What Real Persecution Looks Like

Sometimes we think of ourselves as martyrs because of the minor adversities that we face as Christians. Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor arrested and sentenced to death because of his faith, understands real persecution.

FAITH ON TRIAL: Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested and sentenced to death in Iran because of his Christian beliefs.

For most Christians, answering whether they believe Jesus is the Son of God, died and rose again for their sins is an easy question with an obvious answer.

It’s easy, that is, for Christians across the United States. However, the same answer guaranteeing eternal life could elsewhere yield a death sentence.

While we can imagine that scenario in, say, first-century Rome, a modern-day pastor facing martyrdom in 2011 is almost unconscionable. But it’s really happening for Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor imprisoned right now in Iran. Pastor Nadarkhani was arrested two years ago for objecting to the teaching of Islam to Christian children at Iranian schools.

Nadarkhani was convicted of “apostasy” late last month and sentenced to death by the Islamic nation. But the story has taken several strange twists since, with Iranian officials now claiming Nadarkhani actually was convicted of crimes of rape and extortion. This curious 180-degree turn by Iran, in the wake of an international outcry against Nadarkhani’s conviction, has left many observers scratching their heads.

Whatever the latest spin from Iran, it’s clear that Nadarkhani’s commitment to his Christian faith lies at the heart of the case against him. According to the International Business Times, Nadarkhani was deemed an apostate because Iranian clerics determined that his ancestors were followers of Islam and that his professed belief in Christ constituted a rejection of that faith.

Given four chances to “repent and convert to Islam,” the Times reported that Nadarkhani refused. And for that, he was sentenced to die.

 “Repent means to return. What should I return to?” he reportedly said in testimony during his four-day trial last month. “To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ? I cannot.”

And I cannot imagine that level of boldness in the face of actual persecution. This is far beyond being called a “Jesus freak” or a “holy roller.” I’ve even evolved to a point of shakingoff discrimination I experience because I’m black or because I’m a woman. I don’t know what process I’d have to go through mentally to fearlessly stare down death just because I believe Jesus is who He said He is.

Yet we all worship among those who are often quick to call it persecution when they become the subject of the latest church gossip, when others disagree withthem, or even when their bosses require themto work on a Sunday. They’ll sing and shout that “no weapon formed against me shall prosper” from Isaiah 54:17, but the battle cry would assuredly have a lower volume if the weapon were death and prospering meant finally meeting Jesus face to face.

Nadarkhani’s case brings home Jesus’ words to his new disciples, formally introduced in Matthew 10, to expect to suffer in much the way He did. While we remember the ridicule, the scorn, and the disregard Jesus suffered and expect to experience it all as we live out a Christian lifestyle, we forget that as He died, we could die also. Western-dwelling Christians have been fortunate to avoid those more serious consequences, but it doesn’t mean it couldn’t or won’t happen.

And the threat for Nadarkhani remains very real, though his lawyer said last week that the sentence could still be overturned. It’s hard to believe, though, considering Iranian officials have more recently accused Nadarkhani of these additional charges. Others argue that even if he evades execution, Nadarkhani could remain in jail.

As much as I am disheartened when I consider Nadarkhani’s plight, I’m encouraged by his faith, which serves as a platform for witnessing to others — just as Jesus said such persecution would. “Physically, he looks weak,” his lawyer said of him last week, as reported by Reuters. “But emotionally his belief in Christ is keeping his spirits high.”

What if it were you in Nadarkhani’s place? Could you be as resolute in your faith?

When you’re Christian and actively trying to live it out past Sunday, you learn that it isn’t as easy to pull off as some make it seem. You risk losing friends because you might not support some of their lifestyle choices. You endure name-calling because you avoid using profanity. Maybe you don’t go out to lunch as often because you’re giving more money to your church. Those are small sacrifices compared to the possibility that Nadarkhani might have to die for just stating and standing by his Christians beliefs. The prospect alone should be a wake-up call for everyone with the freedom to openly proclaim Christ as Savior of the world.

Such a proclamation doesn’t have to come from a bullhorn. It should be evident in the way we live, the way we treat one another, and the way we support various ministries, including our own churches. Above all, though, it should come in how we share with others the ways that Christ’s life has made our lives more meaningful and abundant.

Rather than wavering, our boldness in professing Christ — loving out loud, living to honor Him, and increasing His kingdom — should increase knowing that, at least for the time being, we can do it without the threat of being executed.

About the author, DeVona Alleyne

DeVona Alleyne is a senior copy editor at Urban Ministries Inc. Writing is the one tangible thing she can’t live without. Singing is a close second, and she does that in part as a member of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago. She studied practical theology at Regent University and received a B.A. in journalism and in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her 10 years as a newspaper journalist didn’t change the world much, but with help from her husband, she’ll keep working on it.
  1. “He who saves his life shall lose it, he who loses his life for my sake shall find it.” You are so right DeVona, most of us who, in a wave of emotional spiritualism would dare to cry, “I’ll die for You Jesus!” but when the rubber meets the road, or should I say when the ax meets the neck how many of us faithful believers would not re-think or even disavow that belief. As Christians we Americans have not yet contended for the faith to the point of death. I’m now ghostwriting a book on a missionary to America from Africa and with the first interview so much bloodshed oozed from my keyboard that I had to stop typing and ask for forgiveness for what I thought was persecution against me. We know nothing about soldiers coming into homes and taking everything that they want, or raping every woman, young or old that they want, or watching your parents be gunned down for their belief in God. I’m just now beginning to know what taking up my cross is really all about, something my faithful brother Nadarkhani knows all too well. If ever I prayed for a miracle of deliverance it is for this brother who is truly being tried for the Truth against the lies of Satan himself.

  2. Chirstians face no persecution in the UK (that many would wish persecution of secular people and people of other religions through the imposition of their views is another matter) and the idea that Christians are persecuted is insulting to actual people being persecuted.

    If you work in the public sector you cannot discriminate, if you work for an organisation with a dress code, you have to follow the dress code. All these ‘persecutions’ tend to be largely the fault of the Christian being obstinate and pushing for press coverage, unreasonable or acting in an inappropriate way in the work place.

  3. Its a great shame that a man has to die because he rejects one delusion in favour of another, This shows the barbarity of the Muslim fanatics, and the stupidity of the Christian ones, you could simply lie,make the right noises, live and leave as soon as possible to live by whatever arbitary delusion you choose.As an atheist, i would have no qualms about doing this, however i reject both sides of the delusion and apply reason and common sense.You are all atheists to over 900 gods, when you understand why you reject them, you come one step closer to understanding why your own god is false.Coincidences and shit both happen, give your god the credit for the shit as well as the good, and you will see they balance out.Christianity is just as barbaric a religion as Islam, you have just spent longer editing and covering up the nasty parts. A little thought is a dangerous thing, you need a whole lot of thought to acomplish anything.One pair of hands clasping a tool will acomplish more in a minute than a million pairs clasped in prayer for a lifetime.

    • John, two questions: Where did you come from? Why are you here?

  4. These fanatical muslims are a danger to all of us. They preach peace and yet torture and murder hundreds of their own kind at the urging of their Imams, just to make a point.

    Iran has to be distroyed. Once armed with their nuclear weapons, they will be a pariah on the world.
    We have to rid ourselves of this plague now!

  5. I often struggle with celebrating that this man will have a “better ressurrection” for his suffering as a martyr, and “rescuing those being dragged away to slaughter.” What mindset should we have as Christians? In the USA we demand our “right” to due process of the law, it is NOT a right in many other countries–persecution is the rule. Is there such a right to being free from harm physically, mentally, materially in the Kingdom?

    Which is the better witness: suffering and dying willfully due to not compromising our faith, or demanding that we, or a fellow Christian be released… OR sending in armed troops to take back our loved one(s) by force?