Though most American churches have temporarily closed and moved services online during this pandemic, some pastors refuse to obey orders or even follow safety recommendations. In East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Rev. Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church insists the current outbreak is “not a concern” and “politically motivated.”
On Sunday, almost 1,200 people worshiped at Life Tabernacle, where Spell continued the Apostolic congregation’s tradition of laying on of hands. That’s a biblical practice, Spell says, adding he’ll keep it up “without the fear of the spread of any virus.” By still holding worship three times a week, the pastor is violating Governor John Bel Edwards’ order to halt gatherings of more than 50 people. Nationally, officials have reduced that number to 10 in an attempt to slow the outbreak.
Life Tabernacle Pastor Cites Religious Rights
According to Spell, assembling for worship is a right that can’t be taken away, no matter the circumstances. “People are still going to work, still going to the mall,” he says. “I encountered more people in Target today than I did during my service last night. It’s persecution of the faith for me not to have my worship service, and yet I am allowed to go out in public and shop. Why is there one standard for commerce and another for religion?”
Online or televised services don’t have the same emotion or impact, Spell contends. “There are miracles and signs and wonders in every one of our services, and that’s why we continue.” During Tuesday night’s service, he preached, “I just want to encourage the religious world tonight…Keep going to church! Keep on worshiping God!…The church is a hospital for the sick! It’s a place of healing for the brokenhearted!”
A police officer reportedly told Spell the National Guard would break up future services. After video of Life Tabernacle’s services surfaced, some church members were suspended from work as a health precaution.
Regarding his state’s ban, Bel Edwards says, “I’m a person of faith. I happen to believe very much in the awesome power of prayer. I also believe in science, and the scientists at the CDC say that the measures we are taking will minimize the spread.”
Other Leaders Agree With Rev. Spell
Brian Lowman, pastor of South Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, has kept church doors open—literally, propping them so no one has to touch handles. He’s taking other precautions, such as not passing the offering plate and canceling Sunday school, but worship will continue for now. Lowman cites Scripture passages such as Hebrews 10:25 and 2 Timothy 1:7, saying God wants us to keep meeting and not be afraid.
Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, head of Revival Ministries International in Florida, is not only still holding in-person worship services but also encouraging people to shake hands. “The only time the church will close is when the Rapture is taking place,” he says. “This Bible school is open because we’re raising up revivalists, not pansies.”
R.R. Reno, editor of the conservative Catholic magazine First Things, says, “Closing churches is utterly unnecessary,” and “modest-sized” services can be held responsibly.
As of Thursday noon, the United States had 10,442 confirmed cases of the virus and 150 deaths.