“Every Christian approach to world affairs should begin with the gospel. Although we work hard to promote justice in the time between the first and second advents, we know that the ultimate hope for mankind lies in the message of Jesus Christ. Looking out at the world, we seek ways to ensure that his message can reach as many people as possible.”
Just days before Easter, Western diplomats concluded a preliminary nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Christians who were busy pondering the resurrection and its relevance to the modern world were suddenly forced to ponder negotiations with a regime committed to spreading revolutionary Islamist ideology — and to suppressing the gospel.
Making treaties with foreign powers is biblically and constitutionally the prerogative of the United States president. But responsible Christians who are citizens of this country should feel duty-bound to examine the actions of their leaders and measure them up to the principles of their faith.
Truth be told, there is a direct connection between the resurrection and Iran: the principle of religious freedom, a fundamental human right and a core idea animating The Philos Project.
Every Christian approach to world affairs should begin with the gospel. Although we work hard to promote justice in the time between the first and second advents, we know that the ultimate hope for mankind lies in the message of Jesus Christ. Looking out at the world, we seek ways to ensure that his message can reach as many people as possible.
That doesn’t mean we force people to believe in Jesus. On the contrary, we believe that “forced conversion,” at least in Christian terms, is an oxymoron. We merely seek the establishment of a robust marketplace of ideas in which Christianity gets as much play as everything else.
Our view of the Middle East begins with religious freedom for everyone. Establishing a world where the gospel can flourish, where people can hear and accept it if they choose, and where they can pursue and practice it without interference is a central objective of The Philos Project.
Iran is a country that denies religious freedom, especially to those who proclaim the sonship of Jesus. The underground church is growing by leaps and bounds, and government persecution is growing right along with it. Social discrimination is pervasive. Pastors languish in prison. Local assemblies are scattered and living in fear. We in the West must pray for these believers, but we also must do what we can to help them.
Our government has the right to make deals with regimes like Iran, but it is our responsibility to ensure that those deals are made with the interests of the church, the American people, and Iranian prisoners of conscience in mind. Christian leaders, both clergy and laity, bear this prophetic burden.
Negotiating with Iran on nuclear issues while neglecting its heinous record on religious freedom is irresponsible for the world’s self-proclaimed champion of liberty. But now that negotiations are underway, the US should use its leverage to demand that matters of religious freedom be made part of these talks. As President Obama said in an interview this week, “We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk.”
Religious freedom is the ultimate proposition, and one certainly worth testing. It means letting human beings seek heaven without earthly interference. It means liberating the human mind to contemplate all that is good. Imagine a Middle East in which every man and woman, every community and people group, is free to pursue that vision of truth that most compels them — so long as that vision doesn’t infringe on the rights of others.
The resurrection presented a choice. Sinai presented a choice. Eden, the beginning of everything, presented a choice.
Freedom to decide one’s path, even within the mystery of God’s sovereign will, stands at the heart of the biblical narrative.
We should work hard to preserve, promote, and prepare the way for that freedom “on earth as it is in heaven,” but especially in the oppressive atmosphere of the Middle East. Iran doesn’t provide religious freedom in any meaningful way, and as our leaders conduct negotiations over the future of the region, it’s up to us — the church — to make sure it is part of that discussion.
Robert Nicholson is the Executive Director of the Philos Project. This article is used with permission.