Darlene Bishop, a tele-evangelist with a nationwide following, does not do things by half. When she and her husband Lawrence erected a statue of Jesus on the grounds of their mega church in Monroe, Ohio, they made it 62 feet high.
No less gargantuan are her claims about the power of prayer to overcome illness. Through a series of sermons, books and a television show, Sisters, broadcast on religious satellite channels throughout the US and abroad, she preaches that God has the power to heal even the most deadly diseases, including cancer.
But the contention is now the subject of a court action. Four of Mrs Bishop’s relatives are suing her over her claim that God cured their father – her brother – of throat cancer. He died of the disease 18 months ago.
In her book Your Life Follows Your Words, Mrs Bishop tells how she overcame her breast cancer through prayer, and how her brother was also cured. There is no mention of his death in the book, which she says is due to the fact that it was published at a time when he had been in remission for more than a year.
But the volume is still on sale through her website (price $15) under the blurb: “How God healed her of breast cancer and her brother healed from throat cancer”.
Mrs Bishop’s brother, Darrell “Wayne” Perry, was an accomplished songwriter whose work has been performed by big names in country music such as Tim McGraw, and by the Backstreet Boys. For a year before his death in May 2005, aged 55, he was cared for by his sister.
His children, Bryan, Justin, Olivia and Christian, have issued a lawsuit for wrongful death against Mrs Bishop because they claim she persuaded Perry to stop chemotherapy and rely instead on God’s healing. They contend in legal depositions that at the moment Mrs Bishop and her brother were touring the country preaching about the miracle of his recovery, they were both aware that he had been advised by doctors that his illness was terminal.
In a separate legal action to be heard on Friday they also accuse Mrs Bishop of probate irregularities and of mishandling her brother’s estate. “I am the oldest son of Wayne Perry”, Bryan has written, “and I think it’s a damn shame that we have to spend our money fighting our aunt.”
In her blog, Mrs Bishop dismisses the allegations as “complete lies”, insisting she would never tell anyone to refuse medical help. “I encouraged him to listen to the doctors, but he refused surgery.”
There is no sign of Mrs Bishop falling on her sword. The motto of her church, founded in 1978, is: “Because Emmanuel lives, I expect victory every time.”