Pastor Tony Spell, who has faced criticism for continuing to hold in-person services despite social distancing guidelines, has called on people to donate their stimulus checks to evangelists who “haven’t had an offering in a month.”
Spell was arrested on March 31 and charged with six misdemeanors for defying Gov. John Bel Edward's executive order banning gatherings of more than 50 people. Despite his arrest, Spell arranged for hundreds of worshipers to arrive on dozens of buses over Easter, according to Reuters. “They would rather come to church and worship like free people than live like prisoners in their homes,” Spell told reporters.
In an interview with TMZ, Spell revealed that he has no plans to stop in-person gatherings despite lockdown orders.
“True Christians do not mind dying," Spell added. "They fear living in fear, cowardice of their convictions. ... People that can prefer disgrace to danger are headed for a master and deserve one. People that prefer tyranny over freedom do not deserve freedom.”
Spell referred to people who are under a lockdown order as prisoners. “The only vent they have to their emotion is coming to the house of God and worshiping, like free people," he added.
He went on to state that attending church from home, as millions have been doing, doesn't work. “If it did work, why has America spent billions and billions building churches?” Spell asked.
When asked what he would tell a parishioner's family if one of them died as a result of the virus, Spell added: “I have to say they died like free people, fighting for their convictions."
And now, Spell is "challenging" the American public to donate stimulus payments to evangelists.
In an online challenge he is dubbing the #PastorSpellStimulusChallenge, Spell said that many evangelists “haven’t had an offering in a month.” He laid out three "rules" for the challenge in a YouTube video. The first is that it starts on Sunday. The second is for people to “donate your stimulus money.”
“Rule number three,” he added, is to “donate it to evangelists, North American evangelists who haven’t had an offering in a month; missionaries, who haven’t had an offering in a month; music ministers, who haven’t had an offering in a month.”
“I’m donating my entire stimulus, $1,200,” Spell added. “My wife is donating her stimulus, $1,200. My son is donating his stimulus, $600.”
Millions of Americans who have direct deposit information with the IRS have started to receive stimulus payments of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. Individuals who earn between $75,000 and $99,000 a year will receive a reduced amount. For couples, the payments begin to taper off at earnings of $150,000 a year.
Unsurprisingly, many people weren't happy with Spell's new challenge. The video, posted to the pastor's YouTube channel, has 13,000 dislikes and only 130 likes as of the time of writing.
Many commenters were critical of Spell, with one writing: "What is wrong with you??? Asking for donations when people are struggling to get by? You are the very definition of evil. If there is a heaven, you surely won’t end up there. Shame on you."
Another commenter added: "Hope this guy goes bankrupt and has to eat 'thoughts and prayers' for dinner. Nothing is as gross as this."
Spell's "challenge" comes as Louisiana struggles with a coronavirus outbreak. The state has over 22,500 cases, which have led to at least 1,156 deaths as of Friday.
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