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Pastor Guillermo Maldonado, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump who leads a megachurch in South Florida, warned the churchgoers who turned up on Sunday that fear over the coronavirus was a “demonic spirit” and encouraged them to keep attending church, despite warnings from public health officials to avoid crowded spaces.

The Miami Herald reported that Maldonado asked the congregation: “Do you believe God would bring his people to his house to be contagious with the virus?”

“Of course not,” he said. “This service is usually packed. So now they’re home in a cave afraid of the virus, that you want to transmit the virus. If we die, we die for Christ. If we live, we live for Christ, so what do you lose?”

But local and federal officials have encouraged people to stay away from gatherings of more than 50 people to help keep the virus from spreading rapidly, with many religious institutions deciding to limit large-scale services, the Herald noted.

“The pastor’s comments on Sunday morning also follow statements in a now-deleted Facebook video that was broadcast to millions of Maldonado’s followers, downplaying fears of exposure and advising parishioners who were thinking of skipping the Sunday service who might feel sick,” the newspaper reported.

“You have two choices. Come in and receive your healing, or stay home and miss out,” the pastor warned in the post.

Other pastors at the church reportedly told the congregation that it is important to continue giving the church money during the coronavirus outbreak as well, despite the fact that many Americans will be under financial strain as the economy suffers under social distancing measures.

“Now is not the time to hold back your giving, now is not the time to hold back you tithe, because if you do that, you could be like one of those who one day had, and now a few weeks later, a few days later, have nothing,” Pastor Frank Hechevarria told followers. “Your economy is not the economy of the world. You operate in a higher economy and the economy of the kingdom of God.”

Maldonado appeared to reject any sense that he is acting irresponsibly by encouraging people to continue attending church.

“Do you mean you call me irresponsible for bringing the people of God to the House of God where the power and the presence of God is?” he said. “Coronavirus, 5,984 people infected in the world and there’s 2 percent death. See what fear makes you see? I think Mr. President is watching right now. Mr. President, Donald Trump is watching the service. Can you put your hands together, please?”

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