Rev. Tony Spell, the pastor of Life Tabernacle Church, has been repeatedly criticized for continuing to host in-person services despite the coronavirus pandemic and Louisiana's stay-at-home order.
Spell was arrested on March 31 and charged with six misdemeanors for defying Gov. John Bel Edward's executive order banning gatherings of more than 50 people. But despite his arrest, Spell arranged for hundreds of worshipers to arrive on 26 buses for Palm Sunday celebrations last week, according to Reuters. “They would rather come to church and worship like free people than live like prisoners in their homes,” Spell told reporters.
Referring to the possibility that people will suffer depression and anxiety by being forced to stay home, Spell asked: “Could it be that it is worse than the people who have already contracted this virus and died?”
He went on to tell worshipers that they had “nothing to fear but fear itself.”
And in an interview with TMZ following that gathering, Spell revealed that he has no plans to stop in-person gatherings as the Easter weekend approaches.
“Like any zealot or like any pure religious person, death looks to them like a welcome friend," Spell told TMZ.
“True Christians do not mind dying," Spell added. "They fear living in fear, cowardice of their convictions. ... People that can prefer disgrace to danger are headed for a master and deserve one. People that prefer tyranny over freedom do not deserve freedom.”
Spell referred to people who are under a lockdown order as prisoners. “The only vent they have to their emotion is coming to the house of God and worshiping, like free people," he added.
He went on to state that attending church from home, as millions have been doing, doesn't work. “If it did work, why has America spent billions and billions building churches?” Spell asked.
When asked what he would tell a parishioner's family if one of them died as a result of the virus, Spell added: “I have to say they died like free people, fighting for their convictions."
When the interviewer pointed out that the death would have been avoidable, Spell asks: “Who knows what is preventable?”
The interviewer replied: “Scientists do.”
To which Spell retorts: “And scientists need to know that God gave us a strong immune system, and the only way we’re gonna destroy this virus is for — they say everybody’s gonna get it, well if everybody’s gonna get it, then let’s get on with life.”
Unsurprisingly, social media users haven't been too happy with Spell's point of view on things. "Shout out to Pastor Tony Spell," one user joked. "I mean, to have an ego so big you'll endanger the lives of your congregation while pretending it has anything to do with religious freedom? That's just amazing! That's a level of a**holery most can only aspire to!"
While another user quoted the TMZ interview and added: "Spoken like a true shepherd of his flock. Who on earth would trust in obvious crooks like that?"
The best way to prevent contracting or spreading coronavirus is with thorough hand washing and social distancing. If you feel you may be experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, which include persistent cough (usually dry), fever, shortness of breath, and fatigue, please call your doctor before going to get tested. For comprehensive resources and updates, visit the CDC website. If you are experiencing anxiety about the virus, seek out mental health support from your provider or visit NAMI.org.