Tennessee pastor threatens to boot mask-wearers from church

A Tennessee pastor is drawing attention after threatening to boot mask-wearing congregants from his church, while dismissing growing concerns about the COVID-19 delta variant.

“If they go through round two and you start showing up [with] all these masks and all this nonsense, I will ask you to leave,” Pastor Greg Locke, who is based near Nashville, told churchgoers on Sunday, according to the Lexington Herald Leader.

The news comes as the state, which has one of the lower vaccination rates in the country, has seen an uptick in cases.

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Last week, a state official announced that Tennessee would be resuming nearly all of its adolescent vaccine advocacy efforts after sparking blowback that it reportedly planned to end youth outreach regarding the pandemic.

At the national level, the Biden administration has been taking additional steps aimed at curbing the spread of the delta variant. The White House announced this week that the U.S. will keep in place international travel restrictions as a precautionary COVID-19 measure.

As he delivered remarks at the Global Vision Bible Church on Sunday, Locke railed against what he called “Democrat games” and pushed back on concerns over the delta variant.

“I am not playing these Democrat games up in this church,” he said.

In a video seen by the Herald Leader, Locke also criticized fellow pastors he claimed were “afraid to baptize” people because of the delta variant.

“I ain’t playing these stupid games,” he reportedly said. “A bunch of pastors talking about how much they want to see people heal and they’re afraid to baptize people because of a delta variant — I’m sick of it.”

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According to the newspaper, Locke was in the news earlier in the pandemic for making controversial remarks about the virus. When places of worships were moving their services online to comply with coronavirus guidelines last July, Locke reportedly vowed to remain open and said churchgoers didn’t have to wear a mask or practice social distance.

“We are staying open. You ain’t gotta wear a mask. We’re not social distancing,” he reportedly said at the time.

The paper reported that hundreds of people later gathered in Washington state — many violating mask mandates — to attend an event hosted by Locke.