Noushin Darya Framke, Armenian/Iranian-American, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) elder and activist, has written a pleasant and informative article about returning to Iran to commemorate the anniversary of her mother’s death. But in the article, “Burning Frankincense in Iran,” found in the Presbyterian internet magazine, Unbound, Framke, writing about religious freedom in Iran, repeats her too often defense of Iran. Writing of her mother’s faith, she insists:
“Being a member of the ancient Christian community, Janet was part of a protected and well-respected religious minority. (On the other hand, converts from Islam to Christianity are not protected, as Islam considers them apostate, but that’s another story).”
This is a statement that Framke also made in a comment to an article published by the Presbyterian Outlook. I searched for it as I was preparing my material for this posting but could not find it. However Framke enlarges on this idea in her report in the Presbyterian Mission Yearbook. First she explains that the Christian groups who are indigenous to Persia (Iran) are respected and allowed freedom of worship by their Muslim rulers. Of the others Framke writes:
“But evangelical Christians—Protestants who converted, most from Islam, when Presbyterian missionaries began proselytizing in Iran in the mid-19th century—are indeed persecuted. Because they are converts “out of Islam,” these Christians are considered apostates—people who have abandoned their original faith. They are for this reason treated very differently from Christians whose roots are pre-Islamic and are honored by Islam. …”
In the end Framke insists that the reader must understand that it is not Iran that is at fault but Islam. And that if we hold Iran accountable for the persecution of Christians we must also hold other Islamic countries accountable. Well, yes we must, but there is more to be said …
First, Framke should have read the first part of the mission report written by Rev. Dr. Jean-Claude Basset. Of the indigenous Christians, Basset writes:
“In spite of such declarations [about religious freedom by Iranian authorities], religious beliefs continue to be restricted by ethnicity. Christians from minority ethnic groups, such as Assyrians and Armenians, are able to worship only in their own ethnic languages and churches. Persian Iranians (Farsi-speaking) are not free to convert from Islam to other religions. Churches in Iran are coming under increased pressure to stop all activities in the Farsi language, and some congregations have closed their doors to Persian converts to Christianity.”
Secondly, while Framke places the blame on Islam rather than Iran, insisting that to hold Iran guilty we must hold such countries as Saudi Arabia guilty—she is covering up a lie with a truth. Yes! We must hold all of those countries which persecute Christians or any other minority faith guilty. But the truth is, Iran persecutes its Christians. It doesn’t matter which ones. It persecutes Christians.
Thirdly, and this is important, the reason Iran and its Islamic leaders rarely harass some of Iran’s indigenous Christians is because they rarely participate in the Christian calling of evangelizing. David Garrison in his recent book, A Wind in the House of Islam writes, “As a respected minority in Iran, Armenians were tolerated, so long as they did not proselytize the Muslim majority. All of this begin to change, though, in the mid-20th century when a Holy Spirit awakening began to stir in the hearts of the Armenian Christians.”
Garrison points to a Christian who was Armenian, and during such an awakening helped form the Iranian Assemblies of God. He also refers to a Muslim convert who was a part of the same awaking. He writes of the martyrdom of both the Arminian Christian and the Muslim convert. The fruit of their ministry continues:
“The story of courageous Christian witness for the sake of Iranian Muslims’ salvation is not limited to the Armenian or Assemblies of God community. The many testimonies emanating from Iran today are filled with bold and sacrificial witness from ancient Assyrian church members, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Brethren, Pentecostals, and others “who did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”
And this is the true and troubling problem with Framke’s small mission piece, it not only makes a trifle out of the pain and suffering of fellow Christians, it ignores the need the Muslim has for Jesus Christ. It cares little for the Muslim in her steps toward the gaping mouth of hell. Framke’s piece forgets the very foundation of mission—that Jesus died to save sinners.