Hi and welcome back! Lately, an old ‘friend’ of ours has popped back up in the news — and not for a good reason. Kenneth Copeland has been making waves with his newest money-making scheme. His involvement in the grifty end of Christianity ain’t new, though. As we’ll see, his name pops up all through modern fundagelicalism. He couldn’t exist without the flaws running through the underpinnings of his tribe — but he also helped create those flaws. Today, let’s look at Kenneth Copeland and his grifting griftery — and why he’s trapped in his gilded cage.
Everyone, Meet Kenneth Copeland.
Born in 1936, Kenneth Copeland has made himself a household name in fundagelicalism. But not just any fundagelicalism. He hangs out in the prosperity gospel end of the fundagelical pool. There, he preaches that his god totally wants people to be rich, healthy, and happy. All his god needs is some sign that believers really mean their worship, and the best sign there is of sincerity is a large donation to his “ministry.”
Many critics have tsked-tsked at his lavish lifestyle, which includes the use of private jets to get around. But there are lots of other reasons to completely despise Kenneth Copeland and consider him yet-another-fundie-scammer besides his obvious money-grubbing:
- In 2006, he lied about sending relief flights to Haiti after their earthquake.
- He’s deeply involved in Republican politics, including helping Mike Huckabee’s campaign.
- He’s an anti-vaxxer who believes in so-called vaccine scheduling and the long-debunked association of vaccinations with autism. His stance led to a big measles outbreak in his church in 2013.
- He also thinks people can totally pray their PTSD away. (We covered this one.)
- Just in general, he’s way into magical healing.
And now, just recently, he’s got his, uh, thumb in the Covid-19 profiteering pie.
A week or so ago, this nutjob Kenneth Copeland held a magical-healing session. This televised program, “Standing Against Coronavirus,” had him oiling up his hand and extending it to the camera while he proclaimed that Jesus would totally heal and protect viewers who put their hands to their televisions.
Poor guy, he just can’t shut up about right-wing Covid-19 conspiracy theories.
He tried telling his followers that the illness is some kind of weak strain of influenza, which is not true, and that “healthy people are not dying from this,” which is also not true. Demonstrating his general incompetence, he said he wanted everyone to attend his church despite the outbreak:
“I want you in my church. If we have to pass out thermometers. If we find one with a fever, let’s get him healed right there,” he said. “What if you do get it? Big deal!”
I suppose he’s a slow learner and that the measles outbreak in 2013 didn’t clue him in. Of course, there’s not one instance of a Christian being magically healed of this or any other disease.
As late as last week, he was out there declaring that fundagelicals’ prayers “have overwhelmed” Covid-19. And of course, it has only gotten worse since this declaration. Oh, and he blames people’s hatred of Donald Trump for removing the “divine protection” he thinks his god had over America, which “opened the door” to Covid-19.
He acts like such a sweet old guy, like hyuck hyuck let’s just praaaaaaaaaaaaaaay now y’awl, but in his heart, he’s as nasty, evil, vicious, and emotionally-shriveled-up as the worst bad apples in his religion.
Kenneth Copeland’s god is a horrific, evil, punitive, and cruel being — just like he is.
Word of Faith.
But he didn’t just crawl out of the religion’s posterior yesterday to take up the ignorance banner.
Many years ago, he ingratiated himself with a new movement in fundagelicalism called “Word of Faith.” If that name sounds familiar, it should! A long, long list of the worst-and-ickiest fundagelical leaders have embraced that movement.
Word of Faith began many decades ago with E.W. Kenyon, who influenced Kenneth Hagin, Sr., who influenced Rodney Howard-Browne, who influenced the Toronto Blessing hucksters David and Carol Arnott. In his home country of South Africa, Rodney Howard-Browne himself attended “Rhema Bible Training Center,” itself part of Hagin’s Word of Faith movement.
It’s quite an incestuous, tangled web, isn’t it? Fascinating stuff!
What It Is.
“Word of Faith” and prosperity gospel are closely related. In Word of Faith, Christians think if they name what they want, then it becomes real. In that manner, it operates much like New Thought, which led to The Secret and other snake-oil programs, and may even derive from that older philosophy.
Here are the main parts of Word of Faith:
- Positive Confession: Speaking equals becoming. Name it and claim it. Spoken words are incredibly powerful — in fact, they are what separate humans from all other animals. (Ahem.)
- Humans are “little gods.” This one gives other fundagelicals absolute conniptions, and I can see why! Hagin was big on this idea, and Copeland buys 100% in with quotes like “Adam was created in God’s class … to rule as a god … by speaking words.”
- Faith is a physical force that both people and “God” can use. Anybody who knows the magic can use it.
- You can tell a “fulfilled Christian life” by its level of health and wealth. Hooboy.
- Jesus literally “became sin” on the cross. This one’s more esoteric, and it hand-waves away the whole “one bad half-weekend” thing skeptics tease Christians with. The length of time stops being important; instead, the spiritual transformation starts to matter.
I’m just now realizing that the Pentecostals I joined as a teenager must have been into this stuff pretty heavily. They officially rejected prosperity gospel, but they fully bought into other major parts of it, notably the bits about spoken words having enormous power.
The Problem With Wingnuts.
The huge problem with wingnuts is that they only spiral in one direction: wackier. They don’t ever pull back on the throttle. They only push forward on it to propel themselves into stranger and stranger territory. Nobody can rein them back in, because there’s no tether to reality that any of them accept as valid. They just keep building on their previous sand-castle of wingnuttery and pushing ideas further and further into the fringe.
When a fringe idea first appears, it’s scary and weird — but it has a basis in precedent, so fundagelicals accept it. A year or two later, it’s canon. Then, a new wingnut appears to push the fringe out even further.
Kenneth Copeland helped create that whole mindset, and it’s made him filthy stinking rich as well as given him a humongous amount of personal power over others. But this ideology also created for him a gilded cage, because there’s no stopping the train now. He has to get out in front of every single wingnut idea the tribe comes up with, or the train will leave him behind.
So it’s not that Kenneth Copeland might even want to smear oil on his hand and shove it at a camera while claiming “Jesus” cares enormously if a Christian Carol-Anns their monitor.
It’s that if he doesn’t do it, then someone else will — and the flocks will give that wingnut their money instead of him. He must eternally push the envelope of wingnuttery.
Being trapped in a gilded cage full of wingnuts could not happen to a more deserving person.
And if his antics alienate even more people from his religion, so much the better. May he fly his freak flag as high as he can — because the whole world needs to see exactly what Christianity’s end-run looks like.
NEXT UP: Essential oils! See you tomorrow!
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