Copeland isn't waiting until the next life to reap his rewards

Knight Ridder Newspapers/August 11, 2005
By Jim Jones

Fort Worth, Texas -- God and money took center stage when nationally known television minister Kenneth Copeland brought his Southwest Prosperity Convention to Fort Worth, Texas, last week.

Copeland is one of the most prominent of a school of evangelists who preach an often-controversial theology that says when people immerse themselves in the Bible's laws of prosperity, God will bless them with spiritual, physical and financial health.

"God wants you to have life and have it more abundantly," Copeland declared at the opening session Monday night, paraphrasing John 10:10. The six-day conference ended Saturday.

When I walked into the Fort Worth Convention Center, people were raising their arms and singing "There's a sweet, sweet spirit in this house." You could almost touch the emotion in the air. Then Copeland bounded onstage to a standing ovation from 5,000 early registrants; he greeted visitors from 42 states and 22 foreign countries.

"Hallelujah!" he shouted. "Welcome to Fort Worth."

Copeland has had his summer convention in Fort Worth for years. But it has always been called the Southwest Believers Convention. The "prosperity" name was added this year, and speakers included the aptly named Creflo Dollar of College Park, Ga., author of a book called The Heart and Guts of Prosperity.

Copeland has a sprawling ministry headquarters on Eagle Mountain Lake, complete with an airstrip. He and his wife, Gloria, live in a ministry-owned home with a dock on the lake. He has offices in Canada, England, Australia, South Africa and Ukraine, and he has flown his own jets to preaching locations around the world.

Their friends have told me the Copelands are generous in donating to other ministries. Their Web site ( says 10 percent of ministry contributions go to other ministries. No information was available on which ministries benefit.

Advocates of Copeland's teachings say he has helped save their health, their families and their pocketbooks. But he's vilified by critics, such as Hank Hanegraff, president of the Christian Research Institute, who say Copeland and others proclaim a "name it and claim it" theology that is a "counterfeit" Christianity.

Prosperity isn't just about money, it affects every area of life, Copeland told those at the meeting. He declares on his Web site that "money is a lousy god" and that wealth and power cannot answer every need.

Copeland's Fort Worth roots are deep. Fresh out of Polytechnic High School in the 1950s, Copeland was a pop singer, and one of his hit records, Pledge of Love, led to appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and with Steve Allen on the old Tonight Show.

After his Christian conversion, Copeland says he and his wife, Gloria, were drowning in debt before they discovered teachings of the late Kenneth Hagin Sr., one of the fathers of prosperity theology.

Having plenty of money is not wrong or ungodly, as some have taught, Copeland contends, and for proof quotes 3 John 1:2: "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." He also advocates a controversial tenet of prosperity theology - that believers can specifically name what they need and God will give it to them from a heavenly storehouse.

"You can draw on heaven like a magnet," Copeland said this week. "We don't have to wait until we get to heaven to get God's blessings. Now's when we need them."

Critics claim that such theology caters to greed and selfishness and that it contrasts with the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi and others who took vows of poverty.

But Copeland vigorously defends his message, saying God wants to bless Christians so they can help others. Copeland said Satan wants to keep people from claiming the gifts God has for them.

At the meeting, he led the crowd in shouting to an invisible devil, "Take your hands off my money. Take your hands off my family. Take your hands off my body."

Copeland said he is a "dependently" wealthy man.

"I depend on God," he said. And he's not just wealthy spiritually. "I've got a lot of money," he told conventioneers. "I've been told not to say that, because people will stop giving."

But not to worry. When ushers began taking the offering, the white plastic buckets quickly began filling with mounds of greenbacks.

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