After weeks of dismissing the current pandemic as little more than a flu overblown by the media to undermine his presidency, President Donald Trump and his administration are finally beginning to acknowledge the severity of the threat posed by the virus that's upended daily life in the United States.
Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne apparently hadn't gotten that memo.
The pastor's deliberate dismissal of social distancing measures enacted by the state of Florida resulted in his arrest on Monday.
Watch Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announce the arrest warrant below.
#Breaking WATCH! Tampa Bay pastor Rodney Howard Browne arrested accused of violating social distancing guidelines a… https://t.co/aBEMmJhEUK— Christina Aguayo America's🇺🇲 Daily Report (@Christina Aguayo America's🇺🇲 Daily Report) 1585593101.0
"His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk, and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week, in danger."
Howard-Browne had been holding services for hundreds of members despite orders forbidding gatherings of more than ten people, and it wasn't because of ignorance of the virus.
In fact, the pastor often discussed it to his congregation—invoking false promises regarding it.
He jokingly told the congregation that God would multiply their toilet paper rolls, and said that the church had installed a ventilation system which killed the virus. He even encouraged the congregation to shake hands.
Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne held a church service this morning and said God would multiply your toilet paper rolls… https://t.co/iDXAPi9Awn— Hemant Mehta (@Hemant Mehta) 1585506960.0
Spent some time watching defiant pastors this AM. Here's Rodney Howard-Browne in Tampa on new 'machines' installed… https://t.co/ewn889a1Su— Peter Hamby (@Peter Hamby) 1585335445.0
Rodney Howard-Browne will continue to hold services because his church is the most sterile building in America, as… https://t.co/c0XT6VF5uM— Right Wing Watch (@Right Wing Watch) 1585331525.0
No words for this level of religious manipulation!! "Pastor" Rodney Howard-Browne is literally encouraging his con… https://t.co/Wj7iQ8h0KZ— J. C 💡 (@J. C 💡) 1584401325.0
Howard-Browne turned himself in shortly after Chronister's announcement.
People were happy to see the pastor held accountable for his recklessness.
So good it has to be fattening https://t.co/6p29stxdN3— Chinchy (@Chinchy) 1585595631.0
Lock his money worshipping ass up ! He willfully endangered each person in that church for his own benefit. https://t.co/VfsFQYFEms— Gary Rowe, a trial has witnesses (@Gary Rowe, a trial has witnesses) 1585594553.0
Say Hallelujah, Brothers and Sisters !! https://t.co/E0E3KTDaf8— Tom Lonepine (@Tom Lonepine) 1585594719.0
Religion is not an excuse for criminal behavior (tho its been used that way for a long time). https://t.co/q3euMlz96e— JW (@JW) 1585594147.0
👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏 https://t.co/DPXKGDyf4i— Pam 🌊 (@Pam 🌊) 1585593297.0
EXACTLY what should happen. https://t.co/Tn0IRQgNKp— Frankie Lee (@Frankie Lee) 1585591881.0
People began wondering what would happen if cases began getting traced back to his congregation.
Reckless stupidity. I guarantee in two weeks there will be illness and likely deaths resulting from this. https://t.co/qlb35eCu4u— Zack (@Zack) 1585590705.0
Good. If someone from that service got sick then I can only imagine it will get worse for him. https://t.co/oMmpFquhAr— WDW Crane (@WDW Crane) 1585590436.0
@TMarreroTimes @MSignorile @TB_Times I wonder how many got infected? How many they are going to infect?— Rudy Guerra (@Rudy Guerra) 1585589389.0
Howard-Browne may be facing justice for his actions now, but the consequences of his recklessness for others may prove even worse.
For a deeper look into the white Evangelical community's support for politicians at odds with its core principles, check out The Immoral Majority, available here. You can also preorder Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump, available here.