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Why did a Florida county honor Christian conspiracy theorist Rodney Howard-Browne?
The Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners celebrated the actions of a pastor who put countless people in harm's way during the pandemic
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Here’s why local elections matter.
Last week, the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners in Florida gave a commendation—a symbolic honor—to Rodney Howard-Browne, a Christian conspiracy theorist who spent the pandemic doing everything in his power to spread the virus and put people’s lives in danger.
Newly-elected Commissioner Donna Cameron Cepeda presented him and and wife with an honor meant to “celebrate the significant contributions of businesses, groups, and individuals to the people of Hillsborough County”
Every member of the Board of County Commissioners signed the commendation except for one who was attending the meeting remotely and another who was on his way to the meeting from a doctor’s appointment.
The actual award read as follows:
The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners is pleased to recognize Drs. Rodney and Adonica Howard-Browne for their dedication and hard work, most notably at Revival Ministries International, serving their ministries and the community.
Drs. Rodney and Adonica Howard-Browne came to the United States in 1987 as missionaries with three children and only $300. At the end of 1996, they founded The River at Tampa Bay church, whose theme, “Church with a Difference,” touched the hearts and souls of millions of people from around the world.
For over a quarter of a century, their community outreach and numerous programs have positively impacted Hillsborough County, including humanitarian and Hurricane Ian relief work. Additionally, the Howard-Brownes hosted “The Stand: 1,000 Nights and Beyond” from Revival Ministries International World Headquarters in Tampa, meeting the spiritual needs of their domestic and international communities, a testament of their love to serve all people.
The Board of County Commissioners of Hillsborough County, Florida does hereby commend Drs. Rodney and Adonica Howard-Browne for their commitment to The Stand, their congregation members, and the community, and wishes them success for many years to come.
Even if that was symbolic, it’s worth explaining why this honor is so undeserved. Few people have harmed their communities like the Howard-Brownes have done.
Rodney Howard-Browne spent the majority of 2020 trying to spread COVID to as many people as possible. He held in-person church services in the early months of the pandemic, continued gathering in-person that summer without social distancing or any kind of mask requirement, and said in August of 2020 that anyone who took a potential vaccine would “be dead within a couple of years.”
Just as vaccines became available to the masses, Howard-Browne claimed, falsely, that the vaccine “actually changes your DNA… to remove the God Factor out of people.”
To state the obvious, the vaccine does not “alter your DNA” because that’s just not how it works. Nor is there a God gene that can be manipulated. Nor is a vaccine capable of damaging your faith. (That’s Howard-Browne’s job.)
He also said he wasn’t worried about the virus because he had 13 machines that would “basically kill every virus in the place.” (Those machines did not kill COVID.)
In March of 2020, Howard-Browne was arrested for holding church services despite an order to avoid large gatherings during the pandemic. The charges included “unlawful assembly and violating quarantine orders during a public health emergency.” However, all charges were dropped about a month later after the sheriff’s office issued a statement saying Howard-Browne “has maintained responsible social distancing on his church campus while engaging with community leaders in a dialogue about the best path forward for his congregation.” (That was a lie.)
We know it’s a lie because of what happened during “The Stand,” an event specifically cited by the Commissioners as a way Howard-Browne met the “spiritual needs of their domestic and international communities.”
What was “The Stand”? It was an open air “mass healing & miracle” service that launched in May of 2020. Howard-Browne said there would be no social distancing or masks at the event because “we believe in the blood and the healing power of God.” (However, he did make all attendees sign a waiver saying they wouldn’t hold the church responsible if they got sick.)
The point is: Rodney Howard-Browne is a Christian conspiracy theorist who repeatedly put his church members (and therefore the broader community) in danger because he refused to accept what experts were saying about COVID. Even without his pandemic-related actions, he’s claimed the CIA was training ISIS in America, that President Barack Obama was building “gas chambers and concentration camps,” and that “half of Congress performs human sacrifice and drinks blood.”
As for his wife, her biggest contribution to this whole charade, besides supporting her husband’s ignorance, has been succumbing to “holy laughter”:
In all seriousness, though, Hillsborough County honored this guy with an award meant to celebrate the best of what the county has to offer.
Why would Cepeda do that?
There is one obvious connection. According to her Facebook page, she studied at River Bible Institute, a school overseen by Howard-Browne’s Revival Ministries International.
Creative Loafing Tampa Bay offers another theory: Cepeda is a fellow conspiracy theorist who wants to honor her fellow lie-spreader:
… as CL previously reported, Cepeda has expressed disdain for pandemic lockdowns, specifically those that affect churches.
“Hillsborough County wanted all churches to stay closed,” said Cepeda in an interview with News Talk Florida. “This was unconstitutional. The churches were opened only when the county was threatened with lawsuits. Can you imagine a city without the organization of church for spiritual and community assistance? These leaders should be held accountable.”
In the same interview, Cepeda also rallied against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and local government taxing its citizens.
Cepeda won her seat on the Board in 2022 with just under 53% of the vote. She’s beatable. But because of her victory, a Christian preacher hell-bent on using his faith to hurt people in Tampa Bay was awarded for his faith-based thoughtlessness.
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