Update: Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne has been arrested, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.
The pastor of a Tampa megachurch who held worship services on Sunday — packing hundreds, if not thousands of congregants into the building despite social-distancing guidelines — is now a wanted man, as the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has issued a warrant for his arrest.
As reported by The Inquisitr, an untold number of worshipers showed up for services on Sunday morning at The River Church in Tampa, described as a “megachurch,” a term that typically refers to Protestant congregations of 2,000 or more people. Indeed, it was business as usual at the church, as congregants were “squeezing into close quarters like sardines,” as a reporter described it.
The church’s pastor, Rodney Howard-Browne, had been clear that he wasn’t going to let a worldwide pandemic stop him from holding Sunday services.
“We are not stopping anything. I’ve got news for you, this church will never close. The only time the church will close is when the Rapture is taking place,” Howard-Browne said.
Further, Howard-Browne insisted that his church was the cleanest building in Florida, if not the world, having put into use 13 machines, which he didn’t identify, that supposedly kill viruses instantly.
In a live press conference streamed via Facebook on Monday, Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister, flanked by State Attorney Andrew Warren and local religious leader Bishop Thomas Scott, explained why he is keen to have Howard-Browne brought in to answer for packing the church on Sunday morning.
“Practicing [religious] beliefs has to be done safely,” Chronister said in his opening remarks.
He then went on to accuse Howard-Browne of “intentionally and repeatedly” choosing to “disregard the orders set in place by our president, our governor,” and others.
“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,” the sheriff continued.
He also noted that authorities have spoken with Howard-Browne, and the church’s attorneys, specifically about not holding services, and alleges that the church’s leaders deliberately flouted those instructions. Chronister says that deputies even went to the church directly to talk with the pastor, who allegedly refused to “make himself available.”
He also noted that The River Church has the capacity to livestream their worship as an alternative to having people inside the building. Chronister said that the church even sent out buses to gather up congregants who couldn’t otherwise make it to church.
According to the arrest warrant, Howard-Browne is wanted for unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, violation, or quarantine. Both are second-degree misdemeanors.