Tag Archives: Iran

Why Saeed Abedini is a Threat to Iranian National Security

Saeed AbediniReading the news of the trial and conviction of Saeed Abedini is horrifying. To American eyes, it is shocking. American minds cannot readily absorb that such events can possibly be real. It is the twenty-first century. Human beings have come a long way from the days of tribal violence and social stratification that produce stories such as this.

To American Christians, it all sounds illegal and unfair.

To the government of Iran, it all makes perfect sense.

The government of Iran is an Islamic republic. When Americans heard that Saeed Abedini was considered a threat to national security, American ears rejected the idea, because Abedini is not an employee of some government hired to find out the military and political weak spots of Iran which an enemy government could exploit in an attempt to conquer and subdue Iran. That is the American image of a spy or a threat to national security. That image has nothing to do with the Iranian image of the threat posed by Saeed Abedini.

In the USA people are accustomed to believe that the government does not have and should not have any concern with someone’s religion. US citizens believe in any god or no god without governmental involvement. This is because the USA has no state religion, and as long as the Constitution remains the foundation of US government, the US never will have a state religion. In Iran, however, the state religion is Islam. As a natural consequence of that fact, Islam is protected by the state. It has preference over all other religions. Islamic religious leaders have power in the political functions of the state.

What’s more, Islam teaches that there can be no such thing as separation of church and state. Islam teaches that the life of an individual or the life of a state simply does not have a secular component. To Muslims, there is no such division in life as the separation of sacred and secular. Islam is all and in all.

This is the root of a conviction that when someone betrays or turns away from Islam, the state is at risk. When someone in Iran listens to Christian teaching and responds to it, Islam teaches that this person has rejected Allah and become an infidel. The Iranian government views conversion from Islam to Christianity the same way American citizens viewed the recruitment of spies by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Everyone could understand that someone from the USSR could spy for the USSR, but it was the deepest sort of betrayal for an American citizen to fall to that level. That is the way Iranian Muslims view Iranian converts to Christianity. That is why Saeed Abedini is viewed with such revulsion by the Iranian government.

Saeed Abedini is an American Christian today, but he was born in Iran and grew up Muslim. As an adult, he converted to Christianity. He immediately began to work with the house churches in Iran. Saeed Abedini not only rejected Islam and turned away, but he led others to do the same thing. He is a convert from Islam who led other people to convert from Islam. To the religious leadership in Iran, he was like a malignant infection that needed to be cured. The Ayatollah Khomeini would have been required to sign the papers authorizing Saeed’s sentence, and it is easy to imagine that the Ayatollah signed with both a heavy heart for having lost this young man and a real feeling of vengeance against him for poisoning the faithful with his Christian evangelism.

This activity began in the year 2000, and at the time Saeed began his work, the government of Iran was not engaged in suppression of the house church movement. The religious teaching about the perfidy of conversion from Islam was the same then as now, but the government did not at that time take action against Christian house churches. The movement was low-profile, and likely the government believed it would fade away. It did not.

Iran officially protects religious liberty, but to Islamic Iranian thinking, the term religious liberty has a very different meaning from the one Americans use. For example, the government of Iran does not usually view a Christian as a threat if the Christian was born into a Christian family and reared in that family’s Christian church. In that situation, Iranian Muslims view the family as “people of the book” and consider them non-threatening. They expect a family to bring up children in the family faith. This concept holds true in many countries where Islam is the dominant faith. Iran believes that it protects religious liberty when it tolerates churches and the Christian upbringing of the children of church members.

On the other hand, a Muslim who converts to Christianity is considered a threat. Churches with ancient traditions in the country, such as Armenian Christians, are registered with the government as legitimate religions and are represented in the legislature, but churches that develop as the spontaneous result of conversions from Islam are considered to be threats to the national security. Despite protections for religions with long-standing traditions in Iran, the Iranian government does not protect the right to change from one religion to another. The fact that the house church movement in Iran is currently experiencing dramatic growth is likely the reason that the government has increased its activity against Christians who are part of that movement. The house churches represent converts, and converts are enemies of the state. Iran is a signatory to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, but Iran has faced down pressure from the UN more than once over its unique interpretation of that document.

Saeed Abedini did not go to Iran in 2012 as a house church evangelist. In 2008, he had been arrested for his work in that activity. After he agreed to stop evangelistic work with house churches, Iran’s intelligence police agreed to permit him to visit Iran from time to time in order to continue helping to build a non-religious orphanage. Saeed’s trip to Iran in 2012 was for the purpose of working on the orphanage. However, by this time, the house church movement in Iran had achieved a momentum that was being perceived as a threat, the president of Iran had declared Christianity to be a menace, and Saeed’s work with the house church movement in 2000 was re-examined. He was pulled off a bus on September 26, 2012, and charged with being a threat to national security. After a one-day trial on January 21, 2013, he was convicted and sentenced to eight years imprisonment in Evin prison, one of Iran’s harshest facilities. His future is grim, indeed.

Around the world, Christians under persecution suffer terrible indignities, not to mention real torture. It is reasonable to expect that this will be the lot of Saeed Abedini. Open Doors International has contacts in many countries that pass on the prayer requests of the persecuted Christians. These Christians do not usually ask that we pray for their rescue; they ask that we pray for their testimony. Some reports of Saeed Abedini’s trial suggest that he was able to give a faithful testimony during his very brief trial, and his life story suggests that he will make a faithful testimony during his imprisonment.

Saeed’s story brings to mind the story of Joseph, imprisoned on a false charge, who was a blessing to everyone in the prison. The Bible tells us that “the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love.” (Genesis 39:21) The apostle Paul was imprisoned frequently. Whenever Paul was in prison, he used the situation as an opportunity to testify to his faith. Given the opportunity to speak, he said to men with the power of life and death over him, “I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains.” (Acts 26:29) We pray that the Lord will be with Saeed the same way. May God grant him faith, courage, health and strength. May he persevere in hope. We also pray that worldwide efforts, including numerous petitions for his release, will have success according to God’s purposes. When one suffers, we all suffer with him. Keep Saeed Abedini in your prayers.

 

Continue in Prayer for Saeed Abedini

I have not been able to find any news today about the progress of the trial of Saeed Abedini, on trial in Iran accused of being a threat to national security. However, this article may provide background to inform your prayers. Arrests of Christians like Saeed have become common in Iran since 2005. Christians must hold him up in prayer as he awaits a verdict and sentencing. May God grant that the charges will be dropped and that Saeed will be released and permitted to return home to his family. May God sustain him in faithful testimony through this tribulation. May we all join our hearts with his.

The Latest News for Saeed Abedini on Trial in Iran

Today the trial continued, but Saeed Abedini, the accused, was not permitted to attend. See the Update in this article from yesterday. This trial is not conducted the way we expect trials in the US to proceed.

Please continue to pray for Saeed Abedini. He needs courage, physical strength, and the confidence that Christ goes with him through this trial.

Iran Imprisons and Tries an American Christian

If the world hates you,
be aware that it hated me before it hated you.
John 15:18 

During a press briefing on January 15, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no answer when a reporter asked if the president of the United States were aware that a Christian who is an American citizen is being held prisoner in Iran. Obviously the president cannot know everything, but this situation is so extraordinary that most people would expect not only that the president would know about it but also that the president would have a strong statement to make on the subject. Saeed Abedini is an American citizen and a Christian. He was arrested during a visit to Iran during which he was helping Iranian Christians build an orphanage. He traveled to Iran subsequent to an agreement with Iran’s intelligence police that authorized him to travel inside Iran and to work on the orphanage. Charges against Abedini have not been made publicly available, but they are known to accuse him of being a threat to national security. The attorney who will represent him in Iran was only given access to his case file during the past week, even though the case is scheduled for trial on Monday, January 21. Members of the US Senate and the US House of Representatives have requested that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton work through her international contacts to request that Iran set this American citizen free and clear him of charges that are obviously false, but she has taken no action. There has been no statement of support for Saeed Abedini from either the President or the Secretary of State.

American Christians wonder why.

Most American citizens believe that our nation stands for the broadest possible interpretation of religious liberty. That idea grows out of the First Amendment to our Constitution which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In the USA we do not believe in having a state religion, and we do not believe that the government should inhibit, prohibit or punish the exercise of religion. We do not believe a citizen should be prevented from or punished for actions and words consistent with the teachings of his faith. (There have been some very limited deviations from that principle, mostly due to activities alleged to be religious which are nevertheless themselves an assault on basic human rights. We would, for example, draw the line at allowing parents to burn their children on altars as sacrifices to any god.)

Representatives of the USA have promoted this same freedom around the world. When the United Nations was first organized, one of its earliest accomplishments was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes strong statements mandating religious liberty. Wherever the government of the USA has had any influence, it has historically spoken out for religious freedom. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for Christians in the USA to expect that when a US citizen is arrested for being a Christian while visiting some other country, the administration of the USA would speak and act strongly to persuade that country to release this citizen.

It startles and disturbs American citizens to discover that our government is doing nothing at all to help an American citizen arrested for being a Christian, accused of being a threat to national security because he is a Christian, and put on trial before a judge with the reputation of imprisoning human rights attorneys for being just as much a threat to national security as their clients. Why would the government of the USA be so reticent to speak in this case?

The answer may lie in an issue closer to home. At present, more than forty suits have been filed against the federal government seeking relief from the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act on the grounds that it infringes on religious liberty. More than forty cases are in the federal court system right now, and they all hinge on whether the federal government has properly defined the boundaries of religious liberty. The federal government is standing firmly behind a regulation that defines a “religious employer” and the government contends that First Amendment protection applies only to a “religious employer.” The government has further stated in arguments before the courts that nothing religious happens in a for-profit business and that therefore no owner of a for-profit business can claim to be expressing his faith in the course of operating that business. The definition of a “religious employer” is clear. It applies to houses of worship and nothing more.

This definition might make sense if our Constitution protected only “freedom of worship.” If the Constitution only protected our right to attend any church we like without the threat of being arrested, then the federal regulation defining a “religious employer” would make sense. If that were the case, we might understand why our President and our Secretary of State do not speak out and take all the actions within their power to influence Iran to release Saeed Abedini and drop all charges against him. After all, Saeed Abedini was helping to build an orphanage as an act shaped by his faith. Building an orphanage is not an act of worship inside a building dedicated to worship. If freedom of worship is the issue, then maybe Saeed Abedini belongs in prison, because he was not engaged in worship. He was engaged in actions motivated and directed by the tenets of his faith. Because our President and our Secretary of State are not making any statements or taking any action, we must conclude that these two very powerful leaders in our country actually believe that our Constitution protects only “freedom of worship,” and that our moral leadership around the world is also limited to “freedom of worship.”

Christians must pray for wisdom in this matter. As we pray that God will act to turn the heart of the judge and the national leadership of Iran toward the release of Saeed Abedini, we must pray with heavy hearts. We must also pray for our own country and for our own religious liberty. We must bow our heads and our hearts before God and ask him for guidance and strength to fight a battle we never thought we would need to fight. We thought that the First Amendment protected our liberty to live our faith without interference from our government, but we cannot assume that protection anymore.

If anyone asks our President or our Secretary of State or our Secretary of Health and Human Services if they believe in First Amendment protection of religious liberty, every one of them will answer “Yes!” They will surely think they are speaking the truth. Unfortunately, if the definition of “religious employer” in the regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act is allowed to stand, the meaning of the First Amendment is redefined and our freedom to live and speak our faith in the USA is severely restricted.

What should we do?

Pray for Saeed Abedini and for his attorney in Iran. Pray that Saeed will be released and that all the charges against him will be dropped. Pray for Iran to stop considering that any religion but Islam is a threat to national security. Pray that no matter what happens, Saeed will be strengthened in his faith and his testimony for Christ. Pray that in our prayers we may be joined with Saeed in his suffering and his testimony.

Then pray for the USA. Pray that our President and his administration will be enlightened to understand that the regulation defining a “religious employer” is a breach of First Amendment protection of religious liberty. Speak out when people talk about these issues. Help others understand that whether you are Hindu or Muslim or Christian or atheist, this freedom is essential to all. Pray for God to guide your words as he shapes your heart in order that the discourse surrounding this issue is loving, respectful and directed by the Holy Spirit, not by anger or fear. Pray that the USA will continue to be a beacon for the freedom God gave to all of us in the Constitution. Pray. Pray that no matter what happens, the faith and the testimony of each Christian will be strengthened by the work of the Holy Spirit. Pray that in our prayers Saeed may be joined with us in our suffering and our testimony.

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ
not only to believe on him,
but also to suffer for him.
Philippians 1:29

 

                                                           

Cultural Rejection Leads to Legal Persecution

 

Iran is frequently in the political news, because of the aggressive stance of the president of Iran toward western civilization. News of internal events is less frequently reported. Iran does not wish foreigners to know much about what happens within its borders, but some news does get out.

 

This week, Voice of the Martyrs reported that four leaders of a Christian church in Iran had been arrested, convicted and jailed. Their crimes: “converting to Christianity, inviting Muslims to convert, as well as propagating against the Islamic regime through promoting Evangelic Christianity.” It sounds strange to western ears that “converting to Christianity” could be a crime, but to Muslim ears, this is important truth. Muslims are taught that converting to any other faith is a sin, and where the government embodies Islamic teaching, it is a crime. In Iran, an Islamic theocracy, conversion is a crime. People who choose to receive Christ and be baptized have committed a crime, and everything they do to tell others about Christ and to influence other people to become Christians is a crime as well. On October 15, the pastor, his wife, and two other ministers in the church were each sentenced to a year in prison for their crimes. They have the legal right of appeal, and it is reported that they plan to appeal.

 

The right of appeal does not hold the same hope for these Christians in Iran as it holds for convicted prisoners in the USA. Only a year ago a pastor serving a one-year sentence for similar crimes was informed a day before his scheduled release that his sentence had just been extended to six years. This judicial behavior sounds capricious to American ears, but in other countries around the world, it is not uncommon.

 

Iran today is known as a stronghold of fundamental, aggressive Islam. It is startling to discover that it was one of the earliest outposts of Christianity. The book of Acts records that on Pentecost “There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world.” (Acts 2:5) In the list of pilgrims were Persians, Parthians, Medes and visitors from Mesopotamia. Those pilgrims took Christianity back to the region known today as Iran, and Christian churches in the country date from that early era. Christianity has a 2000-year history within the boundaries of present-day Iran.

 

Christianity has legal rights in Iran’s constitution, too. However, Christians are often arrested on the basis of Islam’s legal rights. When those rights conflict with the rights of Christians, the rights of Muslims prevail. Most of the news of persecution of Christians is suppressed by the government as propaganda deliberately detrimental to Islam.

 

Americans think such news items are outrageous and incomprehensible, unless they pay attention to blogs and comment threads online in this country. In the USA there is no established religion, such as Islam or Buddhism, to be protected by the state. Instead, increasing secular pressure scorns all religions equally. Bloggers and people commenting on news items accuse religious people of telling “ghost stories.” Most such comments are directed at Christians, but any religion is subject to be accused of being a complete myth. Karl Marx’s statement that religion is the “opiate of the people,” has been quoted more than once by fervent atheists expressing their scorn of religious people who want to exercise their faith in public. Christians receive the brunt of the attack simply because Christianity has a stronger historic presence in the US than any other religion. It can readily be observed on blogs and comments that while there is no legally-sanctioned persecution of Christianity in the USA, the culture contains a strong and aggressive element that wants Christianity to be kept out of sight.

 

Christians in Iran suffer because at the moment the government of Iran acts as an agent of Islam to protect Muslims from any influence that might lead them to some other faith. Despite a few weak legal protections for Christians, the preponderance of the government and the culture want Christianity shut down and wiped out of the country. The government participates by using laws that favor Islam to diminish the force of laws that protect Christians.

 

Christians in the US suffer cultural abuse and must battle for legal standing because of two parallel forces: 1) there is a growing population demographic with no connections to any religion whatsoever, and 2) there is a growing Christian current that has absorbed the secular notions of inclusion and diversity so deeply that it is willing to ignore or restate long-standing Christian teachings to accommodate cultural pressures. The combined pressure of these parallel developments diminishes Christianity in the eyes of the culture, and the culture, via political activism and actual votes, is gradually building barriers against the public expression of Christian faith. You might say that because of the combined force of these two secular currents, laws are interpreted to protect the secular view in the US just as laws are interpreted to protect the Islamic view in Iran.

 

It is shocking to hear that a pastor in Iran has been arrested for doing what pastors do: speaking to non-Christians about Christ and trying to lead them to faith. It should be shocking to hear in that a Christian in the US has lost her job for saying that she believes the definition of marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Christians need to pray that all around the world we may have the courage to speak and live true to our faith. The one thing Jesus asked us to do as he prepared to ascend to heaven is to live true to the faith and to share it with others:

 

Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20, The Message)