The coronavirus outbreak has completely upended daily life in this country. We’ve seen games and concerts canceled, schools closed, and restaurants limited to takeout and delivery, among other things. But it’s for a good reason–to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed, especially in the middle of flu season. Even in the face of robust scientific evidence to support this, there are still a lot of people who think calls to “flatten the curve” amount to a sinister plot to control our lives.
The logic behind the cancellations and postponements is that large gatherings make it easier to spread a virus that has already moved faster than the normal methods can be deployed to control it. But at least two megachurch pastors in Florida who are fanatically loyal to Donald Trump don’t see it that way. They not only held regular worship services on Sunday, but told their flocks that calls to practice social distancing and other methods amount to a plot cooked up by “the enemy.”
First up, Rodney Howard-Browne–or, as he calls himself, the “Holy Ghost bartender.” He’s best known for introducing the world to “holy laughter,” or uncontrolled, spontaneous fits of laughter during services. His services are often characterized by things that would give even the most uninhibited charismatic or Pentecostal pause. For instance, take this clip from a recent revival at his church, The River at Tampa Bay in Tampa.
But lately, Howard-Browne has been doing things that definitely aren’t cause for laughter. He’s a shameless conspiracy peddler who once claimed–without evidence–that Trump was going to be attacked very soon. He also believes that recent mass shootings in Austin and Christchurch were false flags, and is a full-on Pizzagate/QAnon kook.
But these were models of sanity compared to what he told his flock on Sunday. He claimed that calls for social distancing amount to a deep state/globalist plot to kill everyone with vaccines. People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch got a clip.
Howard-Browne claimed that coronavirus was a “phantom plague” because neither he nor any of his 600,000-plus followers on Twitter know anyone or know anyone who knows anyone who has been infected. He believed it was a globalist plot to shut down churches, or at the very least severely limit their capacity.
Referring to the then-prevailing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control that called for canceling or postponing mass gatherings of 250 or more people, Howard-Browne claimed that any church who complies won’t be allowed to return to normal capacity once the crisis passes, because “you gave up ground.”
Translation–flattening the curve is a lie of the devil. So in the name of twisting the devil’s nose, Howard-Browne has no qualms about holding regular services, then potentially putting his flock of several thousand and everyone around them in danger. Process that for a moment.
Never mind that one of those embracing calls to flatten the curve is Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis–a man who was “Florida Man” before Matt Gaetz while representing the area between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach in Congress. This past Thursday, DeSantis called for local governments to cancel or postpone mass gatherings, and pressed for an increase in social distancing. So does that make DeSantis a globalist puppet, Rodney?
If that wasn’t enough, he claimed that the coronavirus scare was ginned up by the globalists after they failed to convince people about climate change. If you believe Howard-Browne, a chest-beating anti-vaxxer, it’s an excuse to cull the population. He claimed that the World Health Organization is looking for an excuse to take over nations, then force people to take lethal vaccines. Is your head spinning yet?
Another dose of lunacy was served up four hours to the south, from Guillermo Maldonado, pastor and “apostle” of King Jesus International Ministry in Kendall, near Miami. Maldonado is best known for hosting a gaudy rally for Trump in January at which Trump kicked off his “Evangelicals for Trump” group.
There’s a reason Trump picked that church. Maldonado is a full-on Trump worshiper who believes God raised up Trump to pave the way for the Second Coming. Back in October, he joined a gaggle of Trumpvangelicals who joined Trump at the White House to slam the impeachment inquiry.
But willing to cover for ham-handed abuse of power was minor league compared to what Maldonado told his flock on Sunday. Right Wing Watch got a clip.
Maldonado started by thanking those who came for not letting “the devil and fear cripple you” and come to church. So riddle me this, Guillermo. Does that make your governor, who is as rabidly pro-Trump as you are, an agent of the devil?
Later, he warned that those reluctant to come to church during this time are being fooled by a demonic plot to overtake them with fear. And here I thought it was not wanting to risk infecting others with this beast. Silly me.
It got even worse than that, according to The Miami Herald. Maldonado chided those who didn’t come to the morning service, saying that they were “in a cave afraid of the virus.” The sanctuary appeared at least half empty.
Looking at this, I think about how my church held service on Sunday. We did a Facebook Live broadcast, with stripped down worship, and a sermon in which our pastor actively encouraged leaving comments.
That doesn’t sound like “giving up ground,” as Howard-Browne would have said. Nor were we hiding in a cave, as Maldonado would have suggested. Far from it. We were coming together the best we could while trying to honor common-sense guidelines for keeping this virus from spreading. Is that a demonic plot? Hardly.
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