Lately, it seems that evangelicals and hard-right political hankering have gone hand in hand. For a long time, one of the exceptions to that rule was John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in the San Fernando Valley. His radio show, “Grace to You,” has been a ratings juggernaut on Christian radio for the better part of four decades, and he has long had a sterling reputation in the evangelical world.
But earlier this year, MacArthur waded into the coronavirus controversy in a big way. In August, he gained infamy when word got out he was holding a full schedule of services before crowds of well over 6,000 people—even though Los Angeles County limited indoor gatherings to 25 percent of normal capacity or 100 people, whatever is smaller. To add insult to injury, video footage of those services showed almost no masks and no social distancing worth mentioning.
Since then, MacArthur has ramped up the ante. Back in October, he posted a video urging pastors to reopen their churches, while spewing all manner of alternative facts about COVID.
He also lent his voice to a petition started by Liberty University’s Falkirk Center urging governments to declare churches “essential,” allowing them to stay open without restrictions.
Seeing this story, you knew it was only a matter of time before that church had an outbreak. Well, according to evangelical investigative journalist Julie Roys, that’s exactly what’s happening—despite MacArthur and the rest of what passes for leadership at GCC trying to keep a lid on it.
Roys spoke with a member of the GCC leadership team who is having a mildly severe bout of COVID—bad enough that he had to pause the interview on several occasions due to coughing fits. This leader claims that he knows of a number of people at GCC who have COVID. Among them are a number of his fellow staffers, as well as at least two professors at The Master’s University, the Christian college where MacArthur is chancellor emeritus.
The GCC leader also told Roys that there’s a pretty severe outbreak in GCC’s Filipino ministry, and one of its leaders has been hospitalized.
If that isn’t enough, Christian blogger “Modern Day Zorro” recalled that at least seven people who attended GCC’s staff Christmas party have tested positive for COVID. At that party, “maskless elderly and Elders sat shoulder to shoulder, hugged and shook hands.” MacArthur was on hand for this party, and spewed a number of COVID conspiracy theories—including denying any long-term side effects. When Roys mentioned this to the GCC leader, he replied that while he had no doubt seven people were infected, MacArthur would never admit it—and “any church leader who publicly affirms that will be looking for a new job!”
According to Roys, a number of posts on a Facebook group for GCC members corroborates what she learned from the GCC staffer—quite a few members have COVID, and the outbreak is pretty severe among the Filipino ministry.
Now why does this matter? Well, if true, even with the Supreme Court looking askance at governments imposing capacity limits on churches, if GCC is covering up an outbreak, it’s potentially in really hot water for flouting a Los Angeles County health order intended to pinpoint outbreaks.
Under a county health order, places of worship must report to public health when at least three coronavirus cases are identified among church staff or congregation within a span of 14 days.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health told The Roys Report, “No additional outbreaks have been reported by Grace Community Church” since an outbreak at the church in October. (That outbreak was investigated and closed in November after no further cases were found among employees for 14 days.)
Indeed, according to the anonymous GCC leader, staffers and members are being pressured not to report the growing number of cases at the church for fear that the county could shut them down. The leader also adds that MacArthur has continued his alternative facting unabated, referring to COVID as just “the flu.” This seems to be corroborated by a Q-and-A session at GCC earlier this month, at which MacArthur denied there was an outbreak and dismissed vaccines as a money-making venture.
The anonymous leader recalls feeling considerable pressure to come to in-person events, even though almost no one wears a mask and social distancing is nonexistent. Now, as he puts it, he’s “paying the price.”
If this is even half true, MacArthur better have a lawyer on speed dial. After all, if anyone outside GCC gets sick or dies and it can be traced to that church, he faces being sued into poverty, and GCC sued out of existence. And not even the most warped interpretation of the First Amendment would protect him.
MacArthur has espoused some pretty bass-ackwards views about gays causing AIDS, and has suggested that parents completely disown their LGBT kids. But these pale in comparison to what Roys has unearthed. If this is true, MacArthur is literally killing people.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.