12:34 GMT19 April 2021
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    A number of American clergymen have been highly criticised during the coronavirus pandemic for continuing to hold in-person worship services in their parishes and not following social distancing rules. Some of them have even been arrested and charged for defying COVID-related measures.

    Michigan pastor Bart Spencer has come under fire this week after a video of his 15 November sermon resurfaced online. During the eyebrow-raising preaching, the religious leader told his congregation to contract coronavirus and “get it over with”.

    ​In a short clip, the pastor of the Holland’s Lighthouse Baptist Church can be heard saying, after a brief coughing episode: “COVID, it’s all good.  Several people have had COVID, none have died yet. It’s okay, get it, get it over with, press on.”

    The whole video of a two-hour sermon was initially posted on the church’s website but apparently was later deleted. However, the controversial moment was shared on Facebook by Holland Happenings group, sparking an online debate about whether the clergyman’s words were reasonable or just an “irresponsible” and “crazy” act.  

    “Don’t be Mislead by people like this! It is Real & It does Kill! Please Protect Yourselves,” one social media user commented.

    “Wait. I know several people who got it, and they all got better. I must also be a terrible person,” another one disagreed.

    ​The pastor later told The Holland Sentinel that he and several of his elderly family members had already contracted coronavirus several weeks before. Spencer said that although the illness was “not fun”, his “bout with the flu was worse”.

    The pastor later clarified to FOX 17 News that he “would never tell them [parishioners] to go get sick, but you don’t know how you’re going to get it”.

    “I’ve given the best 24 years of my life to this congregation, I love them. I would never ever put them at risk.”

    According to Spencer, his church has made some necessary changes to adopt to COVID-19 realities and prevent the virus’ rapid spread, including a switch to more online events and practicing social distancing. Lighthouse Baptist Church, however, has now resumed regular worship services at the behest of the congregation spring, the pastor said. Wearing a mask is still not obligatory when attending the church, as Spencer believes this is a highly personal decision.

    “If you want to wear a mask in church, wear one, if you want to social distance, do so. I honour that and I respect that. I’m not going to force you to take your mask off, but conversely, I do not want you to tell me what I have to do,” the man explained his position.

    According to the pastor, he had never denied that COVID-19 affects people differently and people die from it, which is “a horrible situation”.

    “But for people to destroy their life, for a ‘what if,’ for an uncertainty, just didn’t make sense to me logically,” Spencer added.
    In this June 12, 2020, file photo, a health worker draws blood for COVID-19 antibody testing in Dearborn, Mich
    © AP Photo / Paul Sancya
    In this June 12, 2020, file photo, a health worker draws blood for COVID-19 antibody testing in Dearborn, Mich

    He still believes that everyone will eventually contract the virus, citing information from the America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Thus, according to the pastor, wearing masks and social distancing won’t help.

    “It is a virus, it is horrible to get it, it is hyper-infectious, nobody is denying that, my argument is that give us the liberty to make up our own mind,” Spencer said.

    Although the real transmission and fatality rate of coronavirus is still not known due to asymptomatic cases, scientists now believe that the estimated death rate among COVID-19 patients aged 70 years or over is around 5.4%. Therefore, the infection is generally believed to be deadlier and more infectious than the seasonal flu.

    According to CDC, the use of personal protective equipment can be an effective way to reduce the spread of the virus when social distancing cannot be practised.

    The state of Michigan, which has recently seen a spike in COVID-19 cases, has now recorded more than 10,000 coronavirus-related deaths. The fatality rate from the virus in the state is estimated to be around 2.5% among all age groups.

    Several American preachers have come under fire during the coronavirus pandemic for defying rules introduced to halt the rapid spread of the virus, including Florida-based pastor Rodney Howard-Browne and Louisiana’s Tony Spell, the Reverend of Life Tabernacle Church. In March, Spell was charged with six misdemeanours for continuing holding large in-person services, violating state orders. Later, he was arrested for reportedly assaulting a protester outside his church, but was released on a $5,000-bond.

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    baptism, Baptist, Michigan, United States, coronavirus, COVID-19
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