Evangelical pastor Jentezen Franklin, a Georgia-based televangelist whose fellowship includes seven mega-church campuses, has tested positive for the coronavirus — about a week after a White House Christmas party.
The news was made public when Franklin didn’t show up for church on Sunday at the Free Chapel in Gainesville. His colleague, Pastor Javon Ruff, broke the news to their congregation.
“We want to make you aware that pastor Franklin has come in contact with COVID, but he is doing perfectly fine,” said Ruff, according to local media reports.
“He actually is doing great. He went and got tested and his test came back positive so he is doing the right thing to do and staying quarantined and continuing to be distanced,” Ruff continued. Video footage of that day’s service reportedly shows at least 100 churchgoers, many unmasked, the Independent reported.
“We’ll continue to pray and lift him up,” Ruff said in his statement, which included the news that the Free Chapel’s Christmas Eve service will go on virtually this year, “out of an abundance of caution.”
Franklin’s fellowship boasts five houses of worship throughout Georgia, in Gainesville, Gwinnett, Braselton, Cumming and Atlanta, plus one in Spartanburg, South Carolina and another in Orange County, California — each of which is led by a different minister and holds between 1,200-3,000 seats. His sermons are also broadcast on television and online, where the Free Chapel has a following of more than 229,000 on Facebook and over 18 million views on their YouTube channel.
On Dec. 15, Franklin shared images from the White House on Instagram with his 717,000 followers.
“Thank you @flotus and @realdonaldtrump for inviting us. It was gorgeous! Merry Christmas everyone!,” he captioned the post.
President Trump has hosted several Christmas parties this month, and it’s not known if he was at the one Franklin and his daughter attended.
Ruff reportedly told the Free Chapel congregation that Franklin tested positive for COVID-19 after coming into contact with an infected member of the church.
While there is no evidence to show Franklin contracted the coronavirus at the Christmas party, a previous gathering at the White House Rose Garden in late September is thought to have caused an outbreak among dozens of administration staffers.
“We had a super spreader event in the White House and it was in a situation where people were crowded together, were not wearing masks. So the data speak for themselves,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CBS News at the time.