An evangelical pastor who is refusing to abide by Louisiana’s ban on large public gatherings and continuing to hold in-person church services suggested his parishioners would not mind dying for their faith.
Rev. Tony Spell, pastor of Life Tabernacle Church in the city of Central, is facing six misdemeanor charges after defying Gov. John Bel Edwards’ orders aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. Each count carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $ 500 fine.
Palm Sunday services at Spell’s church, held last weekend, are reported to have drawn hundreds of parishioners. Local police said many arrived in a fleet of 26 buses that the church, which is located near Baton Rouge, sent to pick them up.
In a TMZ interview on Wednesday, Spell shrugged off critics who say he is putting his congregants at risk of contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“The Bible teaches us to be absent from our bodies as to be present with the Lord,” said Spell, a Pentecostal preacher. “Like any zealot or like any pure religious person, death looks to them like a welcome friend. True Christians do not mind dying. They fear living in fear.”
Watch TMZ’s full interview with Rev. Tony Spell below.
In previous interviews, Spell has argued that he’s being persecuted for his faith. He reiterated that point on Wednesday, comparing the stay-at-home orders that now cover most Americans to “tyranny” and “prison.” Moving his services to Zoom or other streaming platforms, he added, was out of the question.
As for those who have already lost their lives to COVID-19, he told TMZ, “They died like free people, fighting for their convictions.”
Louisiana residents have been under a stay-at-home order since March 23. Last week, the governor extended that order through at least April 30, once again directing residents to leave their homes only for essential needs. Houses of worship are not included on the state’s list of essential infrastructure.
As of Wednesday, there have been more than 17,000 cases of the coronavirus in Louisiana and 652 deaths.
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