It doesn't take long before a bustling Fort Worth highway turns thin and lonely, winding its way north along a vast West Texas landscape pocked by a series of hard bitten homes. Soon we're driving down Morris Dido Road, which looks a lot like it sounds, dull and dilapidated. Then around the bend it appears – almost out of nowhere – a breathtaking expanse of property that is Kenneth Copeland Ministries.
It was back in the early 1980s that Copeland, a former personal pilot for Oral Roberts, was given these 1,500 acres by a rich oil baron named Paul Pewitt. On this cold winter day it gives the godfather of "Prosperity Gospel" a very good name.
From across the main road it was easy to see parts of his sprawling religious empire – the low-lying Eagle Mountain International Church and shiny new ministry headquarters. To the right the framework of a $10 million "children's building" is on the rise; far, far beyond, we are told, is the Copeland's 18,000 square-foot lake-front parsonage where Copeland and wife Gloria often lay their head at night. To the left is the ministry's private airport and planes; just beyond, cattle stand grazing. Somewhere beyond sight are the gas and oil wells.
Copeland has made it clear to his followers and a certain U.S. Senator named Grassley that all this prosperity – and much, much more – is a by-the-book, tax-exempt blessing from God.
And then there are people like the former ministry employee who told me they lost their faith in Copeland after working inside the mail department, sitting hours on end in front of a computer reading letters from "Partners," processing as many as 500 prayer requests a day.
"It's all pre-programmed choices that I had on my computer," the ex-employee told me. "When someone wanted a prayer for their mother's arthritis, I could make the choice – mother and arthritis. And when the letter would go to where it was generated … the computer knew where to put, 'We're praying for your mother's arthritis.'"
Only, the former employee says, that prayer was never uttered by Kenneth Copeland. Not one time. At least not in their presence: "Kenneth Copeland never sees a letter. He doesn't know what these people think of him. People write letters and they write as if he's their best friend. He never sees any of those letters."
"It's a cold sophisticated system," said the former employee. "And it became very impersonal."
But now, it appears, it has become personal between a powerful U.S. Senator and defiant preacher with very deep pockets. And many, many people can't wait to see what's at the end of that road.