The term national security sounds like a matter for great concern. If something threatens national security, it sounds terrifying. Our nation might fall to an enemy if someone walking around loose in our country is aiding and abetting an aggressor nation that wants to conquer us. Ask most people what it takes to protect our national security, and they believe that it takes an army and/or a navy. We all understand that someone who sells information to an enemy is a threat to our national security, even though it takes a policeman, or someone more like a policeman than a soldier, to stop him. Whatever it takes, we want it done. We want to be secure within the borders of our nation, and we want all threats to that security destroyed.
Iran classified Saeed Abedini as a threat to national security and arrested him. He has now been tried, convicted, and sentenced to eight years in Evin Prison, because he is a threat to national security. Saeed Abedini was guilty of helping to start and operate Christian house churches after converting from Islam to Christianity. His conversion and his work in support of churches are considered by Iran’s government to be a threat to its national security.
In the USA, where we have no state church, and where everyone is free to belong to any church, to move from church to church, or to refuse to believe in any god or religion whatsoever, we cannot imagine how somebody’s religion or change of religion can possibly be a threat to national security. The people who founded the colonies that became the USA mostly came from countries that had state religions, and many of them fled their homes in those countries because they were treated like enemies of the state for belonging to the wrong religion. In countries with state churches, the religion is an integral part of the government. To do anything against the state religion is to act against the state. Ancestors of US citizens knew exactly what it meant to be persecuted for rejecting or undercutting the state religion. When they established a new nation, they made very sure that the new nation would not have a state religion.
This idea is actually quite unusual, even in today’s world. There are many nations in the world that declare that they protect freedom of religion, and most of them have signed the UN Declaration of Human Rights which declares freedom of religion to be one of the universal human rights. However, many, many nations that have signed this declaration have very unusual interpretations of their obligation to protect religious freedom. The problem usually centers in a state religion.
Iran is only one among many where Islam is the state religion or the dominant religion and the government regards an affront to Islam as a breach of national security. Islam-dominated cultures almost universally incorporate sharia law into the national law, and sharia law declares that anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion deserves to die. It is not common for the death sentence to be applied for this offense, but sharia allows such inhumane treatment of prisoners that many might actually prefer death to the suffering of imprisonment.
The World Watch List maintained by Open Doors International tells the story. This list is comprised of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian. Below is a list of 8 of the 10 most dangerous countries. #1 on the World Watch Rank is North Korea, which is the most dangerous, most repressed, country in the world, where it is dangerous for everyone but the top leaders. #10 on the World Watch Rank is Eritrea. Of the 10 nations in the world where it is most dangerous to be a Christian, 8 are countries where the state religion or the dominant religion is Islam. The story of Saeed Abedinin can be and has been reprised in various forms in all these countries.
|Country Name||The role of Islam in the Country|
|2||Saudi Arabia||No provision for religious freedom in the constitution of this Islamic kingdom. The legal system is based on sharia. All citizens must adhere to Islam. Conversion to another religion is punishable by death.|
|3||Afghanistan||The Constitution of Afghanistan says:Article One
Ch. 1. Art. 1: Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic, independent, unitary and indivisible state.
Ch. 1, Art. 2: The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam.
Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.
Article Three Ch. 1, Art. 3
In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and laws [ahkam] of the sacred religion of Islam.
NOTE: Not a single official church remains in Afghanistan.
|4||Iraq||Iraq’s Constitution, like those of many Islam-dominated countries, says, “Article 2: First: Islam is the official religion of the State and is the primary basis for legislation:
No legislation may be enacted that contradicts the established laws of Islam”
The Constitution also guarantees religious liberty, but that liberty is confined within “the established laws of Islam.”
About 95% of Iraq’s citizens are adherents of Sunni Islam.
Christianity arrived in Persia as a consequence of Pentecost, and Christian churches thrived there until recently. In 2003 there were more than a million Christians in Iraq, but today there are less than 345,000.
|5||Somalia||Islamic religious leaders maintain that Somalia must remain a strictly Islamic state without room for Christians or churches. The largest known Christian church in Somalia has 5 members.|
|6||Maldives||The government of Maldives considers itself to be the protector and defender of Islam. Anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion loses Maldivian citizenship, thereby becoming stateless. The law against importation of Christian publications is so strict that the personal Bibles of tourists have even been confiscated.|
|7||Mali||Historically, Mali was a constitutionally secular state, and it did not even appear on the 2012 World Watch List. In April 2012, the northern part of the country was captured by militant Islamists who established an Islamic state under sharia law. Christian church buildings are being systematically destroyed, and the objective of the government is to eradicate Christianity with the nation’s borders.|
|8||Iran||The arrest and conviction of Pastor Saeed Abedini as a threat to national security lays bare the truth that Iran has been arresting Christians as threats to national security for years. Islam is the state religion. Iran signed the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights, but there is no evidence that the Islamic leaders who control the government feel themselves obligated in any way by that signature.|
|9||Yemen||Islam is the state religion, and sharia is the source of law. Evangelism is prohibited. Converts from Islam to Christianity face the death penalty.|
The logic behind the allegation that Christianity is a threat to the national security of Islamic states is often linked to an accusation that Christianity is alien to the nation and the culture of the people. Most often Christians are accused of representing interests in the US and western Europe. Most importantly Americans need to understand that to Muslims, there really are none of the distinctions we make between the culture, the government and religion. Islam is a religion, because it worships a god and has teachings and practices like other religions. However, for a Muslime the government, the culture and the religion are all tightly integrated. Christians believe that they must live their faith in whatever culture or under whatever government they find themselves. Islam teaches that all these areas must be subject to sharia, which, in their view, is God’s law.
Today in the US, while Christians face very obvious cultural restrictions from secularism and even face government pressure due to secular redefinitions of historic principles, the pressure from Islam is more subtle. The shock Americans felt after September 11 has somewhat subsided, and the rebound effect is leading many Americans to feel they need to make extra efforts to be accepting and accommodating toward Muslims. Christians certainly do not want to be aggressive toward Muslims in the US, no matter what Muslims are doing in countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Maldives. It is a challenge.
Interestingly, the Christian worldview that everything in life must be governed by a relationship with Christ does not at first sound so different from the Islamic worldview in which everything is subject to God’s law. Both Christians and Muslims believe that faith in their supreme being shapes everything they do. Unfortunately the two groups do not hear the same messages from their supreme lawgivers. Pour these two worldviews into a pot bubbling with the notion that every person is on his own to figure out right and wrong and that humans as a species are evolving new and different ideas as the species matures, and these are the ingredients of a very caustic stew.
Citizens of the USA must not make the mistake of automatically categorizing Muslims as threats to national security the way Muslims in Iran categorize Christians. To do so would be to fall into the same error as secularists who categorize Christians as sociopaths because some Christians exercising their faith appear to act in opposition to the cultural momentum. It is obvious that Christians in the USA must walk a tightrope between the pressures exerted on the culture by Islam and by secular thinkers. It is equally obvious that in this environment, it will not be easy to share Christ and his love for all people. In fact, that is exactly what Christians in Islam-dominated countries around the world have been jailed for. How can we ever do it?
What do you think is the most important principle for Christians trying to navigate the American culture with secularism, Islam and even numerous variant Christian viewpoints in the mix? What is the right way in this setting to live our mission to share Christ’s love and make disciples of the whole world? What do you think the Christians sentenced to long terms in Evin prison in Iran would say? Do you think the USA will ever classify Christians as threats to national security?