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    Pastor of Tampa Church That Held 2 Large Sunday Services Arrested, Jailed, Louisiana Church Defies COVID-19 Order, Holds Sunday Services

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    The Last Outlaw
    The Last Outlaw
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    PostThe Last Outlaw Mon Mar 30, 2020 4:35 pm

    Pastor of Tampa Church That Held 2 Large Sunday Services Arrested, Jailed, Louisiana Church Defies COVID-19 Order, Holds Sunday Services I5Bn3

    From The Tampa Bay Times

    Tony Marrero of The Tampa Bay Times wrote:
    Pastor of Tampa Church That Held 2 Large Sunday Services Arrested, Jailed, Louisiana Church Defies COVID-19 Order, Holds Sunday Services BB11VFjGPastor of Tampa Church That Held 2 Large Sunday Services Arrested, Jailed, Louisiana Church Defies COVID-19 Order, Holds Sunday Services BB11VyiYPastor of Tampa Church That Held 2 Large Sunday Services Arrested, Jailed, Louisiana Church Defies COVID-19 Order, Holds Sunday Services BB11UZLT

    TAMPA, Fla. — The pastor of a Tampa megachurch who held two services on Sunday for scores of worshippers was arrested Monday for violating a county order requiring residents to stay at home to limit the spread of coronavirus.

    Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, co-founder of the River at Tampa Bay Church, turned himself in to the Hernando County jail and was booked on Hillsborough charges of unlawful assembly and violating quarantine orders during a public health emergency, jail records show.

    He was booked into the jail at 2:20 p.m., records show. He was freed about 40 minutes later after posting $500 bail.

    The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office warned Howard-Browne through his attorney's church leaders not to put the congregation at risk of contracting and spreading the virus by holding services at his church, Sheriff Chad Chronister said at a Monday news conference announcing that he had obtained a warrant for Howard-Browne’s arrest.

    The Sheriff’s Office had received an anonymous tip that Howard-Browne was inviting the congregation to attend, even providing bus service to the church, Chronister said.

    Howard-Browne refused to heed the warnings and held two large services on Sunday. A livestream on the church’s Facebook page showed congregants gathered for its Sunday morning “Main Event” service, many standing shoulder to shoulder while the church band played.

    “Because of the reckless disregard of public safety and after repeated requests and warnings, I worked with our state attorney, Andrew Warren, to obtain a warrant for unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, both of which are second degree misdemeanors,” Chronister said. “Our goal here is not to stop anyone from worshipping, but the safety and well-being of our community must always come first.”

    Warren then took to the lectern and quoted the Bible.

    “I’d remind the good pastor of Mark 12:31, which said there’s no more important commandment than to love thy neighbor as thyself,” Warren said. “Loving your neighbors is protecting them, not jeopardizing their health by exposing them to this deadly virus.”

    Chronister said Howard-Browne lives in Hernando County and was expected to turn himself in there to face the charges.

    “If he doesn’t, then we’re going to be forced to be police officers and go get him,” Chronister said.

    The county’s order, which took effect Friday, requires gatherings, including those held by faith-based organizations, be fewer than 10 people to limit the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus. The order also requires residents to stay at home unless they are getting food or medicine, exercising or doing essential work that cannot be performed at home.

    State law allows the order to be enforced as a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail, a maximum fine of $500 or both. Hillsborough officials have said the penalties for non-compliance would likely begin with warnings and fines.

    Howard-Browne addressed the issue during the 3/13-hour stream of the Sunday morning service, which started with nearly an hour of music performed by the church band.

    “No plague shall come nigh thy dwelling, no weapon formed against them,” Howard-Browne said at the start of the sermon, quoting Bible scripture. The crowd cheered and applauded. In some places, congregants appeared to be standing and sitting with an empty chair between them.

    “Of course, we’ve got what they call social distancing in here in this room and there’s people in other places and whatever, but we’re glad you came today,” Rodney Howard-Browne said.

    Church officials did not immediately respond to phone and Facebook messages from the Tampa Bay Times Monday morning.

    “I know that they’re trying to beat me up, you know, having the church operational, but we are not a non-essential service,” Howard-Browne said at the start of the Sunday morning sermon. He claimed the church is “covered by the law.”

    “Not only the right of free speech but the right to peaceful assembly and to practice what we believe,” he said. “Suddenly we are demonized because we believe God heals, that the Lord sets people free, and they make us out to be some sort of kooks.”

    Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp tweeted Sunday that “many people” had contacted her about the service and that she had been in touch with Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister.

    In a statement released on March 18, church leaders signaled they considered church an essential service like police and fire departments and hospitals.

    “We feel that it is very important, at this time, that we keep our doors open for anyone who needs prayer or ministry and to make ourselves available to minister hope and healing and comfort to them,” the statement said. “We believe God’s Word to us, which says to trust Him and to not be fearful but to have faith in Him.”

    The statement said the church “is doing, and will do, everything in our power to support the efforts of our wider community by cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and take any other recommended measures to protect our people and keep them healthy and safe.”

    “If anyone is either not feeling well or would prefer to take the precaution of remaining at home for their own health, we encourage them to do that and to continue to watch the services online,” the statement said.

    In a public Facebook post on March 23, Howard-Browne’s wife and church co-founder Adonica Howard-Browne said the country’s founders “were intimately familiar with pandemics, viruses and plagues, yet they did not allow any to suspend our Constitutional liberties.”

    “Not one word in the Constitution about plagues or pandemics to exempt the government from any of our Bill of Rights,” the post says. “Why do our current courts allow it? Because the public is asleep at the wheel. Think the pandemic threatens to kills us all? A review of the data shows the pandemic is more panic than plague.”

    As of Monday, COVID-19 was responsible for more than 2,500 deaths in the United States, 63 of them in Florida, according to Johns Hopkins University and the Florida Department of Health.

    Born in South Africa, the Harold-Brownes and their three children moved to the United States in 1987 and founded The River at Tampa Bay in 1996, according to the church website and Facebook page. They also founded Revival Ministries International, the River Bible Institute, River School of Worship, and the River School of Government. The church campus is off Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, near Interstate 75.

    From The Los Angeles Times

    Molly Hennessy-Fiske of The Los Angeles Times wrote:CENTRAL, La. — Pentecostal preacher Tony Spell didn’t just stand before his congregation on Sunday in defiance of the governor’s order to stay home: He leaped into the pews, paraded, hugged and laid hands on worshipers’ foreheads in prayer.

    “We’re free people. We’re not going to be intimidated. We’re not going to cower,” the Rev. Spell said from the pulpit of Life Tabernacle Church in a suburb of Baton Rouge. “We’re not breaking any laws.”

    Across Louisiana, the coronavirus has infected more than 3,500 people and led to 151 deaths as of Sunday, with one of the highest per-capita death rates in the country down the interstate in New Orleans. To limit its spread, Gov. John Bel Edwards banned gatherings of more than 50 people earlier this month and on March 22 issued a stay-at-home order.

    To comply, Catholic churches canceled Mass and switched to virtual services. Many Protestant churches did too. But some have continued to gather, with none drawing more attention than Life Tabernacle.

    Pastor of Tampa Church That Held 2 Large Sunday Services Arrested, Jailed, Louisiana Church Defies COVID-19 Order, Holds Sunday Services BB11ULzW

    The 60-year-old church has continued to use its fleet of two dozen buses to bring hundreds of congregants to services three times a week from five surrounding parishes, including congregants from mobile home parks and public housing in low-income neighborhoods. More than 1,100 people of various races worship by age group at seven sanctuaries on the property. Only about 10% have stayed away, said Spell’s father, the Rev. Tony Spell, 66, including his own 90-year-old father who has been sheltering at home.

    On Sunday, 1,265 attended morning services at the church, said the Rev. Tony Spell, 42. Seven were baptized, he said, and 10 were “spirit filled” (spoke in tongues).

    So far, no church members have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, said Spell, as he watched buses arrive before Sunday’s service, having passed a half-dozen empty parking lots of other churches up the street.

    Pastor of Tampa Church That Held 2 Large Sunday Services Arrested, Jailed, Louisiana Church Defies COVID-19 Order, Holds Sunday Services BB11V1Dm

    Like other places across the nation, testing here is limited. Only 27,871 of Louisiana’s 4.7 million residents had been tested as of Sunday, and the disease has spread to all but five of the state’s 64 parishes.

    While different states have issued different provisions for houses of worship, 17% of those polled by three political scientists last week said they were still attending church in person. Nearly three dozen people who attended a church event earlier this month in rural Arkansas tested positive for COVID-19. At a church in the Chicago suburbs, 43 people showed symptoms of the virus following a service this month and 10 had tested positive as of Friday.

    As people entered the church Sunday, Life Tabernacle volunteers checked their temperatures before allowing them in. Hand sanitizer was available inside; few in the crowd of several hundred in the main sanctuary wore gloves or masks.

    Some sat a few feet apart. But others embraced. And as Spell began preaching, the assembled paraded around the room shoulder to shoulder in their usual “victory march.”

    Outside, several protesters had gathered in black hazmat suits. More than 9,400 people had signed an online petition calling on authorities to prosecute Spell. The local newspaper, the Central City News, has been boycotted for helping Spell stream services online.

    Wearing a blue suit, hair slicked back and clutching a Bible as he stood on the pulpit, Spell explained that he had been advised by attorneys from the evangelical Florida-based Liberty Counsel not to enter the crowd in case law enforcement entered and tried to arrest him.

    He did anyway.

    Spell joined his wife, son and father in singing Gospel classics alongside congregants, including, We’ll Understand it Better By and By, All My Hope Is in Jesus and Eye of the Storm.

    He told the group that at least four church members had lost their jobs after employers saw photographs online of them attending services, including one of the singers with him on the altar.

    “This is the America we’re living in now, where people are being persecuted for their faith,” Spell said as he took the singer’s hand.

    The pastor argued the governor should deem churches essential, as he has some retailers and clinics.

    Wall Street, he noted, “is still open.”

    “Yes, it is!” a woman cried from the audience.

    “If you’re going to persecute our church for staying open, don’t go to Walmart, don’t go to Planned Parenthood, don’t go to the liquor store because you’re a hypocrite,” said Spell, who was greeted with applause.

    His sermon veered between American history and brimstone, from Patrick Henry to Satan. At one point, while praying over a woman, both spoke in tongues.

    “I’m not so afraid of dying of a disease as I am of living in fear of a virus!” Spell then shouted, wiping his brow and stripping off his jacket.

    The crowd stood and applauded.

    “A God that brought America a virus can bring America through a virus,” he intoned, and a congregant responded, “Hallelujah!”

    Spell said he’s been demonized for refusing to close his doors, “called everything from a killer to Pol Pot to David Koresh,” referring to the Khmer Rouge leader in Cambodia and the pastor who led the deadly 1993 Branch Davidian standoff with the FBI in neighboring Texas, respectively.

    But the church, he said, has remained open for all these years despite floods and storms, including Hurricane Katrina, which ripped off the roof.

    “I’d rather die than kill the church,” Spell repeated, framing the pandemic as a test of faith. “If you can’t stand up to COVID, don’t expect to stand up to a man called the Antichrist.”

    His father, who sang and played keyboard through the service, said the evangelical congregation has been unfairly stigmatized as “snake handlers,” and that fellow Americans should beware any infringement of their constitutional freedoms.

    “What’s going to happen when they come for your guns?” he said, noting that authorities in New Orleans have closed guns stores during the pandemic.

    Woody Jenkins, a former state representative and lawyer who runs Central City News, livestreamed the morning service. He said the church has been vital not only to Central, a town of about 29,000, but to some of Baton Rouge’s poorest residents.

    Jenkins helped craft the state’s current constitution in 1973, which he noted protects religious freedom. He’s been trying to stay inside, avoiding his grandchildren who live nearby, but he chafes at the restrictions.

    “Are we really alive if we’re living like this?” he said after the service.

    Jenkins was joined in Spell’s office by a church member whose employer asked her to stop coming to work last week after seeing a photo of her at the church, which she has attended for 37 years. She asked not to be identified because she hopes to get her job back. She said none of her co-workers were penalized for going shopping, dining or to the gym.

    “This is where we get our strength. I can’t get this from livestream,” said the woman, who oversees the bus ministry. “I have an obligation to be here.”

    She planned to attend the church’s Sunday night service too.

    Spell and church members said they do not believe COVID-19 is fake or that they can heal themselves, as some have reported. But they just can’t imagine spending Sunday away from church.

    In the parking lot after services, women’s Bible study leader Cheyenne Parker said she grew up in an abusive home in one of the area’s mobile home parks and takes the bus to church, which “was the first place I felt safe.”

    “There is a crisis right now in our world, but if the church closes its doors, what happens to the ones that were just like me?” said Parker, 39, wearing her usual conservative black dress, long brown hair pinned in a low bun.

    Before leaving for home, she thumbed through her leather-bound Bible to quote one of her favorite Scriptures, Nahum 1:7: “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.”

    Mark 12:30-31 (NKJV) wrote:30 "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

    So now that scripture has been quoted, here's the bottom line. We now have TWO pastors in this country who calls themselves leading their people to glory, but have no regard for their health and safety. This one in Florida has been arrested and jailed. The one in Louisiana is likely still doing his Tuesday services. I must repeat myself. I believe in The Lord God Almighty. I believe He can do everything but fail. But at the same time I believe in being smart and following the law. If I were a the Pastor of a church, and they told me that we cannot have church services in the building, that my congregation could have no more than ten people, I'm going to follow that. I will livestream services on Facebook. I'll hold our Bible Studies on the conference Prayer Line. The last thing I will do is put any of my people in danger. The Word of God doesn't change. In these times, we have to change the way we deliver The Word.

    Just Saying.
    Pastor of Tampa Church That Held 2 Large Sunday Services Arrested, Jailed, Louisiana Church Defies COVID-19 Order, Holds Sunday Services I6goy

    Pastor of Tampa Church That Held 2 Large Sunday Services Arrested, Jailed, Louisiana Church Defies COVID-19 Order, Holds Sunday Services Ro5An
    Pastor of Tampa Church That Held 2 Large Sunday Services Arrested, Jailed, Louisiana Church Defies COVID-19 Order, Holds Sunday Services RhD4cPastor of Tampa Church That Held 2 Large Sunday Services Arrested, Jailed, Louisiana Church Defies COVID-19 Order, Holds Sunday Services RhfbI

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