Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Presbyterian Mission Yearbook & Noushin Framke on Iran: forgetting the lost

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.


Mateen Elass said...


Two thoughts come to mind on this matter. First, in seeking to separate Islam from Iran as blameworthy, Framke seems to conveniently forget that the nation's official title since the 1979 revolution is "The Islamic Republic of Iran." The government certainly does not want to separate itself from Shi'ite Islam. Second, some churches are indeed tolerated in Iran much as geldings are tolerated in a herd of mares, or eunuchs in a harem. Churches content to worship privately in an obscure language unknown to the larger populace, and content to keep their religion to themselves, are no threat to the religious hegemony of Islam in Iran, and so they can be kept much as relics in a museum -- having historical interest but no present impact. Once a church becomes evangelistic, it is no longer tolerated in Iran.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you for responding Mateen, I deeply value your expertize. Framke is progressive in her religious views and probably cares little for what it means to evangelize. Truly Iran is in fear of those churches and Christians who proclaim a risen Savior and Lord.

Jodie said...


Did you leave out a paragraph? I've read through this post a couple of times, and the last paragraph doesn't follow from any of the previous ones.

What does seem to follow is the beginning of an argument that says that when the US starts pushing for going to war with Iran again, it would be OK, because Iran persecutes Christians.

What might also follow, and this I think is more important to consider, is our need to balance our values of political tolerance of all religions with the recognition that Islam contains built into the Koran a political system that is antithetical to the values of Western culture.

That leads into the reflective question of exactly what are the values of Western culture? Where do they come from? What are we doing to preserve them? And what happens if, in our fear, we abandon them?

It also leads into the reflective question of exactly what are the values of Christianity? Is it just about having an escape clause? This world is literally going to hell in a hand-basket but if you are a Christian you get a pass in the next? Is that really the news that is good in the Good News?

Or is it that a political transformation is coming to THIS world. One in which we no longer need to be afraid? Have you noticed how often the phrase "do not be afraid" appears in the Gospels? The Middle East in those days looked a lot like the Middle East looks today. And we are so afraid, or some of us at least, that we are afraid to even open our doors to refugees from that region.

And we could even ponder further on the dual nature of the Gospel. Like the dual nature of Christ Himself, so too the Gospel itself has two natures, and it is the duality of its nature that we invoke when we pray "Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven". Does that sound like the Gospel is about saving souls for the afterlife?

These are the kinds of thoughts that came to mind as I followed your post. The meaning of courage, just war, religious freedom, the meaning of religious politics, political religion, and the dual nature of the good news of the Gospel.

But the last paragraph, that just threw a cold blanket on the whole thing.

Be that as it may, Happy New Year! May peace break out, against all odds.

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA

Viola Larson said...

Jodie, I think you miss understand me. This isn't about politics, rather it is about sharing in the suffering of the saints and also proclaiming the saving work of Jesus Christ to the Muslim. Nothing more.

Jodie said...

So Viola, I am left wondering what your concluding paragraph has to do with the rest of the post. Nor, for that matter, your comment to Mateen. Some of the best evangelists I have ever met would fall in your category of "progressive". They've successfully introduced the Gospel, and mentored into discipleship to Jesus Christ, people who would otherwise not have ever been caught dead in church.

I also wonder what is not political about "sharing in the suffering of the saints and proclaiming the saving work of Jesus Christ to the Muslim"? It seems to me, and I think Mateen would agree, that nothing could be more political than asking a Muslim, in an Islamic Republic no less, to become a Christian.

If conversion is a crime punishable by death, what part of that is not political? They are like Herod. He believed Jesus was the anointed Messiah, and he knew letting folks worship Him would mean the end of the Roman Empire as he knew it. So he took action and murdered the children of Bethlehem.

And Jesus and Mary and Joseph became refugees in a foreign land.

I think perhaps it is the Evangelicals who fail to grasp the full meaning of the saving work of Jesus Christ. Herod got it, the Muslims get it, everybody else gets it. It totally subverts their way of living. Everybody gets it except, perhaps, comfortable rich powerful Americans.