Not even a pandemic can bring TV preachers to their senses. Undeterred by a disease that is clearly ecumenical and universal, they continue to rely on their myopic vision and encrusted beliefs to push their claims.
In Texas, famed evangelical preacher Kenneth Copeland, 83, covered his right hand with some kind of ointment, pointed at the camera and insisted that believers who put their right hand on their TV set would be cured. Of course, Copeland is more concerned about his financial lifeline. Worth an estimated $780 million, Copeland built that hefty bank account by sucking funds from the wallets of his gullible audience.
If they stop donating, he may have to spend some of his loot.
He is well aware of that, telling his oft-sheered flock, “Your job’s not your source. If it is, you’re in trouble. Jesus is your source! Whatever you do right now, don’t you stop tithing! Don’t you stop sowing offerings.” If unable to get to church, Copeland added, “Mail it in, then! Text together. Something. But you get your tithe in that church if you have to go take it down there and drop it off … stick it under the door or something. You get that tithe in that church, you get that offering in that church, and then you go home and do what you’re supposed to do.”
God knows what would happen to his finances if congregants stop listening.
His use of the TV is ironic. When television first became popular after World War II, preachers then called it the devil’s tool and insisted that rays from a set would kill viewers. Copeland has reversed that in a desperate attempt to keep the money spigot open.
Jim Bakker, back on TV after a prison term for fraud, has found the coronavirus a godsend. He’s hawking a product called Silver Solution, available of course from his web store. Supposedly, the 16 oz bottle costs $40, but crafty shoppers can spend up to $300 by buying bulk. What does it contain: de-ionized water. According to the label, that’s it.
Belief must an ingredient, too, since the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reported that de-ionized water has “no known health benefits.” However, it does have side effects, including discoloration of skin and interference in the absorption of real medicine.
He has now been sued by the state of Missouri to stop "advertising or selling Silver Solution and related products as treatments for the coronavirus."
That should dam up that river of income.
Evangelists are also sure of the cause of the pandemic. Just like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes, COVID-19 is the result of sin. That’s what Robert Jeffress, pastor of the Dallas First Baptist Church, told the 14,000 members of his flock. “The coronavirus is not one of the plagues in [the book of] Revelation. However, all natural disasters can ultimately be traced to sin.”
Jeffress, a favorite of the conservative coterie, was echoed by evangelist Rick Wiles who insisted, “God is about to purge a lot of sin off of this planet.”
Apparently, Landon Spradlin must have done something very wrong. He was an evangelical minister who decided to preach God’s message to the sinners in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. He returned home to Virginia and died from the effects of the COVID-19. He was one of the first people from Virginia to die of the infection.
He also claimed the publicity about the virus was just a disguised attack on President Donald Trump.
His direct line to God must have gotten crossed.
But the ideas are very familiar. During the Black Plague of the 1300s, groups of people went around beating themselves to atone for the sin they were sure caused the disease. Called flagellants, they created bloody parades throughout Europe.
In the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918-1919, many religious institutions closed in accordance to governmental orders. Of course, some did not. In Paris, Texas, religious folks asked the mayor to ignore the rules because “we must obey God rather than man.” The mayor agreed. Civic authorities later noted, “Paris has had a heavy toll.”
In the Middle Ages and in the 20th century, townspeople brought out religious icons and held parades to ask bygone saints to intervene. These days, the Italians have called on Pope Francis to do something. He did; he conducted Mass in an empty church.
|Boston's St. Rosalia procession|
In Sicily, which has been very hard hit by the virus, artists in Palermo are wearing images of St. Rosalia on masks. She supposedly appeared in 625 to stop a plague in that city. The hope is she’ll appear again. Other cities, like Boston have annual parades in honor of St. Rosalia.
The same effort was made in ancient Greece and Constantinople during plagues then, beseeching different gods. The results were the same. COVID-19, like past plagues, is immune to religious persuasion.
Actually, the devout would do much better by turning off the evangelists and staying home. There, they can pray that everyone else does the same thing. That way, evangelists may not rake in any money, but at least they won’t kill more people, sell more fake medicine or promote more nonsense for their own person gain.
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture. He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the author of the recently published novels Revelation! (Southern Owl Press) and The Great Seer Nostradamus Tells All (Bold Venture Press) as well as a variety of nonfiction books, including The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information and Comparative Religion for Dummies. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. He can also be followed on Twitter.