Normally, Easter Sunday sees churches packed to the rafters. But with the coronavirus pandemic raging across the nation, most churches have called off in-person services–either because of state or local stay-at-home orders or out of basic decency. But there are still some churches who are throwing caution to the winds this coming Sunday. One of them is the pastor of an Orlando megachurch who thinks it really shouldn’t be our business if his church doors are still open during a pandemic.
Rich Vera is the founder, pastor and so-called prophet of The Center Arena in Orlando. Even in the face of Centers for Disease Control guidance that mass gatherings–secular or otherwise–were a bad idea, he has continued to hold two services every Sunday. Even when outbreaks occurred at churches that took every precaution in the book, Vera continued to keep the doors of his church open.
What in the world could Vera have been thinking? Well, it’s possible that he was acting in accordance with a “prophetic message” he himself gave in March, in which he claimed–with a straight face–that coronavirus won’t kill you. No, this isn’t snark. Watch here.
Making reference to the same scripture that a number of snake-handling churches use to justify their practices, Vera claimed that believers would not be affected by coronavirus. Um, Rich? Have been paying attention to the outbreaks that can be definitively traced to churches? Several of them are charismatic, like you are. That, my friend, makes you a false prophet.
On March 26, Orange County, home to Orlando, issued a stay-at-home order. But that order was effectively gutted days later when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order that not only exempted churches, but superseded any local measures. DeSantis’ order declared religious services to be an “essential activity,” with no restrictions on capacity. This is coming from the same governor who inexplicably didn’t step in to close the beaches before spring break.
With this in mind, Vera took to the pulpit on Palm Sunday. While it was not clear how many people were on hand for the morning service, which was streamed live on Facebook, Vera made reference to an overflow room.
It should come as no surprise that Vera has taken a beating on social media. People in Orlando and elsewhere know that regardless of what DeSantis may say, it is simply reckless to hold in-person services at this point. After all, while we’re still learning about coronavirus, we know enough to know that it is far more contagious than the flu. Moreover, there is no vaccine for it–and there won’t be a vaccine for it until at least 2021. What did Vera say to those critics? “Mind your own business.”
No, Rich. It damned well IS our business. The whole reason we’ve turned to these heavy-handed social distancing measures is that this virus has spread so fast that it’s the only way to protect those whose immune systems aren’t strong enough to withstand it–transplant recipients, diabetics, pregnant women, and those with autoimmune conditions.
And even without considering those who aren’t in high-risk populations, Rich, do you want it on your conscience that a member of your flock passed this disease on to someone in Orlando or elsewhere, and it ended up killing them? If that were to happen and it can be traced to The Center Arena, then by all rights, sir, you and your church should be sued out of existence. After all, the standard for acceptable behavior is set far higher than the bar below which you get arrested or ticketed.
Such considerations don’t seem to matter to Vera. His associate pastor, Envor Moodley, told HuffPost that The Center Arena intends to hold a full schedule of services on Easter. Indeed, Vera is actively encouraging people in Orlando and Central Florida to come to The Center Arena if their churches have shuttered on Sunday.
If anyone does get seriously ill, or even dies, from coronavirus and it can be traced to The Center Arena, this social media meme and Vera’s crass Palm Sunday sermon ought to be Exhibits A and B at any trial.
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