A coalition of primarily evangelical leaders, plus some Roman Catholics, is urging assertive U.S. actions against Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Their concerns contrast with the Religious Left, which seems mostly to prefer quiet acquiescence to a nuclear armed Iran.
The conservative Christians, operating as “Christian Leaders for a Nuclear Free Iran,” argue “Iran’s nuclear weapons program will destabilize the Middle East, lead to an arms race in a volatile part of the world, and threaten the United States and its allies in Europe.” These assertions are hardly controversial. Yet for some reason, it is left to conservative religionists to make these arguments. Shouldn’t religionists on the left, ostensibly so concerned about both theocracy and nukes, also be distressed about nuclear-armed Iranian mullahs?
The Left likes to target the end-times theology that purportedly guides some conservative Christians. But Iran’s clerics, and its president, have a very detailed, grisly and publicly expressed end-times scenario that nukes could actually help implement. Shouldn’t resistance to nukes for Iran’s theocracy be religiously broad-based and ecumenical? Instead, it is religious conservatives who are making the reasoned case. They are in some ways reminiscent of responsible religious liberals of the mid 20th century, guided by thinkers like Reinhold Neibuhr, who rigorously espoused deterrence of Nazi and Communist aggression.
“Christian Leaders for a Nuclear Free Iran” recently sent a letter to U.S. Senators that urged expanding the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, increasing U.S. emphasis on Iran’s enormous human-rights violations, enhancing Voice of America’s Persian News Network’s support for the “pro-freedom movement in Iran,” transferring responsibility for pro-democracy funding in Iran from the State Department to the National Endowment for Democracy, aggressive identifying front companies of the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC), and applying pressure on firms paying Iran in advance for oil and gas.
The conservative Christian group cited Iran’s most recent refusal to negotiate over its nuclear program, along with Iran’s persistent denial of access to meaningful inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. They also cited diplomatic cables from Wikileaks that vividly illustrate the anxiety of Arab governments over a nuclear Iran. Coalition signers include Southern Baptist leader Richard Land, Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America, evangelist James Robison, broadcaster Pat Robertson, mega-church pastor John Hagee, and William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, among others.
Although not specifically mentioned in their letter, the Christian Leaders for a Nuclear Iran are certainly aware of the Iranian theocracy’s persecution of their nation’s small but vibrant Christian minority, which numbers about 200,000. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported early last month that Iran had incarcerated as many as 70 Christians, both evangelical and Armenian, since Christmas. One Iranian official reportedly denounced them as “parasites” and claimed they were British agents.
Concerns about the Iranian mullahs’ persecution of fellow Christian believers do not typically excite distress by the Religious Left in America, much less the strategic threat that a nuclear Iran would pose to all its neighbors, including Iran, and ultimately the U.S. Several years ago, Jim Wallis’ Sojourners, along with the United Methodist lobby office, the Episcopal Church, and the National Council of Churches, organized a “Words Not War with Iran” campaign to forestall any decisive U.S. supported action to prevent Iranian nukes. “Words Not War with Iran” benignly portrayed the situation as a “conflict” between t he U.S. and Iran that potentially could be ameliorated through the mediation of noble pacifist religious groups like themselves. They simplistically portrayed the choices as U.S. initiated war on Iran versus “dialogue” and “direct engagement” with Iran’s supposedly reasonable theocrats. Although they briefly acknowledged that Iranian nuclear weapons would be undesirable, though not necessarily worse than U.S. nukes, they did not articulate nukes in the hands of crazed Shiite theocrats a uniquely disturbing. They did seem to admit that Iran supports terrorism but did not dwell on it as a major concern. And they did not elaborate on 32 years of police state oppression in Iran under the mullahs. Instead, they cited their own friendly visits to Iran as showcases of Iranian goodwill. They also urged supporters to light oil lamps in their homes in solidarity with the cause of peace with Iran.
This “Words Not War with Iran” coalition seems now mostly to be dormant, since the coalition was presumably less perturbed about the possibility of U.S. actions under the Obama Administration. But the coalition’s study materials helpfully remain on Jim Wallis’s Sojourners website. Presumably the coalition will reactivate when and if the current Administration is perceived to become overly bellicose towards the Iranian mullahs and their nuclear aspirations.
So “Christian Leaders for a Nuclear Free Iran” seems to be the only U.S. religious voice now willing to recognize Iran’s grim reality and urge meaningful action, hopefully making war unnecessary. Meanwhile, the Religious Left will remain mostly silent about Iran and its potential nukes until it becomes alarmed about possible U.S. actions.