Arkansas church won't stop service, says Jesus 'died from COVID-19' so that people could go out in the world
Awaken Church in Jonesboro, in a Facebook post on April 1, said it would continue to hold services despite the deadly novel coronavirus spreading at a rapid rate in the country
A church in Arkansas is reportedly planning to continue holding services despite federal guidelines for American residents to self-isolate and defer from holding a gathering of more than 10 people amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Awaken Church in Jonesboro, in a Facebook post on Wednesday, April 1, wrote that the "first death of COVID-19" was of Jesus Christ. The church also posted an image of a cross wrapped in a white sash against a sunset background with the words "Jesus died with COVID-19 so that you didn't have to bear it" written on it.
The church, in a separate post that day, had explained that it would continue to hold services despite the deadly novel coronavirus spreading at a rapid rate in the country. The church's decision to continue opening its doors to worshippers was first reported by the local NEA Report news site.
"The Dept of Health has stated that all gatherings of ten or more do not apply to houses of worship and yet suggest to follow CDC safe practices, of which we are doing," the church wrote in a Facebook post.
"For us to not have services due to a virus would be for us to go against our extremely strong convictions of the power of God to protect and the power of God to heal," the post continued. "Jesus knew the world He was sending us into contained sickness and disease. Instead of telling us to retreat from sickness, He told us to go into the world and to heal the sick."
Lead pastor at Awaken Church, Chad Gonzales, in a statement to Newsweek, said that the decision made by the institution to keep its religious services going was something he did not take "lightly." The pastor said that it was "one of the most gut-wrenching decisions" he has ever made, noting that the church "certainly would have complied" if the government had required them to cancel services.
"Many people have said that us continuing to hold physical services was about the money, but that's not it at all. The vast majority of our donations come through either our website or mobile app. It had nothing to do with money, but everything to do with my convictions," Gonzales said.
The church, in its Facebook post, justified its decision by referencing the biblical verse 2 Corinthians 5:21: "The Bible tells us that Jesus took on every sin, sickness and every disease...Jesus bore it so you wouldn't have to. Salvation provided forgiveness and healing...if you'll believe it, you can receive it!"
The church, however, shared advice referring to the most vulnerable groups to COVID-19 — elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions — asking them to stay online and watch the service from their homes.
"We encourage those that are elderly, have weakened immune systems and/or those that have any concerns for their well being to please stay home and enjoy the live-streaming of the services until all of this passes," the church wrote on Wednesday morning.
The Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has not yet succumbed to calls for a "shelter in place" or "stay at home" order across the state. Hutchinson, however, did ban gathering of 10 or more on March 27. The church noted that the governor's directives did not include religious gatherings.
Arkansas, as of Friday, has over 624 cases of coronavirus infections with at least 10 confirmed deaths. Meanwhile, the infections across the nation have crossed 240,000 with over 6,000 deaths.