You might remember that the Donald Trump-loving pastor of a megachurch in Florida encouraged his congregation to attend services in spite of the coronavirus outbreak. Sadly, this isn’t an isolated case. As CBS News reports, pastor Tony Spell held services in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Tuesday night, telling a local news outlet, “It’s not a concern… The virus, we believe, is politically motivated.” He said similarly to CNN, noting, “I feel the Covid-19 scare is politically motivated.”
The kicker? Rev. Spell held service in spite of Gov. John Bel Edwards banning public and private groups of more than 50 people at a time.
“I just want to encourage the religious world tonight, Amen!,” Spell said to his congregation, as reported by CNN. Spell, who leads the Life of Tabernacle Church in East Baton Rouge Parish, told CBS affiliate WAFB, “We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.” According to what Spell told the outlet, police officers came after his service and informed him the National Guard would break up any groups over the 50-person limit.
How many people attended Spell’s service? 305 came that Tuesday night, he said. How many come on, say, the average Sunday? More than 1,000. He added, “We have 27 buses on Sundays picking up people in a five parish area.”
“Keep going to church! Keep on worshiping God!” Spell reportedly told his audience. “The church is a hospital for the sick! It’s a place of healing for the brokenhearted!”
In the big picture, religious organizations are canceling services or going virtual. Across the country, churches, temples, and mosques have been canceling services, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (known as the Mormon Church) has canceled services around the world. Social distancing is, understandably, tricky for people who receive a lot of mental health support and comfort from group interactions, whether it’s a religious or recovery-focused group, like AA.
Still, going virtual seems to be a reasonable way to handle things, though the lack of internet or data access can be significant barriers for people. It’s a tough situation all around, but one thing is for certain: people in positions of power should be modeling good, safe behavior, like that recommended by the CDC and WHO. In spite of what Trump initially told the public, nothing about this is a hoax.
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