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The hallelujah cure: Trump campaign adviser says pray away the flu

The hallelujah cure: Trump campaign adviser says pray away the flu

Brethren, our topic for this week’s column is the flu, because I have it.

I followed the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and got a vaccination, which may or may not have lessened my symptoms. But then I discovered I had neglected the most important prophylaxis of all: prayer.

This advice came from the evangelist Gloria Copeland, who with her husband, Kenneth, runs a religious empire based largely on faith healing. Copeland posted a video last week that argued, passionately if incoherently, either that the flu doesn’t actually exist (“We got a duck season, a deer season, but we don’t have a flu season”) or that faith can protect you from it (“inoculate yourself with the word of God”).

At a time when the CDC was warning that this year’s flu outbreak appears to be the worst in almost a decade, Copeland’s remarks went, uhh, viral. They also attracted unwanted attention to her connection to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, on whose “evangelical advisory board” she and her husband served, alongside prominent Christian and Republican figures including Jerry Falwell Jr., Michele Bachmann and James Dobson. Apparently in response, a clarification went up on the Copeland Ministries website, insisting that “Gloria did not say or imply that you shouldn’t get a flu shot or see a doctor. Gloria and Kenneth Copeland Ministries value medicine and doctors and would never counsel someone not to seek medical care.”

That disclaimer would be more convincing if there weren’t copious evidence that Copeland actually does not value medicine, at least in comparison with the kind of healing that goes on in her church and at revivals. Her statement on the website was followed by pages of testimonials like this one, from “Terri”: “Tests showed I had a growth on my gallbladder and the doctor recommended surgery.  We prayed and received healing by faith. Hands were laid on me and I never had another symptom.”  As Copeland once preached: “We know what’s wrong with you. You’ve got cancer. The bad news is we don’t know what to do about it — except give you some poison that will make you sicker. Now, which do you want to do? Do you want to do that, or do you want to sit in here on a Saturday morning, hear the word of God and let faith come into your heart and be healed?”

Fantasyland, traces contemporary faith healing to the advent of the charismatic, ecstatic form of Christian worship known as Pentecostalism. After its heyday in the early decades of the 20th century, it was banished to the fringes of society for decades, only to reemerge in recent years under the guise of “prosperity gospel.” As preached by the Copelands, Oral Roberts, Joel Osteen and many others, one can think of prosperity gospel as a form of “applied religion,” by analogy to, say, “applied science,” that involves trying to obtain concrete rewards in the here and now,  including fi

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