Dueling visions of what it means to be faithful Christians in a world rocked by coronavirus hit the national media over New Year’s weekend, with one music evangelist planing an event on Skid Row in Los Angeles and other prominent figures in the ex-evangelical crowd calling him out for not embodying the love of Jesus.
Sean Feucht is a self-styled musician and evangelist who has staged a “Let Us Worship” tour this year in defiance of public bans on mass gatherings due to coronavirus. What critics see as a “publicity stunt,” he has billed as a national spiritual revival.
In late September, the tour landed in Washington, D.C., where an estimated 100,000 people gathered on the National Mall for a two-day event that was part music festival, part evangelistic rally and part political campaign supporting President Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, Dec. 30, he planned to take the tour to Skid Row amid much fanfare and much criticism. A group of advocates for the homeless organized a blockade of the area, and neither Feucht nor his large crowd of followers showed up. Social media photos showed some of his followers engaging the homeless population on Skid Row, but the concert and rally never happened, according to CBS Los Angeles.
Feucht did hold other events elsewhere in the Los Angeles area in the following days.
The Skid Row event drew sharp rebuke from other Christian leaders as well as government officials and public health advocates because coronavirus infection, hospitalization and death rates currently are skyrocketing in Los Angeles County. Hospitals are full to overflowing and are placing patients in gift shops and chapels and hallways.
Three Christian leaders co-authored an opinion piece published Dec. 31 by Religion News Service telling Feucht Jesus didn’t need his help on Skid Row.
They wrote: “Dear Sean: Jesus is already on Skid Row. Jesus lives on Skid Row in the hundreds of homeless people who take shelter there. Just as Jesus was born in a manger on Christmas because there was no room at the inn, the people who live on Skid Row are here because they have no place else to go. Just as Jesus was homeless 2,020 years ago on Christmas night, he is still homeless today in Los Angeles.”
The 54-block area known as Skid Row is one of the nation’s largest concentrations of homeless people and has been the subject of numerous attempts by politicians to clean up the city, drive out the homeless, care for the homeless and every variation imaginable of policy related to homelessness. Multiple faith-based social service agencies have permanent locations on Skid Row and minister to its residents day and night.
One commenter on Twitter said to Feucht: “Only someone who’s never personally worked with these communities would assume they haven’t heard the gospel. They have God; they need HOUSING.”
The three Christian leaders calling out Feucht in the RNS op-ed were Shane Claiborne, an activist, author and co-director of Red Letter Christians; David Gibbons, an investor, author, adviser and founding pastor of Newsong Church and the X Global Network; and Stephen “Cue” Jn-Marie, founding pastor of Church Without Walls and a community organizer in the Los Angeles area.
They lamented having to take such actions aimed at “protecting (the) flock from other Christians.”
Jn-Mari works daily in Skid Row and its residents. He and his co-authors said: “It’s offensive that people would come into (this) neighborhood with disregard to the health of (this) community.”
In his national tour, Feucht has denied the reality of the coronavirus, has gathered thousands of people close together without masks and has echoed the president’s most blatant lies about public health, while claiming Christians are being persecuted.
His website makes the case for the mask-less tour: “Our freedom to worship God and obey his word has come under unprecedented attack. Powerful politicians and social media giants have engaged in unchartered abuses of religious liberty, silencing the faithful, banning our voices, and outright attacking our God-given right to declare his goodness.
States across America, including here in California, have shut down church services and even outlawed singing in church. … It’s time for the church to rise up with one voice and tell our government leaders and the rulers of big tech that we refuse to be silenced!”
Claiborne and his co-authors at RNS said Feucht “likes to spin the authorities’ coronavirus measures, and opposition to his tour, as religious persecution. It’s not. The social distancing and stay-at-home orders are not about a secular, liberal state trying to keep Christians from worshipping, but about a state trying to protect its people.
“Christians, who worship a Savior who left the comfort of heaven to suffer even to the point of being executed, might be expected to be able to sacrifice in this crisis,” they added. “Instead, Feucht’s Christian witness is to be upset about having to wear a mask.”
The RNS piece and other media publicity about Feucht’s attempted event on Skid Row drew sharp rebukes on social media. So sharp, in fact, that Feucht tweeted a response to Claiborne, Gibbons and Jn-Marie sarcastically accusing them of inciting a riot against him.
“Thanks for encouraging these attacks against me and my fam. You guys are true brothers!” Feucht wrote, along with an example of a profanity-laced invective someone had hurled at him on Twitter.
Claiborne responded with an offer to meet with Feucht and this: “Sean, we are lovers not haters. We love Jesus. And we love you. We are not responsible for the actions of others and outrightly condemn any hateful language or violent threats against you. We also stand by everything we wrote and continue to extend our offer to talk or pray with us.”
This Twitter thread drew more than 200 comments, both for and against Feucht. Supporters claimed he was doing the will of God and fighting off demons, while critics accused him of seeking publicity only for himself and being a “super-spreader” of COVID among a highly vulnerable population.
Feucht is a graduate of Oral Roberts University and has been based in Dallas; Harrisburg, Pa.; and now Redding, Calif., where he serves as worship leader at Bethel Church. He has recorded 22 music albums and co-authored five books.
He was among 50 Christian leaders who visited President Donald Trump for a faith briefing at the White House amid the run-up to Trump’s impeachment trial in December 2019.