The headlines of Florida Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne being arrested has already been a huge talk among the media. He was arrested and charged for two second degree misdemeanors, unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules. One of the sheriff’s deputies states that he showed “reckless disregard for human life.”
“His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people from his congregation at risk and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week,” he said.
Now, CNN and other various news outlets portray him as a reckless and controversial figure in Christianity, who could care less about human life.
“Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne said he wouldn’t close the doors of his Tampa, Florida, megachurch until the End Times begin,” one CNN article said. “The police weren’t willing to wait that long.” —This statement is a mockery of Christians and our personal belief that Jesus is coming back.
In the news conference announcing the charges, State Attorney Andrew Warren gave a scriptural passage of the Bible.
“I’d remind the good pastor of Mark 12:31, which said there’s no more important commandment than to love thy neighbor as thyself,” Warren said. “Loving your neighbors is protecting them, not jeopardizing their health by exposing them to this deadly virus.”
Sadly, this is an awfully wrong analogy of the State Attorney. His statement insinuates that the pastor doesn’t love his sheep, because he isn’t “protecting them” according to district guidelines. Loving your neighbor to them means having them stay at home so that their health doesn’t get jeopardized. I wonder if in Jesus time, people thought he didn’t love thy neighbor when he would rebuke his disciples, or when he spit and then touched the man’s eyes to be healed.
As a church and part of the body of Christ, we should never rejoice when our own brothers are being sent to prison for something like this. It inspires me when I hear of Christians in other nations that have underground services. Some of these are Christians in secret because they could be killed! The law forbids them to confess Jesus Christ as Lord, but they believe in Jesus because they are convinced. Therefore, it is for this reason that I don’t think we should automatically assume judgment toward this pastor.
In the natural sense, he went against “the laws of the land,” and it is easy for us to turn to Romans 13 and instantly argue against him. In the spiritual sense, what about when Noah was trying to build the ark and no one listened? Or what about when John the Baptist prophesied the coming of the Messiah, and few people paid attention? Or what about when Jesus convicted everyone to believe that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and that took him to the cross? Everyone thought Jesus was evil for disobeying the law! For healing and doing miracles on the Day of Sabbath!
In the Sunday service hosted by pastor Howard-Browne on the 29th of March, he said the following:
“The Lord has helped us secure our congregation. We have brought in 13 machines that basically kill every virus in the place. If someone walks through the door, it kills everything on them. If they sneeze, it shoots it down at a 100 mph. It’ll neutralize it in split-seconds.”
Is this reckless and not caring for the well-being of people? The church spent $100,000 on these machines to ensure the safety of their parishioners. How effective it is? I’m not sure. But to me, it seems that the leaders have taken extreme and costly measures to ensure the safety of their members.
In addition, the church released a statement saying that it “is doing, and will do, everything in our power to support the efforts of our wider community by cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and take any other recommended measures to protect our people and keep them healthy and safe.”
In Howard-Browne’s defense, this goes against the First Amendment of the constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”First Amendment
The sheriff’s department mentioned that Howard-Browne was hiding behind the First Amendment and jeopardizing the safety of his congregants. However, this seems an interesting debate, since the First Amendment clearly says that “Congress shall make ‘no law‘ that prohibits the exercise of assembly.”
Who’s right? I think this isn’t a matter of being right naturally. I think this is a matter of, what would Jesus do if he were here on Earth? The officials of his time thought that Jesus was wrong so they crucified him. And although this pastor is preparing with attorneys to settle this in court, whether the case gets won or not, we know from God’s perspective what the answer would’ve been.
His decision isn’t a popular one, given that most congregations have closed down their services and decided to stream online. It is definitely something difficult to consider, especially when you invested a lot of money in ensuring the safety of your church. It is also hard to consider when maybe God spoke to you to do something different.
It’s important to know this doesn’t condone or agree with regular big crowd gatherings. It’s important to submit to the laws of the land, as well, and use wisdom. If we’re not going to make a popular decision such as this one, we must make sure that it is spirit-led, just as the three young boys that didn’t worship the king in the book of Daniel. They were convinced of their God. Maybe this wasn’t the popular decision, but only God would know what will happen.
Nonetheless, we must continue to pray for the churches! We must pray steadfast, that we will be able to attend services as soon as possible. It is important to congregate, so we can experience the presence of God at another dimension!