Authorities in Iran ordered the closure of a church in Tehran amid a government campaign to crackdown on the few recognized churches offering Farsi-speaking services, according to a human rights group. The order came from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s Intelligence branch on Tuesday, June 5. The Revolutionary Guard, also known as Sepah, is known for its military aggression.
“Unfortunately, it is now official – the church in Janat-Abad [district] was ordered to shut down,” said Monsour Borji, an Iranian Christian. Borji is an advocacy officer for rights initiative Article 18, a London-based branch of the United Council of Iranian Churches (Hamgaam), which seeks to defend and promote religious freedoms in Iran. Hamgaam is composed of Iranian Christian churches in Europe.
The church in Tehran’s northwestern district of Janat-Abad belongs to the Assemblies of God (AOG) Church in Iran. According to Borji, the building was originally located in Karaj, about 12 miles west of Tehran, but authorities ordered it to shut down several years ago. Church leaders later negotiated with authorities to use property they acquired in Janat-Abad in order to serve their Assyrian background Christian members who lived in west Tehran. Since its relocation, however, more than 70 Christians have begun gathering every Sunday for the Farsi-speaking service. “Due to an increasing number of Farsi-speaking believers – mostly MBBs [Muslim Background Believers] – it has become a cause of concern for the authorities and they now ordered it to shut down,” Borji reported to Compass Direct.
Mohabat and other news sources report a crackdown against Christians in recent months. Earlier this month, Middle East Concern (MEC) reported that the “Government’s campaign of intimidation against Christians and churches continues,” and noted that in addition to targeting house churches, authorities are targeting the “small remaining number of officially recognized Protestant churches.” As an Islamic republic, Iran views Christians, especially Christian converts, as enemies of the state and pawns of the West scheming to undermine the government. Authorities associate Christianity in Iran with ethnic minorities and do not tolerate the notion of a Farsi-speaking church. Converts to Christianity from Islam resort to meeting secretly in homes and have formed an underground church made up of house groups. There is no data available on how many Iranians have left Islam for Christianity.
Other churches in the Tehran area have felt the impact of this crackdown as well. Last month the leadership of the AOG Central Church of Tehran, after 20 years of pressure from authorities to provide a list of church members, asked its members to volunteer their names and national ID numbers. The government move was calculated to limit attendance by converts from Islam to Christianity, as well as to better monitor its members, sources said. “Some have submitted, but not all, especially since some members experienced problems at work and university after submitting their details,” Borji said. One university student who attended the church was barred from taking a final exam, while another member was fired from work, Borji added. When members of the AOG Central Church of Tehran initially heard the news, some believed they were faced with the ethical dilemma of whether they would be denying Christ by declining to reveal their affiliation in this way.
If this aggressive campaign to eliminate evangelical Christianity is not stopped, it is a matter of time before all Farsi-speaking churches are forced to shut down,” Borji said. If the church in Janat-Abad actually closed its doors last Sunday, only three remaining churches in Tehran offer Farsi-language services-the AOG Central Church of Tehran, Emmanuel Protestant Church and St. Peter’s Evangelical Church.
On behalf of London-based Hamgaam, Borji asked the international community to speak up against the persecution of Christians in Iran. “[We are] asking for the support and solidarity of all Iranians and the international community to put an end to these oppressive policies that are aiming to strangle the church,” Borji said.
Father, we praise You for the incredible growth of Your church in Iran against all earthly odds. They are truly Your light in the darkness. As You watch over them as a mother hen guards her chicks, we ask You to give them both boldness and prudence as they consider when to speak and when to remain silent, when to worship boldly in public and when to gather in secret. As those around them see Christ in them, give them opportunities to share the good news, Your gospel. As the seed of Your Word is planted in lives, protect and nurture these new believers so that their faith might grow strong, enabling them to stand boldly in the face of the persecution they face. In the name of Jesus our Redeemer, Amen.