For several days now, state health officials have been sounding the alarm about a nascent measles outbreak in North Texas. As of Friday, there had been nine confirmed cases, a number that will grow as new reports from local health agencies filter up to the state.
Pastor Terri Copeland Pearsons delivered the news in a sermon last Wednesday:
There has been a ... confirmed case of the measles from the Tarrant County Public Health Department. And that is a really big deal in that America, the United States has been essentially measles free for I think it's 10 years. And so when measles pops up anywhere else in the United States, the health department -- well, you know, it excites them. You know what I mean I don't mean. I don't mean they're happy about it, but they get very excited and respond to it because it doesn't take much for things like that to spread.
The sermon was awkward, to say the least. Pearsons is the eldest daughter of megapastor Kenneth Copeland, and her church is one of the cornerstones of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, his sprawling evangelical empire. He's far from the most vocal proponent of the discredited theory that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine causes autism, but, between his advocacy of faith healing and his promotion of the vaccine-autism link on his online talk show, he's not exactly urging his flock to get their recommended shots.
That left his daughter doing some nifty theological footwork in last week's sermon as she struggled to explain how believers should trust their health to both God and medical professionals.
There are a lot of people that think the Bible -- we talk about walking by faith -- it leaves out things such as, I don't know, people just get strange. But when you read the Old Testament, you find that it is full of precautionary measures, and it is full of the law.
Why did the Jewish people, why did they not die out during the plague? Because the Bible told them how to be clean, told them how to disinfect, told them there was something contagious. And the interesting thing of it, it wasn't a medical doctor per se who took care of those things, it was the priesthood. It was the ministers, it was those who knew how to take the promises of God as well as the commandments of God to take care of things like disinfection and so forth....
Many of the things that we have in medical practice now actually are things you can trace back into scripture. It's when we find out what's in the scripture that we have wisdom.
She concludes by announcing that the church was hosting a pair of free vaccination clinics and urging everyone to show up, advice that probably would have been more helpful two months ago.
On the next page is a taste of what it's like to be in Pastor Copeland's congregation.