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 financially.
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 years old.
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.