Why We Fall

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

The organ began. Len Mink, the voice behind Gospel Duck, asked the crowd to rise and "get the blood circulating." He was stocky, with a full head of light-blond hair and pink skin.

Mink invited everyone to "join me on this song":

We declare the glory of this place!
We declare the glory of this place!
Declaaaaare the glory!
Declaaaaare the glory!
We declare the glory of this place!

Mink crooned other songs—some slow, others fast-paced. People hummed along. Some jumped. Others swayed. I sat.

The music wound down. "Praise Jesus, the Lamb of God!" Mink said. He was panting by this time, and I noticed that he wasn't so much stocky as chubby. "Thank you, Lord Jesus! Well, you may be seated in the presence of the Lord. Praise your Lord Jesus!"

He paused. "Perhaps you need a healing today," he said. Murmurs of agreement bubbled from the audience. "You need a marriage healed. You need your body healed. You need your children to come back to the Lord. There's something deep inside you that's hungering for more of God. Well, you've tuned in to the right place."

Mink invited Art Aragon, head pastor at Anaheim's Heritage Family Fellowship, to preside over the "offering."

"Praise the Lord, everybody," the hulking Aragon said. Ushers passed out buckets and envelopes. Printed on the envelopes was "I am sowing," and then a blank with a dollar sign, followed by the words that you believed your gift would bring you "the hundredfold return." Aragon called the envelopes "your point of contact as we get ready to honor the Lord and worship him with our seed."

"Am I looking at a bunch of sowers today?" Aragon yelled. "Say, 'I'm a sower.'"

"I'm a sower!" the crowd shouted.

"This soil is fertile and this soil will produce for the Kingdom of God," Aragon continued. "As we release this seed, harvest will come our way."

Aragon prayed. He asked God to release the bounty of His harvest, so that donors can experience "first-class living without first-class prices."

"We say their bills are being paid off," the bespectacled Aragon whispered, eyes closed, microphone inches from his lips. "We say no childhood diseases on their children. We say their heart and lungs and kidneys are strong. No sudden deaths. No rapes. No burglaries. No drive-by shootings. Their homes are protected. They're covered by the blood of the Lamb. And therefore we honor you with our substance.

"Jesus is Lord, everybody!" Aragon concluded. "Ushers, if you will."

The buckets came back. They jingled.

Since the 1960s, Anaheim has been a focal point for Christian fundamentalists. In 1961, the Orange County School of Anti-Communism, a group of civic leaders and pastors (including the Crystal Cathedral's Robert Schuller), organized a five-day celebration to lecture students on the Red Menace that culminated with a midday rally at Anaheim's historic Glover Stadium, attended by more than 7,000 students.

A couple of years later, city churches successfully pressured the Anaheim Union High School District to kill an innovative sex-ed program; their efforts eventually made sex education voluntary in California high schools. During the next two decades, such mega-churches as Melodyland Christian Church and Vineyard Christian Fellowship provided soldiers for the resurgent Christian Right.

Anaheim remains crucial in the national Christian movement, even as the city's ministries have lost their local influence to other Orange County institutions—Saddleback Church in Lake Forest is one of the nation's largest, Costa Mesa's Calvary Chapel remains its most conservative, and the Trinity Broadcast Corporation is the largest televangelical network on Earth. But Anaheim still brings the saints. Earlier this summer, Anaheim Stadium hosted the Harvest Crusade for the 16th consecutive year. Down Katella Avenue that same weekend, the Arrowhead Pond welcomed the Promise Keepers, the male-only Christian ministry that urges participants to "restore" the mythical 1950s nuclear family. In February, the National Religious Broadcasters association held its annual gathering at the Convention Center, attracting such major players as James Dobson, the Family Research Council and all the big televangelical networks. The Convention Center is scheduled to receive at least six other conservative Christian preachers and churches this year.

But at five days, the Kenneth Copeland Ministries Believer's Convention—renamed this year as the Overflow Prosperity Convention—is one of the longest revivals in American Christendom. It wears you down. The celebrants on this Saturday looked haggard, as if the preceding four days had been designed to produce breakdown.

But healing was coming.

When Mink introduced Gloria Copeland after another song, the auditorium erupted in relieved cheers and hosannas.

Here at last was healing.

"I'm not the healer, but I know the healer. Hallelujah!" Copeland began. "Jesus is here today. He's the healer."

Copeland wore a three-piece teal suit—it might have been made of denim. Her nails were neatly manicured; her blond hair showed dark roots but was nicely complemented by fat gold earrings. The lipstick was cream-colored.

She promised the crowd that "every need" would be met that day. "We believe the hand of the Lord is stretched out in miracles today," she said. "We believe in miracles."

But not immediately. First, Copeland moved through a two-hour speech on the biblical support for healing:

•Ephesians 2:10. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."

•Acts 10:38. "How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him."

•Deuteronomy 28:61. "Also every sickness, and every plague, which [is] not written in the book of this law, them will the Lord bring upon thee, until thou be destroyed."

"It's God's will to have you healed," Copeland proclaimed. "It's the devil that wants you sick."

At one point a woman in the deaf section stood and screamed. She knocked down a chair and angrily pointed at a translator. Her squeals were otherworldly. People rose from their seats to see. Copeland was unruffled. "Don't be distracted by the commotion," she said as ushers escorted the woman out of the Convention Center. "They'll take care of it, whatever it is."

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