March 30, 2010
The high-profile group Christian Leaders for a Nuclear-Free Iran is demanding increased economic sanctions against the Islamic regime. But other Christians worry that sanctions could backfire against Iranian believers.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, readily acknowledges the clash of perspectives.
"That is why Southern Baptists deliberately separate our foreign missions and evangelism ministries from public policy advocacy," Land said. "We have completely different boards of trustees and budgets."
About 50 high-profile Christian leaders, including Land, Chuck Colson, John Hagee, James Merritt, and Jordan Sekulow, praised recent votes in Congress supporting tougher sanctions. Their January 26 letter urged elected leaders to send "a powerful signal that this tyrannical Iranian regime shall never threaten the world with nuclear weapons."
But Warren Larson, director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies, leans toward opposing sanctions, which he says "probably punish the poor more than anyone."
"What may be questioned is the wisdom of American evangelicals…and their consistent, almost reflexive pro-sanction policies," Larson said. "[E]vangelicals need to be more humble about such issues, adopting more nuanced and balanced positions with regard to policies that have the potential of adversely affecting Christian brothers and sisters in Muslim contexts."
Sekulow, director of international operations at the American Center for Law and Justice, believes the Iranian regime is a danger not just to the world but also to its own people. "While tough economic sanctions may make life harder for Iranians today, sanctions are the only viable option on the table," he said. "Negotiations continue to fail."
Abe Ghaffari, executive director of Iranian Christians International, is concerned about the extreme persecution of Christians in Iran yet opposes sanctions.
"They will make life for the average Iranian more difficult," he said. "They will not weaken the government."
Paul Martindale, lecturer in Islamic studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, said attempts to isolate Islamic regimes can lead to crackdowns on local Christians but can also undercut support for a regime.
"In the end, one must weigh the likely temporary fallout against the potential for long-term gain and the justice of the issue in view," he said. "In such complex international situations, good people will have differences of opinion."