Church that defied COVID-19 shutdown order by holding indoor services received federal PPP loan

Church that defied COVID-19 shutdown order by holding indoor services received federal PPP loan
Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce, addresses his remarks on the economy during a coronavirus update briefing Monday, March 9, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)
News & Politics

As Daily Kos previously covered, a small number of churches in California are fighting back against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent shutdown order as the state experiences a fresh surge in coronavirus cases. The latest order directs some counties to shutter malls, nail salons, gyms, and houses of worship. As covered Monday, some California churches are continuing to hold indoor services in spite of the new guideline. A federal lawsuit has even been filed.

The latest news, as reported by The Sacramento Bee, is that Destiny Christian Church, a nonprofit, in Rocklin, California, received a federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan of between $350,000 and $1 million in April, according to records. (Disclosure: Kos Media received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.)

What makes this notable? After all, we know that a number of religious organizations actually received more than $7 billion in PPP loans overall. This figure includes more than 9,000 Catholic churches (out of the 12,000 that applied), as well as megachurches with more than 10,000 constituents a piece.

The Bee reports, according to the PPP database, the church requested the federal loan to cover payroll for 140 employees, and that it’s listed as awarded on April 8, which, for perspective, is just several days after the first loans from the CARES Act were available.

In addition to defying state orders, Pastor Greg Fairrington of Destiny, gave a Sunday sermon this weekend in which he brought up the “benevolent” government; or rather, a lack thereof. “If you think the government is going to be benevolent to the church, if you believe that, you just haven’t studied history,” the pastor asserted, as reported by the Bee, adding, “because once your rights are taken from you, they’re never giving them back.”

As for Sunday’s services, Fairrington told local outlet KTXL Fox 40 he held three services on Sunday, each with 375 people inside at one time. According to Fairrington, the church can hold 1,500, but they reduced the capacity to allow for social distancing. The church also appears to offer online services on its website.

Mind you, according to Newsom’s recent order, indoor worship services are supposed to be entirely suspended in select counties as virus numbers surge in some counties. Fairrington posted a Facebook video on July 13 (the day of Newsom’s order), where he stated: “We are not shutting down the church. We will be having church on Sundays.” He added: “My mandate, as a pastor, is to obey the word of God,” and that, “we are not gonna allow a government to use data that is not supported, factually, to shut the church down.”

The Bee reports it received a statement from a church spokesperson on behalf of Fairrington, saying Destiny applied for a PPP loan “to protect our employees, who provide critical care and support to the community.” Then: “The Sacramento Bee’s pursuit of this article, and the reality that it’s written 3 divisive stories in less than 10 days, suggests that it’s [sic] desired outcome is to vilify a religious establishment that only seeks to do good in its region.”

Speaking to KTXL, Fairrington argued: “Church is essential.” For many people, that certainly may feel true, which is why it’s so encouraging to see many religious leaders turn to 100% virtual services amid the global health crisis.

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