Video in which a pastor in Niles, Michigan apparently attributed the COVID death of a parishioner to his lack of faith has sparked criticism online.
Lead Pastor of Michiana Christian Embassy, Rev. Jeffrey Whittaker, presided over the funeral service of 71-year-old Les Tom on December 13, ABC 57 reported.
YouTube footage of the service shows Whittaker taking a swipe at coronavirus safety measures across the country and questioning why people did not attend in person.
"We welcome masks, sit here, sit there," Whittaker said. "We answered people's questions for Sheri's funeral and for Les's funeral and guess what, they were liars and hypocrites and cowards."
"Why? Because 'I want to come but I want to make sure I can social distance.'"
"If you wear something, you wear something for love. If you take it off, you take it off for love. And you are a slave to nothing. And you tell me if you have half of a brain left that our country is not being led by the nose into absolute slavery."
He compared the U..S. population of around 330 million with the death toll of around 300,000, saying "that's point one percent."
"He [Les] died of COVID because he's weak, because he has no faith," he added.
The sentiment, especially his comments about the percentage of deaths, sparked a strong reaction on YouTube, with one person commenting "all lives matter even if one person dies. This man is sickening."
The website Friendly Atheist posted a screengrab of a Facebook post no longer publicly available that was made by his granddaughter, Taylor Marie, in which she condemned the church.
She wrote: "Here's a video of the pastor saying my grandpa died because he's weak and had no faith." Newsweek has contacted Marie and the Michiana Christian Embassy for comment.
However, Whittaker told ABC 57 the comment was taken out of context did not reflect the whole picture of his two hour sermon.
Meanwhile, parishioners who attended the service defended Whittaker, with Terry Ecktezksein telling the network: "Sometimes Pastor is tongue and cheek and he will say things sarcastically or blatantly not true to get a point across.
"He would never blame somebody for their own death, he loved Les, they were good friends, it was God's timing."
An unnamed parishioner told the news outlet that "he has spent countless hours having coffee with me on the couch in his office or at Martin's, never asking for a dime. He does this not just for our church body but the Niles, Michiana community."
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