Last week, in a bizarre display of alternative facting, Jim Bakker whined that he ended up in prison because the federal government was out to get him. Never mind that Bakker was under constant scrutiny for much of the 1980s for, among other things, siphoning off ministry money so he could maintain a lifestyle on the jet set. Well, it looks like this Trump-style alternative facting has become SOP for the religious right. They’re now defending one of their own from criticism over his defense for having a private plane.
Since Bakker’s fall from grace, Kenneth Copeland has been one of the more obnoxious poster children for televangelist excess. It’s no surprise, given that he is the archpriest of the prosperity gospel–the idea that financial and physical well-being are signs of God’s blessing. He is also a very loud and very loyal supporter of Donald Trump; along with a number of his fellow prosperity preachers, he was a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory council. People who preach a gospel of excess are a natural fit for a man who is the very definition of the entitled one-percenter.
Recently, Copeland thundered that Christians have a duty to get rich in order to make it easier to take over the world. But a truer picture of his mentality comes from a 2015 edition of his “Believer’s Voice of Victory,” in which he told longtime compatriot Jesse Duplantis that he needs a private plane complete with a private airport to fulfill his calling. As he put it, someone with the kind of “anointing” he has on his life can’t properly walk in it if he has to “get into a long tube with a bunch of demons.”
Lisa Guerrero of “Inside Edition” stumbled on this interview during an investigation into high-living televangelists that aired last month. Watch here.
Copeland actually owns two private jets, both of which cost eight figures. He told Guerrero that without a private plane, he’d have to stop at least two-thirds of his crusades. Really, Brother Copeland? Or are you more concerned about cutting back your trips to Steamboat Springs–where you’ve flown over 143 times in the new millennium?
A few weeks after the investigation aired, “Inside Edition” posted Guerrero’s full interview with Copeland to YouTube. Watch it here.
Copeland admitted using his private plane to go on vacation, but claimed that “it’s a misunderstanding of the Bible” to say that preachers shouldn’t live large. Um, Ken? What about the part where Jesus warned about lovers of money?
Guerrero added that her grandfathers are poor preachers who would be “extremely offended” at the sight of high-living preachers like him. Copeland harrumphed that if you look in the Bible, “it’s full of wealth.”
There is little doubt that this full clip was posted in response to claims that the original clip was taken out of context. But that didn’t keep at least two prominent Trumpvangelicals from wailing about the media ganging up on a man of God.
First up, James Robison, a former culture warrior from the 1980s who returned to the battlefield during the Obama administration. In a post at his religious right-aligned blog, The Stream, Robison loudly came to the defense of his fellow Texan. He claimed that his wife, Betty, was brought to tears at the “attack” on Copeland, and that he himself was “hurt” that Guerrero “confronted (him) in such a manner.” He also claimed that what Copeland experienced was the same thing Trump faces “24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” and it’s what you can expect when you are “a target of the Deceiver.”
Apparently Robison expects reporters to fawn over televangelists in the same manner that, say, CBN or Fox News would. In other words, Robison doesn’t want televangelists to be held accountable.
Also coming to Copeland’s defense was Steve Strang, publisher of Charisma magazine. In a recent podcast, Strang claimed that Copeland was so important that he has to fly a private plane. No, this isn’t snark. People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch got a clip.
Strang claimed that commercial flights are so shot through with “demonic activities” and “oppression” that a man of God of Copeland’s stature shouldn’t have to endure them on his trips to his meetings and crusades. He didn’t think he could criticize a minister who has the means to afford a private plane for getting one, especially when he has a large staff. Maybe that’s true, Steve, but suggesting that Copeland is too important to fly with the rest of us sends the wrong message.
Perhaps Strang ought to have a chat with my pastors in Charlotte, who live pretty well and have few qualms about flying commercial when they go on vacation–or, as they would say, on holiday–to the UK. Or perhaps he should chat with another minister friend of mine, who has been in a wheelchair since she was a toddler and goes in a van to her meetings. At bottom, she’s still a country girl from north Georgia, and I can’t see her ever thinking that she’s so “anointed” that she would need a private plane.
It’s rather fitting that Robison likened the attacks on Copeland to the attacks on Trump. After all, the religious right claims that those who attack Trump are doing the devil’s work for him. So calling out high-living pastors also amounts to doing the devil’s work? If that’s true, something is very wrong.
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