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The First Pastor Arrested, and What Happened Next…




From Liberty Counsel

Police helicopters circled above and marked cars lined the street in front of his home. The pastor grabbed only his driver’s license and a little cash for bail, before answering the door.

The pastor opened the door.

“ARE YOU PACKING,” the officer asked.

“Of course not,” the pastor replied.  The police officers cuffed him like a common criminal. His wife watched as her husband was placed in the back of a squad car and driven to the county jail.

He was booked, fingerprinted, photographed for a mug shot, and placed in a cell while his wife waited in the lobby. After posting bail, he was released.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff made many false statements during a sensational press conference while the arrest was in progress. As a result, Pastor Rodney and The River at Tampa Bay Church received many death threats.

On the prior Thursday, March 26, the same Sheriff assured the pastor he could meet on Sunday. Florida had not banned worship, but the local county late Friday night issued new restrictions.

On Saturday night, the pastor had an uneasy feeling. He preached the morning service, yet the feeling grew. For the evening service, another preacher held the lectern, and Pastor Rodney attended from home.

It turns out the pastor’s unease was well founded, and likely a divine message from the Lord. The same Sheriff who gave the green light had planned an ambush, because of pressure over the weekend from the mayor. Deputies were sent to the evening service to arrest the pastor in front of the congregation.

When the deputies arrived and saw that Pastor Rodney was not there, they left. The next morning this shocking spectacle unfolded. The Pastor was booked on two misdemeanors.

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department’s written policy for handling misdemeanors is not to arrest, but to treat such citations like a traffic ticket. But Pastor Rodney was targeted to “send a message,” the Sheriff said. Within days of the arrest, the same Sheriff released over 100 convicted criminals. Tragically, one of them committed murder the next day!

Let me tell you a bit about The River at Tampa Bay Church.

Inside the church is a self-contained sustainable agriculture center. Tilapia fish and chickens fuel an aquaponic vegetable farm that feeds 900 needy inner-city families each week. The church has received several awards and commendations over the years, recognizing its long history of caring for the community. The River Church had even received a commendation from the Sheriff’s office, honoring the church for daring to go into the most dangerous parts of the city – places where even the police admit they do not go unless they have to go. The church has been credited for reducing crime in the inner city.

For a body of believers, “church” is more than music and a message. This church is active, and the people are encouraged through fellowship. For 24 years, this church has been the hands and feet of Christ in the community.

On March 30, 2020; Pastor Rodney was the first pastor in the nation to be arrested for exercising his Constitutional right to worship.

But this apparent tragedy gave courage to many more around the world, including some pastors we represent.

As a result of Liberty Counsel defending Pastor Rodney, two days later on April 1, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared attendance at churches and places of worship “essential activity.” He overrode every local restriction.

Following Christ’s example, Pastor Rodney prayed for the Sheriff. Several weeks later he called, seeking forgiveness. The Sheriff recently attended the church where the pastor publicly forgave him.

Because of the death threats, Pastor Rodney did not immediately re-open the church for in-person worship. The church met online until May 31, Pentecost Sunday, when it began outdoor services. Each evening, the church has held a four-hour revival for 91 consecutive days, counting today. The revival continues, as does indoor worship. The Stand, as Pastor Rodney calls it, has spawned many similar revival meetings across the country, even in cities town apart by riots. Last week, the church held an all-night prayer meeting for our nation.

But along with the rise of more brave pastors and strengthened resolve, so too came a renewed resolve among the tyrants. In the months that have passed since Pastor Rodney was arrested, other governors and local officials have launched their own illegal edicts against churches.

Pastors have been arrested – some with criminal charges. Churchgoers have been put on the equivalent of house arrest. And the City of Chicago has threatened to seize and destroy church buildings.

All because the brave pastors and their flocks chose to stand on the Constitution and the will of God in their lives.

Liberty Counsel is currently fighting for scores of churches against the illegal, unconstitutional restrictions placed against them by the Governors of California, Illinois, Kentucky, Virginia and Maine. We also represent about 2,000 pastors and churches in 44 states. We are deeply honored to stand alongside and represent these brave shepherds and believers.

We are fighting for the God given, unalienable and Constitutional RIGHT of religious freedom. Our fight for the church is the most important fight we wage. We are assured that the Gates of Hell will not prevail.

The church has never belonged to Caesar. The church belongs to God alone.  Therefore, any surrender of the church to Caesar is nothing short of treason to the King of Kings.


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  1. Remember this when Pritzker comes up for re-election.
    He’s killed more than a few small businesses in this state and I believe it to be part of some Democrat master plan being applied in states like New York, Michigan, and Illinois – all with Democrat governors, to blame it all on Trump.