For the past few weekends, business has been booming at Life Tabernacle Church in Central, Louisiana, a city near Baton Rouge. Pastor Tony Spell‘s regulars keep, well, flocking to his sermons (of course they do. Where there’s a flock, there are sheep).
As we wrote a week ago, Spell even organized 26 buses to transport willing Christians from all over the Baton Rouge area to his open-air service last weekend. Little if any social distancing took place at the event (to say nothing of the packed coaches). That’s in part because the pastor literally told the congregants that he and the Holy Ghost will heal them if they get COVID-19.
And yesterday? Persuaded neither by the urgings of public-health authorities, nor by the demands of common sense, Spell held another mass gathering. About 500 people attended.
The Associated Press reports that relations between the church and people who live in the immediate vicinity have turned frosty. Paul Quinn, a neighbor, had some pressing questions while he wearily eyed Spell’s followers filing into the church.
“Other congregations are using the internet, Skype, and other safe ways to congregate. Why can’t they? What makes them so special? I wish state police would come out and do something… If they get out of church and go to the grocery store, it’s a serious health hazard. They don’t know how many people they’re affecting, and they don’t seem to care.”
Pastor Spell doesn’t seem to appreciate reality, but the Governor does.
People who violate the ban are being selfish and “grossly irresponsible,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Sunday afternoon in New Orleans. They “take the time and attention of first responders and make it much more likely that this disease will continue to spread.”
By the way, Edwards estimates that in New Orleans, hospitals are likely to exhaust their stock of ventilators by this Friday. All beds are projected to be taken within a week after that.
It’s doubtful that Baton Rouge will fare much better — and with people like Spell as superspreaders-by-proxy, the city may do a whole lot worse.
And abroad? The Guardian, under the headline “Churchgoers All Over the World Ignore Social-Distancing Advice,” reminds us that religious people in various countries are wearing their selfishness like a badge.
Sunday services were held at some of Russia’s largest religious sites after Orthodox church leaders said they were an expression of religious freedom.
Dozens of parishioners, many of them elderly, crowded into Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg to receive communion.
Earlier this month, the cathedral came under fire for continuing to exhibit a relic of John the Baptist despite fears that visitors kissing the exhibit could hasten the spread of coronavirus.
Meanwhile, video emerged from a mostly locked-down Romania that shows priests using the same spoon to give communion to one congregant after another.
In Georgia (the country), religious authorities cautioned worshipers against spending long periods of time in church, but nixed strong suggestions that the practice of reusing spoons be suspended,
… claiming that as communion is a holy ceremony, it is not possible to get ill during it.
Sometimes the defiance/denial comes from the highest levels of government. In Belarus, Christianist President Alexander Lukashenko said that he wants his people to man up and carry on,
… advising citizens who don’t share his lack of concern to “hit the sauna, down some vodka, and get back to work.”
As of this writing,
… an Orthodox Christian fair and exhibition, Easter Joy, will be held [as planned] April 1-12 in the [Belarus] capital, Minsk, with events for families and children.
Circling back to the United States, there are dozens if not hundreds of churches and synagogues that, public-health concerns notwithstanding, were open for sermons, services, and shared rituals over the weekend. Many are vocal and public about it. For instance, the Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio, issued a statement that reads, in part,
“If there has ever been a time in the history of our world when we all need God’s help, it is now. For that reason, we believe that the doors of Solid Rock Church should remain open. It is in these times of crisis that the church should play a critical role as a place of refuge… A place where anyone can come to pray, to worship, and to find healing and hope.”
The church added that only on repeal of the First Amendment will it comply with orders to close.
Some Monroe residents are fearful — and furious. One wrote the city council in an e-mail:
“Please, for the sake of public health, for the sake of our lives, do something about this. 24 thousand people are confirmed dead, and they continue to host an [event] that can infect thousands. I can’t hide in my house forever. These people are among us and dangerous. Please file whatever possible injunction to have them closed. I don’t want to die.”
A BuzzFeed News report from a few days ago sums it all up with a chilling headline:
Nearly a Fifth Of Religious Americans Say They Are Still Attending Services, Despite the Coronavirus Pandemic.
(Image via Shutterstock)