A church in Arkansas plans to continue holding services this weekend despite federal and state guidelines against holding gatherings of more than 10 people amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Awaken Church in Jonesboro claimed in a Wednesday evening Facebook post that Jesus was the "first death of Covid-19," the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The post included an image of a cross wrapped in a white sash against a sunset background, with the words "Jesus died with COVID-19 so that you didn't have to bear it."
In a separate post earlier on Wednesday, the church explained that it would continue to hold services despite the rapidly spreading pandemic. The local NEA Report news site first reported Awaken Church's decision to keep its doors open to worshippers.
The first death of Covid 19 actually happened 2000 years ago. The Bible tells us that Jesus took on every sin, sickness...
"The Dept of Health has stated that all gatherings of ten or more do not apply to houses of worship and yet suggest to follow CDC safe practices, of which we are doing," the church wrote in a Facebook post.
"For us to not have services due to a virus would be for us to go against our extremely strong convictions of the power of God to protect and the power of God to heal," the post continued. "Jesus knew the world He was sending us into contained sickness and disease. Instead of telling us to retreat from sickness, He told us to go into the world and to heal the sick."
Chad Gonzales, a lead pastor at Awaken Church, told Newsweek that the decision to keep the religious services going was not something he took "lightly," saying it was "one of the most gut wrenching decisions" he has ever made. He noted that the church "certainly would have complied" if the government had required them to cancel services.
"Many people have said that us continuing to hold physical services was about the money, but that's not it at all. The vast majority of our donations come through either our website or mobile app. It had nothing to do with money, but everything to do with my convictions," Gonzales said.
In the post that claimed Jesus had died of COVID-19, the church justified the assertion by referencing the biblical verse 2 Corinthians 5:21. "The Bible tells us that Jesus took on every sin, sickness and every disease...Jesus bore it so you wouldn't have to. Salvation provided forgiveness and healing...if you'll believe it, you can receive it!" the post said.