He’s at it again.
Nashville city officials are investigating a massive gathering of thousands of maskless worshippers who tightly packed onto a local courthouse’s steps Sunday night. It was the latest stop of a “Let Us Worship” tour by a controversial musician and religious activist who has drawn ire from leaders across the country for his take on pandemic-era faith.
“We have worked very hard to slow the spread of COVID by taking a measured approach to protect the community,” Brian Todd, a spokesman for the Metro Public Health Department for the City of Nashville, told The Daily Beast in a statement on Monday. “The Health Department is very concerned by the actions that took place at the event and we are investigating and will pursue appropriate penalties against the organizer.”
Todd also said that the event organizer and controversial worship leader Sean Feucht, who led the event, “did not submit an application to the Health Department or permit application to any [city] department” in advance of the gathering.
“Music City showed up to enthrone KING JESUS last night on the steps of the courthouse downtown!” Feucht tweeted on Monday morning, adding that a police officer estimated 9,000 attendees at the event. (City officials would not confirm a specific number of attendees to The Daily Beast on Monday.) “Incredible to witness how God moved last night! These are incredible days!”
A video of the event posted on Freucht’s YouTube channel showed adults, teens, and even toddlers singing, laughing, and crying in worship together at the courthouse on Sunday evening. There were colorful t-shirts, baptisms, clasped hands, and raucous chants of God’s love, while Feucht preached about the power of prayer over depression and hardship.
Feucht did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Beast.
As of Monday, Nashville’s Davidson County had a cumulative total of 28,294 novel coronavirus cases and 321 deaths. The county had 174 COVID-19 cases overnight, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Nashville is in Phase 3 of its opening, which prohibits unsanctioned gatherings of more than 25 people, with approved events allowed at 30 percent capacity up to 500 people. The city notes that all visitors and residents must wear masks in public and at such events.
A similar Feucht-affiliated event in Redding, California, on July 22 inspired fear from city leaders there, as did one in Oakland, Maine, late last month, where Town Manager Gary Bowman told The Daily Beast he worried the indoor gathering would turn into a “superspreader” event. Other Feucht events have sparked outrage and fear in Oregon, Colorado, and Florida.
But it wasn’t just city leaders who were outraged over Feucht’s actions.
As Carlos Whittaker, one Nashville resident, tweeted: “Nobody is silencing the church in Nashville. Our church met today and had thousands show up for baptism in a nice socially distanced/masked way… cause we are in a pandemic. I think it’s irresponsible to claim being silenced. Cause that’s not the [case] in Nashville.”
“Putting our city’s healthcare workers at risk like this isn’t very ‘pro-life’ of you, Sean,” tweeted Nashville resident Jamie Lee Finch.
Nashville-based author Zack Hunt told The Daily Beast on Monday that local schools are trying to go back in person this week, thanks to what he described as a diligent effort by locals dedicated to curbing case counts. But Hunt said he believed Feucht’s event was a “recipe for disaster” and that “stunts like the one Sean pulled only serve to create superspreader events that set us back, which, in turn, affects a whole host of people whose livelihoods rely on the tourism, restaurant, and entertainment business.”
“All because a guy from out of town decided he wanted to put on a show he wasn’t allowed to put on,” said Hunt. “How in the world was he allowed to host this? If not, why was it not shut down immediately?”
City officials did not respond to specific questions from The Daily Beast about the event on Monday.
Feucht has been planning such concerts—some open-air and some indoors—since the onset of unprecedented restrictions on religious gatherings as the pandemic ravaged communities, he first told Religion News Service. Feucht has also prayed with President Trump at the White House—though that was before the virus began killing Americans.
“We just feel this call to really target cities that are under extreme turmoil and despair and brokenness,” Feucht, who ran for Congress this year in the California Republican primary and lost, said on a podcast in September. “That’s why we’ve gone into places like Portland, downtown Portland a block from the riots.”
But, to Hunt, Feucht is “being pathologically dishonest about a mythical narrative of Christian persecution. Churches are not closed. They never have been. Many of us have had to go virtual for a time because loving our neighbor is our primary calling as Christians and right now loving our neighbor means not exposing them to a deadly virus, but we still had church, even if it was online. We were never singled out for our faith.”
But, added Hunt, “I would be shocked if he was held accountable in any meaningful way.”
“He’s already on his way to his next sanctified superspreader event,” he added.
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