How a Los Angeles megachurch became a bastion of evangelical coronavirus denial: 'There is no pandemic'

How a Los Angeles megachurch became a bastion of evangelical coronavirus denial: 'There is no pandemic'

Coronavirus denial is by no means universal in Christianity. A wide range of practicing Christians, from Catholics to Mainline Protestants such as Lutherans, Methodists and Episcopalians, have encouraged social distancing, mask wearing and vaccination. But countless far-right white evangelicals have recklessly, irresponsibly promoted the spread of COVID-19, and an article published by the Los Angeles Review of Books on August 15 describes an L.A. megachurch's battle against public health measures.

Writer Jim Hinch explains, "Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, evangelical Christians have been among the most polarizing voices in a divided nation struggling to respond to a grave public health emergency. From the moment authorities began addressing the crisis last year, evangelicals have protested government-ordered lockdowns, resisted measures such as mask-wearing, defied restrictions on indoor worship services, and fought public health officials all the way to the Supreme Court."

Hinch adds, "More recently, White evangelicals have emerged as the demographic group most resistant to getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Their embrace of conspiracy theories and overall pandemic denialism contributed to their avid participation in the January 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol. A religious group that prides itself on its patriotism has become a major impediment to advancing the United States' goals."

The Los Angeles megachurch that Hinch discusses in his article is Grace Community Church, located in the San Fernando Valley. Hinch describes Grace's 82-year-old pastor, John F. MacArthur, as "theologically conservative" but notes that according to the church's website, "John doesn't involve himself in politics."

Nonetheless, Grace has resisted public health measures during a deadly pandemic that has, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, killed more than 4.3 million people worldwide. But at first, Hinch notes, MacArthur accepted social distancing measures.

Hinch observes, "Though Grace initially closed its doors in compliance with a statewide lockdown order, MacArthur changed course four months later, reopening his church's 3500-seat sanctuary to indoor worship, defying mask mandates. It was a remarkable change in posture…. Something happened during those first four months of the pandemic that not only changed MacArthur's mind, but galvanized him into outright public anti-government opposition. He ignored a cease-and-desist letter from Los Angeles County, then countersued when the County sought to block the in-person services in court."

When former President Donald Trump heard about MacArthur's battle with Los Angeles officials, he saw it as an opportunity to rally his Christian Rrght supporters — and MacArthur appeared on Fox News, where coronavirus deniers like Laura Ingraham were more than happy to portray him as a victim. MacArthur, during an August 2020 sermon, claimed, "There is no pandemic":

John MacArthur says "There is no pandemic" from Grace Church pulpit www.youtube.com

Hinch goes on to explain why white evangelicals have been so quick to engage in coronavirus denial.

"The pandemic struck at the heart of evangelicals' ministry model," Hinch observes. "Though only 10% of American Christians attend a megachurch, their worship style and business orientation have become inescapable standards in evangelical Christianity. Pastors of even small churches are expected to grow membership, cultivate a social media following, and provide high-tech entertainment on Sunday mornings. A robust network of parachurch organizations exists to help pastors meet such goals."
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