During the days immediately after the election, most of which I spent doomscrolling through social media on my phone in a kind of trance, my childhood best friend sent me a clip. Her caption was simple: “When people ask me why I don’t go to church anymore.” I gave the wry chuckle of someone who knows a joke before it’s told, and since my friend and I share a background steeped in religious fundamentalism, in a way, I did.
I clicked the link for a laugh, and there stood televangelist Kenneth Copeland with his unnaturally dark hair, his wizened, waxy face, and his fervent eyes. “The media says Joe Biden’s the president!” he exclaims before he begins laughing like a washed-up comedian who’s decided the best way to get a laugh is to cue the audience with one of his own, which is an apt description, all things considered.
The clip dripped with the viral potential it would go on to fulfil in the coming days. A prominent man melting down in such a publicly awkward way was apparently the laugh so many people needed after several nail-biting days of election returns. But as I saw the familiar face twisted with delusional laughter, a chill came over me. I recognised the manic glitter in his eyes, and I couldn’t laugh.
I grew up in a home tinged with religious mania, and my Christian fundamentalist home-school family ran exclusively in circles where this mania was not only tolerated but encouraged. We attended a church where people barked like dogs “in the spirit.” Others, allegedly compelled by the Holy Ghost, ran at breakneck speed around the sanctuary, and some members, filled with apparent “supernatural” joy, laughed like Kenneth Copeland.
Not all of our worship crossed the border of the bizarre. Mostly we raised our hands in supplication and swayed to the rise and fall of a carefully orchestrated emotional experience like most Protestant praise services. There is something about a group of people connecting with their spirituality in unison...