As Louisiana nears 15,000 confirmed cases of the virus and clears 500 deaths—the 5th highest of all U.S. states in that category—it would make sense to limit all gatherings above 10 people.
This guidance was delivered by the CDC.
One Evangelical Christian church is ignoring that guidance however.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards issued a statewide "Stay At Home" order on March 22. But Tony Spell, leader of the Life Tabernacle Church continues to press on with church services that draw crowds in the thousands.
During an interview with CNN's Victor Blackwell, Spell proudly shared that the previous week's Sunday service included over 1,800 people. That service occurred eight days after Governor Edwards' order.
Spell described the 27 buses that cover a 50-mile radius of churchgoers, carting them in to "feed them both natural food and spiritual food."
Blackwell pressed Spell on his decision to disregard the governor's guidance, confronting the pastor's ethics from a variety of angles.
Blackwell presses pastor: How can you be pro-life and keep your church open? youtu.be
When Blackwell first raised the possibility that such large gatherings endanger the parishioners' health, Spell managed to support scientists' view of the virus and disregard their advice completely.
"We believe the science of this."
"However, we do have a command from God and there are no governing bodies that can tell us we cannot gather and worship freely."
Blackwell then took a more provocative tactic, applying the Evangelical Christian devotion to being "Pro-Life."
"How is this a pro-life stance to put people in jeopardy of contracting a disease, getting a virus that has no treatment, no cure, often has no symptoms and has killed more than [8,500 people in the U.S.] in five weeks?"
Again, Spell was not phased and responded without any hesitation.
"If they have fears of the virus, the church is more essential now than ever...to let them know there is a physician in Jesus Christ."
"We were supposed to be at a million and half body bags. We're at 8,400. So the narrative is false, Victor."
Clearly coming up against a wall, Blackwell moved on to the very pragmatic legal ramifications of Spell's decision to disregard the Governor's direction.
Louisiana pastor Tony Spell will hold services today and hopes to have as many as 1800 people attend his church. T… https://t.co/3YO9F8kUiy— Michael Lacombe (@Michael Lacombe)1586086620.0
Today’s idiot...#TonySpell. Send him to jail... https://t.co/INXJUiIxcO— JAB (@JAB)1586088985.0
On March 31st, during the week between that 1,800-strong Sunday service and the CNN interview, Spell was arrested and charged with six misdemeanor counts of violating the governor's order.
When Blackwell brought up those citations, Spell became defensive.
"This is an attack on religious liberty in the greatest nation in the world."
Twitter had some choice words for Spell's behavior and rationale, as well as those flocking to his church.
@TeaPainUSA Never call them pro-life. They are only pro-fetus.— Darla B. (@Darla B.)1586099994.0
@TeaPainUSA @RolandB3 Please don’t take this as true Christianity.— Rejy Bacchus (@Rejy Bacchus)1586109247.0
@TeaPainUSA https://t.co/lGOshQmpHU— Jason Baum (@Jason Baum)1586099357.0
Governor Edwards' legal recourse is only so powerful.
Spell held service just after the interview with Blackwell, drawing crowds that still numbered in the hundreds, Reuters reported.
That Louisiana preacher Tony Spell is STILL encouraging thousands of people to congregate at his church even after… https://t.co/oJ5bQUAN7n— Bitsy's Mom (@Bitsy's Mom)1585846551.0
I trust moron preachers (like Tony Spell from Louisiana) and their brainless congregants will NOT seek health care… https://t.co/1wMWzZ4yeY— Bunny (@Bunny)1586089181.0
The gathering ban is a critically necessary temporary public health measure. These preachers are attention whores.… https://t.co/ZcAwxwWNtn— Bunny (@Bunny)1586089182.0
It's almost as if these right-wing yahoos want to thumb their noses at some sort of nonexistent religious persecuti… https://t.co/ie1uQw16ca— Bunny (@Bunny)1586089586.0
As many governors across the U.S. have discovered, Edwards' final recourse remains a simple, repeated plea to the people of Louisiana to follow the rules, as he told Associated Press.
"I'm going to appeal to them one more time: Please stop what you're doing."
"The overwhelming majority of our faith leaders have found other ways to engage with their parishioners."
Many churches are gathering online to keep their parishioners safe.
People wonder if the inability to pass the collection plate in an online setting is bigger motivation for some of those churches insisting on not only holding services, but sending buses to bring cash—people—to their church.
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