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The founder of controversial megachurch Hillsong has defended a recently deceased congregant’s fatal refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by calling the choice a “personal decision.”
“While many of our staff, leadership and congregation have already received the COVID-19 vaccine, we recognize this is a personal decision for each individual to make with the counsel of medical professionals,” said the Australia-based church’s founder, Brian Houston, in a statement to CNN following the July 21 passing of 34-year-old Stephen Harmon, who died after contracting the coronavirus.
“On any medical issue, we strongly encourage those in our church to follow the guidance of their doctors,” Houston’s statement further noted, “any loss of life is a moment to mourn and offer support to those who are suffering and so our heartfelt prayers are with his family and those who loved him.”
The statement followed Houston’s announcement of Harmon’s death on social media.
“Stephen was just a young man in his early 30s,” Houston, 67, wrote in a now-deleted post. “He was one of the most generous people I know and he had so much in front of him. He would always turn up to our grandkids soccer games and he will be missed by so many,”
Indeed, Houston has since-deleted the majority of his tweets from the month of July, as well as his Instagram post memorializing Harmon.
Harmon, who attended Hillsong’s Los Angeles location, had made multiple social media posts mocking the coronavirus vaccine.
“I got 99 problems but a vax ain’t one,” he wrote in a June 13 Twitter post.
“Biden’s door to door vaccine ‘surveyors’ really should be called JaCovid Witnesses. #keepmovingdork,” he wrote in a separate tweet last month.
After being hospitalized for pneumonia and critically low oxygen levels at the Corona Regional Medical Center, located approximately an hour east of Los Angeles, Harmon informed his followers he was still in no hurry to receive the vaccine.
“I’m not against it, i’m just not in a rush to get it,” he wrote in a July 8 Instagram post, CNN reported. “Ironically, as I continue to lay here … in my covid ward isolation room fighting off the virus and pneumonia.”
After being placed on a ventilator, he again took to social media, this time to ask his followers to pray for him.
“If you don’t have faith that God can heal me over your stupid ventilator then keep the Hell out of my ICU room, there’s no room in here for fear or lack of faith!” he wrote on Twitter three days before his death.
Following the announcement of his death, his social media profiles were made private.
A COVID-19 doctor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles called Harmon’s passing “unbelievably demoralizing” and noted that almost exclusively unvaccinated people are dying of the virus.
“Virtually every single person that is getting sick enough to be admitted to the hospital has not been vaccinated,” Dr. Oren Friedman told KCBS-TV.
Hillsong did not return The Post’s request for comment.
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