A conservative Christian preacher promised to bring “salvations, signs and wonders, and miracles” to Nashville on Sunday night when he hosted a mass religious gathering in the city’s Public Square Park downtown. The real miracle, however, will be if no one catches the coronavirus.
Sean Feucht, a Christian musician, online personality, and failed politician, claimed that 10,000 people joined him on the steps of Nashville’s courthouse for his Let Us Worship concert. But according to photos and videos from the event, attendance was noticeably sparser. Still, the worshippers who did show up packed in elbow-to-elbow, singing along, shouting, and in some cases being submerged in on-site baptisms. Few masks, face coverings, or even Shrouds of Turin were seen to help minimize the spread of the virus.
“It’s officially a protest, OK, so it’s legal!” Feucht announced in a video message on Twitter, just a few hours before the start of the event.
Calling it a protest — the same way coronavirus alum President Trump does to host rallies during a pandemic — may have been Feucht’s loophole for positioning his potentially superspreading event as “legal,” but Nashville’s Metro Public Health Department wasn’t pleased. In a statement to Rolling Stone on Monday, the city says the concert’s organizers did not receive or request a permit for the gathering. The Health Department is investigating. “We have worked very hard to slow the spread of Covid by taking a measured approach to protect the community,” the statement said. “The Health Department is very concerned by the actions that took place at the event, and we are investigating and will pursue appropriate penalties against the organizer.” Feucht did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nashville is currently in Phase 3 of its Covid-19 reopening plan, which means no gatherings of more than 25 people without an “approved event plan from Metro Public Health.” Approved events are allowed to operate at 30 percent capacity, limited to 500 people. Mask use is required.
Nashville reported 209 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours on Monday, bringing the total of cases in Davidson County to 30,575. (The incubation period for Covid-19 is five to 14 days, so it isn’t yet clear what effect Sunday’s gathering might have on the city’s rates.)
Based in Redding, California, the 37-year-old Feucht ran for Congress as a Republican candidate in his home state’s District 3 but lost in the March primary. Since then, he’s earned a reputation (and received criticism for being tone-deaf) for staging concerts in cities where mass protests have been held again police brutality, including Minneapolis, Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin. In June, he posted a curious statement on Facebook saying that while he believes black lives matter, he is against BLM as an organization.
On Saturday, Feucht performed beneath an indoor-outdoor pavilion for a crowd in Atlanta before coming to Nashville to “gather thousands,” he said in his Twitter message. “The church will not be silenced!” he wrote. Exactly what sort of silencing or persecution he is experiencing is unclear. Churches and houses of worship in Tennessee have been open for in-person services since May, with Gov. Bill Lee deeming religious services as “essential, rather than social gatherings.” Government leaders recommend remote worship when possible.
Nashville police chief John Drake also criticized Feucht’s concert and said organizers did not have “any advance communication with the MNPD.” “At a time when Nashville has been making real progress at controlling the spread of the coronavirus, I am greatly disappointed that the organizer of Sunday’s event and those in attendance did not better prioritize their health and the health of others through social distancing and the wearing of face coverings,” he said in a statement to Rolling Stone.
Feucht, a vocal supporter of Trump who prayed over the president in the Oval Office, has another Covid concert planned for Charleston, South Carolina, on Monday.
Earlier this summer, Nashville struggled to enforce pandemic regulations but turned a corner in September, allowing the city to enter Phase 3 of its reopening on October 1st. Public Square Park is traditionally the site of the city’s annual free concert series Live on the Green. Because of the ongoing health crisis, this year’s event was held online.