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Politicking From the Pulpit on the Iran Deal

Politicking From the Pulpit on the Iran Deal

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Why focus on urging a nuclear agreement when Christians are suffering under the Tehran regime?

Some religious leaders have been quick to bless the “framework agreement” with Iran that emerged from deliberations earlier this month in Switzerland over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. That was a mistake.

Christian pastors and lobbyists representing various factions of Mennonites, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists and other denominations took out a full-page ad in Roll Call this week to “welcome and support” a deal they say “offers the best path to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state.” The letter cited Matthew 5:9—“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”—as one Biblical motive for endorsing the framework. It also ticked off reasons why it was “better than alternatives” like “yet another U.S. war with a Muslim country.”

Pope Francis lent his imprimatur to the framework during his Easter blessing, and in an April 13 letter to Congress the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops went so far as to oppose congressional review. The bishops wrote: “Our Committee continues to oppose Congressional efforts that seek to undermine the negotiation process or make a responsible multiparty agreement more difficult to achieve and implement.” Bishops also reminded Congress not to “take any actions, such as passing legislation to impose new or conditional sanctions on Iran.”

The mullahs don’t seem moved by the display of Christian charity. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that the deal doesn’t close nuclear enrichment facilities, a goal the Christian leaders say they support. “The proud people of Iran would never accept that. Our facilities will continue,” he said. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted that “most” of what has been announced about the deal “was contrary to what was agreed.” Mr. Khamenei disputed what the pastors called their “greatest attraction” to the deal, that lifting sanctions depended upon passing inspections.

Amir Fakhravar, a fellow at the Institute of World Politics and a former political prisoner in Iran’s infamous Evin prison, told Brietbart News on April 6 that the mullahs only came to the table because they want sanctions relief, which could amount to $150 billion. If sanctions are lifted and unfrozen funds could be used to finance terror in the region and further invest in nuclear capabilities, Mr. Fakhravar warned, “It will be game over.”

Some Christians seem to agree. The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference said on April 13 that it “strongly supports” legislation that blocks “any statutory sanctions relief if Congress passes a joint resolution disapproving the agreement.” Iran, Hispanic evangelicals fear, “will only grow in power and influence if its nuclear infrastructure is not dismantled.”

To that end, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a bill this week that requires the Obama administration to involve Congress in the final text of the nuclear accord. It also prevents sanctions from being lifted without a vote. The White House said Tuesday that President Obama would sign the bill, despite fighting against earlier iterations. But the fact that pastors who preached against congressional input lost might say something about the efficacy of political pulpits.

The good men and women of the cloth dilute their authority on issues of faith and morals when they pretend to be diplomats. “The Church’s mission is not to make pronouncements on the technical aspects of politics, economics and the social sciences,” Avery Dulles, the cardinal and Fordham University professor who died in 2008, wrote in “Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith” (2007). It is “to illuminate the moral and religious dimensions of social questions so that the faithful may better form their consciences.”

Meantime, Christians continue to suffer under the ayatollahs. Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations human-rights watchdog over Iran, reported in March that Tehran’s persecution of religious minorities has worsened. Consider American pastor Saeed Abedini, who remains in prison for creating a network of Christian house churches. The Iranian government claims he undermined the republic by swaying the country’s young away from Islam.

Religious leaders should be the first to champion Mr. Abedini’s cause, but those who blessed the nuclear deal didn’t even mention these persecutions. Diplomacy failed to protect the persecuted, but somehow these religious leaders have great faith that the framework can stop a nuclear Iran. Those who decry the use of force to stop Iran’s nuclear aspirations also conveniently overlook the Christian tradition of just war that dates back to Augustine.

Pope Francis hoped on Easter Sunday that the nuclear deal “may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.” But hope is not a foreign policy. If prelates would quit meddling in politics and stick to spiritual leadership, the persecuted flock in Iran might have a prayer.