As we approach Persecution Sunday on November 3, 2013, I will be posting a series of blogs regarding the persecution of Christians in other countries.  It is often difficult for us to contemplate the magnitude of grave persecution that Christians in many foreign countries face, and I hope to illustrate the persecution through stories of individuals and families.  Last Monday, for instance, a retired pastor from California, Eddie Romero, entered Iran to demand the release of imprisoned Iranian Christians.  Pastor Romero protested in front of Iran’s notorious Evin prison, declaring, “Let my people go.”  Prison officials detained Pastor Romero, and he was deported to the U.S.  Pastor Romero sought to shine a light on the plight of imprisoned Christian Iranians, including Farshid Fathi, the American pastor Saeed Abedini, Mostafa Bordbar, and Alireza Seyyedian.  Thank you, Pastor Romero, for your courage and example.

Iran has been in the news recently.  Although the Obama “Administration” has sought to make nice-nice with the butchers of Teheran, some in Congress are calling for strengthened economic sanctions against the Iranian mullahs.  Senator Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, whose Senate Banking Committee is considering legislation to tighten sanctions on Iran, said that Iran is expanding its nuclear capabilities under the cover of negotiations.  Senator Kirk stated, “The Senate should move forward immediately with a new round of sanctions to prevent Iran from acquiring an undetectable breakout capability.”  (“Breakout” refers to the time needed to convert low-enriched uranium to weapons-grade uranium.)  The House of Representatives has already passed legislation to toughen sanctions against Iran.  Further, a new report released late last week by the Institute for Science and International Security (“ISIS”) said that Iran may need as little as more one month to produce enough uranium for a nuclear bomb.  Thus, I fear that we can expect Israel to take military action against Iran before Thanksgiving.  Danny Danon, Israel’s deputy defense minister said in a recent interview, “We have made it crystal clear – in all possible forums, that Israel will not stand by and watch Iran develop weaponry that will put us, the entire Middle East, and eventually the world, under an Iranian umbrella of terror.”  Former Vice President Cheney further opined on Sunday that military action against Iran is “inevitable.”

Even though Western nuclear negotiators claim that Iran is giving ground in talks intended to end the Iranian nuclear enrichment program, on the same day as the ISIS report was released, Iran’s top nuclear official, The Honorable Ali Akbar Salehi, announced that Iran plans to build many new nuclear plants with atomic reactors along its coastlines with the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea.  At least 34 sites have already been designated for future nuclear power plants.  Further, Mr. Salehi announced that Russia would help Iran build new nuclear power plants across the country.

Most importantly, according to a recent report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, four Iranian Christians were sentenced to a flogging of 80 lashes for drinking communion wine, even as a new United Nations report strongly criticized Iran for its systematic persecution of non-Muslims.  The four men were sentenced on October 6, 2013, after being arrested in a raid on a house church last December.  They were charged with consuming alcohol in violation of Iran’s no drinking of alcohol laws.  According to a new October UN report by Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, such persecution is common, despite the new President Hasan Rouhani’s pledge to be “moderate.”  Ambassador Shaheed wrote that “violations of the rights of Christians, particularly those belonging to evangelical Protestant groups, many of whom are converts, who proselytize to and serve Iranian Christians of Muslim background, continue to be reported.”  People like Pastor Saeed Abedini, about whom I have written often on these pages.

Representative Eliot Engel, Democrat from New York and the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has stated, “It should be no surprise that Iran’s human rights record as documented by the UN is nothing short of atrocious.  If the [Iranian] regime thinks that its international charm offensive will help whitewash its appalling human rights record as documented by the UN report, they are sorely mistaken.”  Thank you, Representative Engel!  Again, Senator Kirk, who also serves as the chairman and founder of the Iran Dissident Awareness Program, observed in a recent interview with Fox News:

Despite the recent Iranian charm offensive, Dr. Shaheed’s report reminds us of the true nature of the Iranian regime where the abuse of human rights continue.  Political prisoners like blogger Mohammad Reza Pourshajari are being denied adequate medical care, journalists and their families continue to be targets of the regime, Pastor Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati are still languishing in prison, and the Baha’i community faces increasing persecution.  This is the true nature of the regime we’re dealing with during negotiations in Geneva.

In late September, on the first anniversary of Pastor Abedini’s conviction, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican from Texas, publicly prayed on his knees, along with many others, for Pastor Abedini.  I am glad that there are some senior government officials of both parties who recognize the evil and horror of the Iranian ultra-orthodox Shiite Islamic religion.  The U.S. Department of State estimates that there are at least 370,000 Christians in Iran, but that is likely a low number.  As we approach Persecution Sunday 2013, please continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, as we are taught in Psalm 122:6, and for our brothers and sisters who suffer under the brutality of the mullahs in Iran.