Hayden Royster on The Story Behind Bethel Church’s Recent LGBT Controversy

CHANGED founders Elizabeth Woning and Ken Williams | Screenshot: Facebook/Bethel Church

Kim Zember was 17 when she first began dating other girls. She’d felt these desires for a few years, but kept them from her family and friends out of guilt and shame. Her same-sex relationships only added to her sense of unworthiness; as she puts it, “​I was living a double life, and it tormented me.”

This double life followed her into a heterosexual marriage ultimately that fell apart after she cheated on her husband with another woman. Kim was now forced to live her life with her secret out in the open, going from relationship to relationship, all the while knowing, she says, “that my lifestyle wasn’t good for me.”

She hit rock bottom when she discovered her girlfriend had been cheating on her. It was in this space that Kim cried out to God for help. That was when “the heaviness…was lifted.” From that moment forward, she began reading books about sexuality, going to seminars, and processing her same-sex attraction with a priest. Today, Kim chooses not to act on her same-sex desires and lives with an “authenticity I didn’t know was possible.”

Kim’s first-person account is one of fifteen #OnceGay stories that can currently be viewed on the CHANGED website. CHANGED is a ​group​ founded by Elizabeth Woning and Ken Williams, two pastors from Bethel Church who previously identified as homosexual and are now married to members of the opposite sex.

Although CHANGED has existed for a few months now, it garnered widespread attention—and backlash—through a series of posts in August by the Bethel Church Instagram account. “Can a person leave homosexuality behind?” reads one post. The post also describes the group’s mission: “CHANGED is a community of friends who once identified as LGBTQ+ and through encounters with the love of Jesus, have experienced His freedom in their lives.”

The online response was swift. Jamie Lee Finch, a relationship coach and author,​ took to Twitter to denounce the posts and claim that CHANGED is “not simply harmful—their theologically and scientifically unexamined #oncegay stance is recklessly evil.” The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ suicide-prevention non-profit, urged Bethel to stop supporting the initiative. Q Christian Fellowship even went so far as to create “UNCHANGED,” a ​website​ that tells the story of LGBTQ+ Christians and seeks to be “an affirmative counter to the damage wrought in the name of God through ex-gay theologies and philosophies,” according to their homepage.

Bethel Church responded to these accusations via its Instagram: “The message of CHANGED has never been ‘All Must Change’…For those of you who feel fulfilled and happy as you are, we love you!…We stand against any and all forms of shame, manipulation, force, humiliation or physical harm in so-called ‘ministry’ or’ therapy.’”

This statement created a reprisal of a different sort. Some traditional Christians voices pointed to the post as evidence of Bethel Church moving away from their values. “This sounds weak!” one commenter wrote. “I love Bethel Church, but you better watch your theology.” An ​article​ at “The Pulpit and Pen” criticizes the CHANGED website for not using the words “sin” or “repentance,” arguing that the ministry is “designed to present Christianity as a lifestyle enhancement for homosexuals.” The title of that article is “Bethel Church Goes Gay.”

Bethel Church has made plenty of headlines over the years. Founded in 1952 as an Assemblies of God church, Bethel is now an independent church serving over 8,000 members weekly, with a television channel and weekly podcasts that reach millions more. Their music label, Bethel Music, has produced some of the most popular worship acts in recent years. The Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) was founded in 1998 for the express purpose of being “a ministry training center where…students embrace their royal identity.” While enrolled at BSSM, students from all over the world to practice healing, prophesying and speaking in tongues. ​According​ to Bill Johnson, one of the co-founders of the school and the Senior Pastor of Bethel Church, “​Every Christian is supposed to do this.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Hayden Royster