake. But no. Both the Redding City Council and the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, egged on by mysteriously funded opposition groups, unanimously opposed the Redding Rancheria’s casino expansion project.
The feds will ultimately approve the casino, the tribal members of the Redding Rancheria will get their due, but one can’t help wondering: Is this virtue signaling by the council and the supervisors just another case of whites speaking with forked tongues, or is a certain megachurch concerned a big fat casino might cut into its grift?
That’s the lens through which the people in the groups you’re maligning see the world unfolding in front of them, Jake. Houses and apartments are being snapped up and rented out for outrageous prices to BSSM students, often at the expense of longtime tenants. Some students are packed-to-the-max into single family homes; their fancy cars clog neighborhood driveways. They can be a nuisance.
Bethel Affiliated Businesses currently lists 67 businesses, including restaurants, bakeries, cafes and salons as having a Bethel affiliation. I cannot vouch for that number, but it’s probably close. Members of the group have been known to cold-call new business owners and just flat-out ask them, “Do you have a Bethel affiliation?” Sometimes they answer, sometimes they don’t. As you can imagine, the conversation sometimes gets testy.
I’ve never made such an inquiry, but it really is starting to look a lot like Clearwater around here. Who are these new people and where’d they get all the money to start these crazy businesses?
And Lord have mercy, what does Bethel have against the LGBTQ community, outside of selective biblical literalism? Thanks to Bethel, Redding is now known as a leader in the field of conversion therapy, the scientifically unfounded belief that LGBTQ people can purposely change their sexual orientation or gender identity using reparative methods such as praying the gay away.
The Legislature banned performing this known harmful practice on people 18 years old and younger several years ago. Bethel fought for the right to perform it on adults—and won.
What’s it all mean, Jake? Bethel frightens the hell out of a considerable number of people, many of whom shop at businesses represented by the chamber. They feel like their vision for Redding is being supplanted by someone else’s, that they’re being replaced by Bethelbots, that the system is rigged.
Some of them are angry, as you’ve probably gathered from the voluminous negative emails you’ve received in response to your blog. They’re threatening to boycott not just Bethel businesses, but any business represented by the chamber.
Some of them have been doxing you. Others have been threatened by Bethel supporters. There’s plenty of hate to go around.
I certainly don’t advocate boycotting, doxing or threatening anyone. I’m not down with cancel culture. In fact, I agree with you on at least one thing you wrote: We’re on a slippery slope here. Things got especially slick when you introduced HR departments to this conversation and mention of potential lawsuits. Suddenly, there’s the implication that companies should protect themselves and be rid of those you’ve now damned as “Bethel-haters” – people who’ve done nothing more than belong to a Facebook group, or who happen to express negative opinions or concerns about Bethel Church on social media. And with that slippery slope, you’ve hit rock bottom.
Never go full Bethel, Jake.