Many people eager to bypass pandemic restrictions have come from out of state to attend church services at Locke’s Global Vision Bible Church in Mt. Juliette, Tennessee.
His audience has grown since December when CNN interviewed him. He preaches under a circus tent twice the size of his old one. It has large professional lighting fixtures and a toilet trailer. He said he is now even more opposed to the vaccine.
” I do not understand. I’m not promoting it, ”he said during his Sunday service on May 23, which CNN attended. “And I am discouraging everyone in this attempt to get it.” “
But Locke’s preaching on Covid-19, and the vaccines designed to fight it, had already caused a family breakdown when a member died from the virus.
Since then, his family have mourned his death – but are divided over Locke’s take on the virus.
“I lost my relationship with my uncle because of the church,” Coburn Kennedy’s nephew Chip Davis told CNN. “There can be no justice for my uncle. He left. I think if Greg found a minimum of humility and just said ‘I was wrong.’ … Change is possible. “
During phone calls, interviews and family visits that lasted two weeks and included two bluegrass performances, a story of the Kennedy-Davis clan and how a mixture of music and faith brought it mines from West Virginia coal to Nashville country music. scene.
Davis and his brother Billy, who are singer-songwriters outside of Nashville, said they did not attend their uncle’s funeral.
“Because that would have meant being in the presence of Greg Locke, and a lot of people I don’t think are thinking right now,” Billy Davis said.
Chip Davis didn’t go either. He said that Locke’s dissemination of false information could be harmful.
“If you don’t want to get the vaccine, it’s entirely up to you,” he said. “But spreading misinformation about it is completely wrong, in my opinion. And that could potentially lead to more loss of life. ”
Locke agreed to an in-person interview with CNN on May 24, but canceled 20 minutes before the start. He did not respond to CNN’s email with questions, including about Kennedy’s death.
However, in a statement on Facebook, Locke said when he went to the interview he was supposed to have with CNN he felt nauseous and then God told him to cancel it.
Hours later, he broadcast a live stream on Facebook, in which he called CNN’s three-woman team “evil jezebel spirits.”
“They are trying to say that we are killing people,” he said. “They’re trying to say we’ve had a Covid outbreak. … If you want to kick me out of church with a whip, you better be a grown man, ladies and gentlemen, a full grown man, that’s what I’m telling you. And I’m sick of their nonsense.
A tragic death and the love of music brought the family together
Davis’s parents were married as a teenager in McDowell County, West Virginia. They were strict Pentecostals. Their church preached healing by faith, and it was forbidden to go to the doctor.
The idea, Davis explained, is that if you can trust God with your immortal soul, you can trust Him with your mortal body.
Her mother, Arlene Davis, gave birth to her first child, a girl, at age 16. When she was about 7 months old, she got very sick.
The preacher, Davis said, “came and prayed for my sister around 5 pm. He told my mom her baby would be okay. And she died at 9 p.m. that night. It affected our whole life.
” I do not know why. But it is, ”Arlene Davis told CNN.
In an old oil painting, teenage Arlene Davis is seen smiling under a huge pile of red hair. At 84, she still wears a long red braid.
“I have always included her in everything, in the lives of my children,” Arlene Davis said of her daughter. “They always knew how I felt about her. And they like it very much. Oh yes, they like it very much. … It was still alive in our family that she existed, at least. “
Chip and Billy Davis both shared this story with CNN.
“I know mom blamed herself a lot, but I don’t blame my mom. Because she was a child. She entered this sect, and that’s what they told her. … She just accepted because she wanted to please God. “
With the death of their uncle, Billy said they saw history repeat itself.
“I asked Chip, ‘Don’t you think it’s funny that after all these years my mom loses someone else to another demagogue? Who tells people that science is funny or not fair? ‘ baby in 1953. And then here we are, in 2021, and she loses a brother, basically, because of the same doctrine.
When Chip was little, his father Raymond Davis said he received a call from God to become a preacher.
Raymond Davis has a slogan: “from the coal mine to the pulpit”. The family moved to Baltimore and Raymond led a Pentecostal church.
“We didn’t have a television. We weren’t dancing. We couldn’t go to the movies, ”said Chip Davis. Music was their only entertainment.
In the 1950s, Coburn Kennedy became a country music singer in the Detroit area under the name Ken Kennedy.
As a child, Chip Davis went door-to-door trying to sell his uncle’s record for 75 cents. In the 90s, Chip and Billy Davis moved to Nashville to be songwriters and backing vocalists. They wrote gospel songs even as Chip Davis was leaving Christianity. They wrote songs for the big country stars.
Eventually, their parents and siblings followed suit. Just like Coburn Kennedy and his family.
But the family was torn by the pandemic and Covid vaccines
When CNN interviewed Locke in December, the vaccine was not yet widely available.
“People can call us conspiracy theorists or whatever they want, but you know there’s aborted fetal tissue in the context of all of these vaccines,” Locke told CNN at the time.
Although fetal cell lines were used to develop the vaccines, they do not contain any fetal tissue.
Several church members repeated Locke’s false statement when speaking to CNN.
Some members of the Kennedy-Davis family have also echoed it.
After two Kennedy-Davis family reunions in December, several family members told CNN they had Covid. Arlene Davis, the mother of Chip and Billy, was hospitalized.
In February, according to screenshots viewed by CNN, the vaccine appeared during a family group chat.
A cousin from West Virginia had shared information on how to get vaccinated in the area.
Coburn Kennedy replied, “Well… that’s good and all… but there is stuff in this vaccine… like aborted fetuses… so… as for me… I will do as I have for many, many years… I will put all my trust in my Almighty God… but it’s only me… everyone does what they feel… (heart emoji) my family. “
The cousin said, “There are no aborted fetuses in the vaccines. Yes, you are right to trust Almighty God. This is where I put my trust in Him too. I know he gave people the knowledge to do the vaccines. “
Coburn Kennedy responded again by saying, “Well… to each their own… but it has been proven… that it is… take the vaccine if you want… and God bless you”. .. I will not take it. “
Two months later, Coburn Kennedy fell ill on Easter Sunday. After he did not improve for several days, he was hospitalized and quickly put on a ventilator.
A few days later he died. Locke preached at the memorial service.
Yet the family remains close – even with their political differences
The family is close, although they are politically divided.
At the start of the 2016 campaign, Chip Davis said he and his mother posed for a photo, him in a Senator Bernie Sanders shirt, her in a Donald Trump shirt. At the time, they thought it was funny. But after the election, the gap widened.
“They think my mom and I are stupid, okay?” Raymond said. ” Why? Because of their opinions, and they can’t believe we believe like we do. “
“Of course, Chip didn’t like him, and Billy didn’t like him,” Arlene Davis, his mother, said of Trump. “But I liked him. It was a small flaw. But it will work. I’m sure it will be okay. “
Chip Davis said he also couldn’t fathom what drew his family to Locke, another polarizing figure.
He said he encountered Locke’s videos on social media, recalling the one involving a mask dispute with a Dunkin ‘Donuts employee. In it, Locke said he threatened, “If you call me a liar again, I’m going to take these work boots and stick my teeth down your throat.” “
“It was like looking at a wreck,” said Chip Davis. “You don’t want to look but like, you can’t turn away. “
When his family invited him to go to Global Vision, he refused, which he said created tension between them.
“I was just trying to show my family, how can you tell he’s a man of God?” “
But on Sunday, after Locke’s service in which he called himself an anti-vaxxer, Chip Davis said his mother called in tears. She hadn’t been able to talk to CNN about her brother on camera, but there were things she wanted us to know.
“I listened to this sermon on Sunday and it hurt me a bit,” Arlene Davis told CNN.
She said she didn’t want to say harsh words about Locke. But she said she also didn’t know Locke was preaching against the vaccine.
“I think preachers – my personal opinion – should preach on the Bible,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what the doctor does. It doesn’t matter what the lawyers do. You keep your nose in the word, and keep it there. “
Yet the Kennedy-Davis family remains torn by vaccines.
Arlene Davis said she still doesn’t know if she will get the vaccine herself.
William Kennedy, Coburn’s son, said that even after his father’s death he believed “in the grand scheme of things it is not worth (Covid-19) to shut down the whole country”.