Despite COVID Rules, Bethel Leader’s Family Holds Large Shingletown Wedding Gala

The strangest thing happened Saturday in Shingletown, from 4 to 11 p.m. It was as if, just for that specific time, just for that special place, just for those very lucky, rarefied people, and just for that one incredible occasion – a fall wedding – a benevolent heavenly hand had flipped the calendar pages back, back, back more than seven months; before the pandemic.

That’s certainly how it appeared, at least to shocked Shingletown residents who scarcely believed their eyes. Some people snapped photos to document this noteworthy anomaly taking place in that normally serene wooded place.

What a sight! Look at all those cars, parked in the soft dirt near the lush forested roads, just about 30 miles east of Redding where the air is cool and clean.

What a lovely setup, like an alpine ballroom! High in the trees, strings of pretty lights illuminated tables and chairs below, allowing the festivities to last late into the night. Such a beautiful bride. Such a handsome groom.

Look at all those people – maybe hundreds! – who’d obviously followed the invitation’s instructions for “dressy casual” attire. What fun! So many well-heeled, smiling, laughing guests – family, friends and colleagues alike – none of whom seemed to have a care in the world.

See how close they are to one another, crowded around tables as they enjoy food, drink and music.

What a night to remember. No social distancing. Nary a face mask in sight. Pandemic? What pandemic?

The wedding was a Vallotton production, officiated by Kris Vallotton, No. 2 Bethel megachurch pastor, for his Vallotton grandson and his bride.

To the young Vallotton couple, congratulations.

To Kris Vallotton, are you out of your mind? What planet do you live on that this huge wedding seemed a good idea during a pandemic?  Where was your spirit of discernment when you needed it most, Kris?

Where have you been for seven months? Have you not heard about all the events – including weddings – that have been canceled, postponed or pared down to just a few people?

Wrong on so many levels

Credit where credit’s due. Because of his close contact with Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency staff since the start of the shutdowns, Vallotton knows a lot about COVID rules at this point, so he cannot claim ignorance about large gatherings. Just last week he was telling us about BSSM’s groups of five students, and circles on the baseball field to safely keep parishioners apart during outdoor Bethel services. So he’s aware.

He knew this wedding wouldn’t pass the sniff test with anyone except his family, friends and followers, many of whom attended the wedding, too.

First, the Vallotton wedding openly defied every public health mandate that bans large gatherings. Public health folks have been telling us all along that large events like weddings are some of the most high-risk virus-transmission culprits. Stories abound of COVID-infected weddings that wiped out entire families.

Please do not even go there and say I’m a wet blanket on the Vallotton kids’ wedding. Have you any idea how many brides and grooms did not get their dream-come-true 2020 wedding this year?

Second, Shingletown sources reported there appeared to be no attempts to maintain social distancing, and no masks were seen on the premises.

Third, Bethel is already being widely criticized for being a COVID super-spreader because of 274 reported coronavirus cases linked to its Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. [UPDATE: As of 10/120/2020 the number is 321] You’d think because of that, the BSSM leaders would be doing genuflecting  mea culpas to beat the band, sending flowers to Dr. Ramstrom and hiring their private plane to drag a huge messages across the sky: Please forgive us, Shasta County! Sincerely, Bethel Church.

But no. On the contrary. Apparently it didn’t dawn upon Kris Vallotton, the founder of Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, that openly breaking a baker’s dozen of public-health mandates by throwing a huge wedding would be perceived by non-Bethelites as insensitive, inconsiderate and reckless.

But forget about Vallotton, and don’t hold your breath that we’ll ever hear a word of accountability or admission of responsibility from Bethel.

The worst part of all is that the Vallotton Shingletown wedding may come to haunt us all as the pandemic domino effect falls into place, most likely starting with a few infected BSSM wedding guests who’ll infect other guests, who’ll pass it on to their families and their work places, eventually landing in a nursing home or two. And then it will spread to the rest of us, people who haven’t been holding maskless wedding parties.

And pity sweet little Shingletown, with a population that’s one-fifth the size of Bethel’s entire membership. What did Shingletown ever do to deserve that?

Even as the young Vallottons were taking their vows and washing each other’s feet (true thing), new coronavirus cases were added to the county’s weekend tally. The virus continues to move like a raging wildfire that’s threatening physical and mental health, livelihoods, businesses and our very way of life. It seems that every day there’s news of another business closure.

Here in the North State – on this very sad day, in fact – Shasta County reluctantly moves from the relatively restrictive red tier to the more highly constricted purple tier, all because of the steady climb in our COVID cases. This is extremely bad news, especially for locally owned businesses, many of which are already hanging on for dear life.

We mourn this news. We’re tired of living like this. We’re weary of waiting for the other shoe to drop, wishing for our normal boring lives back. We hear over and over: The best way to slow the spread of the coronavirus is to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Sweet Jesus, please explain why something so simple and so effective has become so politicized and so difficult?

Shingletown voices: “Infuriated!”

One Shingletown resident, who asked to not be identified, said she was angry about the wedding, for a number of reasons. For her, she said the issue wasn’t about masks, and whether guests wore them. For her, the wedding showed a disregard for the community. She said she’s infuriated that Bethel accepts no responsibility.

My problem with the whole thing is there are businesses that are going to be shuttered for good, if they haven’t been already, while this cult (in my opinion) does what they want, when they want and and where they want.

I lost a friend that had to die without her children or husband by her side, and many friends with businesses that are about ready to lose them because of the new tier.

Funerals and wedding have been cancelled due to the tier being raised on several occasions, and it’s wrong to laugh in the faces of those trying to make a living and take care of their families.

I realize that our lousy governor is responsible for the ‘rules’ but I also believe that our LOCAL government/county health official(s) are biased when it comes to members of this ‘church’ — or they’re afraid to step on their toes due to Bethel’s influence.

Sorry for the rant, but many, MANY people feel this way, and I’m sure you know that.

Another Shingletown resident, a business owner who’d been preparing her business for re-opening, had a similar perspective. She also didn’t feel comfortable using her name for fear of retaliation. She took the photos, which she apologized for being blurry, but she said she was so angry that her hands were shaking.

I’ll tell you what I know, and the reason for my anger. I own a piece of property that I don’t live on. It’s across the road from Kris Vallotton’s vacation home here in Shingletown.

My husband happened to go by there Saturday morning and saw them setting something up. As I came back into town around 6 p.m. I noticed balloons on the road sign at Highway 44, so I went down. I pulled into my driveway and took some pictures because it infuriated me.

As a direct effect of Bethel’s actions we will be opening to take-out and outdoor dining instead of inside. These restrictions seem to only affect the small businesses that have been struggling so badly.

Bethel leadership’s flippant attitude about their direct contribution is what has me angry. Mr. Vallotton posted a video stating how they were adhering to all the county’s guidelines. And then he’s officiating his grandsons wedding. It’s appalling. I have my beliefs regarding this virus, and truly believe only the vulnerable should be taking precautions, and that healthy people should be free to live their lives.

Bethel’s losing street cred

In addition to what the Shingletown residents shared, above, what made that wedding all the more egregious was it took place just days after Vallotton made a video in which he tried to talk his way out of two major Bethel messes. The first mess, which we’ve already mentioned, was in regard to 294 positive COVID cases attributed to BSSM. He detailed all the ways in which Bethel staff are doing everything possible to prevent the spread of the virus.

As an aside, there are two persistent rumors related to BSSM students and the coronavirus. First, some sources say that there are BSSM students who are under the impression that if they start feeling poorly, it’s best to just treat the symptoms and skip the test. They figure that even if they do have the coronavirus, most of those students are young and healthy, and most will fully recover fit as a fiddle and will never see a respirator. Look at the president, for example. The rationale behind those students who forgo testing is they’re aware of and feel sad about all the heat BSSM and Bethel have taken because of the high COVID numbers. Besides, these students are motivated to have things open up, too. It’s a drag doing online BSSM.

Second, there’s talk of students who tested negative, but live with COVID-positive BSSM housemates. One source said a BSSM student said a teacher advised the student that it was OK under those circumstances to carry on and serve meals to the homeless, despite the fact that housemates of infected students are supposed to be quaranteened.

Back to Vallotton and the BSSM students’ positive COVID cases. He blamed the students’ infections upon their crammed housing conditions and their comings and goings around the community. Golly, just because thousands of students come from around the world to dormless Bethel, and just because students are left to their devices for cohabitation solutions — often sardine-can style, where virus transmission is inevitable — none of that is Bethel’s fault.

Did you notice what Vallotton didn’t say? He never said how sorry he was about the BSSM students who were sick, all because BSSM lacks dorms, so students are scattered across town, sleeping and living in impossibly small spaces. Some of these students are teenagers, far away from home. Hell, they’re not even my kids and I’m worried about them! Can you imagine how scary that must be for them? No sympathy from Vallotton, just blame.

Likewise, he never acknowledged how the great number of cases would negatively impact the rest of the county, our people and our healthcare system. Plus, illnesses aside, Vallotton didn’t seem to consider students’ employers who’ll have to pay for sick time, or who’ll be left short staffed and having to compensate for the students who are quarantined or in isolation.

Omissions aside, Vallotton seemed genuine when he spoke of keeping the coronavirus away from BSSM, as well as the recent conference. Clearly he wants us to believe he’s adhering to all things public-health related: masks, social distancing, temperature-taking, questionnaires, the works.

He even said something rather poetic; that masks weren’t just about the law, but they were about love.

Last week, that line touched me, because I wanted to believe it was true. This week, it disgusts me because after the wedding, he’s coming across as a double-talking flimflam man whose word is not his bond. Frankly, he comes across as a hypocrite for making a big deal about COVID prevention at BSSM, and how much he cares for the community, but then he and a few hundred guests converge upon Shingletown for an event that people on both sides of the mask debate would agree is a terrible idea.

There’s a pattern of deception; a clever case of ask for forgiveness, not permission.

Look at how Vallotton handled the recent conference that brought more than 300 people to Bethel. Notice how he responded to the community hue and cry, especially after public health said that had they known about the conference, they wouldn’t have not allowed it.

He said gosh, the conference was in the works months ago, way back when Shasta County numbers were relatively low.

News flash No. 1, Kris: Large gatherings have been banned from the get-go early on, and you knew it. Virus numbers were moot. No large gatherings were allowed. Period.

And then he said, gosh, they couldn’t cancel because some conference-goers were already starting to arrive.

News flash No. 2, Kris: You had months to cancel, not mere days before travelers arrival.

That’s why, from now on, I will pay less attention to Bethel leaders’ words, and more attention to their deeds and actions. It’ll be less complicated that way.

In the non-Bethel world, normal people feel embarrassed when called out for dishonesty, hypocrisy, arrogance and whatnot. Not Vallotton. Every negative word spoken against him is proof that he’s doing God’s work, and those haters who attack him are of Satan. Plus, if he’s being persecuted, then he gets to play the victim card, such as this statement he put on social media this weekend, presumably after taking some heat over the fact that his precious BSSM is now looked at as contagion ground zero.

Who knows what Vallotton was drinking at that wedding, but that message is a piece of work. He thinks that the community holding Bethel accountable for COVID cases is a bullseye on his chest?

This is the plight of the world-changers“?

Oh, please, not another martyr! And for the record, Kris, the 321 cases has left more impact than we bargained for here in Shasta County. We cry uncle!

And by the way, Kris, perhaps the word you’re looking for is vectors, not victors.

Beni blunders

Then came the second mess Vallotton was required to clean up on Aisle 3: the video by loose-cannon Beni Johnson, herself a Bethel colleague, pastor, church founder and senior leader. Oh yeah, and she’s married to Bethel’s head honcho pastor, Bill Johnson.

The ugliness revolved around Beni Johnson and her daughter who’d taken a trip to the coast, to a place where people take COVID-prevention measures seriously. Johnson had the unmitigated bad judgement to post an Instagram video taken in a little seaside town in which the Johnson women mocked the compliant residents, said they’d not get any of her money, and she said masks were frickin’ stupid and didn’t work.

That story, first published here on Food for Thought/A News Cafe, went viral.

So when Vallotton addressed the mother-daughter duo in his own video, he minimized Johnson’s video and explained that the church has a variety of voices, and Johnson is just one person in a big organization. Vallotton said, for example, that he posts stuff on Instagram all the time and doesn’t check with Bill Johnson first. That’s just how free and easy and open they are.

I wonder if that applies to those Bethel leaders who’d like to share their contrary thoughts about gay-conversion therapy?

Johnson, who may be new to the art of the apology, finally posted an anemic apology on Instagram, few people – except for her friends, family and followers – believed she was sincere.

Even so, the dust had not even fully settled from Johnson’s video when oh my gosh, she went and did it again. She posted on Instagram! This time, she shared a post on Instagram of Dennis Prager mocking the governor. Prager is a conservation talk show host and writer.

Once again, the pandemic is a source of hilarity for Johnson, just days after the Instagram post that garnered her worldwide outrage, and a few days after her non-apology apology.

Broadcasting bad behavior

What’s strange, in both the case of Johnson and Vallotton, is they do things that surely they can see will cause community consternation and criticism. Yet not only do they plow ahead and do those things anyway, but then they turn around and post them on social media for all to see. When they do that, they’re advertising their poor choices.

Do they want Shasta County to hate them?

Maybe they’re like little kids who need attention, and they crave it so much that they don’t care what form the attention comes: a hug or a swat. It’s attention either way.

Case in point, first Beni Johnson posted the callous video on Instagram with no thought about how it would be perceived. And then days later the Vallottons posted photos of the wedding all over social media, too, right there on kvministries, no less, under his profile and his smiling mug: Kris Vallotton -Reformer, lover, father and husband…follower of Jesus. Check out my latest book – Spiritual Intelligence. #thesqbook

The Vallotton wedding was a slap in the face to every Shasta County resident who’s now languishing in the coronavirus purple tier, every business owner who struggles to stay afloat, every person who would love to turn back the clocks and live as if there’s no pandemic, every person who’s contracted COVID-19, or lost someone to it, every grandparent locked down in a skilled nursing facility, every high school football player or college baseball player who’s missing entire sports seasons.

The wedding was proof that Vallotton gave zero consideration to practicing what he says he’s preaching to the BSSM students. And all that talk about loving the community and caring for it? That seems doubtful, too, since he said that masks are about love, and the wedding looked like a mask-free zone. So much for showing the love.

Vallotton, the grandfather of the groom, was not solely culpable. Bill Johnson, Bethel’s lead pastor, and Beni Johnson, accepted invitations to the wedding, and could have talked some sense into the Vallottons.

Rules are for losers?

We’re nearly eight months into this pandemic. Even if we’ve not lost a loved one, we’ve all lost so much ground, and sleep and peace of mind as we’ve navigated these rough, uncertain roads.

Raise your hand if in the last seven months you’ve missed out on weddings, funerals, birthdays, vacations and special occasions with loved ones. I see your hands, and I raise mine, too. The holidays are coming, and all across the world people will eat meals alone, or with one or two people.

It’s a whole other magical reality for the Vallottons and Johnsons of the world, where rules don’t apply to them, where they don’t even have to pretend that they care for this community, because although they’re in this world, they’re not of this world.

A word for Bethel leaders

As long as you’re alive, you’re stuck with us non-Bethelites here in this city in the valley, a place that will never look like Paris, because that’s not who we are.

The longer you break the rules, the more you throw big parties, the more you refuse to wear masks, the more you mock the compliant, fake medical exemptions, hassle Costco staff and relegate BSSM students to living in garages and closets, the higher our COVID numbers will climb.

The higher Shasta County COVID numbers climb, the more businesses that will close, not just restaurants and cute little shops, but grocery store chains and airlines. And if the day comes when the bride and groom have a baby, I hope you weren’t expecting to visit that grandbaby in the nursery. Sorry, closed until further notice. Same with Porsche dealerships, and oh yes, Bethel Church and BSSM.

What a world that would be.

And then, when it comes time to complain and find blame and point fingers, you’ll find the culprit staring back at you from your mirror.


Note: Special thanks to those who’ve provided background information, tips, links, photos, videos and research for this story and others. I respect your wishes to remain anonymous, but you know who you are. I thank you sincerely for your assistance, and want you and readers to know how much I appreciate you. – Doni

Doni Chamberlain

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

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