(Cover photo by Andrew Bossi: Capitol Building)
Iran (MNN) ― As Congress plods through budget debates, the international Church is waiting and watching and praying.
At issue is the survival of the Lautenberg Amendment. Rep. Lamar Smith, R.-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is opposed to it, though few reasons are given.
Originally created 22 years ago to help persecuted religious minorities flee the USSR, it was later expanded to include religious refugees from Iran. Islam is the official religion in Iran, and all laws and regulations must be consistent with the official interpretation of Sharia law. Apostasy laws are enforced as well as death penalties for those found guilty of breaking the law.
The risk for believers is that if the amendment is not renewed until 2012, there may be a hole in issued visas, which would effectively trap persecuted minorities in Iran. Evangelist Sammy Tippit is aghast at what that could mean. "This country was founded on people looking for and searching for religious freedom--and the freedom to believe and to follow Christ in the way that they so desire. For us to cut that off and to stop that, we'd be going against the tradition and the foundation of this country."
Tippit has had firsthand experience with the ire of Iran against Christians. "We've had our Web site attacked from Iran. I'm an ‘Enemy of the State' because of our television broadcasts that have gone into the country."
Tippit's connections with believers there indicate that only extreme circumstances would force a decision to flee. "Most of them want to stay in the country. That's their home. They want to minister, they want to witness. It's only out of absolute necessity that they come to the place where they have to leave."
Worse yet, for those who do escape, their options are limited to some of the neighboring countries which often kick refugees back to Iran. "They're persecuted, they're going to be thrown in prison, or they're going to lose their lives or their families." The Amendment is key because "it gives them permission to come out of the country and immigrate to the United States," says Tippit.
What's really confusing to Tippit is the reasoning behind the opposition when the sacrifice of keeping it seems minimal. "It's not going to cost any money. We're not talking about opening up to terrorists. We're talking about people who are being persecuted for their faith." Tippit adds, "I think it's something where the Christian community has gotten caught in the crossfire of some things that are happening in the U.S. Congress."
The program, helped by Austria's embassy, offers Iranian applicants who are members of a persecuted religious group the same opportunity to be granted refugee status in the U.S. that is given to applicants in other countries throughout the world.
Tippit suggests contacting the members of the House Judiciary Committee to express support for keeping the Amendment in place.
Pray. Iranian Christians continue to be arrested, and many church services are being monitored by the secret police. Believers who are active in churches or the cell group movement are being pressured.
There is still great hope. An open door offers an avenue of escape. However, even if the door closes, it won't stop the Gospel. "To be honest with you, I think that evangelism will continue to take place, because like I said, a lot of it is not happening by someone like myself or other ministry organizations; God is just working in an incredibly supernatural way. People are coming to Christ."