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."

NO RAPES
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.

THE DEVIL WANTS YOU SICK
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."

LIVERS, BE HEALED!
Somewhere during the speech, I dropped off. I awoke to hear her say, "This is a done deal. Are you ready to receive your healing?"

The crowd said it was.

"Let's stand up and pray."

Copeland speaks in measured tones. She stretches her vowels, turning even monosyllabic words into two or three syllables.

Whatever you're say-y-ing.
Spou-use.
Jee-sus.

"Are you ready? This is it," Copeland repeated. "If you consider yourself oppressed by the devil, this is your day. Close your eyes, lift your hands and pray this with your whole heart":

In the name of Jesus
I take authority over sickness, disease, pain, all devils.
I command every evil thing to leave my life and my body.
I receive Jesus Christ as my lord and savior.
I receive him as my healer and deliverer.

The crowd repeated each sentence. It sounded like groans. Copeland became more animated:

Jee-sus! I receive you! As the Lord of my life!
Jee-sus! I receive you! As the one who fills me with the Holy Spirit!
Jee-sus! I receive you! As the healer of my body. The healer of my mind. The healer of my spirit. Today. This day!

We echoed her words.

I believe. I receive.
My total deliverance.
From the top of my head. To the soles of my feet.
Sickness, disease and pain, sin, disobedience, evil habits, I resist you in the name of Jee-sus!

Copeland's twang disappeared. Together, we rebuked "every evil habit, every drug habit, alcohol habit, tobacco habit, sexual habit, sexual-perversion habit."

"Now, you be free, you be healed!" Copeland screamed. She was speaking like an auctioneer. She pumped her fists but stayed behind her podium. She seemed coiled up back there, like a spring being squeezed. "You be restored in Jesus' name! Go for it! Be healed in the name of Jesus! I break the power of sickness, disease and habit over your life! And I command you to be made whole from the top to the soles of your feet! Receive restoration in every area of your life!

"Cancer is healed, rebuked and gone!" she continued. "I command your hearts to be healed, your liver to be healed—livers, be healed!" She named more organs, more "deficiencies." She commanded eyes "to see perfect. 20-20 in the name of Jesus."

The prayer was over. Most were healed. I was not. Not yet.

GOODBYE, WARTS
The Kenneth Copeland Ministries have held their West Coast Believers Convention at the Anaheim Convention Center for 28 years. Based in Fort Worth and run by the husband-and-wife team of Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, it's one of the most notorious practitioners of what critics call the Prosperity Gospel, a preaching style that promises health, wealth and heaven to the faithful—in return for cash.

In her book, God's Will Is Prosperity, Gloria lays out the formula for calculating charitable contributions that yield "hundredfold" returns: "You give $1 for the gospel's sake and the full hundredfold return would be $100. Ten dollars would be $1,000. A hundredfold return on $1,000 would be $100,000." And she provides biblical evidence, citing the verse in Mark 10:30, where Jesus tells the disciples that any man who gives up everything for Him "shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life."

People believe: a New Yorkerarticle last year estimated the Copeland empire at $150 million.

The wealth hasn't come without controversy. Last year, the Copelands made national headlines when they asked believers to ratchet up the giving. Apparently, God had revealed to the Copelands that they should purchase his-and-hers Cessnas, valued at $20 million apiece.

To bolster donations, Kenneth Copeland Ministries launched a website, elitecxteam.org, devoted to the Cessnas, complete with a virtual tour. "When God tells Kenneth to travel to South Africa and hold a three-day Victory Campaign, he won't have to wait to make commercial travel arrangements," the Copelands explained, according to the New Yorker piece. "He can just climb aboard his Citation X and go!" Leather jackets commemorating the coming purchase are available for $450.

There is a booth for the Cessnas at the Healing School. But today, no one cared about jets. Gloria Copeland sat in a simple black chair. It was testimony time.

People approached the stage. Copeland's associates held their arms and told their stories. The effect was a little unreal, as if the people themselves were props at a show-and-tell. A woman suffered from breast cancer. After she listened to a Gloria Copeland CD, the tumor disappeared.

"Praise God!" Copeland said, hand raised. "Hallelujah!"

A minister was dying of congestive heart failure. He needed a heart transplant. He wrote a check for $1,000 to Kenneth Copeland Ministries. He no longer needs a transplant.

"Hallelujah! Jee-sus is Lord!"

Doctors at the VA diagnosed a man with bone cancer. He stopped going to the doctor and began attending the Healing School.

"Hail Jesus!"

A group of girls arrived. They were participants in the Superkids Academy, the Copeland's children's ministry. A girl who had worn glasses that very morning no longer did. Another girl's "sharp pains" were gone. A third girl had warts on her hand, "and they are visibly going down."

"Praise God! Hallelujah!"

A young boy no older than four lolled around with his mother. An MC announced that doctors said little Samuel would never walk normally. No hope for a cure. After attending the Healing School last year and today, he can now walk. He still suffers from seizures, the MC said, "but now not as many."

"Praise God, Samuel! Jee-sus healed you!"

Copeland told Samuel to walk across the stage. Samuel approached Len Mink. Copeland gasped. "Oh, he wanted to see Gospel Duck!"

Mink looked down at Samuel. "How'd you do it, Samuel?" he said in the voice he uses for Gospel Duck, a voice like Donald Duck's nephew, Huey. Or Dewey. Or Louie.

Samuel was confused. He mumbled something that sounded like, "How'd you do it?"

"Say, 'I'm healed,'" Gospel Duck commanded.

"I'm healed," Samuel stuttered.

"Amen! Hallelujah!"

The healed testified at the rate of one per minute. A man had no peripheral vision—now he can see. Parkinson's disease was healed. Still's disease. A dizzying array of deadly cancers. Nasal congestion. Macular degeneration. Scoliosis. Gout. Panic anxiety disorder. All healed.

A man had twisted his knee three weeks before, during a basketball game. Thought he wouldn't make it today. But now he was healed. To prove it, he duck-walked across the stage. The crowd cheered lustily.

"In my NFL career, I had eight knee surgeries," an MC said. "And you couldn't do that if you wasn't healed."

But not everyone was healed. "If you desire hands to be laid on you, the symptoms are still there . . ." Copeland trailed off.

She didn't have to say more. The Convention Center sections emptied. Pastor Jesse Duplantis, who runs his own evangelical ministry, emerged.

We the remaining afflicted were all now in line. Waiting. Praying. Hoping. Waiting.

Two long strips of tape ran from the back of the center to the stage. At the stage, there were two other strips spanning its length. "Everyone in two lines along the blue tape!" an usher yelled. "Clear the way, clear the way!" We were apparently standing in the way of the camera crew.

"The moment that hands are laid on you, you take it and you receive it. Amen," Copeland told us.

She tended to those in wheelchairs first, talking to them kindly, slowly—in marked contrast to the short, white-haired Duplantis. He yanked the breathing tube from an elderly lady. "Breathe like I can breathe!" he growled. "If I can breathe, you can breathe!" The look on her face suggested she couldn't breathe, but perhaps that's the look of someone taking her first real, unassisted breath. Maybe it burns.

Copeland sped up as she got to those of us standing. "Pray in tongues, church!" she yelled to Mink. Mink complied: "Abala, abala, abala, abala, abala." She did it too: "Abala, abala, abala, abala, abala." Maybe I wasn't open to the spirit, but a few others in the crowd were: "Abala, abala, abala, abala, abala."

The music sped up. People fell. People ran. People stood. Lines moved swiftly.

And then it was my turn.



I AM HEALED
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.

It takes maybe a second for the men in ties and long sleeved-shirts behind me to cradle me to the ground. It feels like eternity. It's softer than sleep. It's gentle. Involuntarily, I clasp my hands in prayer. I lie on the ground for 10 seconds or so. I'm shocked. I'm angry. I'm relieved.

I'm at peace.

Then I rise.

"You okay?" the men who caught me ask. I am. "God bless you," one says.

I am healed.



In 1925, H.L. Mencken visited Dayton, Tennessee, to cover the Scopes Monkey Trial. His dispatches for the Baltimore Evening Sun remain classics—disciplined, incendiary attacks on the Holy Rollers who thought evolution was a harbinger of the End Times and would battle the forces of the Beast who would dare spread this plague into classrooms.

His most famous of these essays is arguably "The Hills of Zion." In it, Mencken and another reporter spied on a healing session in the forested hills above Dayton. "The smell that they radiated, sweating there in that obscene heap, half suffocated us," Mencken wrote. It was, he said, "better than the circus."

Society still shuns those who believe in healing by hands, and not just atheists but the mainstream and the fringe. The Simpsons and South Park. Lutherans and Anglicans. Almost everyone. In my Mexican world, we refer to such folks as "hallelujahs."

But not me. Not anymore.

As I lay on the Convention Center floor, I realized why we fell under Copeland's touch. I didn't buy the answer evangelicals give to explain the power of healing: that individuals are "slain by the spirit"—overpowered by the embrace of the Holy Spirit, an embrace so powerful all we can do is collapse in shock and love.

My immediate answer was psychological: the power of suggestion and crowds. Everyone else is doing it, so when Copeland finally faces you, expecting you to tumble, and pushes you ever so slightly . . . well, how can you not?

But there's another possibility. Is it just me? Or do we touch one another less these days—less than any other time in history? Listening to the radio recently, I heard a story about American soldiers and contractors in Iraq who separate hand-holding Iraqi men at gunpoint.

Humans need contact. But we—and by "we," I guess I mean Americans and maybe, now, Iraqis—don't touch each other. We don't talk. When strangers greet us warmly, we grunt. If a stranger touches us, we flinch. If they stand behind you, ready to cradle you as you fall, you scream. Or punch.

We are all afflicted with this sickness. We need salvation from each other, by each other.

At faith revivals, you are not a stranger. You are community. The talk is Jesus-oriented, but the true healers are you and me. Jesus is just a vehicle.

The healing touch of strangers happens whenever there's a big crowd. Communion is available at sporting events, concerts, even riots. But it's only at religious ceremonies like the Healing School where we take the true leap of faith, because when we fall, it's strangers who catch us and expect us to catch them with no prejudice. We'll probably never see them again. And that's part of the healing: Now we know even strangers have the inclination to help. Now we can expect that to happen again. Now we are healed. Our faith is strong.

The Copelands and their fellow mega-preachers—Benny Hinn, Paul and Jan Crouch, Oral Roberts, all of them—are charlatans. They prey on this longing for a simple touch and get wealthy with the hopes of millions. As I leave the Healing School, a women hands me a pamphlet proclaiming "YOU ARE HEALED." My eyes focus on Gloria Copeland's ninth point: "Listen to tapes!"

One of the main methods of keeping your mind renewed to the Word is to listen to the Word on cassette tape. I recommend that you take theHealing School tapes home and that you listen to them daily . . . theHealing School will strengthen you and help you stand steadfastly against the onslaught of the devil. Many people with terminal disease have been healed by listening to these truths until the Word in them gets bigger than the disease.

I look around. Gloria Copeland and Jesse Duplantis still roam the Convention Center. Strangers are crying in each other's arms. Strangers smile and laugh. Their Bibles are on their chairs. They no longer pay attention to Copeland. They love. They are healed. We are healed. I am healed.

I walk away. I smile. And the house band rumbles through another song:

Sickness has the power, but Jesus set me free!
Sickness has the power, but Jesus set me free!
Sickness has the power, but Jesus set me free!
Glory, Hallelujah, Jesus set me free!



GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM

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