Iran (MNN) – With US sanctions looming, protests have erupted across Iran. And due to a variety of issues, it looks like unrest could grow. As people gather in the streets and call for change, the potential for a large shift is growing. And this could affect the Church, too.
Article18 is an advocacy group for Christians in Iran. In The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 refers to the freedom of thought and religious belief, freedoms that don’t exist in Iran today.
Mansour Borji of Article18 explains the angry reaction at this latest news saying, “The US withdrawal from the nuclear deal … and reinstating the sanctions is going to cripple [the] Iranian economy. How long will it take for that to be reinstated? We’re not sure yet. But that will have a major impact on the livelihood of people inside the country who are already struggling, dealing with the poverty, unemployment, and a lot of other social issues.”
These social issues within Iran have been simmering for some time. On top of the general economic pressure, there is also the environmental crisis affecting farmers in Iran. Furthermore, the international push to reduce the use of fossil fuels could put Iran’s oil-dependent economy in a precarious position.
“All of those combined are recipes for unrest and instability,” Borji explains.
On top of that, he says the neighboring Arab countries, Israel, and its Western allies are against Iran’s “involvement in the Middle East”. This creates the potential for more international conflict.
As the sanctions take hold in the coming months, the protests and general unrest could grow.
“People find others who have the same sort of concern. It brings people and their voices together. It creates cohesion among the people that are unhappy or do want change. Plus, the deterioration of the situation is going to bring more people, who are maybe enduring or standing by on the sidelines and just observing things, to become more activists.”
The Iranian government has said it will crack down on unrest. However, Borji says if this includes violence, it will draw more people into the protests.
A Church Standing Ready
There is great uncertainty in what the future holds, and this includes the Church, as well. Iran is number 10 on the Open Doors World Watch List, meaning it’s the 10th worst place in the world for a Christian to live due to the oppression and persecution that takes place there.
The future of the Church, Borji says, depends on what the outcome of this latest round of unrest is.
“It’s going to be [a] very insecure future depending on what forces play the main role in determining the future of the Church… If the Church is equipped to be also a player, to raise its concerns, to be able to shape the policies that are going to emerge out of these new realities or new future for Iran, then we can have [a] more secure future for the Church, continued growth, and less affected by violence or rapid change in the country.”
The question Borji is asking is, how can the Church be ready?
Currently, Christians mostly meet in underground churches in Iran. As Borji puts it, only a handful of believers attend actual Churches. Because of this, there’s been a trend of isolation among Christians in Iran. Borji hopes that this will not harm the Church’s ability to push for freedom of religion as a unified Body.
He asks, if it becomes possible for believers to meet in official churches, what will the sense of unity be between denominations? What will the Church’s relationship be with the state and culture?
“All those are big questions in whether the Church right now remains isolationists in trying to just be bystanders and watch the happenings, or take this stand that is godly but also engaging with the culture, with the events that are shaping the future of the country.”
Why Does it Matter?
It can be difficult for Christians to feel connected with other Christians around the world whose daily reality is so different from their own. However, Borji encourages Christians to remember this:
“If we believe that we are part of the same Body—and one part of the Body hurts, the rest of the Body will also be hurt. We realize that the Church in Jerusalem, if it was not helped by the Church in diaspora, in Antioch, then probably we wouldn’t be here now. And the Scripture encourages the Church to be considerate towards those who are under pressure, suffering, or in prison, as one with them.”
With this in mind, he urges you to pay attention to the present status of the Church in Iran, as well as the future.
“It’s definitely important for the worldwide Church to observe the transformation and be a part of it, whether through prayer or action.”
Here’s how you can pray: “Believers can pray for those who are already being persecuted, the ones that are in prison or … who will possibly be imprisoned and face long imprisonments and harsh sentences. That’s one thing. For mature leaders to be able to steer the Church through this period of transition, and godly, God-fearing people and policymakers who will ensure that freedom of religion and belief will be protected in any possible future for Iran.”