Originally published in The Christian Post.
Leader of Revival International Ministries and The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida, Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, appears to be mending fences with Hillsborough County Sheriff, Chad Chronister, who had him arrested in March for hosting in-person church services during the coronavirus pandemic.
Howard-Browne, who had warned that Chronister would have to “deal with Jesus” for his decision to arrest him, announced in a post on Facebook on April 29 that he had met with the sheriff at his home and discussed plans to reopen the county.
“Breaking News: So honoured to meet with Sheriff Chad Chronister today! He came to our house and met with @adonicashowardbrowne and I. We had a great lunch together. We discussed the way forward in the opening up of Hillsborough County and the role of the @rivertampabay River Church in cooperation with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s department. It’s time to get our County back to normalcy – thank you Sheriff Chronister”, he wrote.
Chronister confirmed the meeting in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times.
“I met with Pastor Howard-Browne to discuss the future, not the past”, the sheriff said. “We have committed to moving forward together”.
The megachurch pastor was arrested in March for what officials said was the violation of a “safer-at-home” order, which prohibited large worship services during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. His arrest order shows that he was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, which are both second-degree misdemeanours, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a maximum fine of $500.
The charges are being contested on the megachurch pastor’s behalf by Liberty Counsel, a non-profit litigation, education and policy organisation dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life and the family.
At the time of Howard-Browne’s arrest, Chronister — who had previously appeared at the pastor’s church as a guest of honour during his “Sheriff Appreciation Day” — called the pastor’s decision to hold in-person worship services “reckless”.
“Our goal is not to stop people from worshipping”, Chronister said at a news conference, “but the safety and well-being of our community must always come first”.