Why We Fall

Getting healed with Jee-sus and Gospel Duck at the Anaheim Convention Center

Image by Ben FroelichFALLING
People are collapsing around me on the Anaheim Convention Center floor, and I'm wondering if I should too. They fall, one by one, down a line, down four lines, onto chairs and each other. Some crumple toward the ground; others drop like barbells. People writhe. They scream. They cry.

They pray.

There are about 3,000 of us at the Anaheim Convention Center. We're here for healing. We're here to feel the hands of televangelist Gloria Copeland, who promises to cure us of all our perversions, addictions, tumors, heartaches, twisted knees, hurt feelings and diseases in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

We stand in line and lift our arms, palms outstretched to heaven. Our heads bow. We wait. Copeland runs—literally; the woman is in some kind of physical shape—from person to person. Cameramen follow. She grabs the faces of people for about five seconds, shrieks "Be healed!" and moves to the next tortured soul. She speaks with a sugary Texas drawl. She speaks in tongues.

On the brightly lit main stage, an organist begins a long-noted reveille. A bass shakes down the thunder. The tambourines join in—and here come the singers, launching into the Pentecostal standard "Healer in the House":

Now if you're sick or diseased in your body
Well, I've got good news to bring
You see the healer, His name is Jesus
And He's the King of kings

He rides on the wind of mercy and healing in his wings
So take the roof off the doubt, let your faith come on out
Cause there's a healer in the house today

The Convention Center crowd sings along. They flap their arms. They fall. We the sufferers are supposed to have our eyes closed. But I peek.

Now Copeland looms before me. I quickly shut my eyes, hoping she didn't notice my lack of faith—I'm thinking of Lot's wife, told not to look back and turned to salt when she does. Three men gather behind me. Copeland gently nudges my forehead.

"BE HEALED IN THE NAME OF JEE-SUS!" she roars over the skipping organ, the glossolalia, the moans of the saved. I'm trying to suppress my smirk with every muscle of my face, and then it happens: I fall.

Fast.

GOD'S MUTUALS
Three hours earlier, I wanted to bolt.

I was raised in the rigid arms of Roman Catholicism, where we revere the Trinity in awe-inspiring cathedrals and churches, where revelation comes through ritual, not free expression, and the sole interaction between Man and God occurs when we swallow the Body of Christ. And the Anaheim Convention Center just isn't conducive to my idea of the Divine. It's a drab, cavernous arena, better suited to high school graduations and trade shows than the movement of the spirit. When I stood in line there July 9, a Saturday morning, waiting to enter the Kenneth Copeland Ministries Healing School, only the Bibles clutched in the hands of the multitudes suggested a religious revival would soon occur. Outside, on Katella Avenue, the Convention Center's huge scoreboard advertised a coming bridal expo.

In the week leading to the Healing School, the Kenneth Copeland Ministries held its annual West Coast Prosperity Overflow Convention: five days of seminars, workshops and lectures devoted to improving your life through Jesus. The seminars were free, but most required books and tapes and other study material to fully appreciate the Light.

As I entered the Convention Center lobby this last day, the vendors still did a brisk business. There were booths spread across the floor, from the concession stand to the restrooms. They hawked Christian-themed books and videotapes and CDs on topics ranging from living the single life to finances (God's Mutuals seemed to be moving well) to workout routines to something called Gospel Duck, a cartoon character popular amongst the littlest Christian set who's most famous for his tune "I Love to be a Duck for Jesus." Church fliers for local ministries were relegated to an unmanned table.

People heaved bags of this stuff into the Convention Center auditorium. It was divided in half by a giant stage where Copeland would preach. In front of the stage was an empty space—where, in about three hours, the healing would commence. In the center of the floor was a massive sound board; cameramen worked from the sides. Two big screens buttressed the stage, above which hung a giant replica of the Kenneth Copeland Ministries logo—a globe spanned by the legend "Jesus is Lord" and the words "Kenneth Copeland Ministries" just below Antarctica. No cross was visible.

The majority of the crowd didn't look as if they were from Orange County—or, if they were, they're the last remnants of the Silent Majority. People wore plaid or neon. Hair was uncombed; high school T-shirts were worn without irony. I smelled no perfume or cologne; it was all natural body odor. An usher mingled, asking women if they wanted "anointed lotion." People were excited. Eager.

As we waited for the morning's service to start, the big screens flashed testimonials from the Healing School in Singapore earlier this year. We saw footage of people with their arms raised, with Copeland instructing thousands to shout: "My days of sickness and disease are over! I am healed!" Accompanying the images were interviews with the saved, of people who suffered crippling migraines or cancer and no longer do. One lady shared how she twisted her ankle a couple of days before the Healing School. She thought about not showing up, but she was glad she did—the ankle no longer hurt. It was because of Jesus.

"He died on the cross," the woman said, "so I would not have to have that sore ankle."

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