Family accuses pastor of seemingly blaming parishioner for COVID-19 death

NOW: Family accuses pastor of seemingly blaming parishioner for COVID-19 death


NILES, Mich. -- A family is outraged over a video of a Niles pastor seemingly blaming their family member’s – and one of his parishioners – COVID-19 death on a lack of faith.

Michiana Christian Embassy previously held a funeral service for Les Tom, but now, Lead Pastor Rev. Jeffrey Whittaker’s Dec. 13 sermon is adding to the family’s heartache.

Whittaker spoke about his faith throughout the pandemic during the sermon.

“This is the stuff of where we are living right now, did God know COVID 19 was coming? No, no, it caught him by complete surprise,” said Rev. Whittaker.

Then discussing the funeral service for 71-year-old Tom and calling some parishioners hypocrites for not feeling comfortable attending in-person.

“We welcome masks, sit here, sit there; we answered people’s questions for Sheri’s funeral and for Les’s funeral and guess what, they were liars and hypocrites and cowards,” said Whittaker. “Why? Because ‘I want to come but I want to make sure I can social distance.’”

Then – a Facebook post this week from Tom’s granddaughter claimed in that same sermon, Whittaker blamed the victim for his death.

“We do not disrespect Les; he died of COVID because he’s weak, because he has no faith," said Whittaker during the Dec. 13 service.

Whittaker declined to speak with ABC57 on-camera but said the comment was taken out of context and the short clip does not paint the whole picture of his two hour sermon.

Some parishioners who were there that day came to his defense as well.

“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,” said Terry Ecktezksein.

Another – who wanted to remain anonymous – said Whittaker would never speak or wish ill on anyone.

“He has spent countless hours having coffee with me on the couch in his office or at Martin’s, never asking for a dime, he does this not just for our church body but the Niles, Michiana community.”

The family of Tom also declined to speak on-camera due to the grief of his loss and additional pain this video has caused.

Pastor Whittaker said he has attempted to contact the family multiple times since the incident.

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