Despite receiving a flood of criticism from fellow Christians, Louisiana pastor Tony Spell seems unrelenting.
Amidst one of the most dangerous public health crises to take place, several state governments have issued directives ordering folks to stay indoors and self-isolate. Therefore, events such as weddings and funerals, and even Coachella and March Madness, have been postponed to protect the health and safety of our communities. Some folks, however, simply refuse to listen. Earlier, it was ignorant and ill-advised spring breakers heading to the beaches of Miami. More recently, it is Tony Spell, a pastor based in Louisiana. Defying state orders, he held mass on Sunday at his church, where he hosted about 1,000 people, CNN reports.
Pastor Tony Spell's church, Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, bussed worshippers from five parishes in for the large gathering. Despite facing severe criticism, he plans to hold another service on Tuesday night. Reportedly, a petition seeking his arrest has been filed in addition to the governor's stay-at-home orders and "a flood" of backlash from fellow Christians. Nevertheless, Pastor Spell refuses to back down. "If they close every door in this city, then I will close my doors," he stated in an interview with CNN. "But you can't say the retailers are essential but the church is not. That is a persecution of the faith." According to the pastor, the pandemic is "politically motivated."
As Pastor Spell is risking the health of his entire local community, the matter has come under investigation by Chief Roger Corcoran of the Central Police Department in Baton Rouge and his team. The pastor argued that one of the Chief's officers threatened to bring the National Guard in so as to halt the church's proceedings. Chief Corcoran, however, refutes this. He affirmed, "That was never told to the pastor by my officer." In addition to this, a spokesman for the Louisiana National Guard communicated that they were not responsible at present for breaking up large gatherings in the state.
Spell claims he has spoken with the White House regarding the matter. Refusing to say who, the pastor alleged that he received a call from someone at the White House last week. They directed him to "hold services outside, make his congregation stand six feet apart, and prevent non-family members from touching." While he claims he has followed these guidelines, a video of the service he held on Sunday displays churchgoers "singing, praying, touching, and otherwise worshiping in close proximity." The service was held under a tent, and worshippers were spread across the church's seven buildings.
It is rather strange that Spell would receive such a phone call as the White House has officially recommended canceling large gatherings, even those under religious pretense. A statement from the White House reads, "The White House has strongly recommended that all Americans, including pastors, follow CDC guidelines by limiting groups to 10 people and practicing social distancing. President Trump encourages Americans of all religious backgrounds to do their part to stay healthy and stop the spread." Further to this, the pastor has received immense criticism for his decision to hold service despite the Coronavirus outbreak.
In an editorial, influential evangelical magazine Christianity Today urged pastors and church leaders to think twice before organizing services during this public health crisis. "We are being asked temporarily to convene remotely, not to deny our faith or to cease worshiping God," it read. "It is one thing to risk your own life in order to worship together in person. It is quite another to risk the lives of countless others, when so many churches are finding creative and compelling ways to carry on in worship and community from a distance." In spite of all this, Pastor Spells seems unrelenting.