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New Indictment Illustrates Dangers of Bogus COVID Cures for Vaccine-Resistant Evangelicals

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COVID-19 had just begun spreading across America in early 2020 when disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker saw an opportunity. With no vaccines for the virus in existence, he got to market early claiming bottles of his “Silver Sol Liquid” could eradicate coronavirus in 12 hours.

Missouri and Arkansas sued, but Bakker’s attorney—former Missouri Governor Jay Nixon—claims the suits infringe on Bakker’s religious liberty, saying the TV host is being “unfairly targeted” by those who want to force his church and TV program to shut down.

But Bakker isn’t the only preacher who has used the Gospel to sell bogus COVID cures.

Last week, a Florida grand jury indicted Mark Grenon and his three sons for conspiracy to commit fraud and criminal contempt. The four leaders of Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, a business run out of a single-family home in Bradenton, Florida, were hawking chlorine dioxide as a “Miracle Mineral Solution,” not only for COVID, but also for cancer and autism.

They were ordered to cease and desist last Spring, and served with an injunction last Summer, but they kept selling the solution which, once ingested, becomes bleach and is potentially fatal.

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The United States Food and Drug Administration has warned:

The FDA is particularly concerned that products that claim to cure, treat or prevent serious diseases like COVID-19 may cause consumers to delay or stop appropriate medical treatment, leading to serious and life-threatening harm.

The FDA has received reports of people experiencing serious adverse events, including respiratory failure, life-threatening low blood pressure, acute liver failure and QT prolongation after drinking certain chlorine dioxide products.

The danger is significant for vaccine-resistant evangelical Christians:

There are about 41 million white evangelical adults in the U.S. About 45 percent said in late February that they would not get vaccinated against Covid-19, making them among the least likely demographic groups to do so, according to the Pew Research Center

Some evangelists and pastors have been selling other fake cures. Last Sunday, residents of one St. Louis neighborhood received anti-vaccine literature from a man calling himself Dr. Keith Lawrence, who was promoting “God’s Emergency Medical Missionary Service.” 

Healing evangelists like Kenneth Copeland and Andrew Wommack have dismissed the virus and criticized government efforts to limit its spread.

Copeland once claimed he had “destroyed” COVID. “I blow the wind of God on you. You are destroyed forever, and you’ll never be back,” Copeland said on his TV show, Believer’s Voice of Victory.

The market for bogus cures is vast in Brazil, a religious country where congress has “launched a parliamentary inquiry into what critics call (President) Jair Bolsonaro’s disastrous and potentially criminal response to a Covid pandemic that has killed nearly 400,000 Brazilians.”

One wealthy Brazilian Christian preacher peddles miracle beans:

Evangelist leader Valdemiro Santiago has been taking to the virtual pulpit with sermons full of debunked conspiracies and falsehoods. Santiago – head of the Universal Church of God’s Power – told followers to buy his “miracle beans” he claims can cure even serious cases of coronavirus.

Another Brazilian preacher with connections to Bolsonaro is selling a drug used to treat parasites, claiming it can cure COVID. Santiago has 2.4m Facebook followers and is considered the “spiritual teacher” of COVID-sceptic president Bolsonaro.”

Bakker’s Attorney Defends Selling “Silver Sol Liquid”

Jim Bakker was indicted on multiple counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy in 1988 for his role in fundraising scandals at PTL Club and Heritage USA theme park.

After Baker started selling “Silver Sol Liquid” as a COVID cure, the FDA told him to stop selling it, but he continued.

Missouri sued in March 2020, followed by Arkansas last June.

“Jim Bakker has exploited Arkansas consumers by leveraging COVID-19 fears to sell over $60,000 worth of their products that do nothing to fight the virus,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. He said “385 Arkansans made purchases from Bakker’s company totaling approximately $60,524 for colloidal silver.”

After some credit card companies stopped working with Bakker’s Branson, Mo.-based Morningside Church Productions, Bakker said he suffered a stroke and took a sabbatical from his show.

Bakker’s attorney Jay Nixon sued to stop the Arkansas investigation, saying the U.S Constitution protects Bakker’s beliefs, including beliefs about the efficacy of “Silver Sol Liquid.”

“Bakker did not claim or state that Silver Solution was a cure for COVID-19. This case is about religious freedom,” Nixon said. 

Nixon’s suit was dismissed.

Later, comedian John Oliver chipped in, saying on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, that since “silver kills werewolves,” not COVID, he would begin selling his own “Premium Werewolf Solution” for $49.99 per bottle.

But according to Jim Bakker, COVID may not even be the world’s biggest threat. One of his April shows said the Centers for Disease Control were using COVID and vaccines to usher in an impending zombie apocalypse.

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Steve Rabey

Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.