Rev. Tony Spell from Baton Rouge, Louisiana said he expected 2,000 to attend his Easter service at Apostolic Life Tabernacle Church despite the governor's stay-at-home order.
"Satan and a virus will not stop us," Spell, told Reuters in an interview. "God will shield us from all harm and sickness."
Spell has gained a lot of media attention in recent weeks for defiantly holding in-person services despite Gov. John Bel Edwards' ban on gatherings of 50 or more people.
Spell was arrested on March 31 and charged with six misdemeanors for violating the governor's executive order.
Reverend Tony Spell has brazenly held several in-person church services at Apostolic Life Tabernacle Church with hundreds in attendance amid the coronavirus pandemic. And this Easter Sunday, he said he expected a crowd of more than 2,000 to gather in worship at the megachurch near Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
"Satan and a virus will not stop us," Spell told Reuters on Friday. "God will shield us from all harm and sickness. We are not afraid."
However, Rev. Spell's biggest service yet comes as deaths from COVID-19 in Louisiana reported an increase of 970 new COVID-19 cases in 24 hours on April 10, CNN reported.
The state also reported new single-day records for the number of deaths, with 70 new fatalities on Tuesday and Wednesday. Coronavirus-related deaths in the state surpassed earlier estimates Friday that 746 Louisianna residents would be killed by the virus. A national model used by the White House from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation now projects nearly 950 infected residents could die, according to the Advertiser.
Despite the rise in the projected death toll in his state, Spell told TMZ in an interview earlier this week that "true Christians do not mind dying."
"Like any zealot or like any pure religious person, death looks to them like a welcome friend. True Christians do not mind dying. They fear living in fear," Spell told TMZ.
Louisiana's state government has issued a stay-at-home order for residents to help curb the spread of COVID-19, asking people to limit movements outside of their homes other than for essential needs, like grocery shopping, refilling prescriptions, and exercising.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards even announced an executive order banning gatherings of 50 or more people while the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended canceling gatherings of more than 10 people in early March.
Other church leaders have put measures in place to protect congregants from contracting the novel virus by hosting drive-in services or live streaming praise and worship. However, the 42-year-old Evangelical pastor has defiantly ignoring federal and state social distancing measures holding services so he could "lay hands" on his parishioners — something he claimed he couldn't do with a livestreamed service.
"I cannot baptize people in a livestream. I can not lay hands on people in a livestream. I cannot pray for people in a livestream, and this is our biblical command — to lay hands on the sick and when they recover baptize them by immersion in water, which we do every day," Spell told Insider.
He became the second pastor arrested for continuing to hold in-person services and was charged with six misdemeanors on March 31 for disregarding stay-at-home orders.
Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran, who announced charges against Spell, said in a statement that the pastor's decisions have been "reckless and irresponsible," adding that they "endangered the health of his congregation and our community."
"Instead of showing the strength and resilience of our community during this difficult time, Mr. Spell has chosen to embarrass us for his own self-promotion," he said.
With several churches across the country insisting on holding in-person church services despite public health recommendations and mandates, even President Donald Trump has been forced to address church leaders urging them to follow state and federal social-distancing measures.
"There are some pastors and ministers that want to get together and I have great respect for them," Trump said at a news briefing. "But I would say heal our country — let's get healed before we do this."
Read the original article on Insider