What’s a Faith-Healing Congregation to Do When Measles Hits?

The outbreak of measles at faith-healing megachurch Eagle Mountain International Church (EMIC), which is owned by the company of televangelist and Oral Roberts disciple Kenneth Copeland, has received widespread negative attention.

In response to the controversy, EMIC co-pastor Terri Copeland Pearsons denied that she ever opposed vaccination (which is pretty much true: she spread some unscientific rumors, but she never directly said, “vaccines are bad, don’t get them.”) She has now endorsed measles vaccinations, set up vaccination clinics at the church, and put a big green banner on EMIC’s website to point reporters in the direction of their half dozen press releases and sermons on the matter.

But last Sunday, Terri Copeland Pearsons’s co-pastor and husband George Pearsons’s  sermon “Take Authority Over Your Body” attributed the end of the measles outbreak not to vaccines, but to a two-minute long communal prayer he led the previous Wednesday for “an outbreak of healing,”

At our Wednesday Service, we prayed together, we spoke to that spirit of measles, commanded it to leave, and Thursday morning, they said it stopped. No more cases, no more cases. I give God praise for that.

When George Pearsons says that they “commanded” the “spirit of measles” to leave, he’s not being figurative. Pearsons believes that you can be cured of almost any ailment by a ritual recitation of God’s word. He claimed in Sunday’s sermon that people could, “take authority over their bodies” by using “words of dominion,” saying that,  “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.”

In context, Pearsons’s sermon comes off as an aggressive reaffirmation of  EMIC’s ideology of faith healing in light of all the bad press. George Pearsons himself announced that his sermon had a “bite.” Which makes sense—after all, faith healing is a vital part of EMIC’s theology. 

On May 11th, Terri Copeland Pearsons quoted her father on her Facebook page, “You have a family doctor. His name is Jesus. His words are medicine to all your flesh.” She also once claimed that she cured her children of a serious (but unnamed) sickness through a sort of faithful meditation,

In my mind, I pictured Jesus on the cross with Jeremy and Aubrey’s sickness. I also saw Him come out of the grave victorious over those sicknesses and then giving that victory to us. I did that for two hours.

Two hours. Big deal! Yet those two hours changed the course of my children’s health.

Here God is literally a “family doctor,” and what cures diseases isn’t just faith, it’s ritual. It’s two-hour visions, two-minute communal prayers, and evocations of God’s word.

It’s easy to see why even though EMIC is not directly “anti-vaccine,” an exceptional number of parishioners at EMIC reject vaccination. If the real way to cure yourself is by chanting, praying, and meditating, why bother going through all the unpleasantness of getting a needle stuck in your arm?

As EMIC showed, even faith healers will sometimes make a compromise with science, allowing modern medicine its place—particularly when lives and reputations are at stake. But if George Pearsons’s sermon is any indication, these compromises can be very short-lived.