We Demand The Prosecution of Pastor Spell of Life Tabernacle Church
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(The link above and the text below is a copy of what I sent to local media, national media, and every association from the NAACP to Separation of Church & State organizations in hopes of exposing Tony Spell's horrendous crimes against at-risk children. No one bit. You may read it for yourself below, and possibly judge why that is. )
My name is Stephanie Landry, and I became very concerned after hearing that a local church, Life Tabernacle of Baton Rouge, was hosting thousands of people in their church services despite the public health proclamations enacted to combat the spread of the Covid-19 virus that were being issued by our Governor, John Bel Edwards. Angered by the audacity and selfishness of their defiance of the law and fearful for my community and how this decision would affect countless others, I decided to investigate the matter further for myself. Additionally, I authored a change.org petition informing the public that our health was being compromised by the church and asking for the prosecution of Life Tabernacle’s pastor and decision-maker, Pastor Tony Spell. I have pasted a link to it below. In just 3 or 4 days, it has approximately 8K signatures.
The on-going incident with Life Tabernacle began when Pastor Spell got word of Governor John Bel Edwards issuing the public health emergency proclamation 25 JBE 2020 on March 13, 2020. This particular proclamation was primarily enacted to help limit the risk of person to person contact and the transmission of Covid-19 among Louisiana’s citizens, and it was designed to further implement the existing policy limits on social contact and to focus on increasing social distancing. The portion of the emergency proclamation that is relevant to Life Tabernacle and Tom Spells was the cancellation of all meetings or gatherings of 250 people or more until Monday, April 13.
Immediately after the Governor’s announcement of 25 JBE 2020, Pastor Spells had an announcement to make of his own, which was made in a video posted on his YouTube channel. Called “COVID-19 announcement 3/13/2020,” and I have provided a link below. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OU4YCvcNxM&t=15s
The video addresses his reaction to the emergency proclamation limiting how and how many church members can congregate. Spell says that he has contacted an unnamed law firm about how to handle things and that he essentially needed to give the church's planned response to a "no meetings of 50 or more." That response was that on the legal front, he will instruct any askers that the Life Tabernacle Apolistic Church has an establishment clause on hand. This clause, he maintains, prohibits the government, at any level, from advancement of or inhibition of their regularly scheduled worship services or any sort religious function, in any way. His take therefore, is that his right to practice his religion trumps this emergency order, and he of course plans to do business as usual.
“Business as usual” and what that means is also detailed. He says that for church service on Sunday mornings, his church, which I discovered has a “Bus Ministry,” runs 26 buses total (and images online show that they are approximately school bus sized). The 26 buses eventually pick up about 670 passengers from outside the city of Baton Rouge, and all 670 are in attendance on Sunday mornings.
Before Spell gives these figures, he says that these particular church members are all picked up on the bus ministry buses within a 60 mile radius of the 34 acres church campus on Hooper Road in Central.
He also mentions that the 34 acre campus divides up into 7 separate areas. He claims these 7 areas hold less than 250 attendees each.
He then changes the figures altogether and says there are 120 to 150 people in each of the 7 areas. 7 times 150 is 750. Not 670. I wasn’t sure what to make of his math as I watched, but what I was dying to know had no answer in his video: WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE ON THE BUSES? The video continues as Pastor Spells moves on, and seems to try to cheer or encourage his unseen viewers a bit. “Floods didn't scare you, “ he says.” Diseases won't. Well Covid-19 is only a little upper respiratory illness. So Covid-19 isn't going to scare you, an Apostolic.” (In my research I found that the Spells lost their home in the 2016 Flood.)
“What happened to American fight or courage?” Spell says with bitterness. “The least little outbreak sends us in panic mode, especially religious folk! The government makes a few radio announcements and the Apostolics go into hiding!” he exclaims.
When I watched his video, I had more questions than answers. Why was the church in 7 sections? Who was being bussed in for services? I thought making a timeline might help me sort events, so I created one and decided to try to answer my own remaining questions.
Sunday, 15 March. 1,200 people attended, in violation of the governor’s order.
(This was written on the 19th, and the story it is halfway sourced from was WAFB on 18 March.)
18 March, a Thursday- WAFB interview and video aired.Tuesday’s service was held at Life Tabernacle Church in the City of Central, located in East Baton Rouge Parish.
“ “I had 1,170 in attendance Sunday,” Spell said. “We have 27 buses on Sundays picking up people in a five-parish area."
Spell says the more than 1,000 people who attended Sunday were in various parts of the church. However, he says a large portion of them were gathered in the main worship area of the church that day.”
19 March, this info from the source above states that, "After video of Life Tabernacle’s services surfaced, some church members were suspended from work as a health precaution."
Everything needed to answer my questions was there out in the open, available to anyone curious enough to look. It was on their website, on facebook pages. Hiding in plain sight.
On the church’s webpage, I found a link to their ministries.
Opening it up, you find this:
The heart of our church is our Bus Ministry! God has blessed us with men and women dedicated to reaching our community and teaching them the word of God! Every Sunday morning we have 19 buses that travel across five parishes: East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Livingston, and Ascension. On average we pick up 523 children weekly, ranging in ages two to twenty-one, but anyone is welcome to ride. We begin each Sunday with serving breakfast, and then each child goes to their designated Sunday School classrooms. Here they participate in songs, games, and a Bible lesson.
SPROUTS SUNDAY SCHOOL (AGES 4-7)
In Sprouts church, you will join ages 4-7 year olds as they worship God, learn about the doctrine and are loved without reservation! Sprouts receive breakfast every Sunday morning and have Super Sunday every two months! Sis Tammy Carroll is the Superintendent of Sprouts church and will be there to welcome you this Sunday!
NURSERY SUNDAY SCHOOL (AGES 0-3)
Sis. Deidra Perkins is our Superintendent of the Nursery. It consists of ages 0-3 year olds who have a wonderful time learning songs about Jesus, and hearing fun action- packed Bible Stories.
That’s who is on their 25-28 or buses. Children ages 2 and up. And there are 523 on average, every week. That’s who came to church despite a Governor’s mandate that was there to protect these children. Not old people looking for company and a meal. VERY YOUNG CHILDREN.
I couldn’t help but wonder where exactly the smiling-faced children I kept seeing were from. So I made some inquiries on google.
This is from The Advocate, December 2015:
Hooper Road ministry sees booming Sunday school numbers as bus ministry brings kids
“Every Sunday morning, a dozen school buses deliver hundreds of children from across five Baton Rouge area parishes to Sunday school at Life Tabernacle Church on Hooper Road.
The ministry has grown so fast, Pastor Tony Spell said, several more buses have been ordered, with a goal of running about 20 in the near future.
Located at 9323 Hooper Road, the church has tripled attendance in recent months because of the bus ministry, which also has made it more culturally diverse. Average attendance is 630 people, Spell said, but this year’s Easter service broke the record.
“When we had 1,256 (people) at Easter, it was so moving to see Vietnamese, whites, blacks, browns, everyone in the same area getting along with no racial tension. I wept openly because it should not be that in 2015, no one is not welcome in a church because of the color of their skin,” Spell said.
The 37-year-old pastor said the church is offering help that many cannot find elsewhere.
“The government has failed them. The school system has put many of them out because they’re out of control. The parents are not there for them,” Spell said. “There are fewer fathers in the home today than there were during World War II when America’s fathers were overseas. So the men of our church have taken on these children and helped them financially and spiritually.”
The bus ministry has prompted the church to order a half-dozen new buses and construct a new 12,000-square-foot Sunday school building behind the sprawling, modern sanctuary. When completed this winter, it will include a multipurpose basketball court, commercial-grade kitchen and classrooms. The church is home to Apostolic Truth Academy, an accredited, pre-K through 12th grade school, with 80 students and volunteer teachers. It is a member of the Worldwide Pentecostal Fellowship.
A formula for success
Spell and his grandfather, Bishop B.A. Spell, who founded the church with 17 people in 1959 in Port Allen before moving it to Baton Rouge, are following a successful formula of church growth based on door-to-door visitation and busing that blossomed in the 1960s, they say.
“We started a bus ministry in 1962,” said the elder Spell, who is 85. “We have people attending this church who are adults that we picked up when they were children.”
In 1965, they built a large building at 8930 Plank Road, then moved to this 14-acre campus 10 years ago.
Bishop Spell turned the pulpit over to grandson Tony five years ago, but he still manages the books.
“We go into what we call ‘bloody knuckle’ neighborhoods, where nobody answers the door, to pass out our fliers. All you walk out with is bloody knuckles,” Tony Spell said. “We go into apartment complexes and trailer parks, and people flock to us because we’re showing them love. We’re showing them what Jesus would show. He said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me.’ ”
Some churches, he said, want affluent members — doctors, lawyers and professionals.
“That’s not who we are going for,” Tony Spell said. “The bus ministry is a long-term goal. Jerry Falwell knew that and Jack Hyle knew that. And now, after 56 years in Baton Rouge, we’ve proven that.”
In the 1960s and 1970s, when the megachurch movement really got underway, it was led in part by the late Rev. Jack Hyle, of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, and the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Falwell termed his methodology “saturation evangelism,” with volunteers knocking on doors, running bus routes, making follow-up phone calls, and radio and television programming.
In his classic 1969 book, “The Ten Largest Sunday Schools and What Makes Them Grow,” the Rev. Dr. Elmer Towns, now 86, credited Hyle’s church as the largest Sunday school in America, with more than 30,000 people riding over 200 buses. Falwell’s church neared that with 23,000 and more than 60 buses in 1973, according to a biography written by his widow, Macel Falwell.
A church of riders
Darrell Badeaux, Life Tabernacle’s bus director, said he started the first bus route with 27 riders. Now, riders average between 400 and 500, with 11 buses running last Sunday“We knock on between 1,000 and 2,000 doors every Saturday,” Badeaux said. “Each one of our bus teams do their own outreach. We try to do 150 doors per bus. We also go back and meet the kids and their families.”
The Rev. Cornelius Williams has been Tony Spell’s assistant pastor for two years and drives a bus in the Florida Boulevard area.
“Church for us starts when the first kid puts his foot on the first step of the bus,” Williams said. “Before we even get here, we’re singing on the bus, we’re praying on the bus.”
When the children arrive, the younger ones go to a large meeting room in one wing of the sanctuary building, and the junior high and high school students go to 10 school classrooms at the other wing.
“When we started (six months ago), maybe we had 10 to a classroom, and now the classrooms are overflowing with an average of 30 students per classroom,” Sunday school Superintendent Emily Holt said.
Gary McDonald, children’s church director, said an average 150 to 200 children, ages 8 to 11, attend each week.
“Usually we feed them breakfast, but this week they get nachos and cupcakes baked by our church teens,” McDonald said. “Six months ago, we would have one or two participate in the altar call because they didn’t know how to pray, but now it’s the whole mass praying, lifting their hands, worshipping. They’re being baptized, repenting of their sins, seeking the Holy Ghost — it’s remarkable.”
Regardless of age, ethnicity or education level, everyone is welcome, said Tony Spell, adding the idea is to make their church look like heaven.”
This is the link to the bus ministry page. There are even pictures of smiling kids from the time AFTER the Pastor began breaking the law to hold church. They’re in the albums on this Facebook page.https://www.facebook.com/Ltcbus/
The bottom line is this: these are not consenting adults being exposed to a deadly virus, they are primarily all young, disadvantaged black children. The church and its leader, Tony Spell, have to be held accountable for the harm that their defiance ultimately will cause. Today, March 26, saw a 28% jump in Covid-19 infections in East Baton Rouge. Those that have the power to stop this and do nothing bear the accountability too.
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