Why focus on urging a nuclear agreement when Christians are suffering under the Tehran regime?
Some religious leaders have been quick to bless the â€śframework agreementâ€ť with Iran that emerged from deliberations earlier this month in Switzerland over the Islamic Republicâ€™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 CallÂ this weekÂ to â€śwelcome and supportâ€ť a deal they say â€śoffers the best path to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state.â€ť The letter cited Matthew 5:9â€”â€śBlessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of Godâ€ťâ€”as one Biblical motive for endorsing the framework. It also ticked off reasons why it was â€śbetter than alternativesâ€ť like â€śyet another U.S. war with a Muslim country.â€ť
Pope FrancisÂ 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: â€śOur 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.â€ť Bishops also reminded Congress not to â€śtake any actions, such as passing legislation to impose new or conditional sanctions on Iran.â€ť
The mullahs donâ€™t seem moved by the display of Christian charity. Foreign MinisterÂ Javad ZarifÂ said that the deal doesnâ€™t close nuclear enrichment facilities, a goal the Christian leaders say they support. â€śThe proud people of Iran would never accept that. Our facilities will continue,â€ť he said. Iranâ€™s Supreme Leader AyatollahÂ Ali KhameneiÂ tweeted that â€śmostâ€ť of what has been announced about the deal â€śwas contrary to what was agreed.â€ť Mr. Khamenei disputed what the pastors called their â€śgreatest attractionâ€ť to the deal, that lifting sanctions depended upon passing inspections.
Amir Fakhravar,Â a fellow at the Institute of World Politics and a former political prisoner in Iranâ€™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, â€śIt will be game over.â€ť
Some Christians seem to agree. The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference said on April 13 that it â€śstrongly supportsâ€ť legislation that blocks â€śany statutory sanctions relief if Congress passes a joint resolution disapproving the agreement.â€ť Iran, Hispanic evangelicals fear, â€świll only grow in power and influence if its nuclear infrastructure is not dismantled.â€ť
To that end, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a bill this week that requires theÂ ObamaÂ 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. â€śThe Churchâ€™s mission is not to make pronouncements on the technical aspects of politics, economics and the social sciences,â€ť Avery Dulles, the cardinal and Fordham University professor who died in 2008, wrote in â€śMagisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faithâ€ť (2007). It is â€śto illuminate the moral and religious dimensions of social questions so that the faithful may better form their consciences.â€ť
Meantime, Christians continue to suffer under the ayatollahs.Â Ahmed Shaheed,Â the United Nations human-rights watchdog over Iran, reported in March that Tehranâ€™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 countryâ€™s young away from Islam.
Religious leaders should be the first to championÂ Mr. Abediniâ€™s cause, but those who blessed the nuclear deal didnâ€™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 Iranâ€™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 â€śmay be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.â€ť 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.