I've spent half a century writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Some evangelical preachers seem to have captured the sanity of millions of Americans. One of these is Kenneth Copeland, a man who trades in some outrageous ideas most of which appear designed to make him wealthier.
Learning from the Master
Kenneth Copeland learned his trade at the feet of a master con man, Oral Roberts. Roberts was the first televangelist to build a valuable empire using other peoples’ money. He invented the swindle that so many others have copied.
In an obituary, Dorothy Sandbrook wrote that Roberts “performed fake healings for thousands of gullible followers who promptly handed over their meager life savings to him. In 1987, he said on a special worldwide television broadcast that unless his followers sent him $8 million immediately, God would ‘call him home.’ He received $9.1 million.”
According to Copeland’s website, in 1966 “God instructed Kenneth, at nearly 30 years old, to attend classes at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.” He was broke and with a wife and two kids “God miraculously provided the money for tuition and books, and he landed a job flying an airplane for Oral Roberts.” How about that?
In March 1967, Copeland heard the word of God. He was kneeling in the dried up bed of the Arkansas River, as you would, when he was instructed “to preach the gospel to the nations . . .”
The next stage of the growth of the Kenneth Copeland Ministries (KCM) gets glossed over in his official story. But, somehow the penniless would-be preacher is publishing a magazine and operating a 10-station radio ministry by the mid 1970s
The Prosperity Gospel
Today, there are daily television shows and multiple conventions around the world. The foundation of KCM is the “prosperity gospel.”
In simple terms, the prosperity gospel, says that if you give money to God, he will return it in bigger quantities. The more complex explanation is that if you give money to God, he will return it in bigger quantities.
Of course, God does not have an account at your local savings and loans so you are going to need an intermediary. That’s where Kenneth Copeland, with selfless generosity, steps up and offers his services.
The deal he offers is that if you give money to his church through tithing, God will reward you. Here is how Copeland explains the transaction in his Laws of Prosperity: “Do you want a hundredfold return on your money? Give and let God multiply it back to you. No bank in the world offers this kind of return! Praise the Lord!”
The prosperity gospel seems to have worked for Copeland; the International Business Times estimates his net worth to be $300 million. In addition, he has three private jets, and a $6 million lakeside mansion.
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“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.”
— Matthew 19:24
Copeland the Trumpist
The prosperity gospel is joined at the hip with capitalism. This ties in with the gospel according to the Republican Party, which is that if you work hard you will be rich; the corollary being that if you are poor it’s your own damn fault.
So, Kenneth Copeland signed on to Donald Trump’s evangelical executive advisory board. He preached that Christians who voted for Hillary Clinton were guilty of murder because of her stand on abortion. Trump, he said, is “led by the Spirit of God.”
So, when the chosen one was defeated in the 2020 presidential election, Copeland took it hard. He went into a maniacal laughing fit for his congregation over the notion that Joe Biden won.
It seems Joe Biden got the last laugh.
Copeland Versus Covid-19
Among the many victims of the coronavirus pandemic have been the numerous evangelical Christian churches. The cancellation of in-person worship has had a negative impact on box office takings, so Copeland decided to fight back.
On March 11, 2020, he declared the virus to be a mild form of flu and to be afraid of it was a sin and a sign of collusion with the devil. But, three weeks later, he got serious.
At the time of Copeland’s thunderous attack on the virus, the United States had recorded 3,900 Covid-19 deaths. A year later, more than half a million Americans had succumbed to the disease.
One is left with the strong suspicion that Copeland’s exorcism hasn’t worked. How does Pastor Copeland explain that? He doesn’t. His website remains silent on the virus’s stubborn refusal to obey his commands. But, he reminds his 1.4 million followers not to stop tithing, even if they’ve lost their jobs.
Why Do People Follow Copeland?
To the objective observer Kenneth Copeland is a charlatan, yet he gets away with it. How? It’s quite simple; he’s a classic confidence trickster and he operates through the same psychological principles used by all swindlers.
It’s all about manipulating our vulnerabilities; and we all have them. The scammer is a master at uncovering our weaknesses and then exploiting them.
David Modic, a psychologist at Cambridge University, England has studied the characteristics of people who get taken in by hucksters. Trust in authority and a wish to conform with what our social circle is doing are two common traits.
Maria Konnikova, is the author of the 2017 book The Confidence Game. She points out that the con artist is very good at reading people and is quick to figure out what they desire. Then, they present themselves as the person who can meet their needs.
And yes, some people are motivated by greed. When they hear the likes of Kenneth Copeland say “Give me a dollar and you’ll get one hundred back” they say “I’ll get me some of that.”
- An early iteration of the prosperity gospel was the New Thought movement. Charles Fillmore was a prominent advocate and he rewrote the 23rd Psalm to read, “The Lord is my banker/my credit is good/He maketh me to lie down in the consciousness of omnipresent abundance.”
- Before Kenneth Copeland became a born-again Christian he tried his hand in pop music. His 1957 song Pledge of Love became a Billboard Top 40 hit, climbing to number 17. No other hits were to follow.
- “Oral Roberts Nothing More than a Con Artist.” Dorothy Sandbrook, The Gazette, December 19, 2009.
- “Kenneth Copeland Ministries: A Brief History.” Kenneth Copeland Ministries, undated.
- “The Prosperity Gospel, Explained: Why Joel Osteen Believes that Prayer Can Make You Rich.” Tara Isabella Burton, Vox, September 1, 2017.
- “Kenneth Copeland Net Worth: Evangelist Is Richest Pastor in the World.” Ernesto Soliven, International Business Times, 2020.
- “How Con Artists Trick your Mind.” Colin Barras, BBC Future, October 3, 2014.April 3,
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Rupert Taylor