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Louisiana pastor defying lockdown says parishioners are willing to die for God and freedom

"So, like any revolutionary, or any zealot, or any pure religious person, death looks to him like a welcome friend," Tony Spell, a pastor of the Life Tabernacle Church, said
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

A Louisiana pastor who has openly defied social distancing guidelines and held a service that attracted more than 1,000 people has said that, if any of his parishioners die from COVID-19, then they will have done so in the name of God and freedom.

Asked about deaths during the pandemic and if he would have blood on his hands, Tony Spell, a pastor of the Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, told TMZ, "If they die... they die."

He went on to quote Psalm 23:4, "Ye that we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil for God is with us. Then he said, fear not, for I am with you."

"And then the Bible teaches us to be absent from our bodies so as to be present with the Lord," he continued. "So, like any revolutionary, or any zealot, or any pure religious person, death looks to him like a welcome friend."

He told TMZ that Christians do not fear death, and that, instead, they fear to live in fear and the "cowardice of their convictions."

Questioned if his parishioners would rather get infected with COVID-19 by attending his service than not coming at all, he said, "People that prefer tyranny over freedom do not deserve freedom."

He was not put off by medical experts suggesting that most of the country would eventually be infected by the novel coronavirus either, and claimed the best course of action would be to "get on with life."

MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) previously reported that Spell had gathered as many as 1,800 people at his congregation at the Life Tabernacle Church after getting people from five different parishes in buses.

He said at the time that he was following social distancing guidelines and had taken the advice of an official from Washington who had asked him to hold his services outside, make his congregation stand six feet apart, and prevent non-family members from touching.

But a video posted on his Facebook page showed the congregation singing, praying, touching, and worshipping close to one another inside a tent. 

"This is an extreme test brought on us by the spirit of antichrist and the mystery of lawlessness," he told his followers. "What good is the church in an hour of peril if the church craters and caves into the fears and the spirits of torment in our society?"

Influential evangelical magazine Christianity Today published an editorial asking pastors and church leaders to consider the consequences of their actions, with Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, stating, "It is one thing to risk your own life in order to worship together in person, it is quite another to risk the lives of countless others when so many churches are finding creative and compelling ways to carry on in worship and community from a distance."

But that seemingly did not affect Spell and petitions to have him arrested have not moved him either, with the pastor suggesting that the pandemic was "politically motivated" and that he would close his doors only if everyone else in the city did the same.

"You can't say the retailers are essential but the church is not. That is a persecution of the faith," he said.