If every silly thing an evangelist said became news, we’d have 24/7 coverage of preachers, and the late night hosts would never run short of jokes.
Gloria Copeland is the latest preacher to have been caught in a ridiculous string of sayings. What made her claims newsworthy apparently is the fact that she and her husband, Kenneth, are part of the president’s evangelical advisory board. Here’s what she said in a Facebook video this past week:
We’ve got a duck season, a deer season, but we don’t have a flu season. And don’t receive it when somebody threatens you with, ‘Everybody’s getting the flu.’ We’ve already had our shot … Jesus himself gave us the flu shot. He redeemed us from the curse of flu. And we receive it and we take it, and we are healed by his stripes. Amen? You know the Bible says he himself bore our sicknesses and carried our diseases and by his stripes we were healed. When we were healed, we are healed, so get on the word, stay on the word … Just keep saying that, ‘I’ll never have the flu. I’ll never have the flu.’ Put words -- inoculate yourself with the word of God.
Believe it or not, these comments don’t sound insane to me, like they might to you. Because I understand the underlying theology. I was raised in a church that shared the beliefs of Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. They aren’t typical “evangelicals,” though they share common political viewpoints.
The Copelands are part of the Word of Faith movement, born out of the ministry of E. W. Kenyon, and popularized by Kenneth Hagin, who built a church ministry and Bible college in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. The Christianity espoused by Hagin and his followers, including the Copelands, Creflo Dollar, and Charles Capps, to name a few, represents a subset of Pentecostalism, which incorporates elements of the “prosperity gospel,” along with an embrace of faith healing and positive thinking.
Word of Faith Christians believe that, besides the experience of salvation, in which a person repents of her sins, is forgiven, and is “born again,” there is a second experience available to us:“the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues.” This occurs when the Spirit fills a person, and enables her to speak in other tongues, as happened in Acts 2. The technical term for these other tongues is “glossalia,” and is best described as an ecstatic babbling. Those who participate in such babbling believe they are speaking in a heavenly language, known only to God. At times, someone is given the ability to “interpret” this heavenly language, and so speak the message in English to those around.
Along with the tongues comes other benefits: people who are empowered by the Spirit are supposedly given the ability to gain wealth and prosper, as well as remain healthy throughout their lives.
Gloria quotes a passage from Isaiah 53 in her justification of believing that Christians don’t need to get the flu. The passage is known as one of the Suffering Servant songs, because it contains a lengthy description of a servant who suffers on behalf of Israel’s deliverance, and whom Christians believe is a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
The passage in question reads like this:
He was despised and avoided by others;
a man who suffered, who knew sickness well.
Like someone from whom people hid their faces,
he was despised, and we didn’t think about him.
It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
and our sufferings that he bore,
but we thought him afflicted,
struck down by God and tormented.
He was pierced because of our rebellions
and crushed because of our crimes.
He bore the punishment that made us whole;
by his wounds we are healed
(Isaiah 53:3-5, Common English Bible)
The last verse is the one which charismatics have seized upon. In other translations, the line reads, “By his stripes we are healed,” which they believe refer to the stripes on Jesus’ back after he was whipped. They take the word “healed” to be a literal reference to one’s health. Thus, if this is a prediction of what the Messiah is going to do in the future, then they reason that those wounds or stripes are meant for our healing in the here and now. All we need to do to be healed is to “name it and claim it.”
As soon as I left home, I left Word of Faith Christianity behind, believing it to be not only irrational, but dangerous and heretical. Their message goes over quite well in middle-class North America, but it falls like a thud in the Global South, in poor neighborhoods, and in war-torn countries.
Jesus didn’t come to earth in order to make us wealthy and healthy. He came with much deeper ambitions — to make us good.
We are, in fact, supposed to become like Jesus. Nowhere in Scripture is Jesus portrayed as particularly wealthy or healthy. in fact, I daresay that following in Jesus' footsteps guarantees quite the opposite.
I’ve met plenty of healthy and wealthy people who made me sick to my stomach, who were genuinely despicable people. But at the same time, I’ve known plenty of broke people who were sick in bed, but were filled with God’s shalom to the point that I wanted to be like them.
In the meantime, I’m headed to the pharmacy for my flu shot. Maybe you should, too.