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Annapolis Valley Register - 2021-11-25

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Unrepentant sermon was final straw

CREATING PORTRAITS AFFORDABLE HOUSING

GAIL LETHBRIDGE glethbridge@herald.ca @chronicleherald

An apology that contains the word “but” is not an apology. Nor is it an expression of remorse. The word “but” makes it a justification, not an apology. And so we have our church pastor at the centre of a COVID-19 outbreak that has taken three lives so far sounding decidedly unremorseful about his role in this tragedy. Consider these “but” comments: “Is the thing unfortunate?” said Robert Smith, pastor of the Gospel Light Baptist Church in Amherst during a Sunday sermon. “Yes, but I’m not ashamed because I did what I’m 110 per cent sure Christ wanted me to do.” And this: “People are trying to shame us, but I will never be ashamed of what I do for Christ.” These comments don’t exactly scream “sorry” or that he accepts any responsibility for the weeklong faith gathering at his church in late October, which broke provincial COVID protocols and which has been linked to a spike in infections and an outbreak in the East Cumberland Lodge long-term care home in the Amherst area. No. What I’m hearing is that the pastor is making this all about him. He feels that he and his church are the victims here, and not the three people who died, their families or the others who have fallen ill with COVID. Well, he may not be willing to take responsibility for this, but I’m going to say it: Shame on you, Pastor Robert. The “buts” come after the faith conference in which about 100 participants who came from all over the province were not asked to show proof of vaccination. In a sermon live-streamed on Facebook, the pastor justified the event as something that was all part of God’s plan. “I followed what God wanted us to do,” Smith told his followers. “We had a great week of meetings … a young lady got saved.” The young lady notwithstanding, those comments are a slap in the face to the families of those people who died and the whole community that is now coping with the repercussions of the outbreak. They are also slap to all Nova Scotians who have been vaccinated and who are following public health orders. Public outrage was reflected in comments from Premier Tim Houston and chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang during their update last week. The premier characterized the pastor’s comments and his downplaying of deaths as “disgusting.” On Nov. 17, the premier announced the pastor would be issued the maximum fine — $2,422 for failing to follow the Public Health Act. This fine is also a slap in the face of those who lost their lives. The summary offence ticket hardly reflects the consequences of this violation. That’s $807.33 per death. They might have levied that fine for every single day of the event and to every single person who attended. A couple of weeks ago, the province fined a community centre in Woods Harbour $11,000 for violating COVID-19 rules at a Halloween event. On Nov. 18, the premier announced government is ratcheting up fines. Now the people who don’t follow the rules will face a fine of $11,622 for a first offence, $57,622 for the second and each subsequent offence. There will also be the possibility of jail time. These fines cannot be applied retroactively. What the province hasn’t done is remove the exemption for all faith services. As things stand now, regular services are still not required to show proof of vaccination because they are considered essential, like grocery stores and hospitals. Removing the “essential” exemption would take away any doubt or room for interpretation. And how about calling this violation what it is? A potential crime. The pastor and his church have opened themselves up to charges of criminal negligence causing death. Such charges may yet be laid after the Amherst police complete their investigation. I also find it sad that it took offensive comments and “buts” from the pastor to beef up these fines. If he hadn’t made those remarks, things would not have changed. Gail Lethbridge is a freelance journalist in Halifax.

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