The current coronavirus pandemic has created a lot of drama around people attending churches on Sundays despite stay-at-home orders in several states and national guidelines on social distancing. Despite a virtual ban on gatherings of ten or more people, some churches and pastors around the nation have ignored them and held regular services.
One is Pastor Tony Spell in Louisiana who made headlines back at the start of April by violating public orders in the state to hold church services. Police charged Spell with violating an executive order by the governor and Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran lashed out at the time, saying Spell was out to "embarrass" police for "self-promotion."
Weeks later, Spell has taken another bold step by asking them and other Americans to donate their stimulus checks to "evangelists, missionaries and music ministers" who haven't received offerings due to the shutdown. According to CNN, Spell claims he and his wife have donated their checks already and their son is doing the same.
Speaking with CNN anchor Victor Blackwell on Palm Sunday, Spell defended his decision by saying many he's saying to donate to don't receive checks of their own.
"We are challenging you, if you can, give your stimulus package to evangelists and missionaries, who do not get the stimulus package," he told CNN. Spell also contended that the pandemic is "politically motivated" and the stay-at-home guidelines are "government overreach."
As CNN notes, Louisiana has the 9th-most confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S., with 1,267 deaths and 23,000 confirmed infections. Chief Corcoran claimed he isn't finished with Spell yet and believes his motivations fly in the face of "the strength and resilience" in the community.
"Mr. Spell will have his day in court where he will be held responsible for his reckless and irresponsible decisions that endangered the health of his congregation and our community," he said in a statement.
Spell is not the only religious leader to speak out against the pandemic guidelines or hold services despite state orders. Jerry Falwell Jr. came under heavy criticism for his decision to reopen Liberty University after spring break despite Virginia's guidelines, while another pastor in Florida was arrested for holding services in defiance of the state's executive orders.
Rodney Howard-Browne not only defied orders to hold services, but he also had his members shake hands and show that the virus was not going to affect them. Sheriff Chad Chronister felt differently when issuing the arrest warrant.
"His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week in danger," Chronister said during a press conference at the time. "They have access to technology allowing them to live stream their services over the internet and broadcast to their 400 members from the safety of their own homes, but instead they chose to gather at church."
Spell has not been arrested and held Easter services after receiving his summons, with 1,220 in attendance.