A pastor in Holland, Michigan, has garnered national attention for advising people in his congregation to “get it over with” and contract COVID-19. Brad Spencer, senior pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church, also does not believe that safety precautions offer any provable protection against the virus.
“Several people [in the church] have had COVID, none have died yet,” said Pastor Brad Spencer in a sermon he preached on Nov. 15. “It’s OK. Get it, get it over with, press on.”
The Lighthouse Baptist Church pastor pointed out that he himself has contracted and recovered from the virus. “I had COVID,” he said. “Here I am. I’m fine, all right…Many people in the church have had it. We’re still here. Not one person has died. Stop freaking out. It’s just a virus.”
Lighthouse Baptist Church Sermon Controversy
Pastor Brad Spencer’s words have been widely shared on social media, although that particular sermon is no longer on the church’s website. One of the people who posted a clip from Spencer’s sermon was former Lighthouse Baptist Church member Miguel Medina. In an email, Medina told the Holland Sentinel, “I had no intention of posting, but I couldn’t believe what I just saw and heard. I listened to it multiple times and ended up posting it in my group Holland Happenings and my personal wall on Facebook.”
Spencer spoke to the Sentinel as well, reiterating that his experience with COVID-19, while unpleasant, was not severe. “It’s not fun,” he said. “I lost my sense of taste and smell, but my bout with the flu was worse.” The pastor also said that several members of his family—some of whom are elderly—had contracted the virus, but they had all recovered.
In an interview with WOOD-TV’s Jacqueline Francis on Friday, Spencer stated his belief that no one really knows how to prevent contracting COVID-19. “You don’t know how to stay away from it, and you don’t know how to get it,” he said. “Because if you social distance, you’ll still get it. If you wear a mask, you’ll still get it. If you don’t wear a mask you’ll still get it. If you don’t social distance, you’ll still get it. We don’t know, that’s the whole point. So you don’t give up your freedoms and liberties.” He told Francis that his comments during his sermon have generated a lot of vitriol, including “death threats” and being called “about every name in the book.”
The pastor also spoke to Fox affiliate WXMI last Friday and seemed to walk back some of his original words. “I would never tell them to go get sick,” said Spencer, “but you don’t know how you’re going to get it.” Lighthouse Baptist Church has chosen to allow congregants to decide for themselves whether or not they want to practice social distancing or wear a mask, apparently because of the alleged uncertainty surrounding how people contract the virus. Said Spencer, “I’m not going to force you to take your mask off, but conversely, I do not want you to tell me what I have to do.”
The pastor did admit that COVID-19 is “hyper-infectious” and is “horrible” for some people who contract it. “Nobody is denying that,” he said. Spencer also admitted that some people die from the virus. “People do die, and I am not negating that. It almost seems ‘Captain Obvious’ to say that…but for people to destroy their life, for a ‘what if,’ for an uncertainty, just didn’t make sense to me logically.” He added that the CDC and “the Danish study” support his position that contracting COVID-19 is inevitable, no matter what safety precautions people take.
The Danish study Spencer referred to was likely this study, which found that mask usage did not offer “statistically significant” protection against COVID-19. Some have interpreted the findings to mean that wearing a mask is pointless, but as one infectious disease epidemiologist (as well as one of the study’s authors) says, this is the wrong conclusion. While the study indicates that masks are not “highly effective,” it also indicates that masks do offer some protection, and some protection is better than none at all.
Kristina Wieghmink, the Public Information Officer for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, told Francis that Brad Spencer’s advice conflicts with the messaging health officials are trying to communicate to Ottawa County residents. She observed that misinformation has been a “huge problem” throughout the pandemic.
“Our cases [in Ottawa County] are rising significantly,” said Wieghmink. “So are deaths and hospitalizations. We do not advise anyone to go out and get COVID. We advise people just the opposite.” As of Dec. 4, Ottawa County has recorded 14,316 cases of COVID-19 and 155 deaths from the virus. As of this writing, the state of Michigan has reported 395,036 total cases and 9,854 total deaths from COVID-19, as well as 6,004 daily confirmed cases and 193 daily deaths.
Because COVID-19 is a new virus, information about it is constantly developing. Current data suggests that older adults and people with underlying conditions are more vulnerable to contracting severe cases of the virus, but that does not mean that people outside of those groups never die or never need to be hospitalized. Widely reported guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that people can limit the transmission of COVID-19 by taking measures that include wearing masks, washing their hands frequently, and practicing social distancing.