Persecuted Christians

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has been slandering Israel and beatifying the Palestinians for years now, but when the General Assembly effectively decided to join the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement late last week, it finally got noticed in high places. The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, gave them both barrels on “Meet the Press” Sunday, as reported by Agence France Press:

“It’s so disgraceful,” Netanyahu said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” news program. “Most Americans understand that Israel is a beacon of civilization and moderation.”

He said that while much of the Middle East was “riveted by religious hatred, by savagery of unimaginable proportions,” Israel is “the one democracy that upholds basic human rights, that guards the rights of all minorities, that protects Christians.”

Netanyahu advised the Presbyterians to “fly to the Middle East, come and see Israel for the embattled democracy that it is, and then take a bus tour, go to Libya, go to Syria, go to Iraq, and see the difference.”

“I would give them two pieces of advice—one is make sure it’s an armor-plated bus, and second, don’t say that you’re Christian.”

The prime minister may be too polite to say so, but that last is why so many outside the PCUSA bubble consider this move anti-Semitic. The denomination’s tunnel-visioned focus on Israel to the exclusion of virtually all other injustice in the world and especially the Middle East says it all. The terrorism that Israel faces is barely mentioned in General Assembly documents (one even put it in scare quotes when referring to the actions of Hamas, Hezbollah, and comrades). That every other state in the region is a guilty of some form of human rights violations, many on a massive scale, is beneath notice. That other minority groups (Kurds in Iraq and Turkey, Baha’is in Iran, Christians everywhere) are subjected to discrimination, persecution, and sometimes outright murder is cause for mild rebuke at best. (The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns wanted to strike the word “persecution” from the linked overture, contending “The suffering of the church in Egypt and other parts of the world is not only ‘due to sectarian violence and persecution.’ There are many factors involved, including geopolitical and economic factors. The General Assembly should consider all the factors that result in and contribute to sectarian violence. For example, our mission partners in the Middle East have clearly pointed out that U.S. government policies (and Western attempts to dominate in general) affect them adversely by fueling sectarian tension. Therefore, the role of the U.S. government (often seeking national or special interests rather than principles the U.S. purports to support) should be addressed by the overture….Use of the word “persecution” mischaracterizes the nature of the maltreatment of Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, and in many cases would be an unhelpful exaggeration.”)

Like the UN Human Rights Council whose help is sought by one of the approved resolutions, PCUSA is so obsessed with the sins of Israel that those of the rest of the world simply disappear from view, and action all out of proportion to the offense is taken in the name of “justice.” The anti-Semitism of the PCUSA is not the Mein Kampf or “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” type. Rather, it is the type that see the Jewish state as uniquely evil, uniquely responsible, and therefore uniquely deserving of denunciation and punishment among all the peoples of the world. And it is worthy of the anathema of Christians of good will everywhere.

Occasionally, something comes out of the mainline churches that is so wrong, so delusional, so bizarre, so incomprehensible, that it makes one wonder whether hallucinogenic drugs are involved. Such is the statement that the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PCUSA), which had this response to a resolution submitted for this summer’s General Assembly that would address the growing persecution of Christians:

The Church is called to prayer for those who suffer due to their faith. The Presbyterian Mission Agency reminds commissioners and advisory delegates the suffering of the church in the world is not only due to “persecution”, but there are many factors involved. These include geopolitical and economic factors. The General Assembly should consider all the factors that result in and contribute to sectarian violence. Use of the word “persecuted” mischaracterizes the nature of the maltreatment of Christians in the world, and in many cases would be an unhelpful exaggeration. [Emphasis added.]

There are no words for how loathsome that statement is. Anathema!

Legalize 12 million people who crossed the U.S. border without regard for U.S. law or sovereignty? An Obama administration priority. Protecting a family that came to America seeking the freedom to practice their religion without fear of the state taking away their children? DEPORT THEM!

A German family that claims it will be persecuted for homeschooling if sent back, lost its asylum request Monday at the U.S. Supreme Court and could be deported.

The justices, without comment, turned down the appeal of Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, who applied to stay in the United States on grounds of religious freedom.

Keeping with their Christian beliefs, they are educating their five children at home.

They said German law requires all children to attend public or state-approved private schools, and that such institutions “engendered a negative attitude toward family and parents and would tend to turn their children against Christian values.”

The Romeikes claimed German authorities threatened to take custody of their children if they did not comply.

The family moved to east Tennessee six years ago and applied for asylum with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

An immigration judge initially granted their request in 2010 to the Romeikes and their children, saying they were “members of a particular social group” and would be punished for their religious beliefs if returned.

But the Justice Department revoked it last year.

The Board of Immigration Appeals concluded homeschoolers are too ‘amorphous” to constitute a social group eligible for protection under the asylum law.

For the sake of argument, let’s grant that the Justice Department had a genuine problem granting political asylum to the Romeikes. Let’s say their request really did run afoul of one law or rule or another that would make it impossible to give them political asylum. And let’s say that the Supreme Court, in refusing to hear their appeal, had legitimate reasons based in law to conclude that the case was rightly decided.

Grant all of that, and then ask this question:

Why in the name of all that’s holy did the White House allow this case to get this far, and refuse to use their favorite power–that of “prosecutorial discretion”–to put an end to this family’s nightmare?

My wife suggested that perhaps the administration wanted to establish a legal principle, and now that that’s done they will take action to allow the Romeikes to stay. We can hope and pray that such will be the case. If you like reading tea leaves, you can try to predict the future by deciphering this response from the White House to a petition signed by over 125,000 since last March:

The We the People Terms of Participation explain that “the White House may decline to address certain procurement, law enforcement, adjudicatory, or similar matters properly within the jurisdiction of federal departments or agencies, federal courts, or state and local government.” To the extent that these petitions request a particular law enforcement or adjudicatory action, or address a matter before the courts, we cannot issue a comment.

But while we can’t comment on this particular issue, we know that homeschooling is a popular option for many parents pursuing high academic standards for their children. Homeschooling can provide young people with the resources and attention they need to succeed academically, and we understand why their parents value this freedom.

That response has no date on it, so I suspect it was issued long before today’s ruling. That means it’s time to start ramping up the public pressure on the administration to do the right thing. Now.

According to Israel National News, Pastor Yousef was scheduled to be executed today, but the Iranian government has delayed that:

Iran has put off the execution of Christian Pastor Yousof Nadarkhani — probably in response to massive international pressure — but it is not clear for how long.

Nadarkhani was due to be executed on Tuesday, after having lost the final appeal against a conviction on a charge of apostasy in Iran’s Supreme Court.

In 2009, Nadarkhani filed a complaint with local officials over Islamic indoctrination of his children at school, contending that his children should not be forced to learn about a religion they do not practice.

He was arrested shortly thereafter and convicted of apostasy by a provincial court in Gilan, in the state of Rasht, where he and his wife and two children live. The pastor, a member of the Protestant Evangelical Church of Iran, was given a chance to recant, but refused.

According to Article 225 the Iranian penal code, “punishment for an Innate Apostate is death,” and “punishment for a Parental Apostate is death.” Shari’a (Islamic) law states the same.

There’s no word from Iranian media sources about this that I could find (at least not the English ones), so I don’t know what sources INN is using. But assuming this is true, it’s good news, but also a sign that the world needs to keep the pressure on. Keep praying!

(Hat tip: Kevin Curtis via Facebook.)

First it was the cynical left, now the lunatic right. What is it with these people? From the Christian Post:

The organization Stand Up America Now, led and founded by Dr. Terry Jones, revealed on Feb. 22 that it will burn Qurans and images of the prophet Muhammad in protest of the Islamic religion, should Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani be executed for his Christian faith.

According to the Stand Up America Now website, the organization focuses on many social issues, with a special emphasis on standing up for Christian minorities persecuted in Islamic dominated countries.

On Feb. 23, 2012, Stand Up America Now, based in Gainesville, Fla., protested Islamic Awareness Month at the University of Florida, also located in Gainesville.

The organization’s president and founder, Dr. Terry Jones, describes the planned burning of the Quran as a form of protest which would “obviously get Islam’s attention,” saying that Christians “cannot just stand by and do nothing.”

Of all the lame brained stunts this publicity hound could indulge in…

I have a personal message for Terry Jones which I sent to him this morning via email (you can do the same at the Stand Up America Now site). Here it is:

Pastor Jones: The Christian Post this morning brought the distressing news that you plan on burning the Quran if Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani is executed by Iran. The Post quoted you as saying that Christians “cannot just stand by and do nothing.”

I agree. There are many ways that protests of an execution could be done, beginning, perhaps, with a prayer vigil on behalf of Pastor Yousef’s family and other Christians who are threatened with persecution by Iran outside that nation’s interest section at 2209 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC. I live near Washington–I would even help organize it for you.

The method you suggest, however, would do nothing more than inflame passions throughout the Muslim world, not just in Iran, and put the lives of countless Christian brothers and sisters in danger. You may think you’d be registering a protest against tyranny, when in fact all you would be doing is making a bad situation immeasurably worse.

Please, for the love of Christ and His people, reconsider this course of action. Publicizing your anger is not more important than the lives of our brethren.

I will let you know if I get an answer.


Press TV has changed its article on Pastor Yousef, which I reported on yesterday:

Iran’s Supreme Court has not yet handed down its final verdict in the case of the pastor Yousef Nadarkhani in order to allow authorities to further investigate the file and reach the best decision, Press TV reports.
Informed sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Press TV on Friday that the Supreme Court returned Nadarkhani’s case to a lower court in October 2011, saying investigations were incomplete and insufficient.

The lower court has yet to complete its probe, the sources said, adding that the case has not been sent back to the Supreme Court for a final verdict.

Nadarkhani, a 32-year-old Iranian born Muslim who has converted to Christianity, made headlines in the Western media which claimed he has been sentenced to death for apostasy.

Nevertheless, he has not even named the church where it is claimed he has received a degree authorizing him to perform religious duties and ceremonies in Christianity.

Western media outlets’ obsession with handwringing about Nadarkhani’s case aims to mount pressure against Iran in light of the 4th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, which is scheduled to take place on March 13, 2012.

Note that they have edited out both the contention that Pastor Yousef is a violent criminal, and that Western media only “claims” the pastor is a convert. If I didn’t know better, I’d say someone in Tehran was reading this blog.

We should have seen this coming. A Christian pastor is facing death at the hands of a barbaric Muslim regime, which is a great opportunity for former presidential candidate Gary Hart (yes, evidently he’s still alive and kicking) to take to the pages of the Huffington Post to bash…conservative American Christians. Really:

There are reports that an Iranian Christian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, is under threat of execution by the Iranian authorities for blasphemy for his refusal to renounce his Christian faith. Though there are reports of persecution of Christians in many countries, China included, it usually takes the plight of a single identifiable individual to make an otherwise generalized problem — in this case religious intolerance — take concrete rather than abstract dimensions.

The re-emergence of the religious right in America during this current presidential campaign, though mild by comparison to threatened executions by radical clerics, should give us cause for concern. Though well over two centuries ago, “witches” were burned in this country and a recent book documents the struggles of Roger Williams against fundamentalist intolerance. The persistent thread of intolerance springs from a narrow fundamentalist insistence on orthodoxy in an age in which strict religious doctrine in some quarters quickly emerged to fill the vacuum of failed 20th century political ideologies. And religious orthodoxy exhibits an almost demented insistence on conformity and intolerance toward political dissent.

“Demented”? What’s demented is a supposedly mainstream figure like Gary Hart daring to mention the involvement of conservative Christians in American politics in the same breath as the persecution of Pastor Yousef, or the burning of witches. Though the comparison is with Iranian tyrants rather than German ones, I think it fair to call this nonsense “Godwinesque.”

(Hat tip: Faith McDonnell of the IRD, on Facebook.)


Press TV, propaganda outlet for the Iranian government, is claiming today that no “final verdict” (by which I think they mean final sentence, given the headline) has been reached on Pastor Yousef:

An informed source in Iran’s Supreme Court says the Court has not handed down its final verdict in the case of an Iranian-born convert to Christianity, Yousef Nadarkhani, Press TV reports.

According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Supreme Court returned Nadarkhani’s case to the lower court in October 2011 saying investigations were incomplete.

The lower court, the source added, has not completed its investigations yet and the case has not returned to the Supreme Court for a final decision.

Even though a “final verdict” has supposedly not been handed down, Press TV has no doubt what kind of criminal the state has on its hands:

By claiming that Nadarkhani, a rapist and extortionist from Gilan, is a convert to Christianity and priest, Western media outlets have been trying to intensify their propaganda campaign and mount pressure against Iran.

Iran has refuted allegations of violating human rights, stressing that Nadarkhani has a history of committing violent crimes and that he did not receive the death penalty for religious beliefs.

This is, from all accounts other than those of Iranian propaganda, utter nonsense. (Note that Press TV can’t even get the story right within its own article: it refers to Pastor Yousef as “an Iranian-born convert to Christianity” in the first paragraph, but then says that “Western media outlets” are “claiming” he’s a Christian convert as part of a “propaganda campaign.” Editor needed for cleanup on aisle 4!) But if it is true that a “final verdict” has not yet come down, there may be time to save our brother yet. Keep praying!

After months of waiting, there is news from Iran about our brother Pastor Yousef, and it isn’t good. According to the American Center for Law and Justice:

We are hearing reports from our contacts in Iran that the execution orders for Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani may have been issued.

Pastor Youcef’s situation – an innocent man convicted and sentenced to death for becoming a Christian – has not been this dire since we first brought his case to your attention last year.

It is unclear whether Pastor Youcef would have a right of appeal from the execution order. We know that the head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, must approve publicly held executions, but only a small percentage of executions are held public—most executions in Iran are conducted in secret.

There has also been a disturbing increase in the number of executions conducted by the Iranian regime in the last month.

Iran is actively violating its human rights obligations by sentencing and detaining Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. We call on the Iranian government to release Pastor Youcef immediately.

Sad to say, Pastor Yousef may at this point be a pawn in a game of international political chicken, with the Iranians trying to show Israel and the United States that it will not be coerced on anything, from its nuclear weapons program to its human rights obligations.

Now more than ever we need to be praying for him, and to join efforts to step up the pressure on Iran to do the civilized thing. You can go to the ACLJ and sign their petition asking Congress to get back in the fight. You can also go to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and use their form to email Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, the Chief Justice of Iran, who is in a position to save Pastor Yousef. Faster, please!

The latest from Iran indicates that there has been no “retrial” ordered for Pastor Yousef. Instead, the case is still in the hands of Ayatollah Khamenei, who is expected by the pastor’s lawyer to rule in about a week. According to CNN:

As for the current status of the case, [lawyer Mohammad ] Dadkah said a court in Rasht has asked for Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, to rule on whether Nadarkhani should be put to death.

“I expect an opinion for Khamenei in about a week or so when he returns to work,” Dadkah said. According to Dadkah, Khamenei is traveling.

Dadkah also said he doesn’t think that international pressure has had anything to do with the way the case has been treated:

International pressure mounting in the apostasy trial of a Christian pastor in Iran has “not had any impact on the Iranian court,” the attorney for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani told CNN on Friday.

“They (the court) work on the evidence and Iranian law,” said lawyer Mohammad Dadkah. “I don’t think the statements from the United States has had any impact either on this case as this is all going through the Iranian justice system, which is based on the law and evidence.”

That seems odd in light of the fact that a provincial court kicked a capital case all the way up to the Supreme Leader, as well as in the sudden change of charges from the one on which he was convicted (apostasy) to obviously trumped-up charges of rape, treason, and running a house of prostitution (!). However, it has to be remembered that Dadkah is an Iranian lawyer, who has to do a delicate balancing act between representing his client while avoiding provoking the wrath of the government, a government that would never admit that international criticism or pleas have anything to do with its actions.

I’ve got to say that it can’t hurt to keep the pressure up, and by all means, keep praying!

The case of our brother in Iran has taken yet another bizarre turn. Despite the reports yesterday that his case was in the hands of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, it is now being reported that the Iranian Supreme Court has remanded the case back to the original trial court. According to Reuters via Arab News:

TEHRAN: Iran’s Supreme court sent back the case of a Christian pastor sentenced to death for apostasy to the lower court that tried him, saying there had been insufficient investigation before the original trial, students news agency ISNA said on Tuesday.

Yousof Nadarkhani, 33, was arrested and sentenced to death in the northern city of Rasht in 2009. An appeals court upheld his sentence last year after he refused to reconvert to Islam, his lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told Reuters last week.

“The Supreme Court has returned the case of Nadarkhani to the lower court that originally issued the death sentence … The decision was made due to insufficient investigations,” ISNA quoted a statement issued by the judiciary.

“The court will issue a new verdict … if Nadarkhani appeals the verdict then the case will be sent again to the Supreme Court,” the statement said.

I don’t pretend to know anything about the Iranian legal system, and the, shall we say, Byzantine ways of Iranian politics are often impenetrable. But I’m guessing that the key expression here is “insufficient investigations.” What this means, I think, is that the provincial court and government have been sent a message: do more “investigation,” take your time with it, and then after the uproar has settled down announce without fanfare that Pastor Yousef has been cleared of all charges. The onus of backtracking gets puts on the locals rather than Tehran, the Iranian government gets to claim that justice has been done, and the world has its demands for Pastor Yousef’s release satisfied. I will keep after this and report any further developments, but if I were a betting man, this is how I’d bet it will go.

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