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The Evangelists Who Hoard for the Lord, and Refuse to Render unto CaesarWritten by Jacob Prasch
July 11, 2008
"It is not yours, it is God's, and you are not going to get it." So says Kenneth Copeland, one of America"s most influential charismatic evangelists, girding his loins for a protracted war with the US authorities over tax.
Copeland is one of six "televangelists" facing investigation for alleged financial wrongdoing, says The Times. But not all of them share his claim that God and money are intimately linked. Copeland preaches the doctrine of "prosperity theology" : the faithful, he says, will be rewarded with financial as well as spiritual rewards " “ especially if they dig deep for the Church. "You are not created for poverty," he booms to his congregation, encouraging them to deposit cash in a donation envelope, across which is written: "I am sowing $___ and believing for a hundredfold return."
The Lord has certainly blessed Copeland and his wife Gloria, who together preside over the Texas-based Eagle Mountain International Church, aka the Kenneth Copeland Ministries, and draw record audiences with their daily "Believers' Voice of Victory" broadcasts. The senate report on their finances claims that the ministry built them a "parsonage" the "size of an hotel" and got them a $20m Cessna Citation X Jet. Copeland's son counters that the jet " “ which came his father's way after "the Lord spoke to me and said you're gonna believe for a Citation X, right now" " “ is "just a tool to use in the ministry" .
But it is at the heart of the row over tax and churches splitting the American public. As The American Spectator points out, the targeting of churches could have a "chilling effect" . American ministries are exempt from taxation precisely "to prevent the government from using its taxing power to constrain the freedom of religion" ¦ guaranteed under the First Amendment" .
True, counters Senator Charles Grassley. But there is evidence that some ministers have been abusing this privilege by channelling funds into lavish lifestyles and lucrative sidelines. Professional televangelist investigator Ole Anthony goes further. "They live like Middle Eastern potentates," he told the Canadian National Post. "They're just the antithesis of what an evangelist should be."
Certainly, Copeland's private airstrip and his for-profit company, Security Petrol " “ which acquired oil, gas and mineral interests from the ministry " “ might not please St Francis of Assisi. Senators are also asking about a planned hotel and retirement community that Copeland Ministries has asked donors to support.
Kenneth Copeland hasn't moved far from his Texan roots, notes the The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, but he's always made the most of his gift for the common touch. He was a pop singer before his marriage and Christian conversion. An early mentor was Oral Roberts, a "neo-Pentecostal" televangelist. Copeland took a job as Robert's pilot, but claims he and Gloria were "drowning in debt" until they found prosperity theology (see below) and formed their own ministry.
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