Rodney Howard Browne, a wildly charismatic faith-healer and prosperity pastor was arrested yesterday by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s department for continuing to hold worship services despite the king’s decree that the Lord’s Day was effectively canceled. With abortion clinics, liquor stores, and pot dispensaries still open in Florida, Browne’s church defiantly continued to meet. Sheriff Chad Chronister’s authority would not be challenged by something as sacrosanct as the First Amendment, and so he decided to arrest Browne to “make an example out of him,” something shockingly admitted to in the sheriff’s press conference.
I stand at the intersection of liberty and sanity. On one hand, I am among those who recognize that letting criminals out of jail only to make room to imprison pastors is grossly tyrannical, but simultaneously I recognize that Browne is by any orthodox standards a rank heretic of the highest order. His doctrinal crimes include his affiliation with the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), his drunken and incoherent babbling, his psychosomatic laugh-inducing hysteria wrought out of crowds, and his promise that faith solicits healing and prosperity.
In September of 2017, I attended a Rodney Howard Browne event in a nearby community, knowing that one of the world’s most prominent false teachers was a little too close for comfort and I wanted to surveil the damage he would do. As he attributed to Donald Trump qualities reserved for the Messiah and preached about politics for more than an hour without referencing the Scriptures or mentioning Jesus, sin, repentance, or the gospel, I spoke out. I lasted about 10 seconds before being unceremoniously hauled from the building, assaulted, and thrown to the ground. It made the papers, for sure (and it’s on video). They bloodied my hand and made my face swollen when they threw me. They did not ask me to leave, or I would have complied. When they grabbed me, I did not resist them (except by voice). It made no difference; they were violent and unapologetic.
Browne’s followers called the police and tried to get me arrested. Of course, I broke no law and committed no crime. In fact, they were the ones who broke the law. Wouldn’t I be happy to see Browne behind bars in a cosmic (or divine) sense of karma (or justice)?
No. I am greatly saddened by Browne’s arrest. It is, perhaps, one of the greatest displays of tyrannical authority and unconstitutional malfeasance demonstrated thus far during the 2020 coronavirus panic pandemic.
Here are the facts, as lined out by Liberty Council (which is a fine organization):
- six feet of space between family groups was maintained in the sanctuary
- six feet of space between individuals was maintained in the church’s lobby, and the floors were marked with spacing lines
- all the staff wore gloves
- everyone was given hand sanitizer
- the church purchased and installed a 100k purification system to eradicate viruses in the facility
All of these were keeping with Florida’s order.
My mouth dropped as I read the lectures from Florida officials who offered patronizing spiritual advice to Browne after arresting him, as though that’s their constitutional place.
State Attorney Andrew Warren butchered the Bible in his attempt at a sermon, saying, “I would remind the good pastor of Mark 12:31. There is no more important commandment than to love your neighbor as yourself. And loving your neighbors is protecting them and not jeopardizing their health by exposing them to this deadly virus.”
Of course, Warren miscited the Scriptures on this point. Warren quoted the second greatest commandment, of which he erroneously claims “there is no more important commandment.” There is, in fact, one that comes before it, and that is to love God (Matthew 12:29-30). And Sunday is the Lord’s Day.
It should not stir up confidence in the magistrate when they quote to us the Scriptures and embarrassingly get it so wrong on their one and only attempt at offering religious advice.
Sheriff Chronister lectured Browne on the best way to have church services, saying, “The River Tampa Bay Church has an advantage over most places of worship as they have access to technology allowing them to live stream their services over the internet and broadcast television for more than their 4,000 members to watch from the safety from their own homes.”
Of course, it’s not the government’s job – or place – to tell churches the best way to have services. For those of my own religious beliefs, it is impossible to have church over the Internet.
I am truly flabbergasted at the arguments Christians are giving for why Browne should have been arrested on Sunday (arguments that would all apply to me, as I also am not a gutless Quisling turn-coat summer soldier who recognizes Caesar’s authority over God). That he is a heretic has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not he has a right to be a heretic.
Some have argued, such as ERLC toadie, Bart Barber, that it’s okay to close churches because the government is telling everyone to close down. Barber’s argument is not only absurdly untrue (abortion clinics, pot dispensaries, and liquor stores are open), but it displays an astounding ignorance of the United States Constitution.
There is no explicit constitutional right to go to the grocery store, the liquor store, the gas station, or even the hospital (these are all rights assumed in the 14th Amendment under the freedom to travel and fall under the 10th Amendment as well, but they are not explicitly mentioned). However, the freedom of religion is explicitly written into the constitution as an inalienable right. It makes not a darned bit of difference whether or not the government closes all places of commerce; commerce is not constitutionally protected with its own amendment enshrined into the constitution. Religion is.
And frankly, if Christians are letting the government tell us how to observe our religion (like telling us to worship online), our rights are damned.
Likewise, Christians seem busy in social media sharing their opinions that Rodney Howard Browne’s actions are socially irresponsible, foolish, or dangerous. They are all entitled to their opinions, just as Rodney Howard Browne is entitled to his. But I can’t help but think that the pervasive attitude from Christians, who by and large are already prone to skip church on a good Sunday, are trying to placate their guilty conscience as their own church parking lot is empty.
I can’t help but weep at the logic (or lack thereof) of Christians who are reasoning that constitutional rights start and stop at the perceived reasonableness of their exercise. That’s just not how rights work, people. Rights are either inviolable or they are not. And if they are not inviolable, they are called privileges. But the American colonies didn’t revolt against King George’s tyranny to ensure privileges for ourselves and our posterity.
Truth be told, those demanding churches close down to protect the community are doing so because they want to travel to any number of open places of commerce six days a week doing something that’s not constitutionally protected without worrying about someone having contracted a virus on one day a week while doing something that is constitutionally protected.
If people are generally worried about the spread of coronavirus, they would stay home. If they did so, it would not matter one iota if someone else freely chose to get out of the house. Americans want their cake and to eat it, too.
There is no one else, that I’m aware of, who has been beaten up by Rodney Howard Browne enthusiasts. No one has a reason to hold as much of a grudge as I do. And yet, I can readily admit that Browne’s theology or insanity doesn’t change the constitutionality of worship or the unconstitutionality of tyranny.
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