TAMPA, Fla. — While some megachurches throughout the country continue to hold services despite local ordinances preventing large crowds, a Florida pastor who was arrested Monday for such a violation says he will halt live services at his Tampa-area church.
Dr. Rodney Howard-Browne, the pastor at The River at Tampa Bay, said in a social media livestream that he will not hold services on Sunday.
"I'm doing this to protect the congregation," Howard-Browne said.
But Howard-Browne said he wasn't protecting his congregation from COVID-19. He said he was protecting them from a "tyrannical government." He also said that members of the congregation had received death threats, and claimed that his church had been shot at in recent days.
Howard-Browne was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order.
His announcement came the same day that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine urged a large megachurch north of Cincinnati to end live services in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
When asked about Solid Rock Church in Monroe and its decision to continue to hold live services despite the state's "stay-at-home" order, DeWine called it a "huge, huge mistake."
"Any pastor who brings people together in close proximity to each other, a large group of people, is making a huge mistake," DeWine said. "It is not a Christian thing to do. It is not in the Judeo-Christian tradition to hurt people."
Currently, churches are not covered by Ohio's stay at home order, though DeWine alluded to an extension of the order that would extend the reach of the mandate that could be announced as early as Thursday.
DeWine's announcement came the day after a pastor in Louisiana was arrested for defying local health ordinances and holding Sunday services. Following his arrested Tuesday evening, he held services at his church in Central, Louisiana.