We are all in this together.
That was the message, the mantra, for the coronavirus pandemic. We heard it from elected officials at all levels of government. We heard it from community leaders. The Observer, too, emphasized the sentiment.
But the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church, Island City, did not buy into the message and became the source of the COVID-19 outbreak in Union County. Given the number of cases, the statistics point to a grim reality — the virus is going to kill people in the county. One church and its actions made Union County the poster child for what not to do during a pandemic.
Other churches adapted their services to protect not just their congregations but the larger community. Not Lighthouse Pentecostal Church, which in the wake of The Observer’s reporting about the outbreak took a defiant stance.
One of the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church’s leaders, James Parker, posted a video to the church’s Facebook page with a message to members: “Our fruit will show that what we did is the right thing. And more people need to do what we did. And the more people that do the right thing, the easier it’s going to be for the rest of the world to combat this, this pandemic that we’re going through. Umm, we shouldn’t hide from life’s circumstances. You got to stand up on your feet and you got to face them. That’s what we do. That’s what we’ll continue to do.”
Now Parker’s video is gone from the page, as are videos of church services in April and May showing disregard for Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order banning large gatherings.
Stand up, indeed.
The recent slew of columns, letters to the editor and comments to posts on The Observer’s Facebook page attest to how outraged and just plain hurt the community is because the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church decided it did not have to follow rules for protecting us all.
There was nothing sacred, holy or scriptural about Lighthouse Pentecostal Church holding services and defying practices for keeping the community safe. And now we are reporting four employees at Grande Ronde Retirement Residence, La Grande, have COVID-19, leaving some of the most vulnerable members of our community in quarantine.
Who knows how long members of the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church had the virus while they shopped and worked and went about their lives in the county. The church’s leaders and members, meanwhile, stand silent as the virus continues to wind its way through the county and beyond. Hard to imagine the uptick in neighboring Wallowa County is mere coincidence.
The Lighthouse Pentecostal Church should stand up and apologize to the residents of Union County and the rest of Oregon, admit what they did was wrong and ask forgiveness and to once again join the community. The editorial board of The Observer, however, is not so naive to think these words will enlighten the church and make it change its ways. Perhaps God is playing them like he did Pharaoh and hardening their hearts.
More likely, the leaders and followers of Lighthouse Pentecostal Church will continue to grasp firm to the cultish belief they are special, they did the right thing, they are different from the rest of the community.
The one positive outcome of this mess? The attitude of the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church has reaffirmed we really are all in this together, that our actions have consequences. Whether we like it or not.