Kenneth Max Copeland
December 6, 1936
Lubbock, Texas, U.S.
|Net worth||US$300 million (April 2020)|
|Movement||Word of Faith|
Kenneth Max Copeland (born December 6, 1936) is an American televangelist and author associated with the charismatic movement, worth an estimated $300 million to $760 million. His organization, Kenneth Copeland Ministries, is based in Tarrant County, Texas.
He has been identified as preaching the prosperity gospel. His evangelism calls for donations to his church, suggesting that parishioners will get a "hundredfold" return on their investment. He has been criticized for his use of donations and tax exempt status to finance mansions, private jets, an airport and other lavish purchases.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Copeland repeatedly claimed that the pandemic had ended or would soon end, that he could cure his followers of the disease, and that followers should continue paying tithes to him if they lost their jobs in the economic crisis that the pandemic caused. He later made false claims to have destroyed the virus and to have ended the ongoing pandemic.
Kenneth Max Copeland was born in Lubbock, Texas, to Aubrey Wayne and Vinita Pearl (née Owens) Copeland. He was raised in West Texas near a United States Army Air Forces airfield, which inspired him to become a pilot.
Copeland has been married three times. First to Ivy Bodiford in October 1955. They had one child, daughter Terri Copeland Pearsons; they divorced in 1958. He was married to Cynthia Davis from 1958 to 1961. Kenneth married Gloria (née Neece) on April 13, 1963. They are the parents of John Copeland and Kellie Copeland. Gloria co-hosts the ministry's flagship broadcast, "The Believer's Voice of Victory", alongside her husband. Kellie preaches throughout the United States, as does Terri, who also preaches at Eagle Mountain International Church, which is pastored by her husband, George Pearsons.
Copeland has amassed significant wealth during his career, and has referred to himself as a "very wealthy man". News media have cited different numbers of his net worth, from $300 million to $760 million.
Copeland was a recording artist on the Imperial Records label, having one Billboard Top 40 hit ("Pledge of Love", which charted in the Top 40 on April 20, 1957, stayed on the charts for 15 weeks, and peaked at #17). Copeland devoted his life to the gospel and ministry work.
In the fall of 1967, he enrolled in Oral Roberts University, where he soon became pilot and chauffeur to Oral Roberts.
Copeland sat on the evangelical executive advisory board that Donald Trump assembled during his campaign for the presidency. Appointment to the board did not require endorsement of his bid for presidency, and Copeland clarified that he did not endorse Trump at the time. Before the 2016 election, Copeland said that Christians who did not vote for Trump would be guilty of murder, referring to the abortion policy of Hillary Clinton. In an interview after a state dinner at the White House that Copeland attended, he said that Trump was "led by the Spirit of God", and that his most important legacy as president would be the appointments of conservative judges.
In July 2015, KCM launched the Believer's Voice of Victory Network (BVOV) on channel 265 of Dish TV. Believer's Voice of Victory Network was renamed Victory Channel in 2019 and is now a free-to-air channel available on subchannels around the country. On October 2, 2020, the Believer's Voice of Victory (BVOV) stopped broadcasting on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN).
Copeland and his wife Gloria run Kenneth Copeland Ministries (KCM), based in Tarrant County, Texas. The ministry's motto is "Jesus is Lord" from Romans 10:9. He has claimed in an interview that the ministry has "brought over 122 million people to the Lord Jesus Christ".
For decades[when?], Copeland's ministry has held three-to-six-day conventions across the United States. The number of longer set conventions has waned in recent years, although KCM still holds an annual Believer's Convention in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, during the week of July 4. Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, along with ministry friends including some family members, also preach at other conventions and conferences throughout the world. These events stream live on Copeland's website, kcm.org, as well as being shown on Christian television stations such as God TV and the Daystar Television Network. Portions of recorded conferences are shown Sundays. The Monday through Friday television broadcasts feature a Copeland family member, either alone or with another minister, discussing subjects from the Bible.
Kenneth Copeland Ministries is located in Fort Worth, Texas, on 33 acres (13 ha), a property valued at $554,160 in 2008 by Tarrant Appraisal District. The site includes the Eagle Mountain International Church, television and radio production facilities, warehouse and distribution facilities, residences for the Copeland family, and Kenneth Copeland Airport. Approximately 500 people are employed by KCM. John Copeland is the ministry's chief operating officer.
KCM also owns a 1998 Cessna 550 Citation Bravo, which it received from a donor in October 2007 and is used for domestic flights, and a 2005 Cessna 750 Citation X, which it uses for international flights. It also is restoring a 1962 Beech H-18 Twin, which the ministry plans to use for disaster relief efforts.
In February 2007, Copeland was accused of using his ministry's Citation X for personal vacations and friends. The Copelands' financial records are not publicly available, and a list of the board of directors is not accessible as these details are protected but known confidentially by the Internal Revenue Service. Responding to media questions, Copeland pointed to what he asserted was an accounting firm's declaration that all jet travel complies with federal tax laws. In December 2008, KCM's Citation Bravo was denied tax exemption after KCM refused to submit a standardized Texas Comptroller form that some county appraisal districts use to make determinations, which would have required making public the salary of all ministry staff. KCM subsequently filed suit with the Tarrant Appraisal District in January 2009 and its petition to have the aircraft's tax-exempt status restored was granted in March 2010.
Kenneth Copeland Ministries has taken advantage of a Federal Aviation Administration program that keeps flights private from tracking websites, and the ministry owns five such aircraft whose flights are kept private, including the Cessna 750 Citation X noted above and a North American T-28 Trojan. United States Senator Chuck Grassley has questioned some of the flights taken by these aircraft, including layovers in Maui, Fiji, and Honolulu. The ministries say that the stopovers were for preaching or for allowing pilot rest.
According to The Christian Post, Kenneth Copeland Ministries was criticized in 2010 for failing to fly disaster relief missions to Haiti after allegedly promising an aviation relief assistance program called "Angel Flight 44". The Angel Flight 44 ministry was announced by Kenneth Copeland Ministries in 2006 and the ministry attempted to raise money to fund it. Richard Vermillion, co-author of a book on Angel Flight 44 commissioned by Kenneth Copeland Ministries, said that Copeland promised to form the aviation ministry but now believes it was never created. A spokesperson for Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Stephen Swisher, told The Christian Post, "This was not a specific promise with a time line attached", and said that the money was spent on airplane repairs, and that the airplane was "not in airworthy condition" and had "structural issues".
In late November 2007, Mike Huckabee, a 2008 Republican presidential primary candidate, made six appearances on Copeland's daily television program Believer's Voice of Victory, discussing "Integrity of Character". Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, was appearing on Copeland's daily broadcast to promote his book, Character IS the Issue: How People with Integrity Can Revolutionize America. Through the years, Copeland has invited many church pastors and evangelists to appear on his daily program to discuss their respective books. Subsequently, in January 2008, the Huckabee campaign paid for use of Kenneth Copeland Ministries' facilities for a fundraiser. The fundraising at the church was criticized by the Trinity Foundation.
As a result of the Huckabee appearances, in December 2007, Kenneth Copeland Ministries was one of six ministries investigated in the United States Senate inquiry into the tax-exempt status of religious organizations, led by Senator Chuck Grassley. Of those ministries investigated, Kenneth Copeland Ministries was one of four that did not cooperate with the Senate Finance Committee's requests for information or volunteer to make reforms. The investigation could not conclude that the Copelands made personal profit from financial donations.
Senator's Grassley's report chronicled the difficulties the Committee faced in attempting to procure requested information from Kenneth Copeland Ministries, including the intimidation of employees.
Several former employees of EMIC/KCM indicated that EMIC/KCM used intimidation in an attempt to keep informants from speaking to the Committee. Former employees were sincerely afraid to provide statements for fear of being sued since they signed confidentiality agreements. Employees were contacted by EMIC/KCM attorneys after the initiation of the Committee investigation and reminded that they signed a confidentiality agreement agreeing not to disclose any information concerning EMIC/KCM.3 One former employee stated the following, “The Copelands employ guerrilla tactics to keep their employees silent. We are flat out told and threatened that if we talk, God will blight our finances, strike our families down, and pretty much afflict us with everything evil and unholy. Rather, God will allow Satan to do those things to us because we have stepped out from under His umbrella of protection, by “touching God‟s anointed Prophet”. Further, employees are encouraged to shun and treat badly anyone who dares speak out.”
In 2013, a measles outbreak (20 confirmed cases as of August 26) in Tarrant County was attributed in the press to anti-vaccination sentiments expressed by members of the Copeland Ministries. The church denied making any such statements and urged members to get vaccinations, even offering free immunizations through the church itself. Pastor Terri Copeland Pearsons, who is Kenneth Copeland's daughter, offered free vaccination clinics and advised those who did not attend one of the clinics to quarantine themselves at home for two weeks. In a statement on the church website, Pearsons said she was not against immunizations, but also raised concerns about them.
"Some people think I am against immunizations, but that is not true", the statement said. "Vaccinations help cut the mortality rate enormously. I believe it is wrong to be against vaccinations. 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. There is no indication of the autism connection with vaccinations in older children. Furthermore, the new MMR vaccination is without thimerosal (mercury), which has also been a concern to many."
Kenneth Copeland and his wife, Gloria Copeland, were featured in a 2015 episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Comedian John Oliver criticized the Copelands for using tax laws to live in a $6.3 million mansion as the parsonage allowance for their home is not subject to income taxes, for using church donations to buy a $20 million jet that was used for trips to a ski resort and a private game ranch, and for promotion of healing through faith and skepticism of medicine, which Oliver highlighted with a video of Gloria Copeland saying that doctors give patients "poison that will make you sicker" and that the church is an alternative to medical treatment: "Which do you want to do? Do you want to do that," Copeland asked of the doctor's "poison" treatment, "or do you want to sit here on a Saturday morning, hear the word of God, and let faith come into your heart and be healed?"
In 2009, Copeland's $3.6 million jet was denied tax-exempt status, opening up a possible investigation into the church's expenses; Copeland failed to disclose the salaries of his directors. In 2008 the ministry stated it owned five airplanes, one of which is valued at $17.5 million.
Copeland's ministry bought a multi-million Gulfstream V jet airplane. The jet was bought from filmmaker and businessman Tyler Perry. As of August 2018, Copeland had requested another $19.5 million for the building of a hangar, upgrading of the runway, and maintenance.
In 2015, Kenneth Copeland, in a broadcast alongside fellow televangelist Jesse Duplantis, defended the use of private jets as a necessary part of their ministry, comparing flying in a commercial plane to getting "in a long tube with a bunch of demons".
Copeland's and other televangelists' use of private jets and other lavish houses and vehicles has been criticized.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Copeland received attention for his comments and actions in response to the outbreak. On March 11, 2020, Copeland claimed to heal viewers of his TV show of the disease, asking them to touch the television set as he prayed for them.
In a broadcast, Copeland called it a weak strain of the flu and that fear of it was sin and putting faith in the devil. He also said that he did not agree with pastors who cancelled their services due to the coronavirus, saying "I want you in my church. If we have to pass out thermometers. If we find one with a fever, let's get him healed right there. What if you do get it? Big deal!"
Copeland repeatedly said during the pandemic that it had ended or would soon end. He said that God told him that it would soon be over as Christians' prayers have overwhelmed it, and that the pandemic was brought to America by "displays of hate" towards President Donald Trump by critics, which had interfered with "divine protection". On March 29, 2020, in a televised sermon, Copeland "executed judgement" on COVID-19. He claimed that it was "finished" and "over" and that the US was now "healed and well again". In another sermon shortly thereafter, Copeland claimed to destroy the virus with the "wind of God", saying "I blow the wind of God on you. You are destroyed forever, and you'll never be back. Thank you, God. Let it happen. Cause it to happen."
As many lost their jobs in the economic crisis that the outbreak caused, Copeland advised the faithful to continue paying tithes to a church even if they had lost their jobs.
On August 3–8, 2020, the Kenneth Copeland Ministries hosted the Southwest Believers' Conference at the Fort Worth Convention Center in Fort Worth, TX despite restrictions on social gatherings to limit the spread of the pandemic. Local leaders criticized the event, attended by hundreds of people, but were unable to enforce public health restrictions because religious gatherings were exempt under Governor Greg Abbott's executive orders.