Pastor Tony Spell has been one of the most radical, COVID-denying, anti-vaccination preachers in the country since the pandemic began. The head of Louisiana’s Life Tabernacle Church became notorious last year for holding in-person church gatherings and putting countless people in harm’s way. Despite being under house arrest, he defied the law to preach at his nearby church multiple times a week, even asking supporters to send him portions of their stimulus checks.
He recently sat down for an interview with CNN’s Elle Reeve, who’s been the go-to person for speaking to leaders of the batshit crazy right, including racist protesters in Charlottesville and Pastor Greg “I-Don’t-Know-What-Pandemic-Means” Locke.
It won’t surprise you to learn that Spell and many members of his congregation accept conspiracy theories. (One member in the segment below mentions Bill Gates.) Many of them reject vaccines, Spell denies spreading COVID and calls the pandemic a scam, and his church is basically ground zero for how Christianity can warp people’s minds and become a public health hazard.
But it’s still astonishing to watch him try to defend his lies.
This pastor says he believes Covid-19 is a “scam,” “politically motivated” and tied to mail-in ballots and getting President Biden elected.
— OutFrontCNN (@OutFrontCNN) April 15, 2021
At one point, he even pretends COVID hasn’t affected anyone he knows… until Reeve calls him out on it:
REEVE: … Many of the people you minister to, which is admirable, are poor people of color.
REEVE: Well, those people tend to be most at risk for COVID… So why not encourage them to take the medicine that will protect them?
SPELL: Not only do I not encourage them, I discourage. I don’t know anybody in my church — Black, brown, El Salvadorian, Honduran, Mexican — who had the virus.
REEVE: Your father said he had the virus!… Your father and mother told me they had the virus!
SPELL: Yes, and that’s all right. Maybe we had it, and maybe we got it.
REEVE: You also said your grandfather got the vaccine.
SPELL: And I’m opposed to that. I did not promote that. I think he was foolish for taking the vaccine.
This is the sort of garbage too many evangelical Christians are hearing across the country. They don’t all belong to the same kind of insane cult that Spell leads, but so many pastors have either downplayed the pandemic’s seriousness, suggested vaccines are optional or a matter of personal freedom, and rejected the underlying science guiding our path forward. Unless pastors are actively pushing for their members to get vaccinated while refusing to hold in-person services until it’s safe to do so, they’re part of the problem.
Spell is no doubt an extremist. But his views aren’t an anomaly on the Christian Right. And unfortunately, the public may suffer because his congregation, under his leadership, is so irresponsible.