Some of the most common criticisms about Bethel Church, a megachurch famed for its charismatic activities, were addressed by a former leader after a lengthy period of silence.
In an op-ed published by Premier Christianity, Bethel Church School of Supernatural Ministry graduate Carrie Lloyd says she felt obligated to speak out for the sake of "unity."
Bill and Beni Johnson, two of the church's most senior leaders, have been accused of heretical conduct for what they believe in and teach. Bill, for example, included the Biblical truth in his book, "Jesus Christ is Perfect Theology," that God always intends to heal someone.
Beni, on the other hand, had been criticized for her focus on angelology Previously, she was claimed to have said in a blog post that is no longer available, that there are "different kinds of angels" who had "fallen asleep." And when she posted images of herself on the graves of well-known Christians such as C.S. Lewis, she was accused of "grave soaking" which was eventually called "grave-sucking."
Lloyd wrote: "Many wild suggestions have been made of the activity within these walls of 'wacky cheer'. It should be made clear that, initially, I, too, was the one who stepped over students laughing on the floor, inwardly judging their reactions to the presence of God. My secret conversations with the Lord however, would always confront my judgement for another's enthusiasm. Just as I was once encouraged by great art directors in London to let creatives take a risk, so too did I need to ensure I made space to allow their zealous spirit to encounter God, however that may look."
In defense of Beni, Lloyd argued that the "grave sucking" was a gesture of homage rather than a mystic activity, and that it had taken place some years before.
"The grave sucking accusations came from as long as 15 years ago," Lloyd said. "Based on a photograph where someone was lying on the grave of a legend in the faith, a legacy they admired deeply."
"They expressed their treasuring of their existence by lying down in a state of wonder," she added. "There was no sÃ©ance, no calling back the dead, no soaking of anointing, and certainly no straws (not even sustainable ones) present."
It was the students of the church, she said, who pushed matters further when "another influential preacher" said, "I'd suck the anointing from that spot if I could!"
Lloyd also addressed further accusations leveled at Bethel, such as "buckets left at the front of the stage for vomiting" and the "refusal for ambulances when someone is in cardiac arrest, as we teach the students instead to pray for healing."
Lloyd said that the buckets are "actually for our offering," and that although she prays for healing, she also contacts 911 in the event of an accident or emergency.
When it comes to the "gold dust," which, according to the Christian Post, is one of the most well-known criticisms against Bethel for considering it as proof of God's presence, Lloyd stood by that.
"The gold dust we still can't explain, even after my thorough hunt for hidden air vents, or drum kits marinated in glitter, (both such things absent from the sanctuary). After hour-long interrogations by friends and family, I gave up explaining," she said.
At the end of her op-ed, Lloyd stressed the need of "setting the record straight" of Bethel's eccentric activities.
"There is no swimming pool. There are no invites to throw up. 911 is on my speed dial, as much as the Bible is at my fingertips. There is no allegiance with any far-right movement, for there are many heated discussions within the staff room, but always ones where we still hold the hand of each other, refusing to buckle to 'I am right' syndrome. We strive, instead, to cultivate an atmosphere that accepts difference and mystery, however internally difficult that may be," she said.
Rather than ridiculing what they do not understand, Lloyd gave an invitation to the mockers to join their communion, visit those churches for themselves, and learn more than simply superficial observation.
"May heaven be the place to correct our interpretations one day and, hopefully, while I get to stroke the face of little Olive again, we can quietly but humbly say: "All our lives Lord, we tried to seek you," she proclaimed.
Bethel, according to Christian Post, has 11,000 members, including students at its school. The institution, which claims to be directed by "apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers," has always come under fire for their unconventional church practices.