By Joseph DeCaro, BosNewsLife International Correspondent
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– An influential Iranian official has accused “enemies of Islam” of donating money to the rapidly growing house churches in the strict Islamic nation.
In published remarks, Hojatoleslam Tarashioon, the general director of Comparative Religious Studies of Medhi Seminary in Qom, said the “enemies” donate at least $50,000 annually to house churches that often have memberships of up to 20 members.
It was not clear on what information he based these figures.
“This cult in recent years has become active and today they work under the pretext of cultural and educational centres and have expanded their activities in several provinces,” he said in comments monitored by BosNewsLife Tuesday, July 5.
Iranian Christians have made clear that it is difficult to provide financial aid to house churches as they are forced to operate underground amid a reported government crackdown.
With increasing surveillance from security officials, many Iranian Christian converts are unable to openly attend worship services at designated buildings for traditional churches as many of them are former Muslims, rights groups say.
Several Christians have been prosecuted for “apostasy”, or leaving Islam, including 33-year-old Yousef Nadarkhani, a pastor of the evangelical Church of Iran house church network.
There has been since this weekend over whether the supreme court has overturned his death sentence, as supporters and his lawyer still await an official notification from the perceived secretive judges.
He is also under pressure to recant his faith in Christ, said advocacy group Middle East Concern.
With the popularity of his and other house churches growing, influential Islamic leaders have accused them of moral and financial crimes as well as working “as spies for Britain, the United States and Israel.”
Iranian church leaders say there may be as many as 100,000 Christians in Iran.
Iran’s Islamic government reportedly launched a campaign to promote Sh’ite version of Islam both at home and in North Africa and the Sunni nations of the Gulf.
Advocacy groups and local Christians complain that while money is spent on building mosques and financing Islamic missions, Christians aren’t allowed to build churches in Iran or publicly discuss their faith with others. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).