Signals Of Change

Protests in Iran have met censorship, but Christian broadcasters use media to spark lasting reformation

“The reach of Christian programming in Iran dwarfs other broadcasts and has taken on added importance after protesters launched widespread demonstrations against the government in late December that plunged the country into political crisis. Voice of America’s Persian service via television and web, for example, reaches about 1 million Iranians daily.”

 

It’s noon in Dallas and 8:30 in the evening in Tehran when Hormoz Shariat, founder of satellite television’s Iran Alive Ministries, steps to the camera to begin the station’s daily live satellite broadcast. The 62-year-old Iranian-American pastor, wearing rimless glasses and a suit and tie, strikes a friendly posture whether he is preaching to a large studio audience or seated in comfortable chairs with his co-hosts. But he takes the one-hour live show very seriously: With a prime-time slot beamed from Texas into the Islamic republic, Iran Alive’s Christian programming has an estimated audience of 6 million people.

That’s nearly 8 percent of Iran’s population of 80 million, the overwhelming majority of whom are Muslims. Whether Iran has 2 million Christians—an estimate Shariat believes is not inflated—or closer to 500,000, as some experts claim, “that’s a lot of Muslims watching us,” he concedes. In addition to Iran Alive, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) has Persian-language programming in the Middle East, and Cyprus-based SAT-7 PARS also carries round-the-clock Persian-language Christian shows.

The reach of Christian programming in Iran dwarfs other broadcasts and has taken on added importance after protesters launched widespread demonstrations against the government in late December that plunged the country into political crisis. Voice of America’s Persian service via television and web, for example, reaches about 1 million Iranians daily, though its numbers have grown during the crisis.

With communication for both insiders and outsiders proving key to assessing what’s happening and to preserving individual rights, Shariat and other Christian programmers have a unique window on Iran and a long-standing affinity for those who face persecution and harassment there, whether for their politics or their religion.

“Inside Iran church buildings have been closed, house churches get into trouble, and the majority of Iran’s Christians have no church they can physically attend,” said Shariat. “We are their church.”

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