Texas televangelist Kenneth Copeland, a Pentecostalist based in Fort Worth, is generating headlines after a clip of him refusing to accept President-elect Joe Biden’s win went viral on social media. Released Sunday, the video depicts the preacher declaring, “The media said Joe Biden’s president!” before appearing to engage for nearly a minute in “holy laughter.”
With the video’s spread has come derision regarding the behavior, with some outlets decrying it as unhinged. But for believers in the controversial practice, the idea is quite simple: sometimes a person is filled with God’s spirit and joy to the point of unrestrained laughter.
More concerning is Copeland’s dismissal of Biden’s decisive electoral victory over President Donald Trump, secured Saturday when the Democratic nominee took a clear lead in his boyhood state of Pennsylvania. All major networks, including Trump-friendly Fox News, have called the election for the former vice president.
Trump has refused to concede, instead complaining that the election was somehow rigged against him — this despite his administration’s inability to point to any evidence of wrongdoing. This detail has not deterred Kenneth Copeland Ministries from amplifying the administration’s false claims, however. Besides the video of Copeland laughing at the news of Biden’s victory, the group’s Sunday service featured declarations that Trump could still win, as well as unproven claims of voter fraud.
“We’re finding out they’re collecting votes of people that are over 100 — over 120 years old,” Senior Pastor George Pearsons, Copeland’s son-in-law, said. He did not offer any concrete examples or sources.
Equally worrisome is the limited number of masks on display both in the Sunday service and the laughter video, which appears to have been filmed on Sunday. This is despite both taking place in enclosed spaces and at a time when COVID-19 cases are ripping through the country like a California wildfire.
Both videos follow the release of a clip depicting Trump’s spiritual adviser, Paula White-Cain, leading a prayer service in which she summons angels to support the president in his bid for reelection. For several seconds during the ecstatic, trance-like plea, the preacher — also a Pentecostalist — slips into the practice of speaking in tongues.
Both White-Cain’s and Copeland’s videos entered the limelight via Right Wing Watch, a group dedicated to “shedding light on the activities of the right-wing movement.” Once there, both have been met by almost universal scorn by social media users and articles calling the displays as “eerie” and “maniacal.”
Labels like these are nothing new for members of the faith, however, and not only because of their commitment to the charismatic. Pentecostal preachers are known for promising followers miraculous healing and fat checks if only they have enough faith (and maybe make a donation). It’s a style of worship that makes many mainstream Christians, with their focus on the intangible blessings of the spirit, deeply uncomfortable.
Copeland is a particular offender where this is concerned. An original pioneer of televangelism, the 83-year-old isn’t shy about the financial success that has come from spending more than 50 years building a media empire with millions of fans. “I’m a very wealthy man,” he told one Inside Edition reporter, adding that part of his wealth comes from the sale of natural gas on his land. The way he sees it, his lifestyle of limos and private jets is merely an extension of an example set all the way back in Genesis, noting “Abraham was extremely wealthy.”