Howard-Browne ignored those warnings and held services at The River in Tampa Bay anyway, putting countless lives in danger.
The Daily Beast reports that Howard-Browne “turned himself in to a neighboring sheriff’s office, was booked and released within 40 minutes.”
Keep in mind this wasn’t a surprise. Howard-Browne knew this would happen and proudly insisted on holding services anyway, claiming he wasn’t “raising up… pansies” in his church. It’s ironic that a man who first became a national mockery for his “holy laughter” revivals is now a poster-boy for faith-based idiocy in the wake of a global disaster. He even told members of his congregation to shake each other’s hands long after social distancing guidelines were established because he claimed his church was safe by default.
At some point in the near future, he’s going to try and capitalize on this. He’s going to present himself as a defender of Christianity while painting public officials as anti-Christian. Some right-wing leaders are already suggesting that line of reasoning, that shutting down churches (only in-person, mind you) amounts to “religious hostility.”
De Blasio’s incendiary & unconstitutional threat to permanently shut down churches and synagogues must be retracted or corrected if it was a misstatement. This type of religious hostility is what fuels non-compliance because it reveals a motive beyond public safety. https://t.co/gYpZs4Wnfg— Tony Perkins (@tperkins) March 30, 2020
So let’s remember a few things.
Howard-Browne downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19. He called it a “phantom plague” created by the Chinese government to tank the U.S. economy.
He claimed that if you had faith, God would take care of you in the pandemic by providing more toilet paper.
He said he wasn’t worried about the virus because he had 13 machines that would “basically kill every virus in the place.”
He’s also a friend of Donald Trump. He’s laid hands on the president. (It didn’t help.) He hosted Trump’s “spiritual adviser,” who said in his church that her presence made the White House “holy ground.”
COVID-19 is the most dangerous threat to his congregation, but Howard-Browne himself is a close second in terms of what he’s doing to their brains.
Of course, he shouldn’t be arrested for being a conspiracy theorist. He was arrested because his ignorance of science and reality threatened the entire community. He needed to be stopped. Now he has been. Any other pastor who follows in his footsteps should meet the same fate.