A Michigan widow, whose Christian husband recently died from COVID-19, is defending her embattled pastor over his comments that he died from the virus because he had no faith.
The widow, Ruthann Tom, told ABC57 that she thinks the comments her pastor, the Rev. Jeffrey Whittaker of Michiana Christian Embassy in Nile, made about her late husband, Les Tom, were “taken out of context.”
“I listened to the sermon and it was taken out of context, it was uplifting and encouraging and nothing bad was said about my husband,” Tom said.
Her husband died in November after both of them contracted COVID-19.
“He went in first, then I started having symptoms so they put me in,” she said. “I was able to see him before he died and then they sent me home and several days later he died.”
Whittaker would later lead the funeral service for Les Tom, who died at 71, and his widow said it was “exceptional.”
In a sermon broadcast on the church’s Facebook page on Dec. 13, Whittaker made the controversial comment about Les Tom’s faith and it enraged one of the late parishioner’s granddaughter as well as his stepson, who publicized it on social media.
“We do not disrespect Les; he died of COVID because he’s weak, because he has no faith," Whittaker said during the Dec. 13 service.
The pastor also lashed out at other parishioners during the service for not wanting to attend in-person services.
“We welcome masks, sit here, sit there; we answered people’s questions for Sheri’s funeral and for Les’ funeral and guess what, they were liars and hypocrites and cowards,” Whittaker said. “Why? Because ‘I want to come but I want to make sure I can social distance.’”
Other parishioners who attended the controversial service, like Terry Ecktezksein, told ABC57 that she thinks the pastor was just being sarcastic.
“Sometimes pastor is tongue and cheek and he will say things sarcastically or blatantly not true to get a point across; he would never blame somebody for their own death. He loved Les, they were good friends. It was God’s timing,” Ecktezksein said.
While Ruthann Tom doesn’t believe her pastor was being sarcastic, she declined discussing his comments further except to say she believes he was speaking from the heart over an issue that has divided the country.
“Our nation’s divided, but tension between the church? No,” she said before sharing how much the church helped her and late husband.
“When my husband and I first started going to church there we were on the verge of divorce and the Holy Spirit got ahold of both of us,” she explained. “My husband was dedicated to the church and it would hurt him to know this was going on. He was a good man.”
As of Thursday morning, there have been at least 549,467 coronavirus cases and 13,657 deaths in Michigan since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database.