Three stories have inspired me in the past week. Three people, or groups, who have stood up to power and taken them on at great personal risk either physically to their life or to their reputation.
The first story is that of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani in Iran. He is a Christian pastor who was arrested in 2009 for questioning the regime and the monopoly of education that the Islamic regime has there. He has been sentenced to death for apostasy because it is claimed that he rejected Islam (he came from a culturally Muslim family) for Christianity. It was assumed that the death sentence would be upheld. He could have been released quickly if he had renounced his faith and kept quiet. He wouldn’t do so and his life is at risk as a result of his stand. The latest news appears to be that the supreme court has ordered a re-trial but there is no certainty of a good end here.
The second story is that of the Egyptian Copts who are suffering even more than they were suffering under the old regime of Mubarak has got even worse. At least 24 were killed in protests against discrimination and attacks on Christian churches. It all went wrong during a peaceful protest when first thugs attacked the crowd and then it appears that an army vehicle ran over some of the protesters killing some of them. This is an ugly turn of events in the middle east – and especially given the hopes of people in Egypt for a peaceful democratic society there. Although there have been eyewitness accounts and videos of the scene the Egyptian government is denying any part in the tragedy. Even though people such as Amnesty have declared that the regime is culpable the future for the Copts in Eqypt is at best uncertain even though they make up 10-15% of the population of Egypt. William Dalrymple who wrote a brilliant book, From the Holy Mountain, about the decline of the Christian communities in the Middle East, wrote in the Guardian this week:
At the back of their minds, the Christian hierarchies are aware of the devastation of the Iraqi Christian community after the fall of Saddam, when over half the Christian population – some 400,000 people – were forced to leave the country in a wave of Islamist pogroms. The Arab spring, it is widely feared, could yet mark the onset of the final Christian winter for the forgotten faithful of the Middle East. Only elections and the advent of sympathetic and stable democratic governments across the region is likely to allay such fears. Sadly, at the moment this outcome seems less likely with every passing day.
The third story was that of Rowan Williams confronting the Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe over the harassment and persecution of Anglicans in Zimbabwe. Some had told him not to do it and that it was offering Mugabe an opportunity and publicity coup to lecture Williams. In fact, Rowan Williams, has played a blinder. He has stood up to Mugabe publicly and in private. He handed Mugabe a dossier of intimidation of Anglicans in the country and instead of Mugabe manipulating it for his advantage the spotlight was very clearly on the abuses being perpetrated by the regime. He put out a strongly worded statement after his meeting with Mugabe part of which said
Since 2007 Anglican congregations in Zimbabwe have suffered serious persecution at the hands of the police. They have been intimidated. Their churches have been closed. Properties, including schools and clinics, have been seized.
Indeed at a service of 15,000 before he met Mugabe, Williams said, how the rule of one apartheid elite had been replaced with another
How tragic that this should be replaced by another kind of lawlessness, where so many live in daily fear of attack if they fail to comply with what the powerful require of them.
In each of these cases we see people with little power in the situation speaking “truth unto power”. In each case we see a faith that isn’t prepared to just make an accommodation with power. In each case we see people who can see a future that is worth the risks, even of death.
I was reminded of the passage in Hebrews 11:26-7 where the writer says of Moses
He considered abuse suffered for the Christto be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as thoughhe saw him who is invisible.