A persecuted Christian pastor in Iran — now free

Last fall, I posted about a jailed pastor possibly facing execution in Iran. Historian Thomas Kidd writes that he has been freed, and looks at some of the implications:

Pastor Youcef had been in jail for three years, awaiting ‘trial’ for apostasy from Islam. In an earlier, pre-Twitter world, he might easily and quietly have been executed for his crime of converting to Christianity. But he was not. Under pressure from the ACLJ, as well as the State Department and other agencies, Nadarkhani was convicted simply of proselytizing Muslims and sentenced to time served.

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ, should be commended for keeping up a relentless social media campaign, during which almost three million people expressed support for Pastor Youcef. Sekulow intentionally reached out to the international evangelical and charismatic community to build support, particularly among Brazilian Christians (Sekulow was routinely tweeting about the issue in Portuguese as well as English). Observers of trends within global Christianity have speculated about the growing sense of connectedness in the world evangelical community; this seems like a practical case study of that connectedness, fostered both by transnational organizations, and by social media.

Pastor Youcef’s release — assuming he remains free and avoids vigilante attacks — is definitely worth celebrating. But we also must recognize that he is only one case among legions of people around the world deprived of the most basic standard of religious freedom: the liberty to worship God according to one’s conscience. Iranian officials did not, of course, even exonerate Pastor Youcef, they just convicted him of a lesser crime. As Commentary has noted, other Christians still languish in Iranian jails for offenses identical to Nadarkhani’s. Similar stories abound throughout the Muslim world. Moreover, Muslims should remember that there are settings in India, China, and elsewhere, where Muslims also suffer under overt religious persecution and discrimination.

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