An evangelical church in France has been targeted with death threats after it was unfairly blamed for spreading COVID-19.
The Christian Open Door Church held a conference attended by approximately 2,500 people in February, three weeks before large gatherings were banned.
In a BBC interview, Pastor Samuel Peterschmitt revealed the threats his church had received included one person saying: “They must be shot with Kalashnikovs. We must burn the church.”
Following the conference, 29 attendees died and over 70 people became severely ill. Those who attended the event from overseas had already returned home before the issue became apparent.
Peterschmitt said his church became a “scapegoat”, resulting in members being assaulted at work and receiving “nasty texts” from their neighbours.
The situation was made worse when the French Health Minister claimed: “The tipping point was the evangelical gathering at Mulhouse. It’s really from there that the epidemic spread.”
However the pastor said that if his church had “any doubt” about the danger of infection at the time, they would have “immediately suspended everything”.
He added: “This is not the time for war, we must not have division, we must unite against the disease. We must not choose the wrong enemy.”
The French Evangelical Alliance described the church as being “unjustly under the fire of the media and social media”.
Last month, religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide called on governments to be watchful of increased religious persecution, saying that “religious communities that regularly experience violations may be targeted further, including with accusations of being ‘carriers’ of the virus”.
Open Doors, which monitors global persecution of Christians, reported that conspiracy theories and misinformation have led to attacks on churches.
It reported that one church in Russia was falsely alleged to have continued meeting during the lockdown, leading to an attempted arson attack on another evangelical church.