A megachurch in New Mexico is attempting to scrub footage of a service it held on Christmas Eve in violation of rules regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
Known as Legacy, the church deleted footage on Sunday from its social media accounts that showed hundreds of worshippers singing.
Legacy’s attempt to wipe the video from the internet came shortly after local media outlets began covering its large gathering. Unsurprisingly, efforts by the church to conceal the footage caused it to spread even further, with viral posts on sites such as Reddit criticizing Legacy’s actions.
“The megachurch that selfishly broke COVID restrictions to hold Christmas Eve service is trying to scrub all the video footage from their social media accounts right now,” u/the_hundreth_human wrote in a post that has received more than 121,000 upvotes.
The gathering has infuriated many given the fact that the church also received a nearly $1 million PPP loan from the government.
While churches located in the area are allowed to congregate, state rules dictate that gatherings must be limited to 25% capacity.
In a statement on the matter, Legacy defended the largely mask-less gathering by arguing that it was “called on by God” to hold the service.
“We have taken the pandemic seriously from the start, and have prudent measures in place,” the church said. “But when governments exceed their constitutional authority and contradict what we are called on by God to do, we answer first to His authority.”
Legacy’s service didn’t just catch the attention of local media but of state health officials as well.
Tripp Stelnicki, the spokesperson for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, likewise blasted the church for its “selfish gatherings.”
“They endangered the lives, livelihoods and health of not only their parishioners but their entire communities — and given how quickly this virus can spread, potentially our state as a whole,” Stelnecki said.
The state on Monday sent Legacy as well as a second church known as Calvary notices of “contemplated action,” informing the congregations that they would be fined up to $10,000 each.
Given how much money untaxed megachurches bring in, it remains unclear whether the small fine will dissuade the church from holding large gatherings in the future.