Bethel Church Embraces Socialism, Rakes in $1.7 Million in COVID Funding

Bill Johnson, lead pastor of the 11,000-member mega-congregation Bethel Church in Redding. Photo source: bjm.org.

It’s safe to say that Bethel senior leader Bill Johnson is no socialist. If he hadn’t done so earlier, the self-appointed local apostle and prophet made his opposition to liberté, égalité, fraternité publicly known in November 2016, in an opinion column justifying his vote for newly elected President Donald J. Trump.

In fact, Johnson devoted two longish paragraphs against socialism; it appears to be the primary reason he voted for Trump. I quote them in their entirety here, so nothing can be taken out of context:

“I found that God gives us the ability to make wealth, and that merely giving people money without work can create a lifestyle of dependency that is dangerous for them and our government. The failed liberal agenda espoused by Clinton actually creates the problems they claim to fix. I also found that often times the welfare system masquerades as compassionate when it actually robs people of their much-needed self-esteem gained in their ability to work. Each person has the right to work to create wealth for their families in order to break the cycle of systemic poverty. This is the heart God for every household of every race. The problem won’t be fixed by merely throwing money at the problem. But neither will it be fixed without throwing money at the problem. People compassionately helping people is desperately needed. It is also the privileged responsibility of any society to care for those who cannot care for themselves.”

I apologize. It goes on:

“I found that socialism is contrary to Jesus and His teachings. He strongly taught of the importance of giving to the poor. But when he talked about taking from the one person who had one talent (a sum of money) and gave it to the one who had the most, He disqualified himself from being a socialist. Socialism robs people of personal identity and liberty at the expense of national control and power. The liberal agenda, of which Clinton takes center stage, embraces this theme proudly. When government takes from the rich to give to the poor they rob the wealthy of the self-esteem gained from being a part of the solution through compassion. I cannot call it compassion if I take your money and give to someone in need. It’s only compassion when I give my own.”

In Johnson’s interpretation of the Parable of the Talents, Jesus is literally an ardent capitalist (and therefore without a soul). The master rewards the two servants who invested their gold with usurers and punishes the servant who played it safe and buried it.

Some leftist Christians make the servant who buried the gold the hero of the story. The point here is Johnson’s a righty. A far-righty even. A far-righty-tighty-whitey.

As the leader of the megachurch in our midst and a Christian music and media empire that earned $60.8 million in 2017-18, Johnson’s the last person you’d expect to find with lips wrapped firmly ‘round the federal government teat.

Nevertheless, various Bethel entities, including Bethel Music, Bethel Media and the Bethel School of Technology, have collected at least $1.7 million from the federal government since the coronavirus pandemic began last year. Most of the funds have come from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, the CARES Act passed last March with bipartisan support.

Bethel is not alone. Religious media watchdog Trinity Foundation reports that, “At least $78.6 million in loans were given to religious TV networks, independent religious TV stations, TV preachers, and churches/media ministries with national TV programs.”

Bethel Music, Bethel Media and the Bethel School of Technology all appear on its database of PPP and EIDL fund recipients.

Noting that the PPP loans are forgivable, the foundation suggests megachurches that preach prosperity gospel and applied for funding, as Bethel does and did, “should rethink their support of the prosperity gospel, because it is clearly not working for them.”

At any rate, the separation between church and state is too permeable to be called a wall when it comes to federal COVID-19 relief funding. Churches and their various ministries, TV networks, record labels and parachurch activities are treated like any other 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, as long as they adhere to certain guidelines, which is why many religious organizations refrain from overt political activities that were once-upon-a-time disqualifying.

Unfortunately, nowadays, Bethel and the other right-wing evangelical Christian sects that form a significant portion of former president’s Trump’s cult-like base have blown past any resistance the tattered remnants of the Johnson Amendment might have offered. Bill Johnson (no relation to the amendment!) recently remarked that he was 100 percent certain Trump lost because of election fraud, shamelessly, without presenting any evidence.

Church and state aside, not to mention mental-health issues, the watchdog Trinity Foundation asks why, “Should a federal government $27 trillion in debt, forgive multi-million-dollar loans to cash-rich non-profit organizations?”

For an example of cash-rich, consider Bethel Music, which according to the COVID Bailout Tracker, received an $852,200 forgivable PPP loan. That’s nearly $1 million. As the Trinity Foundation notes on it database, Bethel Music claimed 58 employees on its PPP loan application but reported no employees on its 2018 Form 990, the tax document nonprofits file with the IRS.

Neither are employees listed on Bethel Music’s 2017 Form 990 , but it does list “1500 volunteers.” That tax year, Bethel Music, headed by Bill Johnson’s son Brian Johnson, netted $1.4 million in income with net assets of $4.3 million.

Bethel Media, headed by Bethel No. 2 Pastor Kris Vallotton, claimed 77 employees on its application and received a $496,300 PPP loan. PPP loans are forgivable if the borrower meets specific criteria, including the preservation of jobs. According to the Trinity Foundation, Bethel Media reported $2.5 million in total assets and no employees on its Form 990 for 2018, the latest year available. Bethel Media includes Bethel TV, the church’s premium subscription web-based TV channel.

Moral Revolution, Vallotton’s attempt to revive the 1990’s sexual purity movement, appears to be faring less well financially than other Bethel ministries, long before COVID-19. It lists four employees and 10 volunteers on its 2018 Form 990 with a net income of $2,078 and $38,921 in net assets. Yet Moral Revolution received a $67,400 PPP loan and a $4 million EIDL last year.

The Bethel School of Technology claimed 23 employees and received a $230,000 PPP loan but has no employees listed on its most recent Form 990, according to the Trinity Foundation. Bill Johnson Ministries with three employees and three volunteers had a net loss of -$34,115 with net assets of $1,318,390 in . BJM received a $3000 EIDL. Unlike PPP loans, EIDL loans are not forgivable.

Bethel worship leader Sean Feucht checking out the bills.

Which brings us to the now infamous Redding resident and New Age Christian minstrel Sean Feucht. The Bethel worship leader is sometimes referred to in these pages as the Plague Rat, after he led his merry musical band on a maskless tour of the United States during a raging pandemic, supposedly in the name of religious freedom.

Feucht, which rhymes with adroit, received a $20,800 PPP loan he’ll probably never pay back and a $129,700 EIDL that he most definitely has to pay back, with favorable terms, even if it takes 30 years. On its 2018 Form 990, Sean Feucht Ministries listed one employee and a net loss of -$50,096 with net assets of $315,861.

That’s “loss” as in “loser.”

Yet the worm has seemingly turned for Feucht since he began riding the COVID-19 backlash last summer, ironically financed by a $130,000 economic impact disaster loan from the federal government he claims is out to get him because it allegedly won’t let him and his tribe worship outside during a raging pandemic.

The truth is Feucht & Company have rarely been prohibited from performing, if ever. In many locations, the city powers-that-be actually welcomed the anti-science maskless missionaries to town. But let’s indulge Feucht. Here he is on FOX after Seattle fenced off a park and his band played in the street under the guise it was a religious protest, not a religious service.

“What we’ve experienced across America especially with the churches being closed and these Godless politicians that are taking aim at the church, people are rising up, there’s a backlash that’s growing,” Feucht complained.

Godless politicians? What’s Feucht smoking? There’s nothing rarer than an atheist in Congress.

FOX was just one of many media outlets that covered Feucht’s virus-spewing federally funded “Let Us Worship” concert tour across the United States. The abundant coverage meant one thing to Feucht: More sales! It’s the Parable of the Talents all over again. Bill Johnson must be so proud.

During the entire tour, Feucht flogged his wares at the shows and on social media platforms, whipping up funds from the sale of “Let Us Worship” and “Hold the Line” swag, begging for cash donations for an Airstream trailer restoration project, hawking streaming audio of each show almost as soon as the band exited the stage.

A member of the closed Facebook group Investigating Bethel recently pointed out the snappy-dressing worship leader has been sporting a $604 pair of Adidas Yeezy designer running shoes on stage.

Perhaps those $600 sneakers allegedly designed by Kanye West account for posts such as the following from Feucht:

“We just got our invoices for our NYE LA worship rally and need to raise $175 K in TWO WEEKS. This includes our costs for sound, lighting, audio and security. I believe God will provide for our every need.”

But just in case, he adds:

“Will you close out 2020 by helping Let Us Worship bring the Kingdom of God to a moment of crisis? Every dollar will go to our New Year revival.”

Donors were encouraged to contribute from $25 up to $2000 to the New Year’s Eve rally’s alleged $175,000 deficit.

I did my part by purchasing, for eight bucks and change, the “Let Us Worship” concert recorded live on The Mall at Washington, D.C. on Oct. 25 last year, the same day anti-abortion jurist Amy Coney Barrett was approved by the Republican Senate majority for the U.S. Supreme Court. Feucht was clearly aware of the day’s historical significance and called for insurrection months before Trump’s mob raided the Capitol on Jan. 6.

He sang:

In the presence of my enemy,
Louder than the armory,
My weapon is a melody,
Heaven comes to fight for me.

Then a female singer with a much better voice sang the same lyrics. The musicians were competent on drums, bass, keyboard and guitars, but the hooks were infrequent, the forays into male/female duets too maudlin, the synthesized string sections and bombastic drum beats too manipulative, and the relationship between father, son and daughter too inappropriate for this critic to appreciate.

Nonetheless, it’s easy to see why this trance-inducing music appeals to its arm-raising, pogoing adherents.

As worship leader, Feucht switched between singer, band leader and sideshow barker, riling the crowd up to sing along. He sold the D.C. show like he was Doolittle flying over Tokyo.

“We’re not going to stop praising and I pray tonight that God, this worship will take over America, the streets of America, the streets of the nations of the world, raise up a worship movement that’s filled with courage and boldness … unashamed!”

Unashamed to take federal money, that’s for sure. But no doubt too ashamed to admit he and his ilk are a mixed economic lot, capitalist/socialists, just like the rest of us.

I requested comment from both Bethel and Feucht on this story but have yet to hear from either. I imagine Feucht is too busy spinning his talent into gold to reply. If I accused Bill Johnson of being on the federal government’s teat, I suppose he would say something like this:

“The problem won’t be fixed by merely throwing money at the problem. But neither will it be fixed without throwing money at the problem.”

Nice fallback, Bill, you sliver-tongued devil.

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.

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