REDDING, Calif. — Bethel Church, led by Bill Johnson, is raising new concerns after it posted to its Facebook page on Thursday that its program for those who struggle with homosexuality has never had the message of “all must change,” suggesting that those who “feel fulfilled and happy as [they] are” aren’t required by God to repent. Bethel has raised many concerns over the years for its unorthodox teachings and practices, such as “grave soaking” and the purported sightings of falling gold dust and feathers during services.
“God loves all people, LGBTQ+ and straight. The message of CHANGED has never been ‘All Must Change,'” it wrote. “We share these stories specifically for Christians who are unfulfilled in identifying as LGBTQ+. For those of you who feel fulfilled and happy as you are, we love you!”
“God doesn’t force people to change, and people — including Christians — shouldn’t force others to change, either. We stand against any and all forms of shame, manipulation, force, humiliation, or physical harm in so-called ‘ministry’ or therapy,” Bethel continued. “CHANGED is a safe space for Christians seeking an alternative to LGBTQ+ as they follow their faith according to their personal convictions.”
The post generated mixed reaction from commenters, with some defending the status as not really saying what it implies, and others chastising Bethel for unbiblical teaching.
“[The post] doesn’t say that being LGBTQ isn’t a sin; it says we still love you! God gives us all free will and He does not force us to change or to conform. And neither should we,” one commenter wrote. “We need to love even though we may not agree with them. It is the Spirit working in them that will change them. We don’t love when we demand they change; let God do the work!”
“Yes! It is not for me to judge. It is for me to love,” another remarked. “I cannot believe this gender agenda has taken our eyes off Christ. Did you learn to love, or did you learn to condemn? The love of Christ makes us want to become what He says we are, not what the world teaches.”
“The message of CHANGED might not be ‘all must change,’ but the message of the gospel is in fact that we all must be changed. ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). When we come to Christ, we can’t stay where we are, for ‘we all … are being changed into the same image’ (2 Corinthians 3:18),” a third noted.
“We can never be fulfilled living in sin. Only God fulfills us, ‘For he satisfies the longing soul’ (Psalm 107:9),” they continued. “Ultimately, ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ says it all. So, yes. Be changed. Because we were never meant to live fallen in sin.”
“Repentance means doing a full 180° turn, and if that doesn’t mean change, I don’t know what does,” another stated. “Being born again, our hearts change, our desires should change, and our actions should follow suit. You cannot thrive or survive in the faith if you remain entirely in the shadows of your old life.”
“Thank you Bethel Church, Redding for affirming me. I love to steal and take things that aren’t mine without a lawful transaction. I covet a lot. But, I’m at peace with it, I’m completely happy. Theft gives me such a thrill and joy, and coveting really motivates me,” a one sarcastically commented. “So thank you for affirming that I just need to follow my faith according to my own personal convictions. I know God says otherwise, but He loves me anyways, and I don’t need to change that for Him.”
Bethel Church has generated much controversy over the years, as a number of remarks from leadership have been called into question.
“It’s difficult to expect the same fruit of the early Church when we value a book they didn’t have more than the Holy Spirit they did have. It’s not Father, Son and Holy Bible,” Bill Johnson said in a sermon clip posted online in 2009.
In a 2011 sermon entitled “Your Identity as Sons of God,” Kris Vallotton, the co-founder of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, had those in attendance repeat statements after him such as “I am amazing,” “I rock,” “Nations are attracted to me because I’m so good looking and I have the mind of Christ,” “He actually likes me and I like me too” and “If you got to know me, you would like me.”
Various photos online also show members of Bethel visiting cemeteries to try to soak up the anointing of the deceased, including the graces of John G. Lake, Smith Wigglesworth and others. While Johnson has stated that he does not endorse the practice, and Vallotton once said that he had never heard of the idea, some note that photos online show Johnson’s wife Beni laying on the tombstone of C.S. Lewis and hugging the tombstone of Charles Finney. See here and here.
Videos show Bethel claiming to have had a “glory cloud” appear at their services, also known as gold dust. One video posted outside of a Benny Hinn meeting shows a woman allegedly with Bethel behaving strangely as she laughs over and over and makes claims such as “we’re all loved no matter what theology believe.”
According to reports of an online exchange inquiring about Bethel’s practices, in 2012 one questioning person asked, “Hi Bill, I was wondering why you have things at Bethel that cannot be found in the Bible like fire tunnels, angel feathers, gold dust, soaking prayer, glory clouds, healing rooms, etc. Can you please explain? I have some very good friends at Bethel and I am concerned for their spiritual well being. The videos on YouTube with the fire tunnels are very, very, alarming.”
“We also have altar calls, video cameras, paid counselors, children’s church, youth groups, Sunday school. None of which are in the Bible,” Johnson replied. “Is praying for people, prayer, or healing in the Bible? That is what we do. The feathers, gold dust, etc. are not things we do. They happen. … Why do they happen? Ask the One who does them. Rather than assume they are not biblical because you’ve not experienced them, search the Scriptures. Clouds, glory, and even feathers are in the Bible.”