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Huckabee Criticized for Ties to Prosperity-Gospel Preacher Kenneth Copeland

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A Southern Baptist seminary professor criticized Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee for joining forces with a prosperity-gospel preacher under Senate investigation for his ministry’s finances.

A full-page ad in Charisma magazine reports Huckabee, an ordained minister and former president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, will sit down with TV preacher Kenneth Copeland “for six days of frank discussion on the biblical perspective of character, and the vital relevance true character has to the Church today.”

Malcolm Yarnell, director of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for Theological Research, decried Copeland as a false teacher who spreads a “false gospel.”

“Kenneth Copeland is a heretic,” Yarnell said in a copyright story by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “I’m not sure it’s wise for [Huckabee] to use Kenneth Copeland’s pulpit to promote himself as a politician. I don’t like that.”

Copeland’s ministry, based in Forth Worth, Texas, is one of a half-dozen non-profit charities to receive letters from Sen. Charles Grassley, ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, seeking information for an investigation into possible misuse of funds by religious organizations.

The Senate committee is interested in things like use of corporate jets and executive compensation, including a gift of more than $2 million reportedly received by Copeland and his wife, Gloria, earlier this year.

John Copeland, chief executive officer of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, defended the organization as a “ministry of integrity” but said it would not cooperate with the congressional probe.

“We have received a request for information from the United States Senate Committee on Finance,” he said in an open letter to donors. “We respect the Committee’s right to raise issues that could impact the public. We have no quarrel with that right. However, as a church organization, we are required only to share our information with the Internal Revenue Service. We operate our church in full compliance with IRS guidelines.”

“We are very diligent in protecting the privacy of our Partners and Friends,” Copeland said. “We will not participate in a public spectacle. We operate our ministry with privacy–not secrecy.”

Copeland, 70, preaches a message of “faith, love, healing, prosperity, redemption, righteousness, the anointing and the principles of victorious Christian living,” according to the ministry Web site.

That includes, according to media reports, teachings that followers of Christ are entitled to physical health and financial prosperity, but such blessings are unlocked by faith.

Hank Hanegraaff of the Christian Research Institute termed the “faith” movement, which includes Copeland and other TV preachers such as Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton, Marilyn Hickey and Trinity Broadcasting Network founder Paul Crouch, “one of the greatest contemporary threats to orthodox Christianity” and compared it to a cult.

Copeland reportedly gave $4,600 to Huckabee’s campaign and predicted victory for Huckabee at a Texas fund-raiser.

Huckabee stood by the Copelands in an e-mail to Time Magazine.

“Kenneth and Gloria Copeland are about the most gracious, authentic, and humble people I know and I consider them dear friends,” Huckabee said. “They have brought hope to millions and have operated with the utmost integrity as far as I know. I have found them to be as warm and genuine in their private moments as they are in their public moments.”

Excerpts from the program aren’t yet online, but according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story, Charisma founder Stephen Strang said he’s seen an advance tape of the Believer’s Voice of Victory programs featuring Copeland and Huckabee.

“They sit at the table, they open the Bible and talk about Scripture,” said Strang, another Huckabee donor. “Gov. Huckabee is a minister, and he’s very comfortable in that setting, and he did great.”

Rather than being a liability, Strang said it would have been a mistake for Huckabee to skip the show. “Kenneth Copeland is widely respected,” he told the newspaper. “Many, many people watch the program.”

In an editorial in the December 2007 Charisma, Strang said unlike some influential evangelicals, he believes Huckabee can win in a general election.

“Huckabee is a true conservative who holds values common to most Americans,” Strang wrote. “He has executive and crisis management experience gained during his terms as governor of Arkansas, when he dealt with not only statewide emergencies but also the national disaster of Hurricane Katrina.

“He is staunchly pro-life and supports the passage of a federal constitutional amendment that defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman. And he has the support of many African-Americans, as his races for governor of Arkansas in 1998 and 2002 showed. In each of those elections, he garnered more than 40 percent of the African-American vote.”

“This is not a time to sit on the sidelines,” Strang admonished. “We must fight against the possibility of a Republican with weak values facing Hillary Clinton in the general election. We have just a few weeks to make a difference in an election that has serious implications for America in the years to come ”and it won’t take much to make a shift. So let’s get involved now.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.