Iranian Christians Contemplate God’s Justice after Preside…… | News & Reporting

Iranian Christians in the diaspora shed few tears over the death of President Ebrahim Raisi, killed in a helicopter crash along with the foreign minister and six others in the northwest mountains of Iran.

The leadership vacuum will be filled within 50 days by a new election. But it comes at a tumultuous time for the Islamic Republic, which last month launched an unprecedented missile attack against Israel. Coming in the context of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, Iran’s other proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen have harassed the Jewish state and its Western allies.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared five days of mourning, assuring there would be no change in the nation’s direction.

Raisi’s term in office was beset by internal protests over religious repression, alongside discontent with an inflationary economy. But while he oversaw restoration of diplomatic ties with rival Saudi Arabia, relations with the West severely deteriorated due to strengthening ties with Russia and China, as Iran enriched its uranium supply in suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

“Countless thousands of Christians are specifically praying for God’s will in Iran,” said Lana Silk, CEO of Transform Iran, which oversees a network of churches in the nation. “I believe his hand is on all these key events.”

She advised the Western church to pray for new God-fearing leadership.

Of the now deceased leader, Christians expressed a diverse emotional response.

“From all of my contacts, the reaction among educated and socially engaged Iranians is joy,” said Shirin Taber, executive director of Empower Women Media, dedicated to the promotion of international religious freedom. “With the potential for change, there is always hope.”

An Iranian-American Christian, she said these deaths demonstrate that not only is the regime not invincible, it is on the decline. Reports indicated that the presidential helicopter unwisely departed in deep fog and also suffered mechanical failure.

Taber also leads the Abraham Women’s Alliance to strengthen the Abraham Accords, a US government–led effort to normalize relations between Muslim nations and Israel. In this time of transition in Iran, she encouraged Western nations to continue to “lean in” to the push for democracy.

Raisi, age 63, was elected in 2021 with the lowest turnout recorded since Iran’s revolution in 1979. Analysts blamed widespread disillusion, as clerical leadership severely limited the pool of candidates to those with demonstrated loyalty to Ayatollah Khamenei. Raisi was also considered to be the primary candidate to succeed the 85-year-old supreme leader.

Sources noted the widespread speculations over the crash. Some rumors immediately suspected Israel, while others wondered about internal power struggles. Iran has not suggested foul play.

But while state media broadcast scenes of mourning at the funeral and in the streets of Iran, diaspora images showed dancing in the streets. Some Christian voices were more muted.

“My initial reaction is that justice was done,” said Amir Bazmjou, CEO of Torch Ministries and an Oxford-based PhD candidate in political science and Christian theology. “God heard the voices of families who lost their loved ones unjustly because of Raisi.”

Referring to the president by his infamous title “Butcher of Tehran” due to his role in the “death committee” that executed thousands of prisoners, Bazmjou cited the Ezekiel 18:23 reference that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

Raisi, born into a clerical family, joined in the initial protests against the Shah of Iran at age 15, and by age 25 became deputy prosecutor of Tehran. In 1988, he was one of four judges on the secret tribunal that retried already imprisoned enemies of the regime.

In 2009, Raisi backed crackdowns on protestors and their mass incarcerations following the disputed presidential election. And as president, in 2022, he oversaw the security response against demonstrations sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman detained over her allegedly loose hijab. Over 500 people were killed, with 22,000 detained.

The US sanctioned Raisi in 2019 for his role in domestic repression.

Bazmjou encouraged Western empathy over the death of Iran’s president, but to stand with the oppressed public while avoiding siding with the regime. Such was the US response, expressing condolences while reaffirming support for the people and their “struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

But as the pool of approved politicians tightens, Bazmjou believed that the helicopter deaths contribute to the further shrinking of core loyalists that can assume future leadership positions. Like Taber, he believes these gaps may foretell significant change in the near future.

This would accord with a picture provided in Scripture, he said.

MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN, read the writing on the wall in Daniel 5—God’s message to King Belshazzar of Babylon. God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.

“I pray for the political leaders in Iran to turn from their dark ways and encounter the God of love, justice, and holiness,” said Bazmjou. “Otherwise, God’s justice will come for the voiceless, Christians included.”

A recent survey suggested there are nearly one million believers inside Iran.

For any who celebrate, he cited Proverbs 21:15 as appropriate for both Christians and Iranian leaders—When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.

Mansour Borji agreed, citing Psalm 55:15—Let death take my enemies by surprise. Christians may not fully comprehend the relationship between God’s mercy and his judgment, said the director of the Iranian religious freedom advocacy organization Article18, but he allows the frustrated to express their anger at those who harm their fellow citizens.

As Raisi violated the rights of minorities, Borji is somewhat frustrated still.

“It would have been better for him to face trial and be held accountable for his crimes,” he said. “But the world is a safer place without him.”

Silk, however, warned that potential internal Iranian power struggles would not bode well for citizens, as authorities will rule with an even tighter fist. Persecution against Christians will continue and perhaps intensify.

But as Bazmjou found biblical parallel with the king of Babylon, Silk referenced a prophecy about ancient Elam, located in modern-day Iran. Restoration is promised, she said, but not before judgment. In Jeremiah 49:38, God states, I will set my throne in Elam, and destroy her king and officials.

“We cannot presume to know God’s mind,” Silk said. “But things are accelerating, and I wonder if the major shift we have been anticipating is closer than we think.”

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