Arguing his church will only close "when the Rapture comes," the rabid, moronic, Trump-loving pastor of a Tampa megachurch was arrested Monday for putting at risk the lives of hundreds of his followers and thousands of their families and neighbors after leading two packed Sunday services in defiance of local coronavirus restrictions. Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, who runs Revival Ministries International and serves as resident pastor of Infowars - seemingly a grotesque oxymoron, but these are strange times - was booked on misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and violation of public health rules after flouting county and state social distancing orders at his River at Tampa Bay Church. Howard-Browne, one of several stone-faced evangelical leaders who laid hands on Trump in a Twilight-Zone-esque 2017 White House ceremony, was following in the lethal tradition of other mindlessly anti-science, right-wing fellow-travelers.
There's Jerry Falwell Jr., who just re-opened Liberty University despite horrified local resistance that proved entirely justified after over a dozen students swiftly came down with coronavirus symptoms; the Rev. Rick Wiles, who says God is spreading coronavirus in synagogues because He is "dealing with those who oppose his son, Jesus Christ"; "scamvangelist" Kenneth Copeland who loudly killed the coronavirus "in the name of Jesus...I execute judgment on you COVID-19!... It! Is! Over!"and a My Pillow guy who at Monday's insane "briefing" said, "God gave us grace on November 8, 2016, to change the course we were on," thus proving, in total, that "the road to coronavirus hell was paved by evangelicals." And for weeks, as the outbreak spread, Howard-Browne made it clear he was in their illustrious, oblivious ranks.
After Hillsborough County issued a "safer-at-home" order under which essential businesses must follow the CDC's six-foot social distancing guidelines and others must close, Howard-Browne insisted his church was an essential business, said such restrictions were for "pansies," argued the church is "encroached on all sides" - "This is really about your voice" - and in any case is "the most sterile building in America" - "the Lord has helped us secure our building" - thanks to 13 machines that can instantaneously kill any virus: "If they sneeze, it shoots it down at like 100 mph." Despite multiple warnings from evidently unimpressed (and GOP) Sheriff Chad Chronister, two services went ahead this weekend; a livestream posted on Facebook showed up to 500 cheering, applauding people packed togethers as the church band played. The pastor also offered congregants bus rides to church, urged them to shake hands with two or three others because church is “the safest place,” and promised that if they trust in God, their toilet paper will multiply thanks to "supernatural sustenance."
After issuing the arrest warrant - the pastor turned himself in - Sheriff Chronister noted the church's livestream and YouTube channel allowing congregants access "from the safety of their own homes." Instead, he noted, Howard-Browne's “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...Shame on this pastor, their legal staff and the leaders of this staff for forcing us to do our job. We are hopeful that this will be a wakeup call." That remains to be seen. The pastor was quickly out on bail, and by Monday night was offering another live broadcast titled, coincidentally, "The Awakening." He offered "a word of encouragement" from Psalm 107:19-20: “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, And He saved them out of their distresses. He sent His Word and healed them, And delivered them from their destructions.” Presumably, hopefully, next November.
Update: Spewing bonkers conspiracy theories on his radio show, Howard-Browne says he has cancelled further services for now to protect his congregation - not from the virus, but from "a tyrannical government."
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