No, MacArthur and Grace Community Church Are Not Hiding A COVID-19 Outbreak at Shepherds’ Conference

Christian journalist Julie Roys set the Reformed world abuzz on Saturday morning when she dropped a sensationalist, unsubstantiated piece suggesting that John MacArthur and Grace Community Church were instigating a coverup of a coronavirus death that took place at the Shepherds’ Conference few weeks ago, with Executive Director of Grace To You’s Phil Johnson in up to his elbows in these twisted machinations.

The conspiracy was kickstarted when Roys caught wind of a Facebook post shared by Phil Johnson, which said “Alexey Kolomiytsev and his father were at the Shepherds’ Conference two weeks ago, and shortly after returning home, Alexey’s dad tested positive with the Wuhan virus,” along with an update from Alexey’s son saying his father had passed, and asking for people to keep them in their prayers. Phil later deleted the post, along with the replies to the post, some of which contained questions or comments over whether or not they were going to inform the 5000+ attendees about possible exposure, given the cause of the father’s death. 

Like a beleaguered bloodhound, Roys’ eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas morning at the possibility of implicating MacArthur and GTY in a scandal. She describes her process below in her article.

“I reached out to Phil Johnson, asking him why he had deleted his post, but he did not respond. (italics added by us for emphasis) 

I also reached out to John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church, asking him why the conference had not notified attenders that they may have been exposed to coronavirus, and also inquiring about whether the church had notified government authorities. To date, MacArthur has not responded

I contacted the health department in Los Angeles County, where Grace Community Church is located, and asked if anyone from the church had contacted them, but have not yet heard back

I also reached out to the health department and sheriff’s office in Clark County, Washington, where the deceased pastor lived, but have not heard back from them either.

I reached out to Alexey A. Kolomiytsev, seeking confirmation of the details posted to Facebook, but he has not responded. 

She quickly put 2+3 together to get 6 and surmised the most sinister of conspiracies was afoot. She was probably chomping at the bit to coin the term “Shep-gate.”

A man, who was at the Shepherds’ Conference on March 4th, died of Coronavirus. GTY staff are deleting emails. No one is getting back to me. What are they hiding? WHAT ARE THEY HIDING?!!

Though she initially titled her article “Pastor Who Attended John MacArthur’s Shepherds’ Conference Dies From Coronavirus; Attenders Not Notified,” Roys has since changed the title to “Suspected Case of Coronavirus” – given that she had not actually verified the information – and posted the article a little after 10:30 CT Saturday morning.

After the article was posted, people began to reach out to Phil Johnson asking his take since he was named in the piece. He amiably responded:

Julie Roys, taking umbrage at Phil’s explanation, defended herself:

Phil responded on Twitter (unrolled for clarity):

“This is totally disingenuous. Here’s what actually happened: Ms. Roys left a direct message on my Facebook page at 7:24 am this morning (Saturday) and went public with her story sometime before even I had time to get my morning coffee. I DID answer her question the very minute I saw it. She, however, didn’t acknowledge my answer for several more hours. (In other words, she wasn’t any quicker to read her FB messages than I was.) But she still wants to insinuate that we were stonewalling her. Worse, she didn’t revise her sensationalized headline to remove its sinister implications, which she now knows to be misleading at best; false by the biblical standard and unhealthy scaremongering by any standard. Thousands of pastors, church leaders, and volunteers attended the Shepherds’ Conference from all over the world. Not one other person who was there has reported symptoms of the corona virus. But she declines to report that fact. One other point about how she “reached out to” me. If she had simply looked at my FB profile, she’d have seen that it features this notice prominently: “Facebook comments & private messages are not a reliable way to reach me. Please e-mail me instead.” That notice has been there for more than a decade. My email address is easy to find with a simple Google search. In other words, she did not make a good-faith effort to contact me. The FB post she referenced was not written by me. I shared a link to a prayer request for the family of the man who died. I deleted it quickly, as soon as I learned the original post was incorrect in claiming the man had tested positive. The fact that she would assume some sinister motive in the disappearance of that link demonstrates her lack of objectivity. What, after all, would we have to gain from a deliberate coverup? The staff and all attendees at ShepCon were all keenly aware of the contagion and its dangers during the conference itself. Why would someone purposely go out of the way to stir Twitter mobs to attack the church’s integrity?”

Because so much of Julie Roys article was based on the fact that no one responded to her – an argument based on silence, literally – she responded with this query, and then Johnson came back at her.

“Seriously? It was Saturday morning. The whole state is under quarantine. ANYONE who checks FB DMs before getting coffee on a day like that is too attached to FB. Three hours is unreasonably short in any case. As I pointed out already, Ms. Roys herself took longer than that to acknowledge that I DID answer her. She also knows that I did indeed reply to people who asked on Friday why my link to that prayer request disappeared because my initial reply to her DM was a screenshot of my earlier reply. In other words, the last part of her latest Tweet is a deliberate lie. Her doubling down like this on a bad story is the polar opposite of journalistic integrity. ”

At the time of this writing, these two, plus others, are still going back and forth. This article’s purpose is to demonstrate that there was no nefarious reason for the Facebook post being taken down nor was there any devious cause for Phil not commenting on this matter sooner. Once you take away that, what do you have? What do we make of an article like this, rife with conjecture and speculation? I think Paul Edwards @godandculture on Twitter, says it best.

“Your source is ‘multiple Facebook posts?’ No source from the hospital/doctors/nurses who treated him? No source from the health department in the county where he died? No source from his family? ‘Contacting’ and ‘reaching out’ with no reply doesn’t count as sources. How does a ‘Christian journalist’ ‘seeking truth’ publish such a sensational story with absolutely no corroboration from ANY source? All your story reports is that you ‘reached out’ to sources who never responded while impugning the integrity of brothers in Christ. Rescind it. ”

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