A Louisiana pastor who defied state orders and continued to hold large church gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic says that his congregants are donating their stimulus checks. Pastor Tony Spell, the leader of the Life Tabernacle Church in Louisiana who is currently on house arrest, told TMZ that his "Pastor Spell Stimulus Challenge" has resulted in an influx of donations from both those attending his services and others nationwide.
According to spell, more than 200 people have donated at least a portion of their stimulus checks, which can be as high as $1,200 for singles and $2,400 for couples, to his church. He also says that he donated his full stimulus check, which he has encouraged his parishioners to do as well. Spell did not, however, reveal how much money has been donated, though TMZ did a little math and figured out it could be $24,600 if each donor gave the typical tithe of 10 percent.
The donations are in response to a call Spell issued in mid-April, asking people to take part in the "Pastor Spell Stimulus Challenge" by donating some, if not all, of the stimulus money they received as part of the CARES Act. In a YouTube video, Spell laid out the rules of the challenge, with the first being that it started on April 19 and the second being “donate your stimulus money.”
"Rule number three, donate it to evangelists, North American evangelists who haven't had an offering in a month; missionaries, who haven't had an offering in a month; music ministers, who haven't had an offering in a month. If you don't have a church, give through my website," he continued. "I'm donating my entire stimulus, $1,200. My wife is donating her stimulus, $1,200. My son is donating his stimulus, $600."
The challenge quickly came under fire. Speaking with CNN's Victor Blackwell just days later, Spell had defended the challenge, stating that donating stimulus money would be donating to "the most needy."
"We are giving to those who do not have. One, I said this is a challenge — we're challenging you – if you can – give your stimulus package to missionaries and evangelists who don't get stimulus packages," Spell said. "We are giving to those people that are the most needy."
As he anticipates collecting more stimulus money donations, Spell is also anticipating collecting more on the offering plate. Speaking to TMZ, Spell confirmed that he will continue to defy stay-at-home orders as well as a judge's order to home confinement and again lead another church service this Sunday, as "the Bible commands us to go." He will not, however, be joining in his church's protest of stay-at-home orders this weekend outside the governor's mansion because he does not "want federal agents to pick me up when I am off the premises of my property."