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Iranian Persecution of Christians Grows

Whether it is generic religious bigotry, alarm at the success of Christian missionaries at making converts, or simple xenophobia, Tehran has been cracking down on its tiny Christian minority of late, so much so that even the EU has noticed.

Yusef Nadarkhani, an evangelical pastor and the father of two, has been sentenced to death for converting from Islam, and the Iranian Supreme Court in its wisdom has upheld the decision.  In a deeply barbaric proviso reflective of medieval wars of religion at their worst, the court states that Pastor Nadarkhani’s life will be spared if he recants his conversion and returns to the merciful and humane form of Islam so vigilantly upheld by the pious and enlightened mullahs of Iran.  Otherwise, if an investigation confirms that he was at one point a Muslim, he will hang by the neck until dead.

From Réalité-EU, a timeline of repression:

In 2008, the Iranian parliament approved a bill mandating that all male apostates be put to death and all female apostates be imprisoned for life. [2]Anti-Christian activities also targeted traditionally protected Christian communities.

In March 2009, after receiving threats from the government, the Assyrian Pentecostal Church in Tehran closed its doors. [3]

Today, most of Iran’s Christians meet out of sight of the authorities in “house churches”. [4]

In the early morning hours of December 26, 2010, the Iranian government arrested 25 Christians in Tehran and other locations. [5]

In January 2011, Iranian authorities arrested dozens of Christian converts from Islam. Tehran’s governor, Morteza Tamadon, confirmed the arrests and said that missionary evangelicals are a “cultural invasion of the enemy”. He described Christians as “hard-line” missionaries who have “inserted themselves into Islam like a parasite,” according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. [6]

This statement echoed a declaration of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who in October 2010 said that house churches are a threat to Iran’s national security. [7]

Those statements serve as the pretext for the Revolutionary Guard’s targeting of churches, their leaders and worshippers. [8]

In the past six months, the crackdown has led to the arrest of 285 Christians in 35 cities, according to Elam Ministries, an organization that serves Christians in Iran. [9]

Many of those Christians have spent weeks and even months in prison, often serving long periods in solitary confinement. They also have endured interrogations and psychological abuse. [10]

[footnotes found on original site]

Interestingly, like many stories of Christian persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere, the stories of Iranian Christians and Pastor Nadarkhani have received widespread attention in the US religious press — and are covered much more episodically and lightly if at all by mainstream outlets.  The contrast not only undermines public credibility in the mainstream press as readers take this as evidence of an anti-Christian or anti-western PC bias in the press; it blinds those who rely on mainstream reports to the actual state of US public opinion.

For many Americans, evidence of how Iran treats its Christian minority is an indicator of the kind of uses to which it would put nuclear weapons.  More generally, stories about how Christians are persecuted and restricted in some (not, thankfully, all) Muslim countries reinforce public sympathy for Israel and build support for the idea that Israel must defend itself against an unreasoning and permanent hostility.

Elites who think such ideas are frightening or ridiculous and therefore try not to think about them are almost certain to be caught off guard by US public response to any news that Iran is approaching a nuclear test.  They are also surprised when American public opinion so unwaveringly backs Israel — and trip all over themselves as they blame Jewish lobbyists and masterminds for the impact of the persecution of Christians as reported by the Christian press on Christian minds.

And, after blaming Jewish machinations and bribes for the attitudes and policy stands of Christians, they then wonder why so many Christian Americans think that many of Israel’s critics are hate filled anti-Semites rather than impartial lovers of justice and truth.

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  • Luke Lea

    “In a deeply barbaric proviso reflective of medieval wars of religion at their worst, the court states that Pastor Nadarkhani’s life will be spared if he recants his conversion . . .” Medieval? Didn’t those wars of religion in the West continue until the middle of the 17th century? The Thirty Years War, the English Civil War, the Khmelnytsky Uprising? Maybe the Islamic world is at the early modern stage of development.

  • Christopher

    Sounds like a mere step beyond our Christian governments attempts at controlling the “outbreak” of Sharia law.

  • Jim.

    One is also puzzled by the fact that it is only in the sentencing that Israel differs from Iran. Christian proselytizing is illegal between the Jordan and the Med, and I don’t mean just in the PA zones.

  • Kris

    “Sounds like a mere step beyond our Christian governments”
    “One is also puzzled by the fact that it is only in the sentencing that Israel differs from Iran.”

    If you convert away from Islam in Iran (and in most of the “Muslim World”), you are put to death by the state. If you convert away from Christianity in the West, and away from Judaism in Israel, absolutely nothing is done to you.

    What tiny steps! How puzzling!

  • Jim.

    @Kris –

    I never suggested it was a “tiny” step, simply that there was a similarity in principle, which is unpleasantly ironic.

    Israel has no problem with atheists proselytizing. They do have a problem with Christians seeking converts, though, and that is a double-standard that should bother anyone who looks for legal consistency.

    One wonders why a person can completely reject Israel’s ancestral religion and remain a Jew, yet if they accept that the Lord has already sent a Messiah, they are no longer Jews. It seems that turning your back on G-d completely is a far more serious schism.

  • Kris


    I had composed a longer reply, but while looking up some point, I ran across a little problem: Can you provide me with any evidence that Christian proselytizing is illegal in Israel?

  • Larry

    No matter what you think about isreal! It still won’t kill you for what you believe!!

  • http://Home Bruce D. Noyes

    “It is characteristic of the unlearned” [or learnd] “that they are forever proposing something which is old, and, because it has recently come to their own attention, supposing it to be new.” (Calvin Coolidge)

  • Audrey

    It is NOT illegal to preach Christ (Yeshua) in Israel. The ultra-orthodox may give you a hard time, but it is completely legal. And has been noted above, no one is imprisoned for doing it, Christian or Jew.

  • Foragape

    I’ve never heard, or read, of anyone being killed because of their religious beliefs in Israel.

    Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!

  • Ti

    I don’t know why people think it’s “OK”, to tell another country what laws they should have? And to do it under threat of BOMBING?!?

    You aren’t going to LEGISLATE away, bigotry, intolerance, and prejudice.

    You aren’t going to get the Gospel into people, while riding the BEAST of the STATE!

    It sound like; “you’d BETTER like us, or well kill ALL of you!”.
    What’s “Christian” about that?!?

    In the above comments, someone referred to “Christian governments”… Just which “government” is “Christian”?!? I certainly don’t know of any?

    Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” and the “Author of Life”… not the “King of Death”!

    If we are in His image, then we are bringers of Peace, and Life… not destruction and death!

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