Perhaps you have seen this video of televangelist Kenneth Copeland passing judgment on COVID-19 that is making the rounds on the internet. I’ve personally passed it to a few of my friends. If you haven’t seen it, take a moment and watch. It is both entertaining and cringe worthy all at the same time.
Copeland begins by passing judgment on the virus, calling it a tool of Satan. He then commands the virus to bow to him and to be destroyed like the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The video ends with him declaring that the United States of America is healed from the virus.
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I think about this video at least once a day. Somehow, this two minute clip manages to captures everything that I feel has gone awry with the Christian faith.
Let’s start with the most obvious issue that will stick out to almost every moderately educated person who views this clip—science. Clearly, Copeland, like many evangelical Christians, lacks a basic understanding of what a virus is and how it functions.
A virus is the simplest form of life on our planet. Viruses, like all other organisms on earth, evolved from the same self-replicating cell from which all life originated 3.5 billion years ago. However, around 1.5 billion years ago, viruses took a different evolutionary path.
Whereas every other organism on the planet attempts to retain as much genetic information as possible from one generation to the next, a virus sheds all but the most essential genetic information. A virus doesn’t even possess the genetic hardware to replicate on its own, which is why it will invade a host organism and highjack its cells for replication.
It’s a smart evolutionary strategy. Take only what you need and borrow from others. The only downside is you are dependent on other organisms for your survival and those organisms are armed with an arsenal of immunity to stop you. This is why viruses are constantly mutating. They are trying to stay one step ahead of their competition because once an organism knows your bio-signatures, those immunities will stomp you out before you even get started.
In this way, viruses are not bad or good. They are not conscious organisms, plotting and planning their attacks against their hosts. They simply are. The only reason we have negative associations with them is because, when viruses invade our bodies, they can make us feel sick. The best viruses produce a mild immune response, which allow for it to be passed imperceptibly from one person to the next. Other viruses, like COVID-19, cause the body to react with its full arsenal of immunity, which, in some cases, is so aggressive that it can kill the host.
The point of this mini-science lesson is that viruses are not the tool of Satan to make us suffer. Likewise, they are not the tool of God to pass judgment on humans because God is angry with our behavior. Pastors like Kenneth Copeland have made statements in the past that viruses like AIDS are God’s judgment against the gay community for disobeying God’s laws forbidding homosexual behavior (Lv. 18:22).
However, such reasoning assumes that there is some external force intentionally introducing these viruses into our population to wreak havoc. Viruses existed long before humans roamed the earth and will be here long after we are gone. When Christians employ the logic that some divine or satanic being creates a virus as a means to manipulate human beings, it begs the question of whether Christianity has anything relevant to contribute in our modern world.
The Ponzi Scheme
Another aspect that makes this video so disturbing is that Kenneth Copeland clearly believes God has given him the authority to control this virus. We don’t need the CDC or doctors. What we need is for Kenneth Copeland to say a special combination of words and the virus will simply obey his commands. The absolute narcissism one has to assume to believe they are so important as to have the ability to change the tide of who lives and who dies in the midst of a pandemic is astounding.
Not only does such a claim completely diminish the seriousness of this virus and how it has utterly devastated entire communities around the world, but it also perpetuates the fallacious narrative that those who have more faith will avoid sickness. Your belief in God has no bearing on your ability to avoid being infected by this virus.
The only true indicator of your likelihood of infection is your zip code and your position in the socioeconomic strata. If you live in a less densely populated area and can afford to stay isolated, then you have a much better chance of avoiding infection than someone who lives in a densely populated area and cannot afford to stay at home.
Why are pastors like Kenneth Copeland so disconnected from reality? Well, if we’re being honest, reality doesn’t serve their best interests. If you believe in Copeland’s teachings that God will immunize those who have the most faith, then he can twist this way of thinking to his advantage. If God is willing to offer you special protection from this pandemic, then you are much more likely to go about your normal life. Why does that matter? When you go about your normal life, then you are going to be more likely to continue your normal pattern of sending him money.
Kenneth Copeland, like almost all televangelists, teaches a version of Christianity known as the Prosperity Gospel. The basis of the Prosperity Gospel is that the more faith you have in God, the more you will be blessed with financial success. In other words, this type of Christianity preaches that God wants you to be wealthy, but there’s a catch. In order for you to be successful, you first have to give money to the church.
They call it “heavenly math”. The more money you give to the church, the more you will be rewarded by God with a return on investment. If you give $100 to the church, then God will make sure you receive up to 100 times that amount back from other sources in your life. The more you give, the more you receive in return. In laymen’s terms, this is what we would call a scam.
Like a pyramid scheme where the organization will highlight those who followed the protocol and became successful, the church will show testimonials of those who gave large sums of money to the church and then became financially successful. Of course, the only people who are really benefiting from this are the people who oversee the pyramid scheme. Copeland’s net worth as of this writing is $760 million.
Similar to the 2008 financial crash where it exposed Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, this virus threatens to do the same to Copeland’s operation. With the economy shutting down, his principle that people with more faith will be financially successful will be exposed for the boldface lie that it is. So rather than admit he was misleading people, he doubles down and screams at his followers to keep sending money to his organization regardless of whether or not they can afford to do so.
In my opinion, this is unforgiveable. I can deal with the ignorance of not understanding science. Copeland graduated from high school the same year the polio vaccine came out in 1955. If he ever took a science class, I’m sure the information was limited. But when you prey on innocent people who are already hurting financially by selling them irresponsible pipedreams, that’s when your actions border on criminality. When the church is used as vehicle for such ventures, I cannot stay quiet.
The Anti-Prosperity Gospel (aka Jesus’ Gospel)
Anyone who is telling you that the Christian faith is about you becoming wealthy is lying. Jesus was totally and completely anti-materialistic. Anyone who doubts this simply needs to look at the verse:
“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (Lk. 14:33)
Jesus has nothing but harsh words for wealthy people. For instance, when Jesus comes across a wealthy ruler, Jesus tells him:
“Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Lk. 18:22-24)
Jesus is cryptic about many things in the gospels, but wealth is not one of them. Jesus sees the accumulation of wealth as being diametrically opposed to forming a deep and committed faith:
“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Mt. 6:24)
What Copeland is selling is not Christianity. He's selling false promises that will only benefit him. Although some people might look at Kenneth Copeland and come to the conclusion that he’s a manipulative megalomaniac, he is the face of Christianity to many people outside the church.
I can’t tell you how many people I have seen commenting on these two videos saying things like: “Do Christians actually think this guy cured COVID-19?” or “What the f**k is this guy on? Who watches this s**t!” or “Just another example of why religion is a complete waste of time and brain cells.”
From my perspective, this is a big reason why people outside the church look at Christians like we are crazy. Honestly, it’s people like Kenneth Copeland who make me squeamish about admitting that I’m a pastor associated with the Christian faith. The further we push into the 21st century, the more the Christian faith feels disconnected from the realities we face as humans. It’s no wonder so many people are turning their backs on the church and not feeling a single pang of regret.
So I want to set the record straight. Not all Christians are like Kenneth Copeland. Many of us truly care for those who are hurting and we are not looking to take advantage of them. I can tell you that, personally, I would never ask someone who is hurting financially to give money to the church (or any organization) if it meant compromising their ability to eat or put a roof over their heads. True Christians give of what they have first before asking anything of others.
I’m writing this post because the economic impact of this virus is going to push unemployment to levels unseen since the Great Depression. If we’re going to survive this, we all need to band together and help each other. This is exactly what Jesus asks of his followers. We are called upon to sacrifice what we have for the benefit of greater good. Can you imagine the good someone like Kenneth Copeland could do for the poor and needy if he was willing to give away even a small portion of his $760 million? Sadly, he will do no such thing and, since he isn’t going to do anything, it’s up to us to make a difference.
If you’re reading this, please support the members of your community who are in need. Whether you’re Christian or not, make a special effort to identify family, friends and neighbors who are falling behind on their rent, are unable to pay their bills or cannot afford to eat. Perhaps the most important of Jesus’ teachings is that we are ultimately responsible for our neighbor’s well-being (Lk. 10:25-37). If we can be the safety net for each other, then we will all come out stronger on the other side of this really challenging event.