NEWARK, Tex. — 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 that many congregants hadn’t been vaccinated against the highly contagious disease.
Although Kenneth Copeland Ministries officials were quick to act after the outbreak — including hosting clinics in August where 220 people received immunization shots — and have denied that 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. . . . 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 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.
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 years old.
During an August 2010 broadcast, Copeland expressed shock at the number of vaccinations recommended for his great-grandchild. And 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.
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 not faith if they go to the doctor, that’s the bottom line,” Anthony said.
In a sermon posted online after 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.”