With Novel Coronavirus, Bethel Gets It Right

Editor's note: If you appreciate being able to read posts like this, and want to ensure ANC's ability to continue publishing similar content, please click here to demonstrate your support and become a paid subscriber for as little at $1.35 a month.

For once, my hat’s off to Bethel, the megachurch in Shasta County’s midst that boasts 11,500 local attendees. Due to fear of the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus pandemic, last week the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry postponed all foreign and domestic travel for student missions and ministry trips not deemed “essential travel” for the next two months.

Bethel Church canceled this past Sunday’s services, encouraging congregants to watch on Bethel TV instead. It’s unclear if future Sunday services will also be canceled. Bethel’s healing rooms on Saturday strangely remain open.

“Bethel Church is proactively taking steps to ensure the continued safety and health of our region,” Bethel’s announcement began, and it was right on the mark. Bethel’s globalized business model is particularly susceptible to a disease like coronavirus. What do you get when you combine foreign travel, meeting in large groups and laying hands on random strangers?

These days, you just might get COVID-19.

So, Bethel did the right thing, knowing it was going to take media flak. “Fake faith healers admit they’re phonies, can’t cure coronavirus,” was the general tone of the coverage. That had to hurt a little.

Bethel is frightened, and it should be. Shasta County should be frightened. In my opinion, the county should have shut down all public schools last week, following the lead of Taiwan, which to date has only 50 confirmed coronavirus cases despite being off the coast of mainland China. With adequate testing and social distancing, it may not be too late to contain novel coronavirus in Shasta County, which so far has just one travel-related case of COVID-19.

How can you tell Bethel is scared? I spent the weekend listening to their leaders’ comments on social media and reading their blogs. That’s all head pastors Bill Johnson and Kris Vallotton and Bethel musician/ex-congressional candidate Sean Feucht were talking about: fear.

Apparently, these spiritual entrepreneurs who claim they can heal just about any illness through impartation aren’t too worried about coronavirus’s lethality to the general public. Economics seems to be the primary concern. On a Facebook livestream, Feucht asked Johnson, who said he was in an airport at some unknown location, to comment on the fear and paranoia going around—and the stock market crash.

“I’ve never seen the spirit of fear spread so quickly,” Johnson said, advising viewers to “wash their hands” and use the “prophetic word” as a weapon against the virus, particularly Psalm 91, which asserts those who shelter in God’s shadow are protected from deadly plagues and pestilence.

But just when you think Johnson’s has some common sense, he literally ridicules common sense and then claims recent pandemics were far worse than COVID-19 and suggested the new disease has been blown out of proportion by the mainstream media.

“There’s something not right here,” Johnson said. Asked by Feucht for a few keys to surviving the outbreak, Johnson said, “Turn off the news. Get rid of that voice that haunts and torments you.”

President Donald Trump made similar claims, right up until he declared a coronavirus national state of emergency last Friday.

To his credit, Kris Vallotton opens his most recent blogpost, “Are Facts or Fear Influencing Your Faith?” with a link to the CDC’s coronavirus recommendations. He casts COVID-19 as a demonic spirit that wrecks economies. Check it out:

“The coronavirus is creating a tornado of intense fear across the planet. … I believe what is masquerading under the guise of a worldwide outbreak is devious and even demonic, but it does not need to dictate a feeling of demise. I’d like to propose that we are going toe-to-toe with a foreboding spirit that’s pressing in on our planet … threatening to shut down entire nations, attempting to destroy economies.”

Going toe-to-toe with a demonic tornado. I’m down with that!

“You are right that I believe in Jesus, but I’m not a medieval fool that ignores science and medicine,” maintains Vallotton, who has trained thousands of gullible students in the dodgy art of faith-healing fakery. “It’s paramount that we are wise, take precautions, and not participate in spreading the virus.”

Sound advice. But like Johnson, Vallotton suggests that much of what we’re learning about coronavirus via the media is fake news.

“Yet it’s equally important that we do not perpetuate any fear from this evil doom and gloom spirit that’s projecting a false narrative through the twisting of facts and spreading of fallacious rumors,” he writes.

It would seem Vallotton is also clinging to the idea, promulgated by Trump, FOX News and right-wing radio, that the growing fear about the spread of coronavirus is some sort of “liberal” plot to take down the economy and make the president look bad. His advice for dealing with the frightening news unfolding daily before us?

“Remember fear is a liar.”

But fear doesn’t lie all the time. Sometimes fear tells the truth, and the truth can set you free.

In my own case, as more epidemiological information became available about COVID-19 during the past several months and I understood that both my parents and I are in high-risk groups, my spider-sense started tingling. Last week, I chose to go on hiatus from substitute teaching because I feared, rightly, that it was impossible to maintain the CDC’s cleanliness and social distancing guidelines for my risk group at a school. My fear went away the second I made the decision.

Similarly, I was relieved when Bethel, on the very same day, announced it was postponing all foreign and domestic travel for student missions and ministry for two months, as well as canceling this past Sunday’s church services. Bethel is a $60 million annual global business enterprise; foreign travel, meeting in large groups and laying hands on random strangers are baked into its business model.

The leadership didn’t make this decision lightly and should be commended for getting it right so far.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not an “evil doom and gloom spirit projecting a false narrative,” as Vallatton would have it. It’s a novel coronavirus that’s far more contagious and at least 10 times more lethal than seasonal flu. Fearing it is the appropriate response. Bethel canceling mission and ministry trips and its services this past Sunday aren’t “twisted facts” or “fallacious rumors.”

They’re warning signs that the rest of Shasta County should heed as well.

R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas. He can be emailed at RVScheide@anewscafe.com.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

38 Responses

  1. Avatar Patrecia Barrett says:

    A more appropriate headline would have been “Bethel pressured to do the right thing”, which it’s doing on the most limited scale possible. In response to pressure from local health authorities it canceled its massive, hysterical in-person services on a single day, with no committment to cancel further services, even through the end of this month (the minimum recommended by State health agencies). Can you imagine the bad local PR it would have received if it had refused to make ANY concession to this pandemic?

    As to cancelling mission trips for the next two months – did it really have a choice, given that the fundamentalist-pandering president Bethel leaders continuously promote from their various pulpits has ordered the suspension of travel to and from numerous foreign countries?

    Meanwhile the thousands of Bethel’s supernatural school students continue to meet in person, and its hands-on healing rooms continue to operate. Aside from the unavoidable token gestures above I believe we’ve seen the end of Bethel’s cooperation in this regard.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      Everybody is being pressured to do the right thing. But not everybody is doing the right thing. For example, there are many school districts in Shasta County that are still open. As you note, the BSSM and the healing rooms are still open. I expect that to change this week. As a global business, I believe Bethel understands how bad this pandemic is more than many locals.

      • Avatar Patrecia Barrett says:

        Bethel is always looking for cheap PR gimmicks (for instance, handing out $1,000 of what I understand was exclusively other people’s money to select homeowners after the Carr Fire), and I believe holding online services for just one day propably falls into that category.

        Bethel’s jam-packed, hysterical services could be the greatest avenue by which this virus can do some serious local damage, especially given that so many of its attendees are elderly and infirm. With all the attention focused on this mega-church in our midst, I can’t imagine it not doing something at least this minimal.

        I also don’t believe this is an either-or proposition. Closing down schools is a serious business, as it interrupts a child’s primary education (how will they make up all the lost time?) and puts many working parents in a childcare bind that could threaten the family’s financial survival due to lost wages. On the other hand, crowded optional entertainment events (and I’m including Bethel in that category) should probably be cancelled.

  2. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    I commend Bethel for doing the right thing. I don’t have to agree with Bethel’s characterization of the virus as as demonic in nature. (The nature of the virus is +ssRNA enveloped in a particularly effective protein shell.) I don’t have to agree with Bethel’s parroting of the POTUS and his supporters that the pandemic response is overblown. At this point in time, actions speaks louder than rhetoric, and Bethel’s actions came sooner and more decisively than many other notables around town.

    Bethel: A-

    If anyone needs to be chastised for their non-response to the pandemic, it’s Kool April Nights. (I’ll give Redding Rodeo a pass since their event is in May and there’s time to see where we’re at in a month before deciding whether or not to pull the plug.) Going ahead with KAN flies in the face of all current recommendations by public health experts, including the CDC.

    Kool April Nights: F

    I guess the City of Redding is going to let individual organizations decide for themselves whether or not to go ahead with huge events that bring in thousands of outsiders, at least until the State of California forces their hand. I looked at the City’s “Preparedness Efforts for Coronavirus” website page this morning. There’s no link to it from their home page, so you have to rummage around for it. Once you find it, there isn’t a single word of advice on social distancing except: Stay home if you’re sick. :::boggle:::

    City of Redding: D

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      I too am pretty stunned Kool April Nights is still being green-lighted. If the pandemic follows the same course here as in other locations, it’ll be peaking right about then.

    • Avatar Candace says:

      I think Bethel did the right thing to close it’s doors, etc. At least it’s something. Then there’s this: I know two people well that attend Bethel. One is a teacher there. The other is a care-giver to the elderly in their homes. The teacher makes jokes about the pandemic, thinks it’s no worse than the flu (and only one case in Shasta Co. so…) and thinks things like drinking warm water will help. The care-giver thinks our Governor asking people 65 and over to stay home is ridiculous. So there’s that.

  3. Frank Treadway Frank Treadway says:

    Great research and balanced article Mr Scheide. I went on the Kris Vallotton blogpost. He outlines 6 steps to take, one of the more outlandish was to “exercise” this demon, me thinks he meant exorcise. He then mentions to do meditation, isn’t this akin to what Buddha offered 1000s of years ago ? Let’s be careful of charlatan-like suggestions that persons make, especially if they’re not confirmed pastors.
    I wonder how the non-travel of Bethel students flying in and out of Redding Airport is going to affect its economics. This is just one example of Bethel giving money to City of Redding and it coming back to bite them in the you know what. I hope Bethel is willing to subsidize any loss from the airport budget over this. I truly want to be more positive and welcoming to an entity such as Bethel, but the unrealistic comments that are more than often made make it very difficult.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      One step I’ve seen some religious folks pushing is fasting to stop the coronavirus, three days no food no water. While there is some scientific evidence that certain types of fasting can boost the immune system, fasting without water–dry fasting–can be very dangerous. Social distancing is our best bet right now.

    • Avatar Patrecia Barrett says:

      I think it’s not so much students flying in and out as all the desperate, gullible people who come from around the world for Bethel’s various healing scams. The travel restrictions could put a serious crimp in the snake oil business.

  4. Avatar Urban Prophet says:

    “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

    Hebrews 10

  5. Avatar Barbara Stone says:

    If the coronavirus is indeed a “liberal plot” to take down the economy and make the president look bad…it’s working! He should just shut the fuck up because every time he opens his mouth, the stock market tanks!

  6. Avatar Jist Cuz says:

    Kool April Nite’s and Redding Rodeo INSANITY… DON’T BE A VICTIM OR A CARRIER +!+

  7. Avatar Jist Cuz says:

    COVID-19 drives a hearse, old people (which I am one of kinda sorta…) +!+

  8. Avatar Bob says:

    We are all going to die ! Prepare for ww3 !

  9. Avatar Randy says:

    I suppose even selling the ‘art’ of faith-healing plays some obscure role in economic growth, at least for Bethel and their high priests. God is all about economic growth you know.

  10. Avatar Bob Johnson says:

    The Bible’s promises of faith healing are lies. This is seen by Bethel Christians, and all other Christians, not being able to heal people with the coronavirus. It is also evident by the children who die at the hands of their Bible believing Christian parents ( https://www.deism.com/harrison.htm ). Hopefully people will realize that God gave them reason and not any of the “revealed” religions.

  11. Avatar Judy Salter says:

    I was just told that their school of supernatural ministry is still open. Is this true?

    • Avatar Candace says:

      Judy, my humble advice would be to call them and ask. That way you’ll know for sure.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      Yes, BSSM still having classes, healing rooms open last Saturday.

    • Avatar Anita Brady says:

      On Monday, Bethel communications said that they were meeting in groups of less than 50. Monday morning in locations spread across the city, but then the group size recommended by state was lowered to 10. Bethel says they are re-evaluating.

      I can’t understand why they can’t go ONLINE like other places of higher learning….

  12. Avatar Judy Salter says:

    I sent a message to
    The church but they said they regret they cannot respond to FB questions

  13. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Thank you for this article. I’m glad Bethel is taking this pandemic seriously. Temple Beth Israel just cancelled it’s community Seder. Shasta and Simpson colleges are closed. I honor you for thinking about your parents and other people in this community who are saying “Bah….nothings going to get me! Everyone is just over-reacting!”

  14. Avatar Tyrrel says:

    ‘Physical’ distancing is a better descriptor than ‘social’ distancing, i.e., we NEED social contacts at this time and can achieve same via ‘phone, text, email etc.

  15. R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

    Bethel is now shutting down all face-to-face activities. Everything’s going online starting now. From the press release:

    “In light of recent developments and recommendations, here are the latest changes at Bethel to encourage continued health in the North State:

    As of Sunday, March 15, 2020, all ministry gatherings and weekend services at Bethel campuses are postponed until further notice.

    Bethel’s ministry school (BSSM) has decided to transition fully to online school sessions.

    Bethel Christian School (Preschool-8th Grade) is transitioning all students to independent home study until further notice.”

  16. Avatar Chad Magnuson says:

    For the record, other houses of religion have cancelled gatherings as well as bethel.
    Bethel does not hold the high ground or are they being more proactive than other churches or businesses.
    I think all churches should be the first line of defense to bring in homeless people, be distribution centers for testing, food handouts, and direct services to the community.
    The way they respond to this pandemic will show how loving and caring they are to the community.

    Their actions should reflect their tax exempt benefit for everyone to see and recognize who are in it for LOVE and who are in it for the money.

  17. Avatar Stacey says:

    RV Scheide loves him some Bethel!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *