The New York Times covered the Southwest Believers’ Convention, but probably not the way its organizers, Ken and Gloria Copeland, would have liked.
The Copelands are proponents of so-called Word-Faith theology, a collection of teachings ranging from aberrant to heretical — with a particular emphasis of the so-called Prosperity Gospel, a get-rich-quick scam they try to justify with twisted interpretations of the Bible.
It is this teaching that the New York Times article rightly focuses on:
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FORT WORTH — Onstage before thousands of believers weighed down by debt and economic insecurity, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland and their all-star lineup of “prosperity gospel” preachers delighted the crowd with anecdotes about the luxurious lives they had attained by following the Word of God.
Even in an economic downturn, preachers in the “prosperity gospel” movement are drawing sizable, adoring audiences. Their message — that if you have sufficient faith in God and the Bible and donate generously, God will multiply your offerings a hundredfold — is reassuring to many in hard times.
The preachers barely acknowledged the recession, though they did say it was no excuse to curtail giving. “Fear will make you stingy,” Mr. Copeland said.
Many in this flock do not trust banks, the news media or Washington, where the Senate Finance Committee is investigating whether the Copelands and other prosperity evangelists used donations to enrich themselves and abused their tax-exempt status. But they trust the Copelands, the movement’s current patriarch and matriarch, who seem to embody prosperity with their robust health and abundance of children and grandchildren who have followed them into the ministry.
Small wonder. The Prosperity Gospel, in a nutshell, works as follows: God wants you to be rich, but He can not bless you unless you first send money (also known as a “seed-faith offering”) to whichever televangelist or teacher tells you about this scheme.
You reap what you sow, the preachers — many of them ‘televangelists’ — claim, with some promising a ‘hundred-fold return.”
Many of their followers don’t realize that if this scam worked as advertised, televangelists would be sending them money.
Meanwhile these same followers tend to defend the oppulent lifestyles of their heroes. To them it shows what they themselves may one day reach, if only they get good at Positive Confession and have enough faith that God will bless their offerings with a windfall.
The New York Times article quote Jonathan L. Walton, a professor of religion at the University of California, Riversie, who has written about the movement. [See Walton’s articles on the subject at Religion Dispatches. See also his recent book, Watch This!: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism, which also discusses the gospel of greed.]
He refers to prosperity preachers as “spiritual pickpockets.”
The Copelands refused an interview request, but one of their daughters, Kellie Copeland Swisher, and her husband, Steve Swisher, who both work in the ministry, spoke for them.
The ministry has resisted providing the Senate investigation with all the documents requested, she said, because the Copelands did not want to publicly reveal the names of the “partners.” The investigation, which could result in new laws, is continuing, a committee spokeswoman said. Among those being investigated is Creflo Dollar, one of the ministers at the Copelands’ convention.
At the convention, the preachers — who also included Jesse Duplantis and Jerry Savelle — sprinkled their sermons with put-downs of the government, an overhaul of health care, public schools, the news media and other churches, many of which condemn prosperity preaching.