“There is no such thing as a pandemic”: How a mega-church in LA became a bastion of evangelical denial of the coronavirus

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 Episcopals, have promoted social distancing, the wearing of masks, and vaccinations. But countless far-right white evangelicals have ruthlessly and irresponsibly promoted the spread of COVID-19, and an article published Aug. 15 by the Los Angeles Review of Books describes an LA mega-church’s struggle against public health measures.

Author Jim Hinch explains, “Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, evangelical Christians have been one of the most polarizing voices in a divided nation struggling to respond to a major public health emergency. From the moment authorities started addressing the crisis last year, evangelicals have protested government-ordered lockdowns, opposed measures such as wearing masks, defied restrictions on indoor worship and against public health officials up fought to the Supreme Court.

Hinch adds, “Recently, white evangelicals have emerged as the demographic that is most resilient to vaccination against COVID-19. Their adoption of conspiracy theories and general denial of the pandemic contributed to their zealous participation in the January 6 uprising at the U.S. Capitol when a religious group proud of their patriotism has become a major obstacle to the attainment of U.S. goals. “

The Los Angeles mega-church that Hinch discusses in his article is Grace Community Church in the San Fernando Valley. Hinch describes Grace’s 82-year-old pastor, John F. MacArthur, as “theologically conservative” but notes that John “does not get involved in politics” according to the Church’s website.

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

Hinch notes, “Although Grace initially closed her doors in accordance with a statewide lockdown order, four months later MacArthur changed course and reopened his church’s 3,500-seater sanctuary for indoor worship and defied masking requirements. It was a remarkable change in attitudes … In the first four months of the pandemic, something happened that not only changed MacArthur’s mind, but also drove him into open public opposition to the government’s personal counseling in court. “

When former President Donald Trump heard of MacArthur’s fight against Los Angeles officials, he saw it as an opportunity to gather his Christian rrght supporters together – and MacArthur appeared on Fox News, where coronavirus deniers like Laura Ingraham like to portray him as a victim . MacArthur claimed during a sermon in August 2020, “There is no such thing as a pandemic.”

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