After the pastor of a black Baptist church in Virginia tested positive for COVID-19, the church attacked local media for reporting on his case and how he may have put others in the community at risk. The pastor joins a number of clergy members across the country struck by the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, including the Episcopal rector at Christ Church Georgetown in Washington, D.C., two Catholic priests in Brooklyn, New York, and an Episcopal rector (who is the sister of actor Matthew Broderick) in Beverly Hills, California.
As of March 21, more than 307,000 people globally have been infected, and more than 13,000 have died. The United States, the country with the third-highest number of infected persons, has more than 26,000 who have tested positive and 340 dead.
On Thursday (March 19), Crossroads Baptist Church in Bailey’s Crossroads, a Virginia suburb in the Washington, D.C. area, posted on its website that its senior pastor, Kenny Baldwin, was in the hospital being treated for pneumonia. They urged prayers for his recovery as “as doctors fully diagnose him and determine the best course of treatment.” The next day, the church posted an update explaining that while Baldwin was doing better, he had tested positive for COVID-19.
“The doctors suspected this from the time he was admitted, but we obviously had to await confirmation,” the church’s statement added. “They have treated him for the last couple of days with that possibility in mind, and they believe he has endured the worst and is on the upswing. By God’s grace we are navigating this situation.”
The church provided visitor card information and video surveillance to help the Fairfax County Health Department contact individuals who attended the service, recommending the attendees self-quarantine for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus in the community. The church had previously canceled all upcoming in-person church services.
After a local NBC affiliate reported March 20 on Baldwin’s status, the church posted a lengthy update on their website the next day attacking the station for “incorrect statements” and encouraging church members to contact the station with complaints about the story by reporter Shomari Stone.
The church’s Facebook page included a link to their online statement, but also added on March 21 about the news report: “Satan is busy, but we are not ignorant of his ways.”
The first complaint listed on the church’s website was that the anchor introducing the segment said members who attended the March 15 service needed “self-quarantine until the end of the month” when the actual date is March 29 (the date the reporter said later in the actual segment). The church’s statement argued that saying “the end of the month” is off by two days and “creates a more ominous and newsworthy statement.”
The church also complained the reporter implied “our pastor conducted services on Sunday with a suspicion of being ill.” Yet, the church’s statement calling the report “untrue” actually noted Baldwin went to a local clinic two days before the service with a fever, headache, and sore throat while in North Carolina. They claim a doctor told him his “symptoms were not consistent with COVID-19” so he continued with his preaching as he was “feeling well and being asymptomatic” on Sunday.
The church particularly criticized the reporter for noting that the Thursday before the March 15 service Virginia Governor Ralph Northam “declared a state of emergency and advised all Virginians to avoid large gatherings.” Northam did make that declaration, and the next day closed all public schools in the state.
The church insisted they didn’t ignore the governor since there was not a direct order against their service. Rather, they said they didn’t consider their crowd of 150 a large gathering, and they noted it wasn’t until Sunday afternoon that Northam issued a ban on gatherings of more than 100 people — though many other states and communities across the country had before that Sunday banned mass gatherings with the definition of larger than 100. The church canceled its Sunday night service and other activities after that ban.