Dear Bethel Church, Redding:
My name is Bre Hanan. I’m a Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) alumna and served on Bethel staff for 5 years before leaving Redding in 2014. I am alarmed and disheartened by the dehumanizing rhetoric I’ve heard from your pastors about the LGBTQ+ community in the past year.
I have a lot of respect for Bethel Church and BSSM. This is not meant as an attack, but a humble challenge from a child of the house.
Disagreeing is Fine…
You told us over and over, both in school and in church, that disagreement was healthy and that we didn’t have to agree to be family. Kris, you talked about God moving us away from denominationalism (where we gather out of agreement) and into apostleship (where we gather because we’re family). And I still believe that’s the direction we’re meant to take.
I also believe there’s room for disagreement on scripture within the Body of Christ.
We’re humans mulling over ancient texts, not only trying to understand what it meant to the original authors and the original audience, but trying to figure out God’s heart for us in it and how we’re supposed to apply that to our lives. That’s hard, complicated, and messy.
Thousands of people have dived in and done real research on the scriptures that some say reference homosexuality. As a result of that research, some firmly believe that homosexuality is a sin. Others firmly believe that God is blessing the love two people have for each other, regardless of gender.
Both positions deserve respect. I think there is room for both views within the body of Christ, and it’s not necessary to dehumanize each other to stay true to our convictions.
…Spreading Lies is Not Fine
But there’s a massive difference between disagreeing on scripture and spreading lies about people.
The LGBTQ+ community is beingportrayed as scary, gross, lustful, not followers of Jesus, and beyond the reach of Holy Spirit.
We are not being portrayed as members of the Body of Christ who disagree on certain biblical points. We are being dehumanized and having our character defamed from your pulpit.
Furthermore, the information you’re teaching is inaccurate. We’ve gathered a lot of the statistics you use in the latest BSSM materials, on the Moral Revolution website, and in other teachings. These statistics are being pulled from things like magazine polls in the gay version of Playboy (which hardly constitutes an accurate representation of the gay community), and estimates (not actual statistics, but guesses with no data to back them up) from people associated with gay conversion therapy using neglect and beatings to try to make children conform to the “proper masculine or feminine behavior” for their sex in order to “make them straight”.
So I have to wonder, have you actually checked your sources? Is there space for challenge and accountability here, or are you simply taking what a handful of people tell you as canon? My experience of you as leaders has been that you deeply value truth. Because of that, I was surprised to see so much poor research being used in your classes and sermons.
There is a massive difference between simply disagreeing on scripture and actively spreading lies about people. Disagreement is healthy, but I think we can all agree that spreading lies is wrong.
Beck and Bre Hanan at their wedding
God’s Presence in the LGBTQ+ Community
It is extremely misleading to present only a few specific testimonies and stories and then try to pass it off as a representation of the entire Christian LGBTQ+ experience.
Take Elizabeth Woning’s testimony, for example. She used to be a part of the gay community, but when she encountered God in a more personal, tangible way, she felt like he showed her who she really was. Long story short, today she’s happily married to a man named Doug. That was her journey, and her experience is valid. We need testimonies like hers to be shared and celebrated.
The problem is that the “I once was gay but now I’m straight” testimony is the only one we hear coming from the church. And when you make sure the congregation only hears one narrative, you’re not representing the whole of what God is doing in the LGBTQ+ community.
We need to hear the stories of the old, transgender church ladies who have gone through complete rejection from their families and had to rebuild their community from the ground up. What is God doing in their lives? How has God helped them on that journey?
We need to hear about how God’s presence never left the closeted gay teenager when they wrestled with the big questions alone and afraid of rejection.
We need parenting testimonies from two-mom families.
God is doing more than you’re letting people see.
My Personal Story, Pastor Kris, and Why I’ll Probably Never Feel Safe at Bethel Again
Beck Hanan being “knighted” by Bethel pastor Bill Johnson
In August 2016, Kris Vallotton preached a message called “Character Matters.”
He read a portion of Romans 1, one of the main “clobber passages” used to condemn homosexuals, and then said: “That’s in the Bible. It’s pretty clear.” As if that settles the discussion.
I found this alarming and really surprising. Why? Because this is the man who wrote Fashioned to Reign. Kris stands as a progressive voice championing women in Christian culture.
He would have never read Paul’s words on women, such as “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak…” and said “That’s in the Bible. It’s pretty clear.” and then moved on.
Kris has given intense care to Paul’s words. He understands that Scripture deserves more from us than just pulling verses out of context and taking them at face value.
But when he read Paul’s words from Romans 1, I didn’t see any of that care applied. What I saw was a “that sounds right to me, therefore it is truth and any other opinion is wrong” stance.
And had it been a fews years before, I don’t think I would have even noticed.
You see, I used to see non-straight people as being really deranged and confused and sort of out of control. When I pictured gay people, I pictured teenagers having sex in nightclub bathrooms. Sad and insecure and desperate. So if I heard this back then, I probably would have just thought “Yup, sounds right to me” and not given it a second glance.
But today, I’ve met too many real life gay and trans people —real life gay and trans Christians— to take those verses out of context without giving them a second thought. I’ve seen beautiful families with two dads. I’ve heard the stories of wonderful old ladies who have been together for 40 years. They’ve been humanized for me.
When you say “gay” I don’t picture the imaginary, perverted, insecure person anymore, I picture people I know and love and do life with. People who have beautiful relationships with God. People whose relationships and marriages are filled with love and respect.
I picture my family.
When I was at Bethel, I met Beckett. We’ve been best friends since we met in BSSM in 2010, and we got married in March. We are the proverbial Bethel students who met at school, fell in love, and got married.
Bre Hanan working at Bethel iTV
Except… we’re not straight.
Not only are we both bisexual, Beck is also transgender.
When I met Beck, everyone knew him as Rebecca. He was still going by “she” and “her” throughout his time at Bethel.
When we started dating and got engaged, Beck was still presenting himself to the world as female, so people saw us as lesbians. By the time we got married, Beck had come out as a transgender guy. So we, as a couple, have experienced a wide range of reactions and opinions from friends, family, old Bethel friends/leaders, and random strangers.
Throughout our 3 years at school, our relationship was never easy to define. We were more than friends, closer than siblings. Noone knew me as well as Beck did, and there was no place in the world I felt more safe and loved and fully seen than with him. Even then, we started to tackle life as a team.
He was the one thing in life I was absolutely sure of. I wanted to cling to him like Ruth clung to Naomi, or David clung to Jonathan. The whole “where you go, I will go” thing. He was my person.
But it never crossed my mind that I might be in love with him. Back then, when I thought about gay people, I thought about the sad people in the nightclub restrooms. I thought about dirty, ashamed, depraved people who were hypersexual and out of control. People overpowered by lust.
And my love for Beck was so not-hypersexual. He was the person I cared for most in the entire world. Our relationship was a source of peace and brought a sense of groundedness and joy, not chaos or shame.
So when I looked at our love I didn’t see “love love”, because “love love” between two vagina-bearers would mean we were gay.
And “gay love” was supposed tolook slimy and scary.
We weren’t slimy or scary, so we weren’t gay.
That’s how it worked in my head.
We were best friends for 6 years before either of us even considered that we might be “in love.” And when we did realized it, it was because we saw past each other’s genders.
We didn’t love each other because of our genders, or despite our genders. Our love transcended gender. I love who Beck is as a person, and there is no other human being on the planet who I would rather share life with than him.
It wasn’t until after we started dating that I realized I was a part of the LGBTQ+ community. I grew up finding people of all genders attractive, but I thought that was how everybody felt. Because of the moral code I was raised with, and the society I grew up in, I learned that I was only allowed to date or marry a man. I never “struggled with homosexual thoughts” or temptation, I was quite oblivious to my not-straightness.
It wasn’t until meeting gay, Spirit-filled Christians, watching LGBTQ+ people’s stories on Youtube, studying the “clobber passages” in depth, and talking to God about it A LOT that I realized: God wasn’t the one saying “only straight relationships are okay”, that was people.
After that, I started to see that I was in love with my best friend. Love didn’t care what gender he was. For 6 years, love didn’t even care what our relationship status was. Love was just…love.
Our relationship is beautiful. We have never felt as at peace with ourselves and with God as we do today.
So when Kris Vallotton reads Romans 1, and then says “you can’t be a follower of Jesus,” he’s not talking about weird people far away. He’s talking about me. He’s talking about my spouse. He’s talking about my friends.
We are not gross, perverted people in a nightclub far away. We are your children. Your BSSM graduates. Your worship leaders. Your friends.
Kris read some verses out of context and said, “That’s in the Bible. It’s pretty clear.” As if that settled it. As if there’s no need to look deeper.
He said, “People ask, ‘Can I be a homosexual and be a Christian?’ I guess you can, but you can’t be a follower of Jesus ‘cuz Jesus isn’t going that way.” As if there’s no such thing as a gay person who’s following Jesus. As if we literally don’t exist.
He also said homosexuals are simply people whose character has atrophied to the point where we no longer have the moral fortitude to hold ourselves back from our lusts. We’re people who have decided “if I’m attracted to it, I should have it.” And because of that, we’d also say (in his words exactly): “not only am I gonna be okay with having same sex but I’m also gonna be okay with anything else I’m attracted to.”
So at this point he’s directly asserting that we have no self control and are slaves to lust.
Perhaps worst of all, he tries to take away our autonomy and our voice. To explain away why we don’t feel convicted, he said, “If you resist God long enough he’ll finally let you do whatever it is you wanna do. And then what happens? I no longer feel guilty. You know why? Because I have a depraved mind, I actually have a mind that no longer acknowledges God in the foundation of the way it thinks.”
And with his words… After 6 years of serving, studying, worshipping, and pursuing God alongside this group of people —6 years of being a part of the family— my character is being defamed in a moment.
I am being publicly shamed and disrespected. I am being written off as a gross, lusty, out-of-control person who cannot be trusted. Who can’t even trust themselves. Who’s so depraved even Holy Spirit can’t reach me.
And it’s entirely based on the genitals of the person I love.
Beck Hanan Painting on Bethel Stage
And along with me, other BSSM alumni and members of the church are also being thrown under the bus. Not to mention the gay and trans Jesus-loving community at large.
The amount of pain that one message brought was immense. I cannot begin to explain how it affected me when I heard that sermon, or how it affects me every time I hear a new thing Bethel is saying about me and the community I belong to.
I have had to mustereverything I learned at BSSM about keeping your love on, brave communication, boundaries, and forgiveness in order to healthily co-exist in this world with you.
The Tightly Controlled Narrative
The danger in a message like Kris’s is not so much in the one sermon, but more in the cycle it’s perpetuating.
All of the rhetoricstarts to add up. We paint a very specific picture of who gay people are (gross, ashamed, depraved, dangerous) and we fill our church’s culture with this narrative. It makes it very hard for anyone who disagrees to speak up. Especially if they’re not straight themselves, because they no longer feel respected or like their voice would be taken seriously.
You’ve told everyone “those people are deceived,” “they don’t have a conscience,” “they can’t be listened to.” Before we’ve opened our mouths to defend ourselves, the gays-are-depraved narrative has rendered our voice untrustworthy.
So we either keep it to ourselves, try really hard to be conform and let you “pray the gay away”, or leave and go somewhere we feel safe and can be ourselves.
Which means the little bubble has steadily less and less real representation from people like us, and the false narrative gets even stronger.
Which, in turn, makes us less safe and more quiet.
I highlight Kris’s message as an example, but it’s not just this one sermon. And it’s certainly not just Kris Vallotton.
It’s that Brian Johnson referred to relationships like mine and Beck’s as “an epidemic in the church.” It’s that when you speak of homosexuality you often lump it in with pedophilia and rape. That Bill Johnson referred to it as a “violation of design” and in his list of reasons why he voted for Trump, said, “redefining the family according to the latest immoral code is in fact cursed by God.” It’s that even believing homosexuality is okay means you are barred from church membership.
It’s the fact that you’ve recently started a ministry centered around helping those “impacted by homosexuality” with an entire team of ministers who share only one narrative. It’s the days in BSSM devoted to teaching the students about LGBTQ+ issues. The “Homosexuality in the Church” teaching series. The “Navigating Homosexuality” all-day video conference Global Legacy is hosting.
It’s the fact that you as a church and a ministry have established yourselves as experts on us —not only to the congregation, but to the entire revivalist world that you influence— and then turned around and spread lies about us and grossly misrepresented us.
My Challenge to You
What I see coming from Bethel in this area is not respectful or honoring. My hope is that while you stay true to your beliefs and convictions, you do so in a way that reduces the Church’s contribution to LGBTQ+ hate, injustice, violence, and suicide, instead of adding to it.
So Bethel Church, pastors, leaders, members of the congregation, students of BSSM, I offer you this challenge: Dig a little deeper.
– Talk to gay and trans Christians. Listen to our stories and hear from our own mouths what our relationships with God are like. Make sure you don’t just talk to the people that feel like they’re struggling with same sex attraction. There are thousands of us who have strong, thriving, LGBT relationships that we feel God’s blessing on or who see new aspects of God in the amazing diversity of gender-expression among trans people. If you’re not sure where to start, do some Googling, check out Youtube. There are a lot of us and we’re not hard to find once you start looking. Here’s a list of good places to start: beckandbre.com/resources
– When it comes to biology, statistics, sociological studies, and science, do your research. Hear multiple viewpoints, not just the ones that are being catered to you. Look for other people’s stories. Pulling from many sources is healthy, taking everything one doctor says as canon is not. When spreading information from the pulpit or in teaching materials, I implore you to make scientific honesty a core value.
– Create room for safe, honest communication on the subject, so you can share what you’re thinking and learning with each other. Respectful disagreement is healthy, and there needs to be space for that free from peer pressure, shame, and fear. This is important both within the church/school bodies, and amongst the leadership and staff. Without that safety, it won’t be possible to have fully authentic conversations.
– Study the scriptures for yourself. Take Paul’s words seriously enough to give them the time and research they deserve. Seek different perspectives. Use your discernment and your critical thinking skills when other people talk about their take on the passages. Find out what the context was to the original people. Use the exegesis and hermeneutics skills you’re learning in BSSM. As you go deeper, maybe you’ll feel more and more confident in the beliefs you currently hold. Maybe you’ll completely change your mind. You won’t know until you dive in.
While it’s not perfect, Bethel is a beautiful place. Thank you for the 6 years of community and equipping. I hope Bethel is able to have a positive impact on people for years to come.