Bethel Church’s Bill Johnson Doubles Down on Divisive Culture Wars as 2024 Campaign Season Begins

Editor’s note: this story has been changed to reflect only what the article from the Atlantic states.

“This isn’t a political battle. It’s a war against pure evil.”

So states the promo video for the America Upheld California Leadership Summit and Gala, to be held in Pasadena on Sept. 16. Bethel Church senior leader Bill Johnson and failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate and professional election denier Kari Lake are the top featured speakers. Four candidates for elected office in California, including current Redding city councilwoman and AD-1 candidate Tenessa Audette will also speak at the summit.

The event is promoted by Revive California, “an association of apostolic leaders uniting to see historic revival and reformation come to California and the United States.” Bill Johnson sits on its advisory board. So does Sen. Brian Dahle.

The promo video begins with a montage of news stories that apparently represent pure evil. Gov. Gavin Newsom passing 2 bills to protect abortion rights. June being declared LGBTQ+ pride month. A gender reporting bill. Drag Queen Story Hour. Children choosing their own identity. California, “the taxpayer-funded abortion state.”

“When our freedoms are at stake we must unite!” the video states in bold text.

Cut to Rob McCoy, the overtly political pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park who gained national notoriety for bucking COVID mandates, vein bulging out the side of his neck as he claims the “free exercise of religion is necessary for a free people.” A featured speaker at the summit, McCoy now heads Turning Point USA Faith, the religious arm of Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA, the influential right-wing student organization that promotes Christian nationalism, the fascist ideology that falsely holds the United States was founded as a Christian nation with a constitution based on biblical principles.

Kirk studied under McCoy and has adopted the Seven Mountain Mandate practiced by the churches of the New Apostolic Reformation like Godspeak and Bethel. Adherents are commanded by this dominionist theology to assume control of the seven spheres of societal influence:  government, media, education, business, arts and entertainment, church, and family. “On earth as it is in heaven,” as Bethel puts it.

Next up on the promo video is featured speaker Ché Ahn, pastor of the Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, who informs us, “California is leading the nation in evil, leading the nation in wickedness.”

“Faith doesn’t deny a problem’s existence, it denies it a place of influence,” Johnson adds glibly.

“It’s up to us to ensure America does not become a memory,” Kari Lake says, doing her best Trump impersonation. “We need to fight like hell to take this country back!”

Which begs the question: fight who like hell? If this is a war against pure evil, who are the demons?


Pro-choice protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court last year. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Could it be the six in 10 voters who now support a woman’s right to an abortion in most cases, thanks to the conservative Christian U.S. Supreme Court majority’s decision to gut Roe v. Wade last year? In a series of stinging defeats in off-year elections, Republicans have effed around and found out a majority of the electorate nationwide rejects the party’s support for increasingly draconian abortion restrictions.

Of the four current candidates for office speaking at the summit, only District 12 State Senator Shannon Grove has introduced anti-abortion legislation. Grove, first elected to office in the 2010 Tea Party wave, once blamed California’s drought on its supposedly lax abortion regulations. Guest speakers Eric Ching, who’s running for the 38th Congressional District, and Elizabeth Ahlers, who’s running for State Senate District 25, are both pro-life but don’t specifically mention abortion on their campaign websites.

The same goes for Audette’s campaign website. Abortion is not specifically mentioned. The current Redding city councilwoman and former staffer for state Sen. Brian Dahle and Assemblywoman Megan Dahle is seeking Megan’s AD-1 seat as Megan runs for the senate seat being vacated by her husband. Audette is a Bethel member who has taught a religion and government class at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. During her short time in office she has voiced a healthy respect for the traditional view of separation of church and state, that is, she agrees they’re separated by a wall as Jefferson described.

In conservative AD-1, she’s facing off against two Shasta County Republicans, Melissa Hunt and Redding City Councilman Mark Mezzano. So far, abortion doesn’t appear to be an issue in the race, but it’s early days in campaign 2024.


AUHSD board member Jackie LaBarbera.

A far more likely line of Republican attack has already been pioneered in San Bernardino and Shasta counties, where parental rights movements spawned by the right-wing Christian extremist group Moms For Liberty have passed a new school board policy that forces teachers, administrators, and school counselors to disclose or “out” transgender and gender-nonconforming students to their parents or guardians, even if doing so could endanger the student’s safety.

The Chino Valley Unified School District passed the new rules, Board Policy 5020.1 on July 20; the Anderson Unified High School District passed the exact same policy, the alleged product of AUHSD board member and Moms for Liberty member Jackie Labarbera’s ad hoc committee, on Aug. 22. Here’s the passage in the new board policy regarding transgender and gender-conforming students:

“Principal/designee, certificated staff, and school counselors shall notify the parent(s)/guardian(s), in writing, within three days from the date any district employee, administrator, or certificated staff, becomes aware that a student is: (a) requesting to be identified or treated, as a gender (as defined in Education Code section 210.7) other than the student’s biological sex or gender listed on the student’s birth certificate or any other official records. This includes any request by the student to use a name that differs from their legal name (other than a commonly recognized diminutive of the child’s legal name) or to use pronouns that do not align with the student’s biological sex or gender listed on the student’s birth certificate or other official records. (b) accessing sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, or using bathroom or changing facilities that do not align with the student’s biological sex or gender listed on the birth certificate or other official records. (c) requesting to change any information contained in the student’s official or unofficial records.”

Shasta County Office of Education board member and Moms for Liberty activist Authur Gorman leads the county’s anti-trans charge.

Board Policy 5020.1 detonated loudly in both districts, instantly dividing administrators, teachers, and counselors from ultraconservative board members and their unruly followers who’ve been terrorizing local school board meetings since the early days of COVID three years ago. AUHSD California Teachers Association president Shaye Stephens said the union was advising teachers to not follow the new board policy because it’s against state law. The CTA provided its members with the following guidance:

“The Association believes that the district must follow the California Department of Education’s guidance and protect student privacy rights. The CDE’s Guidance makes clear that ‘the right of transgender students to keep their transgender status private is grounded in California’s antidiscrimination laws as well as federal and state laws. Disclosing that a student is transgender without the student’s permission may violate California’s antidiscrimination law by increasing the student’s vulnerability to harassment and may violate the student’s right to privacy.’ See the CDE’s full guidance here.

“The district has also violated the Educational Employment Relations Act (EERA), the collective bargaining law, by implementing this policy without bargaining with the union.

“If an administrator directs you to do something you believe is unlawful or improper, take these steps:

• Immediately contact your Association site representative for help.
• Object and state that the request is improper and that you’ve been so advised by union.
• Tell the administrator that if they believe this is a lawful and appropriate thing to do, then the administrator should take responsibility for doing it.
• Ask if the administrator is directing you to take the action. If they are, ask them to provide you the directive in writing.
•  If the administrator proceeds to order you to take the action, then comply with the directive and promptly notify the union.”


California Attorney General Rob Bonta has filed a lawsuit against Chino Valley Unified School District.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, California Attorney General Rob Bonta sued the Chino Valley Unified School District, declaring the new board policy’s “forced disclosure provisions unconstitutional according to the State Constitution and in violation of State law, and enjoining Chino Valley Unified School District from implementing Policy 5020.1’s forced disclosure provisions.”

Chino has 32,000 students, compared to 1600 students at AUHSD, which received a warning from Bonta. According to the California Department of Justice’s investigation of Chino, conditions for the district’s LGBTQ+ students deteriorated quickly after passage of the new board policy.

“Several teachers in the District have informed DOJ that school personnel have already disclosed several students’ gender identities to their parents or guardians without the student’s consent, and have observed that these students have experienced emotional, physical, or mental harm following the forced disclosure,” the lawsuit states.

“One teacher reported that one of his students was outed, against her wishes, within the first two days of school, leaving her in tears. Multiple teachers have described how Policy 5020.1’s forced disclosure provisions have created an environment of fear that has substantially harmed their students. One teacher shared that, since the enactment of Policy 5020.1, LGBTQ+ students are having hushed conversations about ‘which teacher is safe’ and ‘which teacher might report them.’”

We can’t have Johnny acting too gay or Jenny acting too butch.

In one training session revealed by the investigation, a principal explained to teachers how he planned to call transgender students out of class and threaten to arrange meetings with their parents or guardians unless they walked back their gender identity claims.

Citing the Trevor Project’s 2022 national survey on LGBTQ mental health, the lawsuit notes that “fewer than one in three transgender and gender nonbinary youth found their home to be gender-affirming or accepting of their gender identity. Due to these risks, many transgender and gender nonconforming students are not ‘out’ to their immediate families. Recognizing these risks, the California Department of Education has issued statewide guidance since at least 2014, generally recommending that school officials and staff members not ‘out’ students to their parents or guardians against the students’ wishes.”

“Who would have thought that if you discourage your children from taking puberty blockers and hormonal treatment, you could have your kids taken away from you for child abuse?” laments the Leadership Summit and Gala’s webpage, perhaps in reference AB 957, a bill that if passed would consider gender affirmation in custody disputes.

It’s not that opponents of puberty blockers, hormone replacement treatments, and surgical interventions don’t have legitimate concerns. As the Atlantic noted in an article earlier this year, countries like the UK and the Netherlands are now taking a more conservative approach with transgender medicine, especially with adolescents and teens as new research has emerged. Transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals and their allies need to stay apprised of these changes.


AD-1 candidate Tenessa Audette and longtime Dahle adviser Bruce Ross on Facebook live.

Audette recently appeared in a Facebook live post with longtime Dahle adviser Bruce Ross, who in this case was sharing his experience as a Redding School District board member. At issue were the scores of school board seats that are up for grabs in the 2024 election and Ross provided background on what it takes to do the job. Commenting on the recent board policy changes at Chino and AUHSD, Ross said, “I’m broadly very much for that type of parental communication.” But he also offered a well-considered hedge. “I think there is probably a way to do it sensitively in some cases and you have to be respectful. I think you should listen to the kids.”

That’s basically in alignment with existing law. As the Bonta lawsuit notes, administrators, teachers, and counselors are currently required to report a student’s change in gender to parents and guardians unless there’s evidence provided by the student or another source that indicates such reporting is inappropriate and possibly dangerous for the student.

As Ross speculated on where the Chino lawsuit might be going, Audette warmed to the topic and took it out for a trial run.

“When it comes to schools, when it comes to our kids, it’s a very personal issue,” she said. “I’m sure if you found out that kids were being baptized at school, baptized in the classroom by certain parents, you’d probably be concerned.”

Well sure we’d be concerned. That sounds an awful lot like child abuse, and it’s unconstitutional to boot. But it’s not the same thing as coming to terms with gender dysphoria in a world where perhaps one-third of the population has turned hostile toward your existence.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall in Pasadena.


If you appreciate journalist R.V. Scheide’s investigative reporting and commentary, please consider contributing to A News Cafe. Thank you.

R.V. Scheide

R.V. Scheide is an award-winning journalist who has covered news, politics, music, arts and culture in Northern California for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in the Tenderloin Times, Sacramento News & Review, Reno News & Review, Chico News & Review, North Bay Bohemian, San Jose Metro, SF Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, Alternet, Boston Phoenix, Creative Loafing and Counterpunch, among many other publications. His honors include winning the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Freedom of Information Act and best columnist awards as well as best commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists, California chapter. Mr. Scheide welcomes your comments and story tips. Contact him at RVScheide@anewscafe.com..

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