Following her report about COVID-19’s alleged continued impact at John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church (GCC), investigative journalist Julie Roys is facing criticism from a pastor at the California megachurch.
Early Sunday, Roys published an article titled “Members of John MacArthur’s Church Say They’re Being Pressured Not to Report New COVID Outbreak.” In it, she details an interview with a church leader and shares social media posts describing active coronavirus cases within the congregation. When a Twitter user asked elder and Pastor Phil Johnson to explain what was happening at GCC, he replied that Roys “is lying” and prints “scandalmongering twaddle.”
Julie Roys Describes Denial & Coercion at GCC
A GCC leader who requested anonymity told Roys that numerous new cases of COVID-19 have been linked to recent gatherings at the Sun Valley church, yet staff and members are being urged to keep them quiet. The leader, who himself is symptomatic, said he felt pressured to attend in-person gatherings at GCC and is now “paying the price” health-wise. He described a mostly mask-free campus, attendees sitting close to one another, and a leader—MacArthur—who continues downplaying COVID-19 as just a flu.
“I spoke with multiple members of GCC this week who said they were scared of speaking out about the outbreak for fear of retribution,” writes Roys. “Some said they feared losing their jobs. Others said they feared being ostracized and losing their community.”
The journalist shares several recent Facebook posts—with names often blurred for privacy—from church members who’ve tested positive for coronavirus. One reveals that “a lot” of members of the church’s Filipino ministry are symptomatic, including a leader and member who’ve been hospitalized. Dr. William Varner, a professor who leads a GCC fellowship group, posted on December 16 that he has COVID-19.
A blogger known as “Modern Day Zorro” details a December 8 GCC Christmas party that allegedly led to seven coronavirus cases. When Roys asked her anonymous source about that account, he confirmed the party occurred but added, “John (MacArthur) will never admit that number. I have no doubt that it is true, but any church leader who publicly affirms that will be looking for a new job.”
Phil Johnson Takes Issue With Article—and Its Author
On December 18, GCC Pastor Phil Johnson tweeted about recent deaths in his family that weren’t COVID-related but “were made nightmarish by tyrannical restrictions.” He adds, “So please don’t @ me with relentless told-you-so Tweets about the current rise in COVID cases. The vast majority WILL recover.”
Asked about news of an outbreak at GCC, Johnson responded, “Well, for one thing, Ms. Roys is lying. Not only did she NOT contact me for comment; she blocked me months ago on social media. (I’m not complaining; I’m happy not to have to read her scandalmongering twaddle, and I rarely do, even when someone sends me a link.)”
“Not lying,” Roys replied, sharing the email she’d sent GCC, requesting comment. When she didn’t receive a reply in her admittedly tight time frame, she proceeded to publish, saying she felt obligated to so do before Sunday’s services “so GCC members could make an informed decision about the risks of attending.”
Although Southern California is currently the pandemic’s U.S. epicenter, Los Angeles County has lifted its ban on indoor worship. Though officials still recommend meeting outdoors, they acknowledge that recent Supreme Court decisions have prioritized religious liberties.
MacArthur, who has said “there is no pandemic,” sued the county and state after being fined for violating virus-related restrictions. He encouraged pastors to fight to remain open for corporate worship, calling it essential.
During a recent Q&A session at GCC, Roys reports, MacArthur indicated that COVID-19 vaccines were “all about money” and “two massive corporations becoming more wealthy than you can even comprehend.”