Plans by national evangelist Sean Feucht for so-called outreach in the LA area over the next couple days are leading local groups to challenge his message due to fears of a virus super-spreader event.
Feucht's open-air "Let Us Worship" events across Los Angeles County started Wednesday evening in downtown Los Angeles' Skid Row area in defiance of government restrictions on religious services. Supporters clashed with activists opposed to the gathering, some of whom chanted, “No mask, go home” and "You don’t look like Jesus. You came here to kill us," the LA Times reported.
One protester held a bright yellow sign with the words "Super Spreader" and red arrow pointed in the direction of dancing and singing fans.
In Echo Park Thursday morning, Feucht's supporters gathered closely as
musicians performed, and some of them spoke to the homeless residing in
tents at the park. There were no immediate reports of any unrest or public
disturbances, but activists critical of the gathering were on hand, continuing
their calls for the city to shut down the gatherings.
A concert is scheduled that evening in Valencia church parking lot. There's been no estimate as to how many fans may show up.
"If he cared about the community, he would've reached out to the groups that have been on the ground working for years," said Stephen "Cue" Jn-Marie, the pastor at the Church Without Walls on Skid Row. "If you're going to exercise your First Amendment right and the reality if you're going to kill people in doing so, as a believer in Jesus, you let that go, you pull back on your First Amendment rights so people can live. And that's not the heart they are coming with."
Feucht did not return a message seeking comment.
Videos on his youtube channel show thousands of people supporting him. Some people can be seen wearing face masks, but the majority are not and not social distancing.
"It has nothing to do with peaceful protest or religion or race," Clay Johnston, an Echo Park resident where Feutch is planning another outreach event Thursday morning - focusing on the massive surge of people living in tents around Echo Park Lake. "None of the above. It has all to do with health and safety and the growing numbers in our community with this coronavirus."
He says he knows the city and county can't stop him, but he hopes reality does.
"We just had 200 plus deaths yesterday in LA County," Johnston said. "The last thing we need is a super-spreader coming to our communities, promoting not wearing masks, not social distancing and then having massive events which is prohibited in our county."
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti's spokesman said in a statement that this is the most dangerous moment of the pandemic.
"The mayor is urging everyone to stay home and imploring anyone going out in public to wear the mandated mask, keep physical distance and follow public health guidance," the statement said.
Garcetti also addressed the gatherings in his evening update on the pandemic -- the last for 2020.
"There are constitutionally protected rights, both religion and protest, which clearly he has used and exercised, but just because we do have the right to do things, doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. So I would encourage him first and foremost to come back, have a good concert after this pandemic is done," Garcetti said. "We do not want to see this spread, and the more spread there is, the more hospitalizations, the more deaths, so if you care about human lives, and what God has given each of us, which is the power of life, please don't do this."
Hospitals throughout the region have been pushed to the breaking point due to an unprecedented surge in cases. Intensive care unit capacity in the Southern California and San Joaquin Valley regions have been at %0 for days.
Health officials have warned that an already dire situation will get worse due to a likely post-holiday increase in cases.
On Skid Row, the church without walls led the car rally they're calling the Resistance Blockade Against Biological Warfare.
"We know how COVID has disproportionately affected the Black community," Jn-Marie said. "Skid Row is about 60-70% Black folks and so this community is vulnerable, the most vulnerable in the nation and to have someone come at a time when COVID is raging … for someone to come into our communities in the name of Jesus saying they are going to do outreach and not adhering to safety protocols, that's problematic to us and we won't allow it."
NBC4's Jonathan Lloyd contributed to this report.