From an interview with Tony Spell conducted in April by Victor Blackwell, an anchor for CNN. Spell, the pastor of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had been cited for holding services in violation of the state’s ban on large gatherings, a measure put in place to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
victor blackwell: Your attorney, who was one of more than a thousand who attended the Palm Sunday service, has now contracted the virus. He is in the hospital. His wife has also tested positive.
tony spell: You have no way to prove they contracted this virus in our services.
blackwell: That is true. My question is, if you know that people have contracted the virus, have you considered having services online?
spell: We have not. In fact, Victor, I had sixteen different states represented at our Easter Sunday service. People are coming out in greater numbers because they are seeing that this is such a false balance in our nation. Everything is open but the church.
blackwell: Well, that’s not true. But I want to ask: pastors around the country are having these teleworship services. They are able to relay the Gospel. Why can’t you?
spell: The word of God commands us to assemble. It is discrimination for me to get on a screen and try to reach the people who do not have the ability to watch. If anybody should be up in arms, it ought to be those in the civil-rights movement who are asking me to discriminate against my poor congregants. We are going to run twenty-seven buses this morning. We pick them up and bring them to church.
blackwell: You talk about how needy some members of your congregation are. And this is what you are launching today: you are now asking people who can’t even get to church without you going to pick them up to hand you their twelve-hundred-dollar stimulus checks.
spell: Evangelists have not had payroll in five weeks.
blackwell: Nonprofits and faith-based ministries can apply for the Paycheck Protection Program.
spell: We don’t want to.
blackwell: But that is your choice.
spell: That’s fine.
blackwell: But to say you know people don’t have much and then ask them to hand over twelve hundred dollars, the only money some will have—you have another option.
spell: We don’t want the government to give us a dime. Never will our federal or state government put one penny into our church.
blackwell: You are tax-exempt, though, right?