Leaders from the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church in Island City, the epicenter for Oregon’s biggest COVID-19 outbreak, have declined to respond to multiple media requests for interviews, including from the Herald’s sister paper, The Observer in La Grande.

This reticence is perhaps not surprising.

But it’s not as shocking as the video message church leader James Parker posted to the church’s Facebook page on June 16, after testing had confirmed that the vast majority of Union County’s infections — more than 235 of them — were connected to the church (the post was later deleted, according to a report in The Oregonian).

Parker said: “Our fruit will show that what we did is the right thing. And more people need to do what we did. And the more people that do the right thing, the easier it’s going to be for the rest of the world to combat this, this pandemic that we’re going through.”

No evidence has been made public showing that Parker has an advanced degree in epidemiology, virology or any other discipline that would lend a shred of credibility to his claim.

To the contrary, those who do have such expertise have been quite clear in saying that the sorts of gatherings the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church hosted in April and May are exactly the wrong thing to do.

It’s difficult to imagine a more brazen example of irresponsibility during the world’s most serious pandemic in 102 years.

As of Wednesday, none of the 287 Union County residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 has died.

But the church’s recklessness has harmed the Union County economy. County commissioners, understandably, reverted to the more stringent restrictions under phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan.

The closures caused by the pandemic have had spiritual costs as well as financial ones. The former are significant, as churchgoers in many cases have been unable to worship as they normally do.

But many other local churches — indeed, it appears all of them, except the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church — have confronted the challenges and continued to serve their congregations without putting them, or the community at large, at undue risk.

Which is to say, all those churches, to borrow Parker’s phrase, did the right thing.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor

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