Mikey Weinstein Demands US Army Ban Evangelist Kenneth Copeland

UPDATE: Fort Jackson says “there are no plans to rescind the invitation,” as reported by MRFF-friendly Nina Burleigh at Newsweek. Fort Jackson said [emphasis added]:

The Prayer Breakfast is open to all community members, is entirely voluntary, and is cost free to the Army and attendees. Mr. Copeland’s participation in the prayer breakfast is not an endorsement by Fort Jackson of him or of any comments that he may present. Fort Jackson respects and protects all individual’s rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution, including ensuring access to religious services and events for those who wish to participate and protecting the rights of those who do not.

Michael “Mikey” Weinstein has sent an email to Fort Jackson, SC, demanding the Army post disinvite Kenneth Copeland from their upcoming National Prayer Breakfast. Addressing MajGen John Johnson, Fort Jackson’s Commanding General, Weinstein wrote that Fort Jackson’s upcoming speaker:

is the universally despicable, discredited, fundamentalist Christian extremist/supremacist Kenneth Copeland. Do you know ANYthing of moment about this feckless, religious bully/provocateur, General Johnson?

Weinstein went on to call Copeland “disgusting,” “a miserable, fundamentalist Christian wretch,” a “divisive and corrosive individual/religious predator and bully” and “hideously reprehensible fundamentalist Christian charlatan cum exclusivist bigot.”

Clearly, Mikey Weinstein has a thing for Kenneth Copeland.

But other than his dripping vitriol and thesaurus-like list of adjectives of disdain for the prosperity gospel minister, Weinstein never said why Copeland should be disinvited.

For that, he turned to his research assistant, Chris Rodda, who blogged about a list of presumed offenses. In order:

He’s been investigated by the Senate for financial misconduct.

Chris Rodda sacrificed her integrity at the word go (again). She linked to a 10-year old article on Senator Chuck Grassley’s letter to six televangelists asking them for financial information about their ministries.

But Rodda failed to link to any of the later 2011 articles noting the close-out of Grassley’s “probe,” the report for which said, essentially, nothing.  Even Rodda’s allies at Americans United were disappointed at the pointless “probe” — something she coyly fails to mention.  (For her part, Rodda has previously said the mere existence of an investigation is apparently sufficient proof — of something.)

That attempt to discredit Copeland has less integrity than citing an IRS complaint against Mikey Weinstein to undermine his credibility. At least such an IRS complaint about the MRFF actually has occurred, while Copeland was not “investigated by the Senate for financial misconduct.”

To continue:

He’s called himself a “Christian extremist.”

Why is this a thing? He’s free to call himself anything he wants. Rodda declines to explain.

His fraudulent practices have been exposed by his own employees.

Rodda laughably links to a local news “investigation” in which three (of 500) Copeland employees make the shocking allegation that Copeland does not personally pray over the tens of thousands of prayer requests he receives.  (And one of those employees actually acknowledged that was reasonable.)

And this disqualifies him from a prayer breakfast why?  Apparently, Rodda was hoping the word “fraudulent” would be good enough without actual evidence.

He’s Islamophobic, homophobic, and believes that America is a Christian nation.

Since when is “believ[ing] that America is a Christian nation” derogatory (particularly when one does not define the term “Christian nation”)? Notably, Rodda declined to provide any links to support her claims Copeland is any-phobic — though given her woefully inadequate efforts thus far, it is unlikely it would have made a difference.

Finally, the coup de grâce:

He needs a private jet because commercial airplanes are filled with demons.

And…what does that have to do with anything? Rodda again declines to explain the relevance of her “accusation” to Copeland’s upcoming prayer breakfast at Fort Jackson. Apparently “Chris said this” is prima facie evidence of…something.

To this point, neither Weinstein nor Rodda provide a rational or defensible reason to disinvite Kenneth Copeland from Fort Jackson. They’ve expressed their disdain for the man in spades, no doubt, and they’ve demonstrated how far they’re willing to go to undermine his credibility — even being less than forthright in doing so. But “Mikey doesn’t like him” isn’t a reason to ban a person from an Army post.

Finally, however, Rodda brings up something that might actually be relevant:

[Copeland] has claimed that PTSD isn’t real because it isn’t biblical…

Given the US military’s history with PTSD, this could be worth discussing, but Rodda again fumbles it away.

The details of the PTSD conversation were dealt with here when it came up in 2013. However, it is worth noting that Copeland didn’t say PTSD wasn’t “real,” and he didn’t say it wasn’t biblical. (That’s “researcher” Chris Rodda quoting another writer’s headline, rather than doing her own research of what the subject actually said.) What Copeland (and his guest David Barton) did say was that the Bible said warriors were “guiltless” and heroes.

While Rodda again mischaracterized Copeland, that’s not to say Copeland was remotely right in how he addressed PTSD. With excruciating grace, one might be able say he was flippant about a topic about which he was woefully uninformed. There is absolutely credence to the application of Christian theology to the moral wounds of war, but that complicated concept wasn’t articulated by Copeland in the least (nor is there any indication he is studied or qualified to speak on the subject).

Does that warrant Kenneth Copeland being disinvited? If Rodda and Weinstein really believed it did, why not say that? Why the pomp and bluster about despicable, disgusting, extremism, fundamentalist, bigot, private airplanes, etc.? Does Weinstein feel the PTSD issue isn’t strong enough on its own?

Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn’t. Given that this is billed as a prayer breakfast event — not, say, mandatory suicide awareness training — it shouldn’t matter.

There’s a time honored traditional response to seeing a speaker that you don’t like invited to an event: You don’t attend. It’s not a difficult concept. Mock it if you want, criticize or complain, sure. But you don’t have to go — and just because you don’t want to go doesn’t mean you have to try to raise a heckler’s veto to keep others from going.

Kenneth Copeland is a significant public figure. He’s one of the preachers who has prayed with President Trump and has served on his faith advisory board, for example. Given his position and his popularity — whether you agree with it or not — there’s room to say he has a legitimate qualification for speaking at a “prayer” event.

At the same time, there are a great many Christians who probably won’t attend the prayer breakfast if Copeland is there — or will attend only while acknowledging that Copeland espouses a questionable “prosperity” theology. But it is unlikely they’ll wage the war that Weinstein is against not just the theology, but also the character of the man who the Army chaplains invited. (Historically, chaplains have altered events in response to large groups of Christians saying they weren’t going to attend — because it put the audience size, and thus the event, at risk.)

The military invites many people — of many stripes — to many events. The military will almost certainly offend someone with one of those invitations. (Even Mikey Weinstein has been among those invitees, on several occasions.) While Mikey Weinstein and Chris Rodda may not like Kenneth Copeland, they don’t present the most compelling argument that he is a “religious predator and a bully” and should therefore be banned from the post.

Copeland does have questionable theological beliefs, as well as the appearance of questionable, if legal, financial practices. (Mikey Weinstein is tossing stones from a glass house if he wants to attack Copeland for his finances, though.) But the Army isn’t in the business of “grading” religious beliefs, and the Constitution protects the exercise of all religious beliefs — even the ones some may find “disgusting.”

Remember, Mikey, there are almost certainly US troops at Fort Jackson who share those beliefs with Kenneth Copeland, and they are entitled to the opportunity to attend the event with him. They should not have their religious liberty denied merely because Mikey doesn’t like Kenny.

And that’s a key difference between most Christians — who support religious liberty — and the bigotry of Mikey Weinstein, Chris Rodda, and their MRFF. Those Constitution-supporting Christians who do not care for Kenneth Copeland will either not attend or will do so for entertainment purposes or morbid curiosity. They’re not going to try to stop the event — and thus stop someone else’s religious exercise — because of their personal feelings.

It is the MRFF — Mikey Weinstein, Chris Rodda, and their acolytes — who would demand that the Army only permit inoffensive, “inclusive,” MRFF-approved beliefs to be exercised.

That’s not freedom. That’s religious extremism by another name.

Repeated at the Stars and Stripes.