The conservative preacher and evangelical leader recently posted a video that was captured by watchdog publication Right Wing Watch, claiming that his church will not close despite federal and local recommendations to limit large gatherings.
“The Lord has helped us to secure our congregation,” says Howard-Browne, head pastor at the River Tampa Bay Church. “We brought in 13 machines that basically kill every virus in the place, and uh, if somebody walks through the door it’s like, it kills everything on them. If they sneeze, it shoots it down at like 100 mph. It'll neutralize it in split seconds. We have the most sterile building in, I don’t know, all of America.”
Rodney Howard-Browne will continue to hold services because his church is the most sterile building in America, as it contains 13 machines that can instantaneously kill any virus: "If they sneeze, it shoots it down at like 100 mph. It'll neutralize it in split seconds." pic.twitter.com/Z5PLFXlPfp— Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) March 27, 2020
This actually isn’t the first time Howard-Browne has publicly announced that his church will stay open during the pandemic.
Speaking to his congregation on March 17, Howard-Browne said, "We are not stopping anything. I've got news for you, this church will never close. The only time the church will close is when the Rapture is taking place.”
He added that “this has to be the safest place. If you cannot be saved in church, you in serious trouble."
Howard-Browne, who routinely peddles wildly stupid conspiracy theories, like how the Vegas shooting of 2017 was a false flag operation and that chemtrails and weather manipulation are real, was one of a handful of evangelical pastors who famously prayed over Trump in the Oval Office.
Yesterday, Hillsborough County announced an official stay-at-home order starting at 10 p.m. Friday, March 27. On top of recommendations from health officials, which include practicing social distancing at least six feet apart and scaling back "non-essential" businesses, the county also announced an order limiting all gatherings to just 50 people, which includes churches.
"There has been no tested nor proven scientific or medical data to show us what 'number' of people that congregate together are a danger to society," wrote Howard-Browne.
"The number has varied from place to place and moment by moment. Somewhere it's 50, other places it's 10 and there are still other variations. When politicians assign an 'acceptable' number of people allowed in a private church, they are reducing our right to Freedom of Religion to a first come, first served privilege."
If you're wondering, Howard-Browne is incredibly wrong about the science of social distancing. It is in fact based on real science, and it does work.
But thankfully, Howard-Browne and his congregation isn't the norm. Most churches have closed their doors for worship services, switching instead to livestreams, and for good reason. On Wednesday, a Virginia pastor died from COVID-19 after saying "the media is pumping out fear" and "doing more harm than good." Last month, South Korean authorities announced that a Christian megachurch believed to be a cult was responsible for at least 2,000 COVID-19 cases in its region. The church founder, 84-year-old Lee Man-hee, has since apologized.
This story originally appeared in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
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