On Oct. 11, a large crowd, most of whom were not wearing masks, gathered in Nashville, Tennessee, for a worship protest led by political activist and worship leader Sean Feucht. Dr. Alex Jahangir, who is the chairman of Nashville’s Metro Coronavirus Task Force, has joined the Metro Public Health Department and Metro Interim Police Chief John Drake in voicing his dismay over Sunday’s gathering.
“I think statistics would tell you that there [were] probably some people in that crowd that had the disease and I suspect some others in that crowd probably contracted the disease in an unmasked close quarters scenario,” said Jahangir, who was “concerned” that the event had happened.
Since July of this year, Sean Feucht has been holding outdoor “Let Us Worship” gatherings across the country as a form of protest against the various restrictions civil leaders have imposed on churches because of COVID-19. Feucht said on Twitter that 9,000 to 10,000 people attended the Nashville event, which took place despite multiple venue changes. Rolling Stone magazine, however, disputed those numbers in an Oct. 12 article criticizing Feucht’s activities entitled, “Jesus Christ, Superspreader?” The magazine says that photos and videos of the event indicated that “attendance was noticeably sparser.”
A police officer escorting me out tonight said he estimated 9000-10,000 worshippers filled the courthouse steps in downtown Nashville!
— Sean Feucht (@seanfeucht) October 12, 2020
The Metro Nashville Health Department issued a statement Monday saying that it was “very concerned” about Feucht’s event, that Feucht did not apply for a permit from the health department, and that it would be “investigating and will pursue appropriate penalties against the organizer.”
Police Chief John Drake said he was “greatly disappointed” in the lack of caution shown by Feucht and the attendees, adding that “personal responsibility is a necessity regardless of the purpose for a public event.” Drake said that in the future, the police department will be working with health officials to “more effectively facilitate proactive contact with any future event organizers to explain Nashville’s public health and safety expectations.”
Nashville had been making progress with containing COVID-19, but its numbers have been rising over the past couple of weeks. This increase has not been tied to Feucht’s event, but Jahangir said that he and other health officials would be looking out for any new cases that might arise from Sunday’s gathering, which has done nothing to mitigate concerns about the growing numbers.
Jahangir said that whether or not new cases arise from Feucht’s gathering depends on whether the attendees were from the city of Nashville or out of town. If most of them were from out of town and did not spend time in local businesses and restaurants, it is not likely they will impact Nashville’s COVID-19 numbers. “Even if you don’t live in this region,” said Jahangir, “we need to take care of our own, and we don’t want people to come and spread the virus to each other and the residents of Nashville, because of not being careful and not wearing masking or social distancing.”
Feucht has said that California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to ban singing in church in early July was a significant factor in motivating him to start the Let Us Worship movement. According to the worship leader, his worship protests are a direct response to widespread attacks on the freedom to worship in the United States:
Our freedom to worship God and obey His Word has come under unprecedented attack. Powerful politicians and social media giants have engaged in unchartered abuses of religious liberty, silencing the faithful, banning our voices, and outright attacking our God-given right to declare His goodness. States across America, including here in California have shut down church services and even outlawed singing in church. Instagram and Twitter is [sic] censoring Christian voices every single day. And every hour that passes they grow bolder in their efforts to silence the faithful.
One pastor in Nashville, who has expressed support for the idea of protesting when people are banned from worshipping, said that he does not understand why Feucht felt the need to hold a worship protest in that particular city. Nashville residents have been meeting in person for months, albeit with social distancing precautions in place. Said Rev. Thomas McKenzie, “I don’t mind people protesting where churches aren’t able to meet. Nashville makes no sense.”
Feucht responded to the Metro Nashville Health Department in a post on Twitter.
— Sean Feucht (@seanfeucht) October 13, 2020
Feucht is referring to an interview in which WHO envoy Dr. David Nabarro said, “We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus.” Nabarro did advocate for “robust defenses” for containing the virus that included testing, isolation, and contact tracing.