According to an article recently filed by the Associated Press, the latest attacks on the Kenneth Copeland Ministries have now shifted to charges of nepotism. This comes as a bit of a shock to those of us in the Judeo Christian tradition, as it puts Reverend Copeland in the ranks of such religious scoundrels as Moses (who passed the baton to his father-in-law), Nehemiah (who appointed his brother to run Jerusalem in his absence), and Jesus (whose brother James emerged as the leader of the Church after Jesus’ ascension).
It would be comical, if the stakes weren’t so high. The fact is that the AP story is just another chapter in a familiar and ongoing tale of religious persecution. It is prompted by Ole Anthony, the local religious “watchdog” who has doctrinal disagreements with Pentecostals and Charismatics and keeps casting around for a willing media vehicle and a new angle that will get him and his organization on the evening news. Anthony has long ago abandoned the idea of confronting these ministries on doctrinal grounds. That clearly doesn’t work in a country that treasures religious freedom. So he leaps from accusation to accusation, taking up a new charge when the old one loses traction. This is merely Anthony’s latest bid for media attention.
The Early Attacks
Several years ago, Anthony tried to convince journalists that the crime of these Pentecostal-Charismatic evangelists was their belief in divine healing. This resulted in a series of television attack pieces on evangelist Benny Hinn, with cameras following Hinn around and documenting accounts of people who were not healed. Pentecostals understand that most seekers are not healed. That’s why we call such events miracles. The idea that a network television producer had figured it all out for believers, doing the work that two thousand years and tens of thousands of thinkers and monks and theologians who devoted their lives to the subject could not do, might have made for an interesting 20-minute segment on a news show. But it was stunning in its intellectual arrogance.
It also put Anthony and the media at odds with most of America. People of many faiths –including Christian Scientists, Mormons, and New Agers – believe in divine healing, if not in Hinn. Sixty-seven percent of the country prays daily. Are they praying for God to help them in their marriages and careers, but not with cancer and diabetes? The secular media, clueless about the role religion really plays in American life, went too far. They were seen by many as attacking the very idea of prayer and of belief in God – a belief shared by 90% of their viewing audience. Not surprisingly, after a few relentless years, Anthony’s efforts fizzled.
Attacks on Ministry Finances
The attack on the spending and lifestyles of the evangelists has met with greater success, although it too has had missteps. When a false attack on Fred Price presented information out of context and led to a damaging lawsuit against a network, the “watchdogs” were forced to be more careful. (You can see the whole embarrassing episode on You Tube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cu82W0o4200)
Now, Charles Grassley, one of the most outstanding and fearless figures of the United States Senate, has been drawn into the attack on Pentecostal and Charismatic ministries. Given his high office, Grassley’s attack has been well covered by the media. At a press conference, he invited public ridicule of the ministries because one of the ministries paid too much for some furniture. He made jokes. He even paid lip service to religious freedom.
A few days later, someone questioned why Grassley had omitted other evangelists of other faith traditions who had even larger compensation packages. Grassley, who claimed to have been mulling this over for two years, said he was completely unaware that the six ministries he happened to target were of the same faith. But after that fact was made clear, and highlighted by letters signed by religious leaders expressing concern that he “sets a terrible precedent,” Grassley did not change his list of targets. The campaign, even now, is aimed exclusively at Pentecostal-Charismatic churches.
The Associated Press Attack
The recent AP article makes no specific charges of illegality against Kenneth Copeland, but the article hints that we should assume the worst, based on the supposedly shocking fact that Copeland has placed family members in important positions in his ministry.
Of course Copeland has relatives who have joined his cause. This is hardly unique to the Charismatic-Pentecostal tradition (although Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, and others on Senator Grassley’s list have certainly entrusted family members with important positions). In fact, it is true of most religious organizations. Jerry Falwell was succeeded by his son. Similar successions are underway in the organizations of Paul Crouch, Pat Robertson, Robert Schuller, and Billy Graham. Indeed, Graham already has a son and a grandson running his ministry, not to mention daughters and granddaughters. Will the AP publish a breathless exposé on “nepotism” in Dr. Graham’s ministry? Don’t hold your breath.
Indeed, we’ve seen children following in their parents’ footsteps in the media. Mike and Chris Wallace come to mind, as well as Jack and Joe Buck. And there have been more than a few seats in the United States Congress that have been regarded more or less as family property. These situations don’t set off any alarm bells, as long as the people in question do their jobs and do them well. Prominent editor Adam Bellow, author of In Praise of Nepotism, has written that “relatives often work harder for less money and are more loyal because they have a personal stake in the organization’s success.” Kenneth Copeland obviously believes this, which is why he has given trusted family members positions in the ministry he has spent a lifetime building.
The nepotism angle is, no doubt, inspired by Anthony. If the AP reporter had not been spoon-fed the story, he surely would have seen that Copeland’s supposed crime of nepotism is not unique to his ministry or to his faith. Copeland, like all successful leaders, has simply relied upon people he knows and trusts. Is that really a crime worthy of investigation?
The Bigger Picture
The larger issue is why journalists and politicians are loaning out their offices to people of one faith who are trying to attack another. The AP story contains no mention of the letter signed by leading Catholic and Protestants warning Grassley of the dangers of the exclusive targeting of one doctrinal group. Indeed, Matthew Staver, Dean of the Liberty University School of Law and a prominent Baptist leader, signed the letter, warning that Grassley’s probe “sets a terrible precedent that . . . should be a concern to all houses of worships across the board – Christian and non-Christian.”
Staver is right. All Pentecostal-Charismatic congregations want is to be left alone to believe, pray, and worship as they are guided. Singling them out isn’t merely unfair; it also threatens the bedrock principle of separation of church and state. And that’s a lot scarier than nepotism.
See Kenneth Copeland’s Jet: https://dougwead.wordpress.com/2008/04/12/kenneth-copelands-jet/
Senator Grassley’s own non profit: https://dougwead.wordpress.com/2008/02/09/people-in-grassley-houses-shouldnt-throw-stones/