The pastor of an evangelical church in France unfairly blamed by the French government for spreading coronavirus across the country has spoken to the BBC.
Pastor Samuel Peterschmitt described death threats faced by his congregation and hit back at accusations that the church was responsible for the outbreak in France.
He said members of the church had been assaulted and social media postings had said the church should be burned and its members shot with Kalashnikovs.
The Porte Ouverte church in Alsace held its annual conference in February, which attracted local and international visitors.
The conference has run every year for 25 years. At the time, France had not yet placed any restrictions on large gatherings.
Some 2,000 people attended the conference. Days later, up to 80 people who had been at the conference were admitted to hospital with the virus, and 29 have died.
At the end of March, French health minister Olivier Véran said, ‘The tipping point was the evangelical gathering at Mulhouse. It’s really from there that the epidemic spread.’
Investigators from the French health authorities found infected people linked to the church all over France and across the world.
Peterschmitt says the church is being used as a scapegoat. He says many insults and threats have been made against the church.
There have been death threats on social media saying, ‘They must be shot with Kalashnikovs. We must burn the church.’
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, ‘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’.