Officially, measles has been eradicated in the Western Hemisphere. But even so, 25 people in Texas have caught the virus. And most of them go to a church associated with a preacher who has been critical of vaccines.
A visitor to the Eagle Mountain International Church who had recently been traveling brought measles back with him. Eagle Mountain is part of Kenneth Copeland Ministries—Copeland is a televangelist who has disparaged vaccines on his show (the segment starts around 20:10), saying things like, “You’re not putting Hepatitis B in an infant. That’s crazy, man. That is a shot for sexually transmitted disease… You don’t take the word of the guy that’s trying to give the shot about what’s good and what isn’t.“
Terri Pearsons, the daughter of prominent televangelist Kenneth Copeland, and the leader of Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas, has long warned followers to stay away from vaccines, promoting the idea that they cause autism. The un-vaccinated congregation was recently put in danger when a member left the country and came in contact with measles. They then returned to Texas, where they interacted with the congregation, as well as handled children in the church’s on-site day-care center.
Nine children and six adults have been infected with the disease, twelve of whom were not fully vaccinated. All of the school-aged children infected were home-schooled, and didn’t have to get the immunization shots needed to enter public schools. Infected people will spread the disease to 90% of the people they come in contact with.
“This is a classic example of how measles is being reintroduced,” William Schaffner, a professor and infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville told USA Today, citing examples where fears of vaccines causing autism have led to measles outbreaks. “This is a sadly misinformed religious leader.”
Following the outbreak, Pearsons has called on all congregants to become vaccinated.
“Our children and even adults of all ages need to be immunized now to stop the spread of measles and prevent those potential complications,” She said. “The disease is only shut down when all are immunized.”
A group of Religious Right activists, including prominent advocates of dominionism, have joined together to circulate a “Declaration of Dependence upon God and His Holy Bible” in which signers vow to “refuse any mandate by the government that forces us to fund or support abortion” and to “oppose same-sex marriage, polygamy, bestiality, and all other forms of sexual perversion prohibited by Holy Scripture.
Colorado Springs pastor Andrew Wommack, who wrote the pledge, says that he will spend $500,000 promoting it online and in newspaper ads. On Sunday, Wommack’s ministry bought a pricey full-page ad in the New York Times that showed the full text of the “declaration” and some of its most prominent signers.
Among those who have signed Wommack’s pledge, according to the ad, is Religious Right activist David Barton, who has been teaching students at a Bible college run by Wommack to retake the “mountain” of government in accordance with the Seven Mountains dominionist belief that conservative Christians must take control of the seven areas, or “mountains,” of society.
Other signers are Jerry Boykin, the executive vice president of the Family Research Council; prominent televangelist Kenneth Copeland; leading Seven Mountains advocate Lance Wallnau; prosperity gospel preacher Creflo Dollar; and Kelly Shackelford, whose First Liberty Institute has been at the forefront of the narrative that conservative Christians are losing their religious liberty in America.
Another notable signer is Oklahoma state Sen. Nathan Dahm, who earlier this year sponsored a bill to make abortion a felony in the state, which was vetoed by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin.
In a video message, Wommack says that he believes he was “divinely inspired” to write the declaration, warning that “Satan is fighting for the heart and soul of this nation.”
Another video promoting the declaration shows Fox News pundit Todd Starnes reacting to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, saying, “The Supreme Court’s decision means gay rights now trump religious liberty. If you think the cultural purging of the southern states has been breathtaking, wait until you see what the activists are about to release on American Christians.” In the video, a young girl turns to her grandfather and asks, “Grandpa, we’re Christians, aren’t we?”
Wommack’s declaration reads like a shorter version of the Manhattan Declaration, a 2009 document that joined conservative Catholic and evangelical leaders in a pledge to commit civil disobedience in the face of the supposed impending government persecution of Christians.
Here’s the full text of the “Declaration of Dependence upon God and His Holy Bible”:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Since our Creator gave us these rights, we declare that no government has the right to take them away. Among these rights is the right to exercise our Christian beliefs as put forth in God’s Holy Bible.
We therefore declare that God grants life at conception and no one has the right to take that life unless it is a direct threat to the life of the mother.
Marriage was instituted by God between one man and one woman. The Lord gave only this family unit the responsibility to have children and raise them in the fear of the Lord.
We therefore respectfully reserve the right to refuse any mandate by the government that forces us to fund or support abortion. We also oppose same-sex marriage, polygamy, bestiality, and all other forms of sexual perversion prohibited by Holy Scripture.
We proclaim that Jesus has provided the cure for all sin and therefore reach out to the sinner in love, but do not embrace the sin, knowing its destructive nature.
Therefore, we, the undersigned—not only as Christians but also believing we have the constitutional rights as Americans to follow these time honored Christian beliefs—commit to conducting our churches, ministries, businesses, and personal lives in accordance with our Christian faith and choose to obey God rather than man.
God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t He? Far more mysterious ways than the measles virus does, at least — we know a hell of a lot about the virus, like how to inoculate people against it. But God, He’s mysterious, and one of His earthly servants, Kenneth Copeland, is not a fan of vaccines, instead urging his flock to “teach our children to eat right” as part of “God’s health and wellness plan.” (And yes, in that video, Copeland promotes the completely discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.)
Yesterday, we noted that a top Southern Baptist Convention official blasted David Barton and Kenneth Copeland for their “profoundly ignorant” comments on soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Barton and Copeland advised soldiers not to look for psychosocial help, and instead can simply “get rid of” PTSD by reading the Bible because they are God’s warriors. Joe Carter, the communications director for the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, elaborated in a blog post for The Gospel Coalition.
He calls the two right-wing speakers “fools” who are “among the last people who could be relied on to intelligently interpret a text,” adding: “Their mishandling of Scripture is inexcusable, but what makes it unconscionable is they use God’s Word to shame and berate veterans with PTSD.”
“Barton is still, inexplicably, trusted by many conservative evangelicals, he has himself built his reputation on twisting and misrepresenting historical documents for ideological and propagandist purposes,” Carter writes. “For Copeland and Barton to resurrect this ‘blame the victim’ trope and coat it with the veneer of Biblical warrant is Satanic.”
Dear Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, and every money preacher
it seems that you are always short on money even though some of you earned $100 million last year. It must be tough on your back walking around with big pockets.
I hear your pain. My daughter has Epilepsy, Autism, and dyspraxia. Just the other day I had to find $400 for her orthotics. Also we pay $150 a week for her speech therapy. Don’t worry coz Medicare covers half. Also we regular have to travel down to the children’s hospital for appointments so I can understand having to come up with extra cash for unexpected expenses. If that wasn’t enough, I had surgery for Testicular Cancer 15 months ago. I still get regular pain and find it hard to sit down sometimes even though the doctors say that the can’t find anything.
Wait a minute, listen to me raving on about myself. How selfish of me. It’s nothing compared to the trouble you guys are going through. Stuff like having to find funds to purchase a Citizen X jet, paying $10 million for your 50 story mansion, and other unexpected expenses like staff and lawn maintenance and figuring out which Caribbean island to spend your vacation.
You keep asking for people to send ‘faith seeds’ so you can send them “real anointing oil” from the holy land in a little vile for $5 when you can by a whole bottle of extra-virgin for $10 from Coles.
It’s time for you all to put your money where your mouth is. I have an answer to your financial need so you can make another $100 million dollars in this financial year.
You seem to talk a lot about the parable of the sower where you sow something and you’ll get 10 or 100 fold back so here’s what I want you to do…. Please send me $1000 and you can have the $100,000 God will send you in return.
A measles outbreak has sickened more than 20 people in northern Texas over the past few weeks. Health officials have traced it to a megachurch pastor who tells her congregation about the (false) link between vaccines and autism.
The current measles outbreak in Texas — which has sickened at least 21 people in the northern part of the state — has been linked to a megachurch that encourages faith healing. The Eagle Mountain International Church has a relatively high population of unvaccinated congregants, which allowed the highly-contagious virus to spread rapidly among them.
Texas’ state epidemiologist reported this week that he hastraced the origins of the outbreak, which first emerged about two weeks ago. After a man became sick with measles while traveling to Indonesia, he passed the infection to the other attendees at the megachurch — which repeatedly attracts over a thousand people each Sunday — when he returned home. Measles spread to the congregation, the staff, and a daycare center on church property.
Even though the Texas county where the church is located has an overall vaccination rate of about 98 percent, state officials note that Eagle Mountain International Church includes a “pocket” of people who aren’t vaccinated. The children who contracted measles there are homeschooled, so their parents haven’t been required by state law to get them their measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. That’s likely because senior pastor Terri Pearsons has expressed unfounded skepticism about vaccines in the past, repeating thewidely debunked conspiracy theory that they can lead to autism.
Pearsons is the oldest daughter of conservative televangelist Kenneth Copeland, who has also endorsed anti-vaccine myths. Eagle Mountain International Church is a division of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, which maintains a position on “faith healing” that encourages people to make up their own minds about vaccines rather than putting too much stock in the scientific community. “Kenneth Copeland Ministries’ position regarding dealing with any medical condition involving yourself or someone in your family is to first seek the wisdom of God, His Word, and appropriate medical attention from a professional that you know and trust,” a statement from the executive offices of the organization explains. “Apply wisdom and discernment in carrying out their recommendations for treatment. This would include: vaccinations, immunizations, surgeries, prescriptions, or any other medical procedures.”
Measles, which is so contagious that 90 percent of the unvaccinated people who are exposed to it will get sick, used to kill about 500 Americans each year. Now, advances in immunizations have virtually eradicated the once-common childhood disease. But health officials warn that unvaccinated pockets like Eagle Mountain International Church could allow the virus to come back.
“This is a classic example of how measles is being reintroduced,” William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told USA Today. “This is a sadly misinformed religious leader.”
Since health officials first notified the megachurch about the measles outbreak in mid-August, they say church leaders have been very cooperative of their efforts to contain the virus. But Pearson has also continued to express her reservations about vaccines. “The concerns we have had are primarily with very young children who have family history of autism and with bundling too many immunizations at one time,” she said in a statement on August 15.
Since then, the church has scheduled two vaccination clinics, and Pearson began urging congregants to get their shots. Pearson is also recommending that congregants take vitamin D to “fortify their immune systems,” even though there’s no scientific evidence that vitamins actually protect people against measles like a vaccination would.