Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Pope Francis during his inauguration Mass at the Vatican, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. The new pontiff is winning raves from Catholics. But, in time, he could see flagging support from both conservative and progressive members. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
Pope Francis meets, high-fives U.S. televangelists
First Published Jul 10 2014 06:21 pm • Last Updated Jul 10 2014 06:21 pm

What does it take to produce the first-ever papal high-five?

A meeting with American televangelists, apparently.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The gesture came during a three-hour meeting of Pope Francis and Texas televangelists Kenneth Copeland and James Robison, just weeks after the pontiff met with televangelist Joel Osteen and other religious leaders. At the June 24 meeting, Robison said he was so moved by Pope Francis’ message of the gospel that he asked the translator to ask Francis for a high-five. The pope obliged, raised his arm and the two men smacked hands.

The televangelists are among some wealthier U.S. evangelicals who have recently met with Francis, who has called for a focus on the poor and a simple lifestyle for clergy. In March, the pope met with members of the Green family, the Oklahoma billionaires whose company, Hobby Lobby, won their challenge to President Barack Obama’s contraception coverage mandate at the U.S. Supreme Court last week.

Copeland and Osteen have been criticized by some as teaching "health and wealth" prosperity theology, the belief that faith can increase one’s wealth. But from his humble shoes to his simple Fiat, Francis has set a decidedly un-extravagant example.

"The prosperity gospel seems to be fundamentally opposed to the message that Francis has been spreading. But he has shown that he’s willing to meet with just about anyone," said Michael Peppard, a professor of theology at Fordham University. "Joel Osteen seems to have a charismatic authority among a large amount of people. Maybe Francis is channeling Jesus: If you disagree with someone, meet with them."

Last year, Francis fired the German "Bishop of Bling," Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, for spending $43 million on a fancy residential complex. Copeland, meanwhile, was one of several televangelists targeted by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, in 2007 for their lavish lifestyles.

Copeland declined to provide full information about his finances, and the investigation wrapped up in 2011 with no penalties for the pastors who did not cooperate and no definitive instances of wrongdoing found.

Copeland was unavailable for comment about his meeting with the pope, but in an address to his congregation, he played a recording from earlier this year where Francis spoke on a smartphone camera and called on Christians to set aside their differences. Copeland led his congregation in prayer where many spoke in tongues, a common Pentecostal practice.

Robison, a Texas televangelist with Baptist roots who is not an advocate of prosperity theology, defended his friend Copeland.


story continues below
story continues below

"All the things I’ve seen him criticized for, I have not seen validity," Robison said. "I don’t appreciate Christians standing back and criticizing each other."

Robison said he was born into the Episcopal Church but didn’t have a "born-again" conversion until later in life, the kind of story he sees among many Protestants and Catholics.

"There are a lot of evangelicals and Catholics," he said, "who don’t know Christ."

In fact, Francis’ meeting may reflect a shift in emphasis within the papacy. His predecessor, Benedict XVI, regularly bemoaned the decline of Christianity in his native Germany and across Europe. In contrast, the Argentine Francis comes from a region where competition from Pentecostalism is one of the biggest challenges facing the Catholic Church, Peppard said.

As unusual as it might seem for a pope meet with celebrity Protestant preachers, the potential awkwardness goes both ways. While some praised Robison for going to Rome, others said Protestants and Catholics have too many differences, on issues that include the role of the Bible, saints, the status of the Virgin Mary and the nature of salvation. "Very disappointed in you James and Betty. Never forget the Inquisition — Never forget!" one commenter wrote on Robison’s website.

But Robison said he and Francis found common ground in caring for the poor.

"I don’t see him as presenting himself as infallible," Robison said of Pope Francis. "He’s been to confession. He asks for prayer. He’s anxious to apologize on [behalf] of Catholic leadership."

Osteen’s meeting with Francis on June 4 was part of a larger gathering coordinated by the International Foundation, also known as "the Fellowship." Osteen was joined by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a Mormon; California pastor Tim Timmons; and Gayle D. Beebe, president of evangelical Westmont College.

The June 24 meeting leaned particularly toward charismatic Christianity. Other guests were Anthony Palmer, a bishop and international ecumenical officer with the independent Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches; Geoff Tunnicliffe, the outgoing head of the Worldwide Evangelical Alliance; and John and Carol Arnott of Catch the Fire Toronto, which grew out of a Pentecostal revival 20 years ago.

The pope met with more than 50,000 Catholic charismatics in Rome last month, admitting he was not always comfortable with the way they prayed. Still, he knelt on stage as they prayed for him and spoke in tongues. "Where does division come from? The devil!" Francis told them. "Division comes from the devil. Flee from internal struggles, please!"

Pentecostal and charismatic Christians – charismatics are often Pentecostals in other churches, including the Catholic Church — share much in common, such as speaking in tongues and healing. Together, they make up at least 584 million people in the world, about 9 percent of the global population and one in four Christians worldwide, according to the Pew Research Center.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.