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August 29th, 2013
01:24 PM ET

Former staffer: Measles church counseled faith, not shots

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) ­ When Amy Arden joined Eagle Mountain International Church in 1997, her 11­month­old daughter had received all the recommended vaccinations. But in the six years the young, single mother worked and worshipped at the evangelical megachurch, Arden didn’t take her child to get a single shot.

“There was a belief permeating throughout the church that there is only faith and fear,” Arden said. “If you were afraid of the illness enough to get vaccinated, it showed a lack of faith that God would protect and heal you.”

Members of Eagle Mountain International Church also believed that childhood vaccinations could lead to autism, said Arden, who is 35.

Arden said she was taught by a supervisor at the church's nursery how to opt out of a Texas law that requires most children to be immunized. She now regrets passing the same lesson on to other parents.

“I didn’t know a single mother who was vaccinating her children,” she said.

Eagle Mountains teachings on health, including disparaging remarks about vaccinations, have been called into question since an outbreak of measles in Texas – an outbreak that state officials tie to the church.

As a Word of Faith church, Eagle Mountain is part of the booming prosperity gospel movement, which holds that God wants to reward believers with riches, health and happiness, if they will just recite certain Scriptures, pray and trust in divine providence.

The church is part of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, a vast and profitable multimedia ministry led by its namesake, a longtime prosperity preacher and television evangelist.

In the prosperity gospel world, Copeland, 76, and his wife, Gloria, are considered royalty, said Kate Bowler, author of “Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.”

“He is a major grandfather of the movement, starting to age out but still incredibly influential,”

Bowler said. “They’ve been on the air forever and stayed largely scandal­free. That’s partly why they are so trusted by lots of people.”

According to Kenneth Copeland Ministries, the Copelands' daily program on the Trinity Broadcasting Network reaches millions of viewers, their magazine more than 500,000 readers.

Based in Newark, Texas, a rural community 25 miles north of Fort Worth, Eagle Mountain is co­pastored by Copeland's daughter, Terri Copeland Pearsons, and son­in­law, George Pearsons.

Twenty­one people in Tarrant County and nearby Denton County have contracted measles during this outbreak, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The victims include nine children and range from 4 to 44 years old..

Tarrant County epidemiologist Russell Jones said the confirmed cases can be traced back to a person who attended Eagle Mountain International Church after visiting Asia, which has higher rates of measles infections than the United States.

Health officials are not releasing the name of that person or the particular country.

Jones said he doesn’t know exactly how many of the infected people are members of Eagle Mountain. At least 11 of the 21 did not have any measles vaccinations, he said. (Doctors usually recommend two shots.)

“Our concern would be that if you have a pocket of people who associate and think alike, if they don’t believe in immunization there’s going to be some other vulnerable people,” Jones said.

Neither Eagle Mountain International Church nor Kenneth Copeland Ministries responded to repeated requests for comment.

Eagle Mountain Pastor Terri Copeland Pearsons has said that “while some people may believe she is against immunizations, that is not true.”

“I believe it is wrong to be against vaccinations,” she said in a statement.

But the pastor hasn’t always preached a pro­immunization message.

In an August 15 statement, Copeland Pearsons drew a link between vaccinations and autism, saying, “The concerns we have had are primarily with very young children who have family history of autism and with bundling too many immunizations at one time.”

Likewise, in 2010, during a broadcast about health, Kenneth Copeland – whose followers consider him a prophet – voiced alarm about the number of shots given to his grandchild.

“All of this stuff they wanted to put into his body,” Copeland said. “Some of it is criminal!”

Copeland was particularly agitated about the Hepatitis B shot.

“In an infant? That’s crazy! That is a shot for sexually transmitted disease!” he said.

“We need to be a whole lot more serious about this and aware, and you don’t take the word of the guy who’s trying to give you the shot about what’s good and what isn’t.”

Dr. Don Colbert, a "divine health" expert who has appeared with Copeland in several broadcasts, then said the autism rate among children has increased with the number of childhood vaccinations.

"I have had so many patients bring their children in and they say, you know what, the week after I had that immunization, for MMR – measles, mumps and rubella – my child stopped talking, my child stopped giving me eye contact. He was not alert, he was not coherent. he quit speaking, he quit being the child I had," Colbert said on the webcast.

Colbert and the Copeland family are wrong about immunizations, said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University.

“It's painful because these pastors are trusted spiritual leaders who are speaking to people not only in their congregations but also on television," he said. "They are putting people at risk.”

There is no link between vaccinations and autism, and hepatitis can be passed from mother to child, making the shot necessary and effective, Schaffner said.

Schaffner said that doctors call concerns about bundling immunizations the "pin cushion effect." It's a common but unfounded fear, he said.

Most health experts, including the American Pediatric Association and the Tarrant County Public Health Department, agree with Schaffner.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, the church and ministry said that they believe in, and advocate the use of, medical professionals.

"If an individual is faced with a situation that requires medical attention, that person should seek out the appropriate medical professional and follow their instructions using wisdom," the church leaders said.

After the measles outbreak, Kenneth Copeland said that he “inquired of the Lord as to what he would say regarding these vaccinations,” according to a statement posted on the church's website on August 15.

The pastor said that God told him to “pray over it,” and then to “take advantage of what I have provided for you in Jesus’ name.”

Since the measles outbreak, Eagle Mountain has held two free immunization clinics, where about 220 church members received vaccinations, according to Jones, who said the county assisted with the clinics. Jones said that he is working to ascertain how many of the church’s 1,500 members have still not been immunized.

Eagle Mountain and Kenneth Copeland Ministries also disinfected their shared 25­acre campus, including the nursery and day care center, Pearsons said at an August 14 church service titled “Taking Our Stand of Faith Over Measles.” The church runs schools for children through the sixth grade.

When Copeland announces a change in church policy, it's often after he has claimed to receive a new divine revelation, said former members of the church.

"Kenneth would always come up with a new prophecy to match what's going on," said one

former church member, who wished to remain anonymous in order to maintain business ties with the church.

In this case, Copeland’s new revelation – and the church's recent statements –represent a big shift, said the former members.

Amy Arden worshipped and worked at the church, including in its nursery, for six years, first as a volunteer, then as paid staff from 2000 to 2003.

Arden said she now deeply regrets teaching other parents how to access the Texas immunization exemption forms. But she and another former church employee described a closed spiritual world in which doubts are kept quiet and leaders' words are rarely questioned.

“This was Kenneth Copeland’s ministry, and we did nothing that he did not approve of,” Arden said.

“It’s hard to believe that hundreds of his children in his church were not getting vaccinated and he didn’t know about it. If he was pro­vaccination, we would have vaccinated our children."

Arden recalled a 2002 lecture to church employees in which they were told that every part of Eagle Mountain International Church and Kenneth Copeland Ministries must reflect the founder’s vision.

Arden said she was fired from KCM in 2003 for disagreeing with the church’s willingness to take donations from the mentally ill, including institutionalized patients.

She later cooperated with a U.S. Senate investigation into Copeland’s and other prosperity preachers’ finances. The church was not penalized, but Sen. Chuck Grassley's 2011 report raised questions about the pastors' use of church­owned luxury items like private jets. The Copelands and Eagle Mountain called the investigation an attack on Word of Faith pastors.

Another former church member and Kenneth Copeland Ministries employee who volunteered in the nursery corroborated Arden’s account.

“Being vaccinated was like working against your faith,” said the former church member. “You were trusting a disease's power to infect you over God's ability to protect you.”

Neither Arden nor the other former church member recalled hearing the Copelands or Pearsons preach specifically against vaccinations, however. Nor did the Copelands counsel their flock to reject medical treatment for serious ailments, they said.

More often, the prosperity pastors would preach that faith is the best preventive measure and that some ailments can and should be prayed away, the church members recalled.

That’s a common belief among Pentecostals, said Bowler, the historian and Duke Divinity School professor. According to a 2006 Pew Study, 62% of American Pentecostals say they have witnessed divine healings.

But many Christian traditions teach that God can heal believers. What separates preachers like the Copelands is that they believe Jesus died not only to save humanity from sin but also from sickness.

“When Jesus bore away our sins, he also bore away our diseases,” Gloria Copeland has said in sermons about spiritual healing.

The Copelands also teach that they have unlocked the formula – a combination of words and Scriptures – to guide believers from optimistic faith to tangible results.

“The places they look for those results are their bodies and their wallets,” Bowler said.

In many ways, the Copelands are the spiritual successors to last century's revival preachers, Bowler said, trading traveling tent meetings for lucrative television ministries.

Kenneth Copeland learned at the feet of prosperity gospel founders Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts. Copeland calls Roberts, who believed that God had anointed his right hand with healing power, his "spiritual father."

The Copelands have since created their own unique brand of theology, emphasizing that the

spoken word – a Word of Faith – can turn prayers into reality. Kenneth Copeland teaches that simply uttering the words “I’m sick” can lead to illness, and that proclaiming yourself well can likewise lead to health.

“Our health, our wealth and our place in eternity is in our mouths. Everything about us has been, and will be, determined by the words we speak,” Copeland has said.

Arden said that church members were taught to repeat certain Bible passages, almost like a magic spell, to ward off disease.

“There were healing Scriptures we had to recite over and over again, and eventually, whatever you say will come to pass.”

The Copelands don’t claim to be healers, though they teach that believers who sow “seeds of faith” – sometimes through donations – can see miraculous results.

One account on the ministry’s website says that a Dutch boy was cured of autism after his mother attended Gloria Copeland’s healing school and watched Eagle Mountain church services online.

Arden recalled donating $400 – all she had in her savings account at the time – to the church when her daughter had a serious ear malady.

“I was a broke, single mother earning $7.50 an hour, so that was a fortune to me.” Her daughter required four surgeries before she was healed, Arden said.

Now a financial analyst in New York City, Arden said she keeps her distance from organized religion, but understands what draws certain kinds of Christians to churches like Eagle Mountain.

“About 90% of the people were just like me,” she said. “They needed hope, and they needed to believe that there was something bigger than themselves that would guide and protect them and keep the whole crush of life from pressing down on them.”

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Bioethics • Church and state • Culture & Science • evangelicals • Faith • Faith & Health • Money & Faith • Pentecostal

soundoff (1,318 Responses)
  1. Jake

    Another great example for god not existing. Remember, it is science that brought vaccinations, electricity, and the computer you are using.

    September 6, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • Bonnie J Stowers

      What about he case for intelliigent design?

      September 16, 2013 at 12:20 am |
  2. Bob from Accounting

    Proof of natural selection RIGHT HERE. Thank God that there are still ways that stupid people can end their gene lines.

    September 6, 2013 at 12:42 am |
  3. natural living 1

    Keep that poison to yourselves, I or my children will never put your poisons in our bodies, MY Naturally given body. If you trust that BS inside of you, then good for you, I simply don't trust you or The Gov't. And guess what, I would never trust you or join your army, navy or whatever. Christians are extremist, they either want to shove Their phony god down your throat or put a vaccine in YOUR body. And if you ever try to force me...... Well you know what happens when you trap something desperately trying to escape in a corner.

    September 5, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • Network

      Go ahead and kill your kids mor0n!

      September 5, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
    • SeauxGood

      You have a choice not to get vaccinated. But when you get sick with one of these communicable diseases, people around you don't get to choose whether they catch it from you. At least let others know you're not vaccinated, so they can decide whether they feel safe around you.

      September 7, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
    • think again

      You are putting poison into your head. But from what I read you don't use that much, so no big loss.

      September 9, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • davidvalentine

      No problem. Leave our country.

      September 12, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
  4. cjp

    II used to be part of the faith movement: giving all our extra money, time and energy to the church. It destroyed our marriage and our family. The Faith Movement ("name it and claim it", also called "blab it and grab it") as well as the Pentecostal church, treats the Bible like it's a book of spells: Find the right verse, say it with the correct inflection, hold your hands up just so, squeeze your eyes shut very hard, and BELIEVE with all your might, and God HAS to do it. Magical Thinking. If God does not do it, then YOU are doing something wrong: maybe the wrong verse, or maybe you need to clap three times and say, "The BLOOD of JEEE-sus!" God is no longer a God of grace, but a God of works: pray, believe, quote scripture, claim the blood, speak in tongues, give money, and you can manipulate God and the spiritual realm to get what you want. Can you see the people in Bible days doing that over their crops? No, you have to get out there, trusting in the "arm of flesh" to plow, plant, water, weed and harvest. You have to "lean on your own understanding" when to do all these things. God gave us minds, God gave us arms, God gave us science and medicine. We should avail ourselves of these blessings, instead of begging God to wave his magic wand.

    September 5, 2013 at 1:11 am |
    • Lateefah Amini Brown

      Sent from my iPad

      September 5, 2013 at 7:21 am |
    • Bonnie J Stowers

      Hi 🙂 I am really sorry that you had such a bad experience with a faith church. I hope you can find a church of grace and hope and most of all Love. One day faith will no longer be needed, tounges also shall cease as well for we will see Jesus face to face and we will know then as we are known by him now. The only thing that remains and endures is Love. Yet you are going to have to forgive the peole whoever they may be that offended you and hurt you with their actions whether they meant to or not. Jesus said you must sow forgiveness unto the lives of others so then he can forgive you your unintended sins and transgressions against Him and or others around you. Jesus did say that those who were had not sinned should cast the first stone at the woman caught in the very act of adultery. The Pharisees of Jesus day and time couldn't cast stones and as believers in our day and time neither should we.

      September 16, 2013 at 12:33 am |
  5. ren49woo47

    My husband I have had personal healings performed in us through the power of the Holy Spirit that is in us. We are faith people. The decision(s) to vaccinate are individual decisions between the Lord and that person. I do recommend that further research be done by these reporters into the autism-vaccination issue. I do not believe they have been thorough enough – this report is definitely biased in my humble opinion.

    September 3, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • SeauxGood

      The British team who first published the findings linking vaccinations and autism have since come out and admitted their research was fraudulent. When the people who invented the notion tell you it's a lie, your FAITH should kickstart your DISCERNMENT. A lie doesn't simply become true because we have faith in it. Even the faithful can be misled, misinformed, and even misused by a self-serving clergy more preoccupied with wealth than anything else. Trust me, I believe in faith healing. I have a mother with fibromyalgia whose pain management regimen vastly changed once she rededicated herself to Christ. However, Christ never instructed us to keep blinders on. This cluster of measles cases – whether linked to a particular church, or not – poses a very real public health threat. When your "faith" leads you to decisions that endanger innocent families who have done nothing to you, you're allowing your beliefs to turn you into a bully.

      September 3, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
      • think again

        You don't understand. They want further research until they get the result they want.

        September 9, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • davidvalentine

      You put other children's health at risk. This was proven by that outbreak, where other children were infected. Is this what Jesus would believe in? Really?

      September 12, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Omg, just another conspiracy theorist! The SCIENTIFIC evidence does not show a correlation between autism and vaccines. Vaccines exist for a valid reason in this world, so many disease have been eradicated as a result. While I am fully accepting of questioning new vaccines, the vaccines you are denying your children have been shown time and time again to work. People like to lay blame where blame is not due when they do not comprehend something and that is the case with the autism-vaccine issue. Austism is still a new concept for many, years ago children with it were categorized very differently...the condition was not as understood as it is today. The professional's have valid scientific studies backed by research and peer reviewed studies, that show what it is that causes Autism and vaccines are not part of that.
      As for you denying your innocent children vaccines...first off: Are you kidding me? Who do you think you are to put those kids at risk? You don't care about your children or anyone else, you care about some creature in the neverlands that you can't even show with evidence exists...how very shallow!
      second, if you wish to remain ignorant and not do the right thing, then do the rest of us a favor and stay off the streets and out of the public arena...your ignorance to medicine is not worth the life of other people

      September 12, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
  6. Vic

    Happy Labor Day

    September 2, 2013 at 10:00 am |
  7. Kebos

    The Coplelands should be run out of town. Their ability to con so many shows how gullible people are.

    September 2, 2013 at 7:32 am |
  8. smh

    All I thought was ha ha ha, they got what they deserved.
    Don't like science and medicine? Then welcome to the dark ages.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • Sara

      The problem is that these unvaccinated kids go to doctors offices with newborns who can contract their illnesses. They visit nursing homes and attend schools and playgrounds with kids whose immunity may not have taken to the vaccine. They can easily kill off people who for very good reasons aren't yet vaccinated or cannot build the needed immunity.

      September 3, 2013 at 7:42 am |
  9. Tima

    What is this catholic priest doing here??

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvtdh6s6low&w=640&h=360]

    September 1, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  10. Larry

    science vs hoping wishing praying
    some people just love the dark ages, the time before the renaissance came bringing us reason ...

    September 1, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  11. Jonah

    This reminds me of a story of Brigham Young. A family called on the prophet to bless their sick child. Brigham Young asked them if they had called on the local doctor and administered herbs and medicines. They said no and Brigham Young told them that praying for a sick child without administering the best remedies that were available was like praying that your wheat would grow without planting the seed and watering it.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  12. Vic

    I believe the "powers of healing" passed away with the Apostles of Jesus Christ who were given them by the authority of Him. Since then, whatever healing taking place was/is by God directly answering prayers according to "His Will" and not by powers given to men by Him anymore.

    September 1, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • Bob

      Vic, stuff your idiotic Christ superstitions already. How is it again that your omnipotent being couldn't do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus' death a "sacrifice", when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic "god" that you've made for yourself there.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
      Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      September 1, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
      • Vic

        🙄 Back to square one 🙄

        September 1, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
        • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

          Have you ever thought about this, Vic?? Every time you get a cut it'll scab over. Is that God still healing today?? You might call it forward-thinking.

          September 1, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
        • Vic

          Vic

          God created everything and set in motion where the "Natural Process" is automatic thereafter. "Medical Science" is part of God's "Natural Law" that He revealed for man to discover. When you apply "Medical Science," it works as part of the aforementioned "Automatic Natural Process." So, in turn, all the healing that ever took/takes place whether through "Healing Powers" or "Natural Process" was/is by Almighty God, the Father, Son (Lord Jesus Christ) and Holy Spirit.

          August 31, 2013 at 9:28 am | Report abuse | Reply

          Our bodies are also part of the aforementioned "Automatic Natural Process."

          September 1, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • skytag

      If Christians are good at anything it's rationalizing why the real world doesn't match what they teach.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
    • skytag

      I believe you are a brainwashed simpleton. Prove me wrong.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
  13. Ted King

    It is beyond me how any reasonably educated person can listen to this ignorant, redneck hillbilly Kenneth Copeland for more than two minutes and take him seriously. Listening to him slaughter the English language or babble his silly right-wing nonsense should be viewed only if Abbot and Costello re-runs are not available in your area.

    September 1, 2013 at 12:33 am |
    • Yudhisthira Mahabharata Jr

      i love sam stone. she is well educated, refined, wholesome, a great girl and bound for a special cave in hell designed exclusively for those who accused christians of performing oral secks on his son.

      i believe in divine retribution. i can only hope thammie never realizes how hot 17,000,000 degrees is b4 she slips off into the next dimension. lol

      September 1, 2013 at 6:01 am |
  14. aallen333

    Do not touch my anointed. You're playing with fire when you touch God's children. Especially when you can no longer claim ignorance as an excuse.

    August 31, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
    • Doobs

      Nobody wants to touch your "anointed".

      September 1, 2013 at 2:35 am |
  15. Yudhisthira Mahabharata Jr

    i believe

    August 31, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.