Some of you have now heard about Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge. Despite Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards’s order to limit the size of meetings, Spell has continued to hold Sunday services. It is unclear whether Spell will defy Edwards’s recent stay-at-home order.
Over at The Washington Post, four scholars of American religion–Andrea Johnson, Lloyd Barba, Daniel Ramirez, and Roy Fisher– explain the theology behind Spell’s decision to stay open.
Here is a taste:
Spell’s stance reflects elements of a longer history of the Oneness Pentecostal tradition within which his church fits. This faith tradition champions the beliefs and practices of the early church. Along with this commitment to “restorationism,” their method of scriptural interpretation enables some Oneness Pentecostals to stitch together disparate scriptures into post-facto justifications for conclusions based as much on their understanding of politics as their reading of scripture. In this case, Spell’s position reflects a longer history of sectarian groups guarding the church and the restored faith against intrusion by either government or more mainstream forms of Protestantism.
Nonetheless, Oneness groups are not, and have never been, monolithic in how they have engaged politics, and we’re seeing that again in how they respond to the coronavirus epidemic. Official directives from the flagship Oneness Pentecostal denominations, including the United Pentecostal Church International, the Apostolic Assembly of the Faith in Christ Jesus (largely Latino) and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (largely African American), have explicitly cited scripture in counseling their diverse constituencies to remain calm and adhere to government directives, including the call not to hold public services. They would rather follow the prophet Jeremiah’s charge to exiles to always seek the well-being (“peace”) of the city in which they reside, for in its well-being they will find their own well-being.
Read the entire piece here.