Kenneth Copeland’s Protectors

Televangelist Kenneth Copeland and his frequent sidekick David Barton think that post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by soldiers and veterans is just the result of demonic possession. If you read the Bible, they said on Veterans’ Day, you’ll see that God has promised deliverance to soldiers who fought in divinely sanctioned wars.

This isn’t the first time Copeland has been criticized for his bogus faith-healing advice, or his lavish lifestyle, financed by persuading television viewers that if they give him money, God will bless them in return.

How does Copeland continue to get away with this, despite criticism from within evangelical-land? Don’t reasonable, rational evangelicals like Warren Throckmorton and Joe Carter cast doubt on “the fools Copeland and Barton?”

Copeland, though, is no fool—he’s laughing all the way to the bank, with the help of regulation-averse conservatives. In 2007, Sen. Charles Grassley, then the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, began investigating the activities of six televangelists, including Copeland, to determine whether they were misusing their tax-exempt ministries for profit. Copeland didn’t cooperate with the investigation, and used his connections to fight back, claiming that then-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee provided assurances he would “stand with” him. Copeland had long enjoyed relationships with Republican candidates, including former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. The latter was told by a religious outreach advisor during his first presidential campaign that Copeland was “arguably one of the most important religious leaders in the nation.”

In early 2011, the Grassley investigation was over, with little to show for the Committee’s efforts, and those of the Trinity Foundation, whose indefatigable sleuthing had led to the Senate’s intervention. Rather than recommend or initiate any government oversight, Grassley’s staff opted for self-reform” within the televangelist community. Why? Because, according to the Committee’s staff memo, there was a “high level of distrust” of the government by the churches under investigation and the religious advocacy groups that supported them. Translation: they didn’t want the government engaging in any oversight of their financial activities. Religious freedom and all.

The committee staff report on Copeland’s ministry revealed the lengths to which Copeland’s Eagle Mountain International Church and Kenneth Copeland Ministries went to avoid oversight:

EMIC/KCM’s response to the Committee and its public statements made it clear that EMIC/KCM did not intend to cooperate with the Committee’s request. . . .

Several former employees of EMIC/KCM indicated that EMIC/KCM used intimidation in an effort to keep informants from speaking to the Committee. . . . One former employee stated the following, “The Copelands employ guerilla tactics to keep their employees silent. We are flat out told and threatened that if we talk, God will blight our finances, strike our families down, and pretty much afflict us with everything evil and unholy. Rather, God will allow Satan to do those things to us because we have stepped out from under His umbrella of protection, by “touching God’s anointed Prophet.” Further, employees are encouraged to shun and treat badly anyone who dares speak out.

“God’s anointed prophet” is, of course, Copeland. That phrase comes from Psalm 105:15. It is frequently used by prosperity televangelists to intimidate critics. 

Has Copeland finally gone too far? This PTSD controversy probably won’t put the tiniest of dents in his multi-million dollar empire. And for that, we have the “high level of distrust” of the government to thank. 

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email