We’re at war, all of us, collectively, with a highly contagious, invisible, and deadly enemy. Most are sacrificing, some more than others, doing what’s right, focused on lowering coronavirus-related deaths. Tony Spell’s fighting another battle. The pastor of Life Tabernacle in Central continues to bus in hundreds from surrounding parishes. He’s been charged by prosecutors for doing so. And yet on Tuesday, after those charges were filed, Spell once again filled his church with people. On the very day Louisiana had its highest number of coronavirus deaths to date, Spell turned his sanctuary into a potential breeding ground for a virus he claims is a hoax.
“Yes, we’re going to have service and if I’m arrested the second man in charge will step in,” said Spell. “If he’s arrested, the third man in charge will step in. If he is arrested, the thousands of people who are members of this congregation are gonna step in, but you can’t take us all.”
During his daily briefing on Wednesday, President Donald Trump described churches gathering crowds as “giving our invisible enemy a big advantage.” Most U.S. pastors are, unlike Spell, protecting their followers and not gathering crowds. But Spell ignores the wisdom of his peers and claims he’s now a victim of religious persecution.
We’re hearing two views as the death toll for coronavirus mounts.
I doubt the millions of Christians across the globe currently suffering real and often deadly persecution would sympathize with Spell for having to take a temporary break of holding services.
Like believers in the Middle East, where the BBC recently reported “genocidal acts” are causing Christianity to be wiped out in the region. The British news agency reported the religion is “at risk of disappearing” in the Middle East.
The persecution in Iraq has been so severe, the number of Christians there has fallen from 1.5 million in 2003 to fewer than 120,000, according to the BBC. In Palestine, persecution is so intense, Christians now make up less than 1.5% of the population.
In Nigeria, the religious freedom group, Christian Solidarity International, reports an estimated 400 Christians have been killed this year solely because of their faith. The organization estimates approximately 60,000 Christians have been executed for their faith in recent years in Nigeria.
“The conditions for genocide exist in Nigeria, said Dr. John Elbner, chairman of CSI. “The increasingly violent attacks and the failure of the Nigerian government to prevent them and punish the perpetrators are alarming.”
The religious freedom advocacy group, Open Doors USA, reports in Pakistan, Muslims converting to Christianity are often sent to mental hospitals. The group says in Somalia professing Christians are targeted for execution unless they renounce their faith. Open Doors USA reports North Korea is the most dangerous country for Christians. Believers there are either deported to labor camps or shot on the spot.
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Former Louisiana State Rep. Tony Perkins has dedicated his life to fighting religious persecution. He’s president of the Family Research Council. Last year, Perkins described religious freedom as being under attack all over the world. He called the problem a pandemic. Perkins does not consider Spell’s antics as an example of religious persecution.
“If I thought this was an attack on religious freedom, I’d be there with him,” said Perkins.
Perkins described Gov. John Bel Edwards’ order to prohibit large gatherings in Louisiana as a directive for the sake of public health. For Spell to claim Edwards, a devout Christian himself, is persecuting him, is laughable. Edwards described Spell’s refusal to comply with his legal order as unfortunate.
The president’s coronavirus task force predicted this week that even if Americans continue with social distancing, we could still see between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths. But without social distancing, they predict the death toll could go as high as 2.2 million.
Most Americans are united, focused, and committed to defeating the coronavirus. And then there’s Spell. He’s shadowboxing an enemy that doesn’t exist. And in doing so, whether knowingly or not, he’s found himself in the position of enabling the spread of the deadly and vicious coronavirus.
Is Spell a crusader for religious liberty as he would want you to believe? Hardly. He’s more like an attention-seeking fool and a dangerous one at that.
Email Dan Fagan at Faganshow@gmail.com.