Open Doors, an international Christian aid organization, told Breitbart News in a recent interview that the Chinese coronavirus pandemic has allowed repressive forces to more ably target vulnerable Christians, from denying them health care to offering to trade their faith for food.
While, in the West, Christians have faced legal restrictions banning them from attending church services or celebrating Christian holidays in person, persecution in other parts of the world has come in a variety of more brutal forms, from jihadists in Africa taking advantage of weak governments to expand their influence to local officials denying Christians food during lockdowns if they do not convert.
Open Doors USA Director of Communications Amy Lamb listed Malaysia, Nigeria, parts of the Middle East, Vietnam, and India as areas where the organization has witnessed particularly alarming actions towards Christian minorities directly tied to pandemic policies.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly increased persecution for Christians abroad, especially in places like India and the Middle East, where Christians are experiencing relief discrimination solely because of their religious identity,” Lamb explained. “These are places where many Christians were marginalized and consequently impoverished before the pandemic began. Now that their economic situation has gone from bad to worse, Christians are more dependent on relief aid for basic essentials like food and hygiene items.”
Open Doors began warning of abuses against Christians in India tied to pandemic concerns as early as April of this year. Speaking to Breitbart News at the time, David Curry, the organization’s CEO, said Open Doors had documented cases of Indian government officials forcing Christian health workers to treat the coronavirus patients considered most dangerous because “they are considered dispensable.” While the health workers, he noted, did not object to the work, evidence existed of systematically excluding Hindu workers from the least desired emergency shifts.
In her responses to Breitbart News’ questions this week, Lamb listed “relief discrimination, forced conversion, and the spread of extremist violence” as the three largest emerging threats to Christians tied to the pandemic. The first is simply denying Christians medical care or food, or other aid, when businesses shut down; the second, offering the aid only in exchange for the Christians renouncing their faith; and the third is the case of anti-Christian extremists attacking Christians with the knowledge that the government above them is too busy fighting the pandemic to competently contain the threat.
“Open Doors has received reports that Christian converts in Malaysia are literally being told, ‘Return to Islam and we will give you food,'” Lamb said. “Similarly, Christians in the Middle East are hearing that they don’t qualify for essential food and hygiene relief because it has ‘been paid for by Islamic taxes.’ We’re concerned that this is pressuring people to choose between feeding their family and professing their faith.”
Similar reports have surfaced from China, where the Communist Party allows only Party-approved Christian worship. Beijing allows citizens to be members of only five faiths – Islam, Buddhist, Taoism, Catholicism, and “Christianity” – all under the leadership of Party-approved officials. Christians who worship privately at home or reject the communist indoctrination common in “patriotic” churches face legal retribution.
Bitter Winter, a global human rights magazine, revealed in July that local Communist officials had begun pressuring Christians in underprivileged parts of China to abandon their faith in exchange for financial support during coronavirus lockdowns. Those receiving food or financial aid from the state reportedly received messages from Party officials stating they must remove crosses and other religious symbols from their homes and replace them with communist iconography, such as images of dictator Xi Jinping.
Widespread eradication of public symbols of Christianity, which had already increased dramatically under Xi, accelerated during lockdowns, the magazine added. In at least one municipality in Shanxi province, officials ordered locals to “remove crosses, religious symbols, and images from the homes of people of [Christian] faith who receive social welfare payments and replace them with portraits of Chairman Mao and President Xi Jinping.”
In Nigeria, Lamb told Breitbart News, “lockdowns have left a void of governance that is allowing radical Islamic extremists like Boko Haram to carry out violent attacks against Christians and other religious minorities. Geographically, those attacks have become more widespread since the pandemic emerged.”
The government of Nigeria has claimed for years that Boko Haram no longer exists. President Muhammadu Buhari, shortly after winning the presidency in 2015, told the BBC of Nigeria’s struggle with the group, “we have won the war.”
In mid-December, the “defeated” Boko Haram took responsibility for the kidnapping of nearly 700 schoolboys in Katsina state, Nigeria – a northern state where Boko Haram rarely operates. Boko Haram jihadists typically keep to northeastern Borno state, where the group originated, or Adamawa, which shares its northern border with Borno. The kidnapping prompted at least ten schools to shut down entirely. Boko Haram, which opposes educating children outside of jihadist indoctrination, systematically targets Christian and secular schools.
The Nigerian government claimed this weekend to have liberated the children. It remains unclear at press time if the assailants received a ransom, or if the children were rescued at all – some reports speculated that they escaped on their own, as many of the girls famously kidnapped in Chibok, Borno, in 2014 did.
Lamb told Breitbart News her organization is urging American Christians to “pray for Christians abroad who are being pressured to recant their faith in order to feed or protect their families. Christians can also consider donating a portion of their holiday travel savings this year to providing emergency relief and spiritual support to Christians internationally who are suffering for their faith.”