Prosperity Preacher Peddling “Death Panel” Myth

Christian preachers have long served as ideological conduits channeling political and philosophical currents from the powers that be to the masses. This is true for both the political right and left. Hence when I hear persons assert that preachers should “keep politics out of the pulpit,” I interpret this as a vacuous request. Asking a preacher to refrain from politics is like asking water not to be wet. Despite claims of “private spirituality” that have become commonplace, religion is, and will always be, a public matter. How folk interpret sacred texts, the role of God in the world, and/or the form and function of the sacred informs political choices and helps to determine their support or opposition for a particular cause.

I will admit, however, that at times religious beliefs and political conclusions can be as out of sync as Mike Huckabee doing the electric slide. This is what I noticed last week while attending the Southwest Believers Convention hosted by Kenneth and Gloria Copeland.

Over 5.000 persons from across the country packed into the Fort Worth Convention Center to hear Copeland and their Word of Faith line-up proclaim their message of divine health and wealth. Yet when it came to President Obama’s plan for health care reform — a plan that would greatly assist the vast majority of working class and underemployed conference attendees — Kenneth Copeland was excessive in his disdain for government-run healthcare.

“Socialism” seemed to be Copeland’s favorite term throughout the week as he warned the crowd to reject any government assistance. “Sickness and disease,” according to Copeland, “is not a medical problem, it’s a spiritual problem.” Thus, he argued that any healthcare program would be nothing more than a “Babylonian system—man trying to meet his own needs without God.”

By the end of the week, Copeland even channeled his inner Sarah Palin by arguing that the government wants to kill people. I quote:

“The government ain’t trying to help people, they trying to save money for the government…Eventually we are going to get to the place where we start killing 70 year olds. People are already in place in the government who are going to be making these decisions who have decided that 70 year olds aren’t contributing anything to society.”

Wow! Really? Call me crazy but I would think that a professed “health and wealth” preacher would be concerned with accessible and affordable healthcare.

But, then again, maybe Copeland’s own personal wealth is dependent on his follower’s bad health. If some of his “financial partners” had the privilege of receiving medical care for their illnesses, maybe they wouldn’t be as quick to put money at Copeland’s alter in hopes of their healing.

But, hey, I don’t mean to sound cynical. I’m just trying to stay sober!

jonathan.walton@mac.com'

Jonathan L. Walton is assistant professor at Harvard Divinity School. His lastest book is: Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Religious Broadcasting (New York University Press).