Put on the Brake, Jake; Get a New Plan, Man

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Double doors flanked by red-and-white striped awnings lead to the Greater Redding Chamber of Commerce headquarters in the heart of downtown Redding.

The good news is that Jake Mangas, the bright and energetic Redding native who’s the Greater Redding Chamber of Commerce President/CEO, has a well-functioning inner voice.

The bad news is that sometimes he seems to turn a deaf ear to it.

Redding Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jake Mangas.

Some background: You may recall last year when Mangas wrote his November 2019 “Jake’s Take” column, “Hate Speech and Bethel Church”. In it, he defended the Redding megachurch Bethel Church. He scolded such Facebook groups as Bethel Affiliated Businesses and Investigating Bethel, as well as individuals who harshly criticized Bethel. As his headline suggested, he believed that those who did so were committing hate speech.

Journalist R.V. Scheide took exception to “Jake’s Take” and wrote an open letter to Mangas that said so. He explained why he believed Mangas was making a bad move by backing Bethel.

Here’s an excerpt: 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.

At the time, my take on “Jake’s Take: Hate Speech and Bethel Church” was twofold: On the one hand that column struck me as not just supportive of Bethel Church and critical of its critics, but the piece seemed obsequiously fawning and gratuitous of the controversial megachurch. My hunch was it had something to do with human nature’s unholy trinity: power, influence and money.

On the other hand, I put myself in Mangas’ shoes as head of the Greater Redding Chamber of Commerce. Let’s face it, for better or for worse, aside from the heat and the Sundial Bridge, one of Redding’s greatest claims to fame is Bethel Church, a massive, powerful organization that has garnered international fame and colossal fortune. It’s put Redding on the map, whether we like it or not.

How powerful is Bethel? In the political realm, Bethel is so powerful that when election time rolls around, many candidates – such as Doug LaMalfa, Brian Dahle, Julie Winter and others – make sure they’re videotaped chatting with Bethel’s No. 2 guy, Kris Vallotton. No surprise, even Bethel’s most famous plague rat, Sean Feucht, had Vallotton’s support during Feucht’s failed campaign attempt. Speaking of Feucht, he was just one of a number of Bethel folks who were in the Oval Office with President Trump. Feucht can be seen touching Trump’s arm.

(Note from Doni: Somebody correct me if I’m wrong, but one source claimed that more than a dozen people in this photo had Bethel Church ties.)

The IRS must be asleep at the wheel when this happens, because these videos venture into that supposedly forbidden arena where religious not-for-profit organizations are banned from endorsing political positions and candidates, something Vallottan has flagrantly violated from the pulpit. No wonder Bethelites feel impervious to catching the ‘rona. The IRS won’t touch Bethel, either. Call it a miracle.

Kris Vallotton complained that trolls keep taking down his interview with Brian Dahle. Source: Facebook screen grab.

At any rate, the Vallotton candidate interviews provide implicit Bethel blessing for those particular candidates. This all but guarantees Bethel members’ votes for those candidates, which is significant because Bethel followers make up about 10 percent of Redding’s population. And of those more than 10,000 Bethel folks, many of them are Redding business owners. And many of those are Chamber members.

Each Chamber business member pays dues. The more dues paid, the more money the Chamber has for things like salaries, and political contributions, not to mention the fetching new Chamber headquarters on Pine Street, which sits on the graveyard of Redding’s dearly departed Greyhound Bus depot.

Photo by Doni Chamberlain before the demolition of Redding’s Greyhound bus depot.

(One day I may get over the destruction of that historic place. Today is not that day.)

The November 2019 Jake’s Take was a mere wisp of a memory in our shiny-object issue-attention cycle, until almost two weeks ago, with the publication of Jake’s Take: “It’s a Time for Grace”.

Jake’s Take: It’s a Time for Grace, by Jake Mangas

September 30, 2020
When I think of the word “grace” in a secular sense, I come to think of it as being courteous, patient, tolerant, even when (especially when!) someone may express a view or opinion that is different than my own. We are in a place and time in our country in which it is commonplace to instead label the opposition, shout back, whether that is on social media, during a Presidential Debate, or at a local, public meeting. Decorum is at a deficit.

This weekend I was invited by local film company, Speropictures, to attend the first public viewing of a full-length documentary focused on the women of the family and administration of the current President of the United States. I knew that because it is THIS President at THIS time anything I were to post on my Facebook page would become a partisan punch out. Still, after much internal debate, I chose to do it anyway.

Would I have posted it if it were about President Obama? Yes. I did it because it was about celebrating a win for a Redding company, not about what people choose to do with their ballots on November 3rd.

It would be naive of me to expect people to not “go there” in terms of firing up their political passions. I guess it is just a reminder that many of us are on edge at this time of disruption and uncertainty. Human beings can only handle so much before we start using the primitive “fight or flight” portion of our brain and move away from the logic of the cerebral cortex ( I hope I got that right…It’s been many moons since I took a Psychology class).

The point is that whether the hot button topic is the current election season, the merits of wearing masks to slow the spread of COVID-19, kneeling or standing for the National Anthem, or any other issue of the day, it is a time to find the inner peace to show grace to those around us. I know I could use some help in that department as well. Source: The Greater Redding Chamber of Commerce website, by Chamber CEO Jake Mangas.

 

“The Trump I Know” – a Matthew Thayer film by Redding-based Speropictures,

Frank Treadway, Redding Democratic political activist (and writer whose articles have appeared on FFT/ANC), said he was shocked and upset to see on the Chamber’s Facebook page, “Jake’s Take: The Trump I Know, a documentary by Speropictures of Redding”. He couldn’t believe a film obviously in favor of President Trump would be on the Chamber’s official Facebook page.

Treadway said he called Mangas and the two had a long conversation in which Treadway told Mangas he’d made a huge mistake. He told Mangas he should remove references to the documentary from the Chamber Facebook page as it was politically partisan.

“In my view the Chamber should remain neutral and non-partisan, especially during this very tense and controversial election year,” Treadway said.

“Jake told me he’d put that documentary on the page on his own, without consulting any Chamber board member. I thought to myself, ‘I guess they’ve given him carte blanche’. He explained to me why he did this, that Speropictures is a Chamber member, and thought it would be good publicity for them and the documentary,” Treadway said.

“I said that even if it was a documentary on Biden or some other Democrat, I’d still be opposed to having a partisan piece on the Chamber Facebook page. He then said he’d promise to bring it up at a meeting with the Chamber board on Tuesday, October 13.”

Frank said he told Mangas that he thought Tuesday was too late to wait; that the post should be removed immediately. As of this writing, a revised version of the post is still up, one that Treadway says doesn’t resemble the original post he saw on the Chamber page.

It’s worth noting that although I’ve attached a hyperlink (above) to the September 30 “Jake’s Take – It’s a Time for Grace” – this, according to Treadway, and other sources, is a far cry from the first post that prominently featured “The Trump I Know” at the top of the post, plus a live video link to a clip of the film. Both are gone now. Nowhere in the current version is “The Trump I Know” mentioned.

Connecting the dots …

I logged onto the Greater Redding Chamber of Commerce page to check out the site, and was greeted by a nicely done video, “We are the Chamber” – about the Greater Redding Chamber of Commerce. The first clip starred From the Hearth, a Bethel-affiliated restaurant chain.

I watched until the end, to the film’s creator. Guess who? Speropictures, the same company that created the documentary, “The Trump I know”. Its owners, Joy and Matthew Thayer, are Chamber members. Guess what? They’re also affiliated with Bethel Church.

More and more, when one follows the dots to big things happening in Redding, the dots lead to Bethel. One of the first atta-boys directed to Mangas with regard to the Grace post was Bret Christensen, a Bethel deacon.

“Some wise words from my pal Jake Mangas,” Christensen wrote below the Mangas post. “We’re blessed to have you as a leader in our town, my friend.”

Connect the dots. Christensen helped with marketing for Redding City Council mayor/candidate Adam McElvain’s 2016 campaign. McElvain is a partner at Pacific Sky Marketing Elevated, where Christensen is a co-partner.

McElvain is currently endorsed by the Chamber in this 2020 election.

The dots continue, from person to person, sometimes to the point where some people have no clue the part Bethel is playing in local education, government, media, culture, commerce and religion.

(Note: 1 p.m. 10/2020 update: I incorrectly stated that Bret Christensen was McElvain’s current campaign manager. The text above reflects that revision. My apologies for the error.

The Chamber has many members, some of whom attend Bethel. The Chamber also has members who attend other places of worship. Likewise, surely the  Chamber has members who are atheist, and the Chamber may even have some members whose idea of church is sitting on a beach and staring at the ocean, or walking among giant redwoods, or pulling weeds.

It’s challenging enough to be a Redding business owner during the best of times, but now, during a pandemic that’s threatened so many businesses, and during a tanked economy, and during a contentious political season, and while wildfire smoke still lingers, the Redding Chamber of Commerce needs to offer rock-solid support and inclusion for all its members. The last thing Chamber members need is another source of polarization, controversy and confusion.

As I’ve admitted, I attended Bethel (then Assemblies of God) Church in my youth. Despite the fact I do not agree with today’s Bethel Church, I still retain a great fondness, affection and even love for some original Bethel members.

However, here in 2020, to have knowledge of the reality of Bethel and all that it represents, and then turn a blind eye to the facts, and fully embrace this organization, one must ignore a lot. So many bitter Bethel pills to swallow.

You must ignore the fact that Bethel’s No. 1 pastor, Bill Johnson, co-authored a book that extols the 7 Mountain Mandate, a primer about how followers can take over every segment of previously secular society: Religion, family, education, government, media, arts and, yes, business.

You must overlook Bethel’s belief in the merits of gay-conversion therapy (hate the sin, love the sinner), along with the matching clobber scriptures that demonize LGBTQ+ folks.

And most recently, you must ignore the fact that so many Bethel Church members have tested positive for the coronavirus that Shasta County is now into the red zone, poised to soon transition into the even-more restrictive purple zone, putting the entire North State at risk.

Thanks, Bethel.

Sure, anyone can get sick, and anyone can accidentally infect another human being with a virus, but overall, Bethel believers are notorious for not just recklessly ignoring the public health mandates, but openly mocking them, as Beni Johnson, wife of pastor Bill Johnson, has done with great glee, and when she does wear a mask, it’s to protect herself from smoke, not to help protect others and herself from COVID-19.

I won’t even get into the truly crazy-ass signs and wonders that attract people from around the world to Bethel, such as feathers floating in the sanctuary, and glory glitter clouds, “grave-sucking” antics, being drunk in the spirit, and even the unthinkable incident of trying to raise 2-year-old little Olive from the dead.

The point is, that’s the short list of examples that suggest why even though Bethel Church members may also be dues-paying Chamber members – and impressively creative ones to boot – when the Chamber hops into bed with Bethel Church, or politicians, or both, that kind of risky behavior can tarnish the Chamber’s reputation.

The unlikely bedfellows of Bethel and the Chamber can also put doubt in the minds of residents and Chamber members alike who may not share Jake’s take on his Bethel buddies, or most recently, the Chamber board’s stance on political candidates, whose campaign signs are displayed outside the Chamber building, leaving no doubt who’s on the Chamber’s dance card.

I’m not suggesting that Mangas can’t have his Bethel pals, but I would caution him to cool it so the other non-Bethel kids don’t start to think he’s playing favorites.

For the Redding Chamber to go, as Scheide put it, “full Bethel” –  it puts all Chamber members in the untenable position of wondering where they fit, if they fit, and whether they must choose sides: for or against Bethel.

For that matter, as the Chamber seems to grow increasingly political, it also puts members in the potentially uncomfortable position of being for or against Donald Trump when they see Mangas talk about attending a screening for “The Trump I know”, or being for or against Redding City Council candidates Julie Winter or Adam McElvain, or for or against Megan Dahle for state assembly, or for or against Steve Morgan for Shasta County Supervisor. Not that any are necessarily inherently good or bad choices, but they’re Chamber choices, all the same.

But what do I know? I’m not a Chamber member. Maybe all the members are happy as can be with the way things are.

Even so, from a public-relations position, all is not lost for the Chamber. For what it’s worth, twice now, when Mangas has tackled potentially polarizing topics, he’s acknowledged his reservations. You can see the pattern:

Nov. 19, 2019: I have been debating whether or not to put this out there. In fact, my palms are perspiring on the keyboard as I type this because I am well aware of the emotional response it is likely to evoke. However, I think something needs to be said …

Sept. 30, 2020 – 2:43 p.m.: “ … I knew that because it is THIS President at THIS time anything I were to post on my Facebook page would become a partisan punch out. Still, after much internal debate, I chose to do it anyway …

I believe Mangas is a good guy; a passionate, hardworking young man with a lot to offer our city. There’s an easy fix to prevent future Jake’s Take mistakes, similar to a former editor’s advice to write drunk, edit sober.

First, Mangas should pay attention to his gut. Obviously, it works. If he finds himself writing some version of, “I probably shouldn’t be writing this,” then that’s a three-alarm indicator that maybe Jake should put on the brakes, make a new plan, and Take 2 on Jake’s Take.

Second, if Mangas does write something that rings even the tiniest bell of doubt, he might seek another opinion from a level-headed, well-grounded board member, or trusted loved one.

Finally, for future consideration regarding the Chamber’s ongoing Bethel Church connection, for the sake of the community, I hope the Chamber can walk that fine line between supporting its Bethel Chamber members – just as it would any other member – while turning down the heat on its Bethel Church love affair.

After all, what would it benefit the Chamber if it gained Bethel, but lost the Chamber’s soul?

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. 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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