Evangelist preacher who thinks homosexuality is a sin, ‘ close friend’ of Bristol Mayor and involved in Bristol-US trade deals
Marvin Rees has made no secret of his strong Christian faith. But does his faith adviser, who works one day a week in City Hall, have too much influence? And should he be associating with powerful yet secretive Christian groups who believe that homosexuality is a sin? Joanna Booth reports.
On Marvin Rees’ first day as mayor of Bristol, he met with some of the city’s church leaders in Hope Chapel in Hotwells. “We prayed, and we invited the spirit of God into the city,” he told the audience at the New Wine National Leadership Conference 2018 where he was on the panel. “I don’t tweet that. But we did it, you know?”
Rees’ connection with churches has intensified as the city’s funds have been declining. He has asked Bristol churches to “step up” and they have. When trying to help the homeless, 16 churches got involved with providing three meals a day for a period of time from March 2018, and then Bristol Church Network paid for Rees and his faith adviser, Rachel Molano, to travel to Washington and meet international city leaders at an International Prayer Breakfast.
An external city partner pays for Molano, who works one day a week at the mayor’s office in City Hall. Bristol Council say they do not know who pays for her. She is his link to churches in Bristol and she also recently arranged meetings between Rees and trade networks in the USA.
“People look and call you the leader,” Rees said at his Working to Transform a City talk at another New Wine conference in 2017 — a UK network of Christian leaders. “But you know, you wouldn’t exist without everyone else being around you. And that’s Rachel, or part of the whole group of people that hold me up. Rachel is my church worker in a manner of speaking. We call her ‘faith’ because of the sensitivities.”
Rees added that Molano “has been instrumental in connecting my office to the churches. I wouldn’t be here today unless Rachel had fostered these conversations.”
Molano, who has had an official city council email address, was part of Rees’ successful mayoral campaign in 2016. Originally from Wiltshire, she is a graduate of the three-year Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM), whose stated mission “is to equip and deploy revivalists who passionately pursue world-wide transformation in their God given spheres of influence”.
BSSM co-founder, Bill Johnson, calls Molano “a close friend” and BSSM’s “person in London”, where there is another school.
Molano joined Rees on the Bristol Church Network-funded trip to Washington DC on February 7 and 8 2018 where Rees met BSSM’s other co-founder, Kris Vallotton. She has also represented the mayor at events such as the Future of Tech conference at Runway Incubator at Twitter HQ in San Francisco in 2017.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever done anything wrong,” presenter Ian Utile told Molano on stage at the Future of Tech conference. “It’s like everyone constantly talks about this world-changing thing, this incredible thing you’re doing, how you’re making a difference, and so when I found out you were coming, I thought, oh man, I gotta make room, move people aside, shorten up time. You must have the best reputation of anyone in our network.”
What is this “world-changing thing” that Utile was referring to? It is possibly that Molano is the first member of Bethel to hold such an important role in UK politics.
Molano was due to talk at a ‘leaders hub’ meeting organised by the group in:courage in Bath in March 2017. In:courage call themselves a resource and support ministry who, in a number of ways, express the life and mandate God has given them. They host regular Kingdom Celebrations and meetings for mutual encouragement. She was introduced as “a graduate of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (who) was the first Bethel UK member of staff. She works closely with Kris Vallotton — whom most will know — and she is faith adviser to the mayor of Bristol.”
The mayor’s office has not hidden its links with churches but Vallotton, it seems, has a closer relationship with the mayor. When Molano was arranging Rees’ meetings with Vallotton at Washinton DC’s Hilton Hotel in February 2018, she emailed a member of the mayor’s office concerning Vallotton: “He is a close friend of Marvins (sic) and mine.”
In another email released following a Freedom of Information request, a person thought to be Molano (her name is redacted), refers to Vallotton’s tour in London as something “we” are doing. She wrote: “I’m also quite keen to see if we could involve [Vallotton] in the Bristol-US trade stuff as he knows so many senior business people in the US.”
2018 was not Vallotton’s first trip to Bristol. He has been visiting and preaching in the city for a few years now. A member of Bethel Church spoke at Woodland Church Clifton in 2012; and Vallotton held another workshop at Christ Church Clifton in 2016.
In 2017, less than a fortnight before Rees preached at Christ Church Clifton in his dog collar, Vallotton held a day-long workshop there called Kingdom Come, Bristol. It was a conference predominantly about ‘city transformation’, and specifically what this looks like for Bristol.
Vallotton professed his admiration for Bristol as being one of “the special cities”; it has seven hills. One of the others is Rome, another is Redding in California, where BSSM has its headquarters.
At Christ Church Clifton, Vallotton said: “I was in the bathtub reading the Bible and the Lord walked through the door… and he said to me, ‘I’ve called you to be a prophet to kings, presidents, prime ministers, mayors and governors, and you’re going to shift the course of world history.’”
Molano introduced Vallotton at the event’s final session: “I get to work with the mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, who is here tonight… who is a wonderful man as well,” she told the congregation.
Part of Vallotton’s philosophy is about getting those in power in cities involved in change, but he is less keen in everybody knowing about this. Vallotton advises his future “prophets” who are sent out to talk to leaders, governors, and mayors: “Do not ever put these meetings on your itinerary where the public can see them. Never make any comments to the media about what did or did not happen in a meeting with a leader. The career of political leaders depends on confidentiality. What may seem like incidental information to you could destroy their credibility and ruin their career.”
On January 21 2019, Rees and Valloton met at St Ermin’s Hotel in Westminster. It’s so close to parliament that a bell still rings in the hotel lobby to inform MPs they have eight minutes to get back to the Commons and vote. As Molano writes in the email seen by this reporter, Valloton was also due to meet some MPs and an Archbishop around the time of his meeting with the Bristol Mayor.
St Ermin’s Hotel has been at the centre of British intelligence since the 1930s, when it was known to MI6 as ‘The Works Canteen’. Intelligence officers such as Ian Fleming and Noel Coward were to be found in the hotel’s Caxton Bar where Rees met Vallotton, with Vallotton picking up the bill for Rees at this meeting.
There is no public record of what they discussed. His adviser explains why, in an email seen by this reporter, which due to its level of redactions, could have come from a top-secret communique:
“[REDACTED] and Marvin are friends and want to catch up while [REDACTED] is in the U.K. We will also bring up with [REDACTED] the concept of the Bristol-US trade forum and get his suggestions on that. But it really is a very informal meeting. [REDACTED] is friends with [REDACTED] and that’s how Marvin got acquainted with [REDACTED], because I asked [REDACTED] to introduce them. So it’s really just a personal catch up meeting which will also then touch on any contacts for the US Bristol Forum.”
Vallotton is senior associate leader of BSSM, which has been branded “the Christian Hogwarts” by its own students, of which 2,000 or so every year are trained as ‘young saints’ to perform miracles such as raising people from the dead.
BSMM’s annual profits of some $7m a year account for around 20 per cent of Bethel Church’s income. The school’s mission “is to equip and deploy revivalists who passionately pursue world-wide transformation in their God given spheres of influence. Students are trained to continue in the ministry style of Jesus: to enjoy the presence of God, say what He is saying, and do what He is doing.”
In terms of the beliefs and policies that BSSM and its alumni spread to the rest of the world, Vallotton’s brand of evangelical Christianity has seen him compare abortion to the Nazi gas chambers, come out in support of conversion therapy, and declare that homosexual acts are a sin.
In an article on his own website in January 2017, Vallotton wrote: “Planned Parenthood is to America what the Nazi gas chambers were to Hitler’s Germany. (It’s not women being forced into the death chambers, it’s babies).”
He added: “Abortion is a multibillion dollar business who’s (sic) primary beneficiary is Planned Parenthood! Did you get that? A business disguised as family planning, a caring organization, is leading the American genocide of babies. But wait, there is more…They not only take the life of fetuses, they also harvest their organs and sell them as human body parts!!! Confused yet? You should be!
“Oh by the way this is all happening under the banner of women’s rights! Yet half of the fetuses are girls who become women.”
A year later, Vallotton wrote: “Bethel Church holds to the scriptural perspective that same-sex sexual behavior is unhealthful (sic) and that Jesus offers loving responses.”
In the run-up to the 2016 Bristol mayoral election, incumbent mayor George Ferguson boycotted a pre-election debate at Woodland Church because of alleged homophobic comments made by the church’s leader. Woodland leader Dave Mitchell was recorded in 2013 saying that calling homosexual marriage the same as heterosexual marriage was “like calling baseball rounders”.
Rees, who attended the event along with four other mayoral candidates, said at the time: “I will not judge an entire religion on the basis of the misrepresented comments of one man. I am happy to go on the record to support equal marriage.”
During the 2016 election campaign, Rees said that he supported gay marriage during a row about homophobia. On Twitter, he wrote (and later deleted): “Q: Is it homophobic to disagree with the concept of gay marriage? A: No. For the record, I support equal marriage.”
Rees led the Bristol Pride parade in 2018 alongside his deputy mayor Asher Craig.
Vallotton’s website, Moral Revolution, states that it is the “acting” on sexual attraction, the giving in to temptation, which is a sin according to the Bible, and not being attracted to the same sex.
The Moral Revolution website FAQs say that “homosexual acts are a sin; the practice of homosexual acts in or outside of a committed, monogamous relationship are still considered a sin”.
Vallotton effectively mobilised his supporters in Redding against President Barack Obama’s efforts to ban conversion therapy at the state level, with Bethel Church members voicing their opposition to the bill. In the UK, the NHS has concluded that conversion therapy is dangerous and have condemned it.
A month after Vallotton and Rees met at the Hilton in Washington DC in February 2018, Vallotton and BSSM twice spoke up against legislation that would make conversion therapy illegal. The proposed legislation was described as a package of California bills that guarantee access to health care for the LGBT community and would have cracked down on conversion therapy.
“If you have come out of homosexuality & live in California it’s incredibly important that you send an email or call the legislatures outlining your path out of homosexuality,” Vallotton tweeted on March 24 2018. He called the stack of bills three “significant and distressing pieces of legislation” and provided a link to Bethel Church’s statement.
In 2017, in the week before the San Francisco Pride parade, Vallotton wrote on his blog: “I passionately disagree that homosexuality is normal sexual behaviour.
BSSM graduate Molano, has been with Rees’ team since she graduated from the Californian ministry and was part of Rees’ campaign team for his successful election campaign in 2016. At the New Wine Conference in 2017, she said: “You hear a lot of stuff about people saying that politics and church and God don’t mix. Actually, I don’t think that’s true at all. I think it’s where we should be, at the coalface. I’ve seen some amazing things since Marvin’s been in office, of the way that as a Christian, he’s very open about his faith.”
When contacted about Vallotton’s comments about homosexuality and conversion therapy, and his close relationship with Bethel including the employment of Molano in his office, Rees did not reply before publication.
Bristol Pride were contacted for comment but did not reply.