On Sunday, Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Central, Louisiana, appeared on CNN with anchor Victor Blackwell to discuss the controversy surrounding his church and its continued defiance of social distancing orders.
Spell was recently served a “misdemeanor summons for six counts of violating the governor’s executive order,” according to Central Police Department Chief Roger Corcoran, yet Spell has continued to hold massive church services.
Blackwell first asked Spell if the church would be congregating on Sunday morning, to which Spell responded in the affirmative:
Yes, sir. At 10:00 a.m. We will actually run our buses. We have 27 buses that we cover a 50 mile radius of our city. We bring people into the house of God, feed them, feed them both natural food and spiritual food, and then we go back into our respective places…
When Blackwell asked Spell how many congregants attended services last Sunday, and how many he expected this Sunday, Spell claimed that 1,800 attended previously, but that he wasn’t sure how many would attend the upcoming service.
“This Sunday, with the fear that’s been propagated into the hearts of my people, I don’t know, but it may have had the adverse effect, and we may have more people today than last week,” Spell stated.
Blackwell and Spell then engaged in the following exchange in which the pastor said that he believes the “science of this,” but he is following “a command from God.”
BLACKWELL: So, there is an order from the governor there, John Bel Edwards in Louisiana, barring gatherings of 50 or more. The scientists who advise him suggest that those gatherings put the people who will be coming to your church, the 1,800 last week and whomever will show up this week, in danger. Do you believe them?
SPELL: We believe the science of this, Victor. However, we do have a command from God, and there are no governing bodies that can tell us we cannot gather and worship freely.
BLACKWELL: But do you believe the science? Do you believe the science that people who are in these large gatherings close together are at a greater risk of contracting this deadly disease, this virus? Do you believe the science?
SPELL: Yes, we believe the science. We also believe that 99.3, which the science says of the people that contract it, a lot of them don’t even know they have it and recover … with that also, we’re more interested – people have been locked up in their homes for 22 days now – suicide, domestic violence, starvation – and the hope is the last stronghold in those people’s lives, Victor.
Blackwell followed up on Spell’s response by asking the pastor if he is pro-life. Spell said that he is indeed pro-life.
“How is this a pro-life stance to put people in jeopardy of contracting a disease, getting a virus that has no treatment, no cure, often has no symptoms, and has killed more than … 8,500 people this morning in our country in five weeks?” Blackwell asked.
My response to that is people’s hope is in the house of God. If they do contract the virus, if they have fears of the virus, the church is more essential now than ever to pray with people, to let them know there is a balm in Gilead. There is a physician in Jesus Christ. He is the healer. He said, “Come unto me, all you that are wearing heavy laden, let me give you rest.” So, we were supposed to be at a million and a half body bags. We’re at 8,400. So, the narrative is false, Victor.
The CNN anchor moved on, first implying that the friends and families of the dead might not appreciate Spell’s “just at 8,400” deaths remark, then asking about the citations from the police department.
“You’ve been cited several times and could face 90 days in jail for each citation, a $500 fine,” Blackwell noted.
Blackwell then quoted Chief Corcoran, who stated in part: “This is not an issue over religious liberty, and it’s not about politics. We are facing a public health crisis and expect our community’s leaders to set a positive example and follow the law.”
Corcoran also stated: “Instead of showing the strength and resilience of our community during this difficult time, Mr. Spell has chosen to embarrass us for his own self-promotion.”
“Is this about self-promotion?” Blackwell asked.
Spell said that the services are not about self-promotion, and that he continues to hold them “because the word of God commands us to assemble together.” The pastor then claimed that “this is an attack on religious liberty in the greatest nation in the world.”
Concluding the segment, Blackwell asked Spell what the distinction is between his church and other congregations around the world that are “holding services online.”
“One word: conviction,” Spell said. “Neither the pressure of our friends, family, lawsuit, jail, or death will stop us from operating our convictions, which is, let us go into the house of the Lord. This is the most important place in our life.”
“If this were about deaths,” the pastor claimed, “then every door in this city would be closed.”
Spell added that his attorneys, including former Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, “are gathering … information right now” presumably in order to argue against the citations.
As The Daily Wire previously reported, on March 17, Spell held services “with more than 300 in attendance,” according to the pastor. Spell also claims that approximately 1,000 people attended services on the following Sunday, March 22.
Spell said COVID-19 doesn’t “concern” him, reports WAFB. “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says,” Spell reportedly stated.
As of Saturday, East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has seen 656 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 22 deaths, according to data from the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) Global Cases map. The virus has infected more than 335,500 Americans, leading to 9,458 deaths.
In Orleans and Jefferson, there have been a combined 7,154 cases and 274 deaths as of publication.