Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested on Monday and is facing misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and violation of public health rules. The megachurch pastor had several hundred in attendance at The River at Tampa Bay church on Sunday—and held two services.
"His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk, and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week, in danger," Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said at the press conference.
Howard-Browne has been outspoken about churches that close their doors. Will his church now be shuttered in the wake of the arrest until the coronavirus falls flat? He has vowed his church will "never close." Howard-Browne considers church an essential service that is therefore exempt from the coronavirus orders.
"In a time of crisis, people are fearful and in need of comfort and community, more than ever before," a Facebook post on the church's page said. "Even people who do not attend church regularly, or perhaps never go to church, need to know that there is somewhere for them to go when they need help."
Prophetically speaking, what is going on here? Prophets have been prophesying about a "new era." More churches are going digital in the face of this plague. But is this the beginning of a new era that will see the church persecuted in the United States?