UPDATE (3/31/2020): After saying that he would not end services at his River Church amid the global pandemic, Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne became the subject of an arrest warrant for unlawful assembly. According to TMZ, Hillsborough County Sherrif's Department has now executed that warrant, bringing the preacher into custody.
ORIGINAL (3/18/2020): Rodney Howard-Browne, the right-wing pastor known for his outlandish statements and claims, indicated in a recent sermon that he will keep his church open despite restrictions and recommendations regarding large gatherings.
"I've got news for you, this church will never close," said the South African evangelical pastor now based in Florida, according to Right Wing Watch. "The only time the church is closed is when the Rapture is taking place. This Bible school is open because we're raising up revivalists, not pansies."
COVID-19 is the deadly virus, being referred to commonly as the novel coronavirus, and was recently declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. Restrictions on travel and gatherings in order to combat the spread have been enacted by various federal, state, and local governments in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control recommend cancelling all gatherings of 50 people or more, but the White House has gone further, suggesting groups cap attendance at 10.
Pastor Howard-Browne takes such warnings with a grain of salt, though. He instead espouses his own brand of protection against COVID-19.
"I said this has to be the safest place," he assured his congregants at the River Church in Tampa, Florida. "If you cannot be saved in church, you in serious trouble."
There are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the River Church -- but similarly, there are no confirmed cases of the virus anywhere ... until there suddenly are. But Howard-Browne has a history of claiming that he could cure Zika virus.
"We cursed that thing in the name of Jesus and Zika disappeared," Howard-Browne claimed in a recent video which was tweeted by Right Wing Watch.
Despite his claims, however, there exists no independent or scientific proof that Howard-Browne's curse eradicated the Zika virus.
Howard-Browne was born and raised in South Africa. He emigrated to the United States with his family in 1989, first living in Kentucky before later moving to Florida. In addition to featuring traditional Pentecostalist fare such as speaking in tongues and laying of hands, his River Church services are best known for the practice of holy laughter where congregants spontaneously break out into laughter and giggling.