Rob McCoy, pastor to Christian nationalist political operative David Lane and Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, broadcast an “urgent update” on his church’s Instagram page Saturday night. He recounted a telephone conversation with a county health official that evening about his church’s ongoing defiance of public health restrictions. McCoy said he told the official that if the county takes action against his church, Godspeak Calvary Chapel, for defying “draconian” health directives, “the gloves are off.”
COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise in California, but on Saturday night, McCoy portrayed public health restrictions as part of a conspiracy to impose Marxist ideology on the state. McCoy told Instagram viewers:
If you don’t have enough evidence to see this charade, then you need to get your head out of the sand. You need to awaken. You need to start to look beyond what they’re feeding you with this pudding of deception and start realizing that this virus does not merit the draconian measures that they’re placing upon the churches and businesses but not these Marxist revolutionaries who are burning our cities. Wake up! Participate! Stand! Encourage your pastors to do the same.
While waiting for more church members to get online, McCoy gave a right-wing spin on some news clips, denouncing the Black Lives Matter organization and calling requirements that people wear masks to limit the spread of COVID-19 “silliness” and a “charade.” He suggested that statistics about the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are suspicious and urged people to contact him with any first-hand information they had about rumors that people were being declared positive without having been tested. McCoy challenged people to show up for church on Sunday, implying that God would be watching to see who really has faith.
McCoy said he warned the county health official that the church has “lawyered up” and that he has started working his political connections. McCoy said he hoped that information about his church’s defiance would reach President Donald Trump.
Godspeak held three services on Sunday without government interference. On Monday, McCoy hosted a livestream on which he played video of the now-infamous press conference featuring a Nigerian doctor who vehemently claimed that hydroxychloroquine is a “cure” for the COVID-19 virus and that mask-wearing is unnecessary.
Joining McCoy for Monday’s livestream was blogger Dr. Keith Rose, who had hosted McCoy and Council for National Policy President Bob McEwen on his own podcast a week earlier. On that show, McCoy responded to pastors who criticize his defiance of the governor by citing a scriptural passage from Romans 13—which instructs people to obey government authorities—by saying that in the U.S., the people are the governing authority. McCoy added:
And then it goes on to say in Romans 13, that we’re ministers of justice to execute wrath on those who would do evil. We don’t carry the sword in vain. The sword is the Second Amendment. And that’s the right to bear arms. Because power wants to concentrate.
McCoy went on to say that the Founding Fathers knew that every king needs a counselor, and that in the U.S. the free press and the church were to proclaim and defend the truth. “But the press has been bought. And the pulpits are silent. And the king is without a counselor. And now we’re in trouble because power wants to concentrate. And since we are being duped and there’s censorship happening, the king doesn’t have access to the necessary information to make proper decisions.”
On Monday night’s livestream, McCoy and Rose agreed that a vague but definitely evil and Marxist “they” are trying to control Americans by spreading unnecessary fear about COVID-19. And they complained about “censorship” by “the tech oligopoly” that took action against the video they were promoting. Rose asserted that people should not wear masks. During Monday night’s livestream, McCoy also argued that America is not systemically racist and read a letter he had received from a demoralized law enforcement officer.
On Tuesday night, McCoy hosted another “urgent” livestream that he said was dedicated to “embattled law enforcement agents whose hearts are just being crushed by what’s going on across the nation as they are holding that thin blue line.” McCoy and his colleagues complained that YouTube had taken down the video of Monday night’s program, presumably for violating guidelines against spreading false information about COVID-19. The church reposted the program on Vimeo and on the church’s website.
McCoy portrayed the takedown of the video as an attack on freedom of speech and religion and the church’s ability to seek truth:
And so as we broadcast from our sanctuary under a 501(c)(3), as a nonprofit, and we address this from our Christian perspective, and then the governor shuts our church down but allows us to livestream, but if anything disagrees with what the governor says or the direction the governor has, they censor us. So they want to close our churches, put us on video, and then tell us what we can and can’t say. That doesn’t sound American to me.
McCoy resigned his seat on the Thousand Oaks city council in April when he decided that his church would defy public health orders and hold a Palm Sunday communion service. On July 16, McCoy and Kirk streamed a chat in which McCoy said people in California are “contending with a loss of liberty in a way I’ve never experienced in 55 years on this earth.” McCoy told Kirk that his church has not been and did not plan to abide by the governor’s restrictions.
McCoy is far from alone among California pastors in promoting conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and urging resistance to public health restrictions. McCoy is a close associate of Jack Hibbs, another Calvary Chapel pastor who participates in Lane’s American Renewal Project political events and who is an adviser to Trump. Hibbs, who has claimed that the COVID-19 virus is a Chinese biowarfare weapon unleashed on the world to disrupt the Trump administration, was part of a Church United effort to get churches to begin defying public health restrictions in May.
Well-known megachurch pastor John MacArthur made a splash late last week when he announced that his Grace Community Church in Southern California would defy the ban on indoor worship and singing this past Sunday. A statement from MacArthur and church elders declared “we cannot and will not acquiesce” to a “government-imposed moratorium” on worship gatherings. Historian and blogger John Fea commented, “MacArthur makes it sound like Newsom and all government officials concerned about the health of their citizens are somehow equivalent to an atheist totalitarian state trying to suppress all forms of religious belief.”
In his Saturday night message, McCoy took note of the attention MacArthur was getting, welcoming him to the resistance while implying that MacArthur was late to the game.
Last year, McCoy said in an interview that he had traveled the country with Lane’s American Renewal Project to get pastors to get more politically involved and to overcome the resistance they might have because “just like me they were inculcated and trained to believe that there was a separation of church and state, which does not exist.”
McCoy and Hibbs are working to try to shift California politics to the right by mobilizing conservative Christians. “We will not lose this state,” McCoy told attendees at a pre-election conference in 2018, promising to get millions of non-voting Christians in the state involved in the 2020 election. “We’re not giving up on this state,” he said. “This is ours. We are going to infuse the culture with the presence of Christ.” That same year, Texas fracking billionaire Dan Wilks, who funds Lane’s political organizing and other right-wing causes, bought and renovated a former YMCA building for McCoy’s church.