Tony Spell is the pastor of Life Tabernacle Church in the town of Central Louisiana, which is located in East Baton Rouge Parish. So as it is viewed nationally, Tony Spell pastors in Baton Rouge. For weeks now Spell has held church services twice a week while the state of Louisiana is under a stay at home order issued by Governor John Bel Edwards, due to the global pandemic created by COVID-19 also known as the Coronavirus.
Weeks ago, Governor Edwards in a press conference said that Louisiana was the fastest growing place in the world for Coronavirus. The world has literally began to slow down as a result of this deadly virus. The governor rightly shut the state down. To date, 22,532 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Louisiana. Tragically the state has also lost 1,156 citizens to the virus. The impact of the virus is real. It has touched thousands, and killed hundreds, so it is alarming that state and local leaders continue to issue talking points rather than shut down Tony Spell.
Tony Spell is making the state of Louisiana look foolish. He’s made a mockery of local and state leaders. The longer he continues to hold services, the more people are put at risk. Today it was announced that Jeff Wittenbrink, one of Spell’s lawyers is currently in the hospital with COVID-19. He was hospitalized and is currently on an oxygen machine according to a report by local news. Even worse than the lawyer being hospitalized, it has been reported that Harold Orillion an elderly member of Life Tabernacle Church and a right hand to the pastor died of the virus earlier this week.
Locally, in East Baton Rouge Parish there are 1,389 cases of COVID-19. Currently East Baton Rouge Parish has had 74 deaths. Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome has also issued Stay At Home orders specifically for our parish. Spell was issued several misdemeanor summons last month in an attempt to get him to stop holding church services. The same day he was issued the summons, he had service with several hundred people attending. The guy is making a fool of both state and local leaders. At every level from the town of Central, the Parish of East Baton Rouge, the District Attorney’s office, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Department, and the Governor’s office, Tony Spell is exposing the selectiveness of enforcement that always seems to benefit people like Spell.
It must be said, that our prisons are filled with Black men and women for petty offenses. Often held while they await trail for no reason other than their inability to pay bail. Yet a white pastor of a mixed race church, can continue to potentially expose people to a deadly virus twice a week with no true consequences. Blacks in Baton Rouge are dying from COVID-19 at 69% and statewide 70%. This pastor is being allowed to put some of the most vulnerable populations of people in church and our leaders are saying they are still “asking Pastor Spell to stop having church.” Meanwhile the Governor of Kentucky had troopers outside churches Sunday prepared to issue quarantine orders to any citizens who attended church services.
You read that right, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the state will require people who participate in mass gatherings Easter weekend to quarantine for 14 days. Sounds reasonable to me. Sounds like house arrest. Something Black citizens of this state have dealt with for years. Court ordered house arrest. The kind with a tracker, to ensure someone knows if you leave home when you’re not allowed to. That is what Tony Spell needs, and the fact that no one has done it isn’t about religious liberty or fear of law suits.
It is about what the image of arresting a white pastor in the south says to white evangelical voters, and no one in Baton Rouge or Louisiana ever wants to upset that crowd. Yet Cecile Spencer a Black man in New Orleans was arrested for gathering 100 people for a second-line. You read that right, he was arrested for gathering 100 people once. Yet Spell had 1,300 people in his church for Easter and plans to have church on Sunday and has church twice a week for the entirety of the Stay At Home order. If it’s good for one, shouldn’t it be good for the other? Shouldn’t the governor and all our elected leaders desire that whatever is done during this time be done equitably?
The governor can say that was handled by local officials in New Orleans, to wash his hands. The Mayor’s office, District Attorney’s office, the Sheriff’s office in Baton Rouge are all just passing the buck to someone else. Hoping he stops or it goes away and no one talks about it because they are doing good in other areas. All while thousands of citizens are allowed to gather and potentially get infected at church. One infected person leaves church and goes to a grocery store, or pharmacy, and someone else becomes infected, and the spread continues. All because we allowed one leader to stick his finger in the air to “law and order” in the second most incarcerated place in the world.
In Romans, the 13th chapter the amplified version it reads, “LET EVERY person be loyally subject to the governing (civil) authorities. For there is no authority except from God [by His permission, His sanction], and those that exist do so by God’s appointment. [Prov. 8:15.]” In short, it means obey the laws of the land. There is another scripture that says, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” In this case that would mean obeying the laws of the land, and sacrificing temporarily gathering at church to offer a corporate sacrifice of praise. This isn’t unreasonable. Jesus, who Spell says he believes in said, “Even greater works than these shall you do.” The internet gives the ability to reach not just a town, but the globe with the message of Christ. That is just one example of “Greater Works.”
The absence of leadership in Louisiana has been clear for years. We rank #50 in the nation. A subject that is always relevant and one No leader in our state will take responsibility for — much like none of them will deal with Tony Spell. The truth is most of them have been in office over a decade. In a state that ranks #45 in the nation for healthcare, #49 for economy, #48 in education, #50 in crime, #50 in opportunity, and #50 over all — you can understand why. Our leaders are afraid far too often to make the tough choices that upset people in certain demographics and make folks uncomfortable. Too often they lack the courage to be disliked, concerned about polling, and news reports, rather than humanity, equity, and justice. If our state and local leaders can’t shut down one preacher, in one small town, at one church, how then should we trust they will help the state that ranks last in the nation to have a booming and robust recovery from this pandemic that is killing its citizens?
I won’t end this without saying there is personal responsibility on all those who attend those services. They should stop, and they are wrong just as Spell is. However, our leaders must see their job is to do what is in the best interest of the safety of all citizens. Governor Edwards allowed Black citizens protesting police murdering a citizen to be arrested in Louisiana for standing in the street blocking the highway, because it “endangered public safety.” I guess public safety is subjective? I suppose standing in the street stopping the flow of money and commerce was more dangerous than going to church and potentially contracting a virus killing thousands nationally?
Here you can find a solution to the problem. Place him under house arrest until the Stay At Home order is lifted. If any leaders of his church follow his lead, do the same with them. We lock up Black people in Louisiana for far less dangerous offenses than potentially exposing people to a deadly virus. We are currently still keeping far too many people in jail now with this pandemic on our hands. House arrest is humane and responsible, unlike housing COVID inmates in a condemned building at Angola State Penitentiary. You can also find scripture to use for your talking points, I’ll even delete this editorial if it helps your ego’s not to be offended by the truth. I didn’t get invited to the BBQ before, so I know my invitation won’t be in the mail for speaking this truth. I’m just asking, for the love of God, for the love of leadership, for the love of Louisiana, would you shut Tony Spell down.