Tony Spell, the pastor of a Pentecostal church in the town of Central, La., has gained national attention by holding in-person services in defiance of an order banning large gatherings.
Spell’s stunts are legion. Despite a March 16 order from Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) limiting gatherings to 50 or fewer people to stem the spread of coronavirus, Spell has continued to hold large services at his Life Tabernacle Church. He even uses a bus to bring people in from surrounding areas. Spell has insisted that the pandemic isn’t all that serious, calling it a politically engineered effort to weaken President Donald Trump. He also asserts that if anyone in his congregation gets sick, he can cure them via faith healing.
Spell may sincerely believe these things, but his actions have put people’s lives at risk. And now some evidence is coming in that his sideshow may be about to collapse.
Attendance at Spell’s church topped 1,000 in March, but the numbers have been dropping. This may be because a member of his congregation, Harold Orillion, recently died of complications of COVID-19, the respiratory ailment caused by coronavirus. In addition, one of Spell’s attorneys, Jeff Wittenbrink, has been hospitalized with COVID-19. It is an absolute shame that someone had to die to jolt members of the church into realizing how serious this situation is.
Spell himself is facing some fresh legal trouble. While he has not been arrested for ignoring the order curbing large gatherings, police did take him away earlier this week after Spell reportedly used a church bus to intimidate a protestor. Spell was charged with aggravated assault after he allegedly backed the bus very close to the protestor.
Spell posted bond and afterward was his usual defiant self. He told a crowd of supporters, “My right to have church and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ are endowed by my creator – not my district attorney, not my chief of police and not my Gov. John Bel Edwards.”
Roger Corcoran, police chief in the city of Central, had an apt response: “They’re trying to make a mockery of this, like he’s some kind of victim. No one, not one person, is trying to stop him from preaching the Word.”
The chief nailed it. Spell is free to preach all he wants; he just needs to do it in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the health and well-being of local residents. Religious leaders all over the country are doing this, and Spell can too.
Photo: Police arrest Pastor Tony Spell. Screenshot from WAFB-TV, Baton Rouge