A visitor walks pass a prop installation of a flying saucer crashed into a book shelf in an exhibition ‘Out of this World’ at the British Library in London, Thursday, May 19, 2011. The exhibition explores science fiction through literature, film, illustration and sound and display the Library’s earliest science fiction manuscripts to the latest best-selling novels. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)
Here’s something you don’t see every day.
A pastor of a large Florida church was purportedly arrested Monday for leading crowded worship services over the weekend.
As it turns out, packed Sunday celebrations at The River at Tampa Bay Church — which, according to Sheriff Chad Chronister, saw up to 500 in attendance — were in alleged defiance of the state’s social distancing guidelines.
Tampa Bay’s Fox13 reports that 58-year-old Rodney Howard-Brown was taken into custody and charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order.
Rodney spent about 40 minutes of his afternoon in custody and then posted $500 bond.
The minister’s attorney, Mat Straver, is no fan of the Hillsborough County order, as he says it allows Amazon to operate while forcing churches to shut down.
And on top of that, he claims, the church followed social distancing guidelines:
“Not only did the church comply with the administrative order regarding six-foot distancing, it went above and beyond any other business to ensure the health and safety of the people. Contrary to Sheriff Chronister’s allegation that Pastor Howard-Browne was ‘reckless,’ the actions of Hillsborough Country and the Hernando County Sheriff are discriminatory against religion and church gatherings.”
But there’s more:
According to Sheriff Chad Chronister, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office deputies had tried on two occasions to speak to Rodney about the “dangerous environment” services would create.
However, Chad claims, they were told by staff that Rodney wouldn’t see them. And that he wouldn’t cancel Sunday’s services.
The visitation may have been due to comments the preacher’d made during his March 17th sermon.
Here he is, as relayed by the Orlando Weekly:
“We are not stopping anything. I’ve got news for you, this church will never close. The only time the church will close is when the Rapture is taking place.”
State Attorney Andrew Warren accused the minister of “hiding” behind the Constitution:
“I think it’s unfortunate that the pastor here is hiding behind the First Amendment. One, it’s absolutely clear that emergency orders like this are constitutional and valid. Second of all, leaders from our faith-based community across this country have embraced the importance of social distancing.”
Now let’s get really, REALLY weird…
As seen on a video posted online, the pastor claimed he’d wrangled technology that shoots down any and every virus:
“We brought in 13 machines that basically kill every virus in the place, and uh, if somebody walks through the door it’s like, it kills everything on them. If they sneeze, it shoots it down at like 100 mph. It’ll neutralize it in split seconds. We have the most sterile building in, I don’t know, all of America.”
Rodney Howard-Browne will continue to hold services because his church is the most sterile building in America, as it contains 13 machines that can instantaneously kill any virus: "If they sneeze, it shoots it down at like 100 mph. It'll neutralize it in split seconds." pic.twitter.com/Z5PLFXlPfp
— Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) March 27, 2020
What the flyin’, shootin’ heck?
There was also this defense, on the church’s Facebook page:
[W]e feel that it would be wrong for us to close our doors on them, at this time, or any time. In a time of crisis, people are fearful and in need of comfort and community.
They just wanna have a good, clean time:
The River at Tampa Bay is doing, and will do, everything in our power to support the efforts of our wider community by cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and take any other recommended measures to protect our people and keep them healthy and safe. If anyone is either not feeling well or would prefer to take the precaution of remaining at home for their own health, we encourage them to do that and to continue to watch the services online.
Sheriff Chad on’s a different page:
“I was appalled and also frightened at the fact that those individuals [were] thinking and believing they are doing the right thing. How many people are they going to infect if they have COVID-19? There is nothing more important than faith especially during a pandemic, but like every other church here in the Bay Area, do it responsibly.”
Another local shepherd, Pastor Ken Whitten, from Idlewild Baptist Church, is with Chad on this one:
“[Quarantine] was practiced by people (in the Bible). The issue here is not religious freedom. Churches are not the ones being singled out. Everything is shut down. There is no basketball. There is no hockey. All of us our doing our part. I’m a pastor that believes God heals…this is not a faith issue. This is a responsible friend issue.”
The state attorney also asked The River parishioners not to gather in Rodney’s absence, quoting a Bible verse:
“There is no more important commandment than to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself.’ Loving thy neighbors is protecting them, not jeopardizing their health by exposing them to this deadly virus.”
Back to those machines, the fruits of my labored research were insufficient (“Sufficient” would pretty much mean I had one sitting in my lap, but I couldn’t even get basic information).
As for everyone getting together in houses of worship, I’m of the opinion that God gave us brains, and there could come a time when using them means not going to church. And that time could perhaps be right now. Just for a bit.
But I have to say — machines that can see viruses and blast ’em might change my mind.
What are your thoughts? Let us all know in the Comments section.
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