A conservative Christchurch pastor claims the Government is "seeking to rape me of my God-given right to worship Christ" after police confronted him over his hosting of an alert level 4 church service over the weekend.
Carl Bromley, the founder of the Life Connection Missionary Baptist Fellowship, pushed ahead with church on Sunday despite COVID-19 rules banning gatherings outside of one's own household bubble to prevent spread of the virus.
In the first of three videos he posted to social media on Sunday - which has since been removed from YouTube for medical misinformation - a police officer confronts Bromley over his plans to host the meeting.
She warns him he could face arrest or a fine, but he says he won't "bow down to any legislation that deprives me of my God-given right to worship", labelling it a breach of his human rights and telling her he's happy to be arrested and go to jail over it.
Bromley then compares the current COVID-19 public health measures with Nazi Germany, telling the officer: "Just because it's legal, doesn't make it right; just because it's illegal, doesn't mean it's wrong."
Some anti-lockdown activists have compared New Zealand's restrictions to the horrific Nazi regime of the 1930s, but there are marked differences between the two.
While the Government's alert level 4 regulations are designed to stop people falling ill and dying from COVID-19, the Nazi Party actively sought to marginalise, imprison and exterminate groups it deemed undesirable, particularly Jews and political dissidents.
Bromley's service went ahead, but the camera remains on him and it isn't clear how many others were in attendance. Bromley himself told Newshub it was a "small group" of people.
In a further video filmed after the service, Bromley can be seen accosting four police officers waiting outside his home to speak to church-goers about the health regulations.
"You waiting to pounce?" he asks them. "I'm the pastor here… are you waiting to arrest me after worship, are you?"
An officer responds by saying they weren't arresting anyone, just educating them on the COVID-19 regulations - a statement that got a laugh from Bromley, who said that was "what a totalitarian state is all about".
Police told Newshub no arrests were made or infringements issued during the incident, but they "will not hesitate to take enforcement action for deliberate and blatant breaches".
"The safety of our community is front of mind," a spokesperson said. "We continue to take an education-first approach to advise members of the public of the current alert level 4 restrictions."
Posting footage of the encounter to social media, Bromley said the Government was "seeking to rape me of my God-given right to worship Christ", and - like the "totalitarian foot soldier" police and the New Zealand public, who "endorse and tolerate this tyranny" - should be ashamed.
"I will die on this hill if need be, by the grace and provision of God," he writes.
Bromley told Newshub he opposed the lockdown for a number of reasons, including that he believed it was disproportionate to the risks associated with COVID-19 and didn't think an elimination strategy was realistic.
He also made several unfounded claims, including that the Government locked down the country as part of a conspiracy to encourage more people to get vaccinated, and had violated human rights and the Nuremberg Code.
Wesleyan Methodist minister and media chaplain Frank Ritchie tells Newshub a "particular strain" of the Christian community take Bromley's attitude to COVID-19 public health measures, but doesn't think it's representative of Christians at large.
He says theology and anti-Government sentiment probably fuels the resistance to complying with alert level 4 rules, but believes most of the community sees the merits in protecting vulnerable people and stopping the health system getting overloaded.
"The biggest denominations in New Zealand are the Catholics by far and then the Anglicans," he explains.
"From what I can see they're well and truly on board, encouraging their people to follow the rules, encouraging their people to get vaccinated - and I think that would be true of most teachers around the country."
Ritchie says COVID-19 in the community carries a clear health danger, and it's beholden on Christians to look out for others by following the Government guidelines.
He also disagrees with Bromley's assessment that the Government is taking away his ability to worship by imposing alert level 4 rules.
"We have the ability to worship in many ways now - it doesn't have to be a gathering in large groups; we have the ability to use digital forms of communication to worship," he said.
"Families get to gather together and worship within their bubbles, and as alert levels go down we'll be able to get back together."
Bromley is well-known for opposing the Government's response to COVID-19.
He is an associate of Lee Williams, an alleged white supremacist who was fired by Synlait in June following a widespread campaign pushing for him to be sacked.
He is also a friend of Kyle Chapman, best known as the founder of neo-Nazi group Right Wing Resistance, who spent the weekend behind bars after being arrested for alleged alert level 4 lockdown breaches.
Bromley did not comment on whether he would host another service at alert level 4 this Sunday.
A number of church gatherings have been halted by police since the COVID-19 pandemic first made its way to New Zealand, drawing complaints from sections of the Christian community who have claimed it's a breach of the Bill of Rights.
National MP Simon O'Connor last year grilled then-Health Minister David Clark over the Government's alert level 2 rules, asking why they allow more people to attend strip clubs than religious gatherings.
Dr Clark said this was because commercial premises such as strip clubs had requirements to ensure people did not intermingle.