Bill Johnson

The Daily Beast trips covering Bethel Church and America's current heroine -- Megan Rapinoe

The Daily Beast trips covering Bethel Church and America's current heroine -- Megan Rapinoe

One often wonders how seriously to take reporting at The Daily Beast; replete as it can be with advocacy journalism, big blaster headlines and your basic clickbait material.

This is why I can’t get too upset with their latest mash-up — a combo of World Cup soccer headlines and a shoddy report on northern California’s Bethel Church. Their headline tries to say it all: “Bethel Church in Redding, California, is pro-Trump, believes in conversion therapy, and endorses ‘faith healing’ and ‘dead raising’ — far cry from its most famous resident.”

That resident just happens to be the purple-haired, out-lesbian, all-world soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who just led the U.S. national women’s team to victory at the World Cup.

It’s too bad the reporter didn’t actually visit Redding but instead relied on material from other publications. It would also help if he checked spellings of words such as “Pentecostal” and understood that the Assemblies of God is not a congregation, it’s a denomination. Factual errors like those near the top of this kind of story mar any further reporting attempts.

I’ll pick up the story here:

Rapinoe’s international celebrity has put Redding and its political fault lines in the spotlight. But the politics of Redding are complicated beyond simple party affiliations, in part because the town is also home to another divisive, wildly successful, cultural claim to fame: the Bethel Church. The multimillion-dollar revivalist megachurch has stirred controversy in Rapinoe’s hometown and throughout the religious world for its embrace of consumerist Christianity, extensive gay conversion therapy programs (Rapinoe is an out lesbian), and semi-mystical practices. Bethel members believe that miracles can occur on earth, and YouTube is filled with footage of their efforts: from faith healing, to “fire tunneling” (where members form a “tunnel” with two lines and speak in tongues to people passing through), to “grave sucking”—where someone lies on a grave to “suck up” the dead person’s blessings.

“Semi-mystical practices?” The New Testament also alleges that miracles can and do occur. The New Testament is rather mainstream material for a billion or two people living on this planet.

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Buzzfeed takes the time to dig into Bethel Church and gets this complex story right

Buzzfeed takes the time to dig into Bethel Church and gets this complex story right

One of the most intriguing churches in the country is Bethel Church in northern California. If there is a Jesus movement among today’s millennials, Bethel is its epicenter.

Despite the thousands of visitors this place receives from around the world, its influence has gone almost unnoticed by the media, which tends to be clueless about current trends among Pentecostals and charismatics.

Fortunately, reporters are beginning to discover Bethel via a book by two scholars affiliated with the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture. The authors of "The Rise of Network Christianity" have been planting guest editorials in several places warning readers of the evils of this movement, plus why people need to educate themselves about it -- and read their book, of course.

There’s also been articles about the movement associated with Bethel, such Bob Smietana’s recent piece in Christianity Today and a piece yours truly wrote for Religion News Service last year. 

But there hasn’t been a whole lot else. It’s a tough movement to pin down, much less write about. The latest effort at explaining Bethel -- in the form of a first-person feature story -- comes from Buzzfeed. It begins:

It’s the first day of Prophecy Week at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. Or, as students here like to call the place, Christian Hogwarts.
The auditorium of the civic center in Redding, California, where first-year students have class, is so full of eager, neatly dressed young people that it’s initially impossible to find a seat. The roomful of some 1,200 students hums with expectant energy…

The piece goes on to describe Bethel Church and Kris Vallotton, one of its main preachers.

The Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry is at the forefront of a burgeoning -- and decidedly youthful -- evangelical Christian revival. Some have called its movement the fastest-growing religious group in America -- a loose network of churches, led by so-called apostles, who see supernatural gifts like prophecy and faith healing as the key to global conversion. While other religious movements struggle to retain members and draw in young people, Bethel attracts millennials in droves.

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