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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. Ricky Gibson

    "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."

    So, in other words, you want a pet God who will automatically do what you command him to do.

    Too bad these people are ignorant of the wit and wisdom of the philosopher Voltiare who once observed, "If God created man in his own image, we have more than reciprocated."

    Man spends a lot of time creating God in HIS own image. And, a lot of the time, it's pretty ugly.

    August 29, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
  2. pattysboi

    The copelands are just like joyce meyer. Pure snake-oil, and there you go.

    August 29, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
  3. snowboarder

    the snakeoil business is still apparently booming.

    August 29, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
  4. Apple Bush

    wikileaks has been retired in favor of wikipoops.com

    August 29, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  5. Steve Fielder

    What does this Prosperity Gospel have in common with the refusal to vaccinate?

    Willful ignorance, selfishness and a total lack of concern for others who are vulnerable.

    "Christians", indeed. ...

    August 29, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
  6. SeauxGood

    I find it hard to feel sorry for these people. This is what happens when people go to a church for the pastor, and not for the Lord. If they weren't so wrapped up in the person, their discernment would have them question some of the theology Copeland promotes. Does THE BIBLE tell you repeating the phrase, "I am sick," will heal you? Not at all. The Lord instructed us to pray for discernment so our own logic (root word "logos" – meaning THE WORD *hint*), based in genuine knowledge of the Scripture (also known as THE WORD *hint*), would raise flags when we get thrown some of this mumbo-jumbo that passes for Biblical.

    August 29, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
  7. Yakobi

    Let's recap. Copeland cons gullible people out of their hard earned money solely to enable him to con more people out of their money; uses that money to support his millionaire lifestyle; DOESN'T PAY TAXES ON IT; tells people they have to believe in a magical unseen being who will heal all their illnesses; takes credit when they don't get autism when they abstain from immunizations; and blames the believers' lack of faith if they did.

    What a great scam!

    August 29, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
  8. Aimhere

    Faith goes too far when it threatens human safety, or even human life. To the parents of kids that don't get immunized, I'd like to ask, which is more important, your children or your faith? Because you simply can't have it both ways.

    August 29, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
  9. William "the virus hunter" PhD

    "Faith is the purposeful suspension of critical thinking-" -Bill Maher

    August 29, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
  10. sam

    kenneth copeland networth 500,000,000,000,000

    he is the highest paid actor in the world 🙂

    August 29, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
  11. Age of Reason

    ..."JESUS CHRIST and the TWELVE disciples were just a parody of the SUN GOD and the TWELVE signs of the ZODIAC!"
    The Religious Compilations of Thomas Paine

    ......."Jesus" was a mythical, political construct who NEVER existed and DO NOT believe in HIM!!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 29, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
  12. PlatKan

    Seal the doors to the church and start it on fire. Leave them to pray for safety and see what happens.

    August 29, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • Thinker...

      Well that's a horrible thing to do to anyone.

      August 30, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  13. WestCoastAviator

    Remember that Luke, author of one of the canonical Gospels of Jesus Christ, was a physician. If Jesus thought it wise to have a physician on staff, I guess that's good enough guidance for me. I have faith that Christ guides us to those who can lend a helping hand. What rational human being can deny the healing miracle of modern medicine.

    August 29, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
    • And

      Why are so many hospitals named after saints?

      August 29, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
      • Dogen

        Because, at least in the US, many health care organizations were founded by religious groups. There are about 600 Catholic hospitals, the largest group. Methodists also run a large number of hospitals. In areas of the American west where life was hard and health care hard to come by, religious groups stepped in to provide healing as a way of following the teachings of Christ. Now, however, most of them are more concerned about shaving costs, barring patients and employees from exercising health care choices, and trying to screw over nursing unions.

        August 29, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
      • liz48

        Because the roman catholic system was and is an empire with lots of money...and can name things as they please and can make any one a saint as they please...

        August 29, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
    • liz48

      This article is from someone who probably left disgruntled with the organization. The focus of every human being who wishes to identify with the God of the Bible is to have a personal relationship with Him. The Copelands emphasize that. They have got medical attention and others who are similar preachers have had surgery.

      This article is a fraud when it suggests that they exclude medicine because of faith in God. Quite the opposite – each person in his or her relationship with God is to be led to what they should do in any situation. I live this lifestyle and have the unlimited freedom to take supplements if I want to or get a shot. The Lord leads us in His Wisdom and as a Great Dad He is aware of the uniqueness of each one of us and what we can or cannot handle.

      An example (not dealing with health but something different) – I once told my nephew that if he offered someone $500 to settle a situation it would work out. I sensed that in my conversations with the Lord. My nephew did not have the courage to offer that low and wanted to offer $2000. He did and they accepted his offer. He later told me that he felt after speaking to them that they would have gladly accepted $500, according to their organizational practices...I did not force my nephew to accept my view. The Lord knew what he had faith for and worked it out according to his faith. I had no business imposing my views on him.

      Being very familiar with the Copeland type ministry and knowing that they deal with a host of different people, I can say that I have never seen them impose their views of specific beliefs on anyone. They will share their faith and experiences but it is ultimately for each person to act as they feel at peace within, in their individual situations.

      August 29, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
      • Joshua

        You spoke with God? Anyone who claims to speak with God or to hear God is delusional. Plain and simple. You are talking to yourself. It's your subconscious. People hear what they want to hear. This is simple psychology. It's called science. Look into it.

        August 29, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
        • liz48

          In your paradigm you live governed by your 5 senses...ignorant of any existence beyond them. If you had not noticed a person touch a live wire and get electrocuted you probably would have denied the existence of electricity...If you believed in a flat earth and someone told you the earth was round...your comment would have been similar to what you have written here...

          Awake and investigation quantum theory and even if you are among the deluded, that area of science and research should give you pause...

          August 29, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
      • Howie

        Quantum theory is very interesting. I hope you are not one of those intellectually challenged people who think that the unfortunate misnomer of the higgs bosun as the 'god particle' somehow connotes a scientific evidence of the existence of some deity. 'Faith' is a deliberate suspension of humans highest faculty. Reason. Critical thinking. Believe what is based on evidence. No, you don't necessarily have to see it yourself. I believe that a live wire with sufficient voltage will kill a human being. I've never seen it happen, but multiple credible sources point to actual evidence that it is true. Faith requires belief without evidence. Another word for ignorance.

        August 29, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb

      Then legalize marijuana... The herb that heals what prescription "DRUGS" cannot...

      August 29, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
      • Yakobi

        That's only your perception after smoking too much and entering an altered state of consciousness.

        August 29, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
        • Lionly Lamb

          Yakobi....

          I haven't smoked any marijuana in a dog's age Yaki... What exactly is an unaltered state of consciousness..?

          August 29, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
  14. a scientist

    Gullible is as gullible does.

    August 29, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
  15. PamJ

    This article failed to mention how after the infectious disease, Measles spread into the church, the same pastor who told her flock not to get vaccines, later told those infected with disease not to show up to her church. I'm guessing to not infect her, – oh wait she has her measles vaccines already..nevermind she just didn't want the babies to also get their vaccines, I guess was her logic.

    August 29, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
    • liz48

      This article does not represent the true position of that organization.

      August 29, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
  16. worldlypatriotusaveteran

    The fundamental problem with religious faith is it is mostly based on lies, delusions, and false promises. Copeland and his faith are excellent examples.

    EXAMPLE OF A DELUSION: Prayer and faith in the God of Abraham will prevent disease.

    EXAMPLE OF A LIE: All immunizations are dangerous, and all you need for good health and prosperity is strong faith in God

    EXAMPLE OF A FALSE PROMISE: Faith in God and prayer are all you need to prevent major illness.

    August 29, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
    • EA

      That is not how I pray, believe or act and I know other like me. So not all religious faith is what you imagine and describe.

      August 29, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • the menace

      Who the bloody hell are you to hand us your f'ing 'doctrine'? I upped my reputation. Up yours.

      August 29, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
      • Hmm

        he is either a looney atheist or a controlling fundie xtian. tuf to tell them apart.

        August 29, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
        • Jake

          Try this test. Atheists try to point you to reason. Fundies try to point you to fairy tales and nonsense. See, that was easy!

          August 29, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
        • Hmm

          if it were only that simple, atheism just means you don't believe in god. there is NOTHING about pointing someone to reason. or even coming to that conclusion by reason
          and as.suming people who believe different from you are simplyl unreasonable is incredibly arrogant.
          a reasonalbe person will point me to reason
          you will point me to arrogance. blech you.

          August 29, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
    • Truth Speaks

      So this man speaks the truth, and the blind come back screaming hes wrong.

      Your arguments are OH so convincing.

      Take your lies and bull that has been twisted and malformed over centuries and YOU sit on it.

      This is the LAND OF THE FREE, NOT THE LAND OF THE DO WHAT MY FAITH TELLS YOU TO DO.

      Dumb ignorant religious zealots the whole lot of you.

      August 29, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
  17. M.E.

    Let the adults do what they will. Dying of entirely preventable diseases is their choice and frankly it's just Darwinism in action. However, it's horrifying that children should have to suffer and potentially die for the idiocy of their parents.

    August 29, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      Jesus doesn't love the little children ...

      August 29, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
    • a scientist

      Remember that vaccines work best when almost everyone is vaccinated. Even those who are vaccinated can contract measles if they are exposed to enough of the virus. Older adults have waning immunity and they can get it from someone infected. People really need to get vaccinated for everyone's benefit.

      August 29, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
  18. Vox Axiom

    A very profitable ministry you say. Yeah, let's incorporate as a church and live a tax free lifestyle at the expense of the sheep..... I mean, believers. I'm sure that the Copelands live in a real nice house, dress very well and eat very well, etc.

    Could the sudden change in church policy be related to possibly being held liable if any deaths occur? Hmmm, they wouldn't want to open their books if a class action lawsuit were to be successful now would they?

    Further, that so called scientist from Britain (now since been discredited for that so called autism study) should have been procesecuted for fraud and sentenced to secure custody for a few years for his crime. So many parents took his "study" seriously and didn't get their children immunized. A measles outbreak has occured in Wales numbering some 1,200 people resulting in a few deaths.

    Get your kids immunized!!

    August 29, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
  19. john houston

    more texas tragety.let them succeed from the union as well.what ever nonsense comes out of the ministry or a politicians mouth is usually false with as we see here tragic results.Unfortunately these people vote and breed.

    August 29, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • liz48

      While you probably don't vote and cannot or will not breed....

      August 29, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  20. snowboarder

    how do people fall for this nonsense? what is wrong with them?

    August 29, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
    • Unlo4

      Because they WANT to believe it's true.

      August 29, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • Church Motto

      United states was built on this nonsense -> Michelle Bachman

      August 29, 2013 at 6:48 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.