Beware 21-st century snake oil

March 19, 2020


Kenneth Copeland recently told his followers to claim their healing

We’ve heard the stories of pandemic nobility: The Italian Air Force boosts its nation’s morale as it drapes the sky with a smoky flag; balcony-bound Italians sing their national anthem; an opera singer serenades his neighborhood — again, from a balcony — and a Spanish fitness instructor leads exercises from a roof. Churches cancel worship; many pray for the sick and elderly; many more keep an eye on each other — from at least six feet away.

Jeffrey Brown talked about such innovative, joyful honor on the March 16th news hour.

Unfortunately and yet inevitably, skulduggery and jaw-dropping irresponsibility join hands with harmful naivete. Both Alex Jones, who has marketed hate-mongering on InfoWars, and “evangelist” (note the quotes) Jim Bakker have allegedly peddled fake COVID-19 cures. US Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) defied the experts and told a-symptomatic Americans to boost business and hit their local bars.

And then there’s Russia. Reuters says European Union authorities met with tech company executives to clue them into Kremlin mischief. Moscow has amplified Iranian rumors that the coronavirus is a US bio weapon and that an American soldier deployed to Lithuania was infected and hospitalized. As one EU official said: Moscow is “playing with people’s lives.”

Religious Snake Oil

Even worse are junk religion’s traffickers, who wreak havoc among the vulnerable and gullible. Prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland prayed for his viewers and told them to ignore their symptoms and claim their healing: “Now say it: I take it. I have it. It’s mine. I thank you and praise you for it. According to the word of God, I’m healed. And I consider not my own body. I consider not symptoms in my body. But only that which God has promised.” Copeland also said God told him: “This disease called COVID-19 will be over much sooner than you think, Christian people all over this country praying have overwhelmed it. Give Me all the glory, saith the spirit of grace. And many, many people will come to know Me through it. I am still Lord over this nation and I am on the throne and faith in Me changes things!” And he said this: “There’s been some really nasty things that have happened this year—last year and this year—that I’m quite certain—well, I know—opened the door to a lot of this. Displays of hate and hatred by politicians toward the president. And hate on both sides. The Democrats hate him, and we have some people that hate them because they hate him.”

The faith healer forgets that the pandemic is world-wide. It isn’t confined to the land of alleged Trump-haters.

Others sank even lower: American Pastor Dionny Baez promised immunity for the children of a Norwegian television audience if families donated $200; members of a South Korean church sprayed each other with salt water in an ill-informed method to cure themselves of the disease (the nozzle seems to have been infected); Guillermo Maldonado, a South Florida megachurch pastor who claims to be an apostle, was disappointed by low church turnout and posted on Facebook (later deleted): “Come in and receive your healing, or stay home and miss out.”

Michael Grenholm gives more details at Pentecostals & Charismatics For Peace and Justice.

Paula White-Cain was not as egregious. The head of President Trump’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative gave a lengthy talk on the pandemic and prayed for America. Some of her statements on March 17th were helpful; some were exegetically dubious. She also “declared” healing and protection over America, which is common in her tradition but, I think, is not biblical. And she couldn’t help sneak in a donation request at her talk’s end. Here’s the relevant section:

Again, such pleas are common in her tradition and among non-profits (see the donation request emblazoned today at the Right Ring Watch web site). But I wonder: Could she not, for this one moment, understand that atheists and agnostics are sniffing out alleged hypocrisy? The vibe I pick up from Paula White-Cain is stubborn gullibility. She’s not an intentional liar or huckster. She really believes Donald Trump is God’s gift to America and she’s not aware of her tradition’s dark side.

My request to Paula: Please become aware.

Tap here for her full talk.

The Most Famous

Jerry Falwell, Jr., deserves emphasis, what with his influence. He speculated that the virus is a Chinese-North Korean bio-weapon. He also suggested, oddly, that COVID-19 is no big deal and promised to keep his school open because, apparently, he out-experts the experts. Note the following Twitter dialogue between Falwell and a concerned parent:

Falwell reversed his decision on Monday. His school would join almost every other Virginia college and move most inclasses on-line.

Thanks for the great Christian witness, President Falwell. Memo to any Liberty University trustee: Please talk to your chief.

A bully huckster wins an honorable mention

She’s not a religious leader, but we cannot pass Ann Coulter. She never misses an opportunity to throw spitwads of malice at the defenseless. Here’s her assessment:

Jim Geraghty of the National Review remarked: “What the hell is this, Logan’s Run? I guess your perspective on the coronavirus being particularly dangerous to octogenarians depends upon how many people you know who are in their eighties or approaching it. We’ve got about 13 million Americans over age 80. About 1.5 million Floridians are in their eighties. Sure, a death toll among the elderly, who have hopefully lived full lives, is somewhat less tragic than a virus that cuts people down in their prime or children. But that doesn’t make it any less sad or worth attempting to prevent or mitigate. A virus that has even a 2 percent death toll among elderly Americans is going to mean a lot of funerals.”

I think of my 87-year-old mother. I say to Coulter: “Thanks so much for your concern.”

The con artist in chief

Almost all the above are Donald Trump‘s disciples. The president says he takes the virus seriously, and yet he still displays outlandish hucksterism. He now claims, with a straight face: “I’ve always known this is a real—this is a pandemic …I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

He’s re-writing history. Here are four quotes to remember, lifted from a Dick Polman‘s column:

Jan. 22 (when asked if he was worried about a pandemic): “No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

Feb. 23: The situation is “very much under control…We had 12 (cases) at one point. And now they’ve gotten very much better. Many of them are fully recovered.”

Feb. 26: “We’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up…Within a couple of days it will be down and close to zero.”

March 9: “The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation.”

David Brooks, a conservative columnist, told the PBS News Hour audience that America is paying the penalty for electing narcissistic, mendacious president. Here’s a quote:

“We sat here many years ago, when we saw images of Katrina and bodies floating in New Orleans. And I think both Mark and I felt a deep sense of anger. And I feel a deep sense of anger that our government has responded so badly. And frankly, this is what happens when you elect a sociopath for president who doesn’t care, who has treated this whole thing for the past month as if it’s about him. [He thinks]: ‘How do people like me?,’ minimizing the risks. [He thinks]: ‘Does the stock market reflect well on me?’

“And he hasn’t done the things a normal human being would do, which was to ,,, take precautions. Let’s do the backup things we need to do. Any president would sit down with his team and say ‘people will suffer here. Let’s get ready.’ He’s incapable of that. And he’s even created an information distortion field around him. Even today, the press conference today was all his propaganda. He wasn’t honest with people. And then with [PBS reporter] Yamiche’s perfectly good question about an agency, maybe he didn’t know when that part of the National Security Council was shut down, but he should know about it by now. And so the fact the he wasn’t even aware of this is a sign that nobody is willing to tell him bad news. And we have got a dysfunctional process at the heart of the administration at a time of great national crisis.”

View Brooks’ full conversation with Mark Shields and Judy Woodruff:

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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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2 Comments on “Beware 21-st century snake oil”

  1. Sarah Latimer Says:

    Thanks, Chuck. Seems many the religious leaders of our day wouldn’t have been unfamiliar to Jesus. I am comforted that God has only ever had a remnant. As for health/wealthers, they have perverted the Good News so much as to no longer be Christian. Did you know that Copeland copied from Hagan, and Hagan from Mary Baker Eddy, almost verbatim. If memory serves… which it does less and less often….



  1. Some Christians Are Actually Behaving Well | The Alternative Mainstream - March 24, 2020

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