NEWARK, Texas (AP) - The teachings of televangelist Kenneth Copeland
and his family focusing on the virtues of trusting God to keep healthy
are under scrutiny after a cluster of measles cases linked to his
family's North Texas megachurch revealed many congregants hadn't been
vaccinated against the highly contagious disease.
Kenneth Copeland Ministries has won supporters
worldwide through television programs, crusades, conferences and prayer
request networks. He was a pioneer of the prosperity gospel, which holds
that believers are destined to flourish spiritually, physically and
Although church officials were quick to act after
the outbreak - including hosting clinics in August where 220 people
received immunization shots - and have denied they are against medical
care or vaccinations, people familiar with the ministry say there is a
pervasive culture that believers should rely on God, not modern
medicine, to keep them well.
"To get a vaccine would have been viewed by me and
my friends and my peers as an act of fear - that you doubted God would
keep you safe, you doubted God would keep you healthy. We simply didn't
do it," former church member Amy Arden told The Associated Press.
Health officials say 21 people were sickened with
the measles after a person who contracted the virus overseas visited the
1,500-member Eagle Mountain International Church located on the vast
grounds of Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Newark, about 20 miles north
of Fort Worth.
Of the 21 people who contracted measles linked to
the church, 16 were unvaccinated. The others may have had at least one
vaccination, but had no documentation.
Symptoms of the measles, which is spread by
coughing, sneezing and close personal contact with infected people,
include a fever, cough and rash. Those infected are contagious from
about four days before breaking out into the rash to four days after.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
recommends that children get two doses of the combined vaccine for
measles, mumps and rubella, called the MMR. The first dose should be
given when the child is 12 to 15 months old and the second at 4 to 6
During an August 2010 broadcast, Copeland expressed shock at the number of vaccinations recommended for his great-grandchild.
"I got to looking into that and some of it is
criminal. ... You're not putting - what is it Hepatitis B - in an
infant! That's crazy. That is a shot for a sexually transmitted disease.
What? In a baby?" he said. "You don't take the word of the guy that's
trying to give the shot about what's good and what isn't. You better go
read the can or read the thing - find out what's going on there and get
the information on there because I'm telling you, it's very dangerous
the things that are happening around us all the time."
His wife Gloria bragged during a conference that
she and her husband don't need prescription drugs, adding that the Lord
heals all diseases.
Robert Hayes, risk manager for the ministries,
denied that the church's teachings ever have advised against
immunizations and noted the facility includes a medical clinic staffed
with a physician.
Ole Anthony, president of the Dallas-based
religious watchdog group Trinity Foundation, said that while there might
not be specific guidance on topics such as vaccinations, the views of
the leadership are clear.
"The whole atmosphere is to encourage them to have
faith, and it's no faith if they go to the doctor, that's the bottom
line," Anthony said.
In a sermon posted online following the outbreak,
Copeland's daughter, Terri Pearsons, who is a senior pastor at Eagle
Mountain along with her husband, encouraged those who hadn't been
vaccinated to have it done, but added that if "you've got this covered
in your household by faith and it crosses your heart of faith, then
don't go do it."
In a statement denying that she opposes
vaccinations, she added the concerns they had had were "primarily with
very young children who have a family history of autism and with
bundling too many immunizations at one time."
A fear of the MMR vaccine can be traced to a
now-discredited paper published in 1998 by British researcher Andrew
Wakefield and colleagues that suggested a link between autism and the
combined childhood vaccine for MMR. Repeated studies since have shown no
connection, the paper was eventually rejected by the journal that
published it and Britain's top medical board stripped Wakefield of the
right to practice medicine.
"We do know how to effectively prevent measles. We
do know that and so a choice not to do that, to put a child at risk is
just an unsupportable, an unconscionable choice. And in addition, you
put others at risk," said Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases
at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Arden, who attended church at Eagle Mountain from
1997 to 2003 and worked at the ministries for three years, said the
distrust of vaccines was so pervasive that her daughter, who as an
11-month-old was up to date on her immunizations when they joined the
church, didn't get any others until they left.
"We were terrified to have any sort of fear. And
anything that wasn't faith in God was fear," said Arden, 35, who now
lives in New York City.
Kristy Beach, 41, said that because of the
ministry's teachings, her mother, Bonnie Parker, refused to see a
doctor, even as her cancer advanced rapidly. After Parker died in 2004
at age 59, Beach found her mother's diaries, which detailed the words of
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland she'd heard on television in her home in
"If she went to a doctor, it was a sin," Beach
said. "You didn't believe enough if you did. She just wrote: 'God heal
me. God heal me. God heal me.' "
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