As It Happens

Ohio pastor calls on governor to shut down church services during pandemic 

An Ohio pastor is calling on his state's governor to shut down in-person church services during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Todd Porter says idea that ‘the blood of Jesus’ can protect you is ‘misconstrued’

The Solid Rock Church in Lebanon, Ohio, is pictured here in 2019. (Shutterstock )


An Ohio pastor is calling on his state's governor to shut down church services during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Ohio is one of 14 states that's exempting religious services from shelter-in-place rules so long as they practice physical distancing measures, such as keeping six feet apart and avoiding direct contact.

That's what the Solid Rock Church in Lebanon, Ohio, says it's doing in a statement posted on its website. But CNN footage of people entering the church on Palm Sunday shows congregants hugging and shaking hands in greeting.

When CNN asked worshippers leaving the church if they feared the virus, one woman said she was safe because she's "covered in Jesus' blood." Another said "the blood of Jesus cures every disease."

Todd Porter, who lives a few kilometres away from Solid Rock in Monroe, Ohio, tweeted at Gov. Michael DeWine to "do something" about the crowds. 

Porter is a pastor at The River Church, which has moved all its services online. He's calling on other churches to follow suit.

Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

We just heard that clip of a woman leaving her church on Palm Sunday. She says she's covered in the blood of Jesus and that will protect her. What do you make of what she's had to say?

Yes, God can heal us. That's the whole purpose of why Jesus came to Earth, was to heal us of our sins.

But I think … it's misconstrued, their concept of what it is. God gives us wisdom. We shouldn't be doing those kinds of things. I mean, we should be practicing safety.

Like me and my church. We're meeting online. We are keeping our social distance and trying to be safe so that we don't spread this virus.

Where might she be getting these ideas? What's being preached in the churches where they're allowing these large and very crowded assemblies to take place?

I grew up in a charismatic Pentecostal church, which is what Solid Rock is. And I've never attended one of their services, but I have friends that do attend there and I'm familiar with their theology and doctrine.

It comes from their belief that no harm can befall them if you're covered in the blood of Jesus.

That's almost to the point of saying that I'll never die because I'll never catch anything. But that happens.

They say that they have very strict rules. They are keeping people six feet apart. They have sanitation stations. They have hand sanitizer. They don't allow handshaking or hugging. Do you think that those steps are good enough?

Well, in the clip … from CNN, there's another portion of it where they [film] people walking into the service. 

There's a greeter at the door that's shaking hands and hugging people. And, you know, you see a lot of people doing that as they're entering.

So it's not happening at their front end.  … My guess is it's not happen on the back end. 

Todd Porter is a pastor at the River Church in Ohio. (Submitted by Todd Porter)

The state of Ohio is among about 14 states that have exempted religious gathering from their stay-at-home orders. They are saying that people can still have these gatherings. And they tend to be in states where there have been significant outbreaks of the virus.  What's behind that?

In the United States, we have First Amendment rights — the right to assemble, the right to free speech, the right to freedom of religion. 

I think there's a fear on the part of governors — to some degree it's right — that you're going to set off a constitutional crisis if you say churches can't meet.

But there's also exceptions to that. … If you yell "Fire!" in a crowded theatre, it is a punishable offence because you're inducing panic in a crowd. And somebody could say "it's my freedom of speech," but it's not. The courts have already ruled that. 

So I think in cases where there's a public health crisis, there's exemptions to it.

[Solid Rock] is in my community. People I see in the grocery stores or the hardware store. When I occasionally have to go for needed supplies and they're there, they're right there with me, and it scares me, quite honestly.

So what did the governor say in response to your concerns?

Unfortunately, he did not reply to my tweet. I didn't expect him to.

I wish he would have responded to that. I know other people have asked for it. 

The mayor in Monroe actually sent a letter to Solid Rock asking them to stop holding services and then gave some other options as well. 

U.S. President Donald Trump has said and suggested early on that it was a hoax, the virus. [He] has downplayed its significance [and] at one point called it "kind of like the flu," which we're hearing from other religious leaders saying that it's not really a big deal or it's a conspiracy or a hoax. What effect has it had that someone at the very, very top of the political ladder is saying those things?

Personally, I believe it had a great effect because it seems to be the circle of people that he has around him that religious leaders tend to be from more of the charismatic Pentecostal persuasion. They seem to be the ones that are kind of in that same type of mindset of it. 

I see it among some of my friends and it's disappointing that our president didn't give us better leadership with this early on.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


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