In the last year, two pastors have caused sufficient international concern that the White House has spoken about them. But only one has been mentioned in the Sydney media.
Both pastors profess to lead Bible believing churches. Both have come into conflict with Islam. Both have been criticised by their own governments.
Yet, in many respects, they are very different. One operates freely in an open society while the other is imprisoned by an Islamic regime. One is proud of the actions he is accused of, while the other suffers from trumped up accusations. One is an embarrassment to the Christian cause; the other is a hero whose stand for the gospel gladdens the heart of all who love the truth.
This time last year the media was full of Pastor Terry Jones – the Florida Charismatic who threatened to publicly burn a Quran. At that time he was talked out of it – even President Obama called upon him to desist. However, earlier this year he went ahead with his plan in front of a congregation of fifty members, gaining yet more worldwide media attention.
While acknowledging the right of free expression, Christians were embarrassed and critical of this pastor’s actions. It was offensive and unnecessarily provocative. It led to riots and deaths in Islamic countries. It didn’t accord with the teaching of the scriptures that “if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). Idolatry is always wrong but destroying idols doesn’t remove them from peoples’ hearts. Burning a Quran may show that you don’t fear it or even respect it, but it doesn’t convince anybody of its errors. Paul eschewed worldly methods of warfare in his attempt to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3f).
Now the world’s attention has shifted to another Pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani. His problem was attempting to register his church in Iran. He became a Christian when he was 19. Now in his early thirties, he is married with two small children and is the pastor of an evangelical church with about 400 members.
According to international media reports, Pastor Nadarkhani, was imprisoned in 2009 and in late in 2010, was condemned to death for apostasy. He is accused of evangelizing and baptizing people. On appeal he has been given three chances to renounce his apostasy and return to Islam. On each occasion, he has resolutely refused to renounce Christ or to acknowledge Muhammad as the prophet of God.
Unfortunately, confusion reigns over the details of the legal process. The Sharia law and the Constitutional law seem at odds over the issue. International pressure seems to have reduced the threat of an imminent execution. The charges have suddenly changed and though the court records only mention apostasy, he is now accused of being a Zionist traitor, a rapist, an extortionist and a brothel owner.
Western governments haven’t been duped by this confusion but have denounced the proceedings. The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is reported as saying:
“I deplore reports that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Church leader, could be executed imminently after refusing an order by the Supreme Court of Iran to recant his faith.”
This demonstrates the Iranian regime's continued unwillingness to abide by its constitutional and international obligations to respect religious freedom.
“I pay tribute to the courage shown by Pastor Nadarkhani who has no case to answer and call on the Iranian authorities to overturn his sentence.”
And a White House spokesman has condemned the conviction:
“Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people. That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency, and breaches Iran’s own international obligations.”
As yet, I cannot find any reference to Pastor Nadarkhani’s plight in the Australian public media. Searching the ABC and SMH websites gives no results. Even the SBS website, supposedly concerned not just for Australian but world news, has no reference to this case. Australia is being kept in the dark about this appalling attack on religious freedom and life threatening attack on an Evangelical pastor.
Why is this story not being told? It’s a story of the land from which many of our refugees and boat people are fleeing. It’s a story of great interest to the Australian public – not the least to Australian Christians. It’s a story of enormous drama as a man, standing by his principles, fights for his life. It’s a human interest story of personal pathos as a man is called to put his principles before the safety of his wife and young children. It’s a tale of great courage where a man repeatedly refuses to recant in the face of imminent execution. It’s an example of a man of principle all too rare in our world today. Why is it not being told in the Australian media?
Our media is interested in Iran. It recently reported about the young American hikers who had crossed over the border of Iran and were released from prison. Their carelessness, capture and eventual release were headline stories. But the much more morally important story of Pastor Nadarkhani is ignored. Why?
The media were quick to tell the tale of the lunatic fringe, of an American backwoods Christian pastor burning a Quran. It caused a stir all around the world – in part because the media went to such lengths to report it. But somehow, in Australia, they don’t tell of the Christian pastor who refuses to recant his beliefs on pain of death, in front of one of the most tyrannical and oppressive regimes of the world – surely that is a story worth telling. Does this illustrate our media’s incompetence, or bias, or political correctness or just plain censorship?
Please pray for Yousef, his wife Fatemah, and their sons Daniel (9) and Joel (7).
(Update from Phillip Jensen, 11/10/11 – Since publication of this article a friend has pointed out to me that there have been some references to this story e.g. SMH did have one article on this matter on 2nd October. My searching failed because of the different translation of Yousef and Youcef. I still cannot find it on SBS though I am glad to see that it has subsequently appeared on the ABC website in the form of my article. My failure to find these articles does not affect the basic premise that the local media is seriously unbalanced in spending so much copy on the publicity stunt of a fringe extremist pastor Terry Jones and so little on the centrally important moral issue of pastor Youcef/Yousef Nadakharni)