An Iranian Christian news agency expressed outrage Monday over a bishop’s claim that Christians are completely free and unmolested by Iran’s government.
Mohabat News, which describe themselves as “Bible-believing Christians who believe in propagating the word of God,” took issue with Armenian-Orthodox Bishop of Tehran, Sibo Sarkisian’s recent claim that Christians in Iran “enjoy complete freedom of religion under the Islamic Republic of Iran and are not being persecuted in any way,” according to The Christian Post.
Sarkisian made the claim in Dec. 19 interview with Spanish news agency EFE, and said that he did not believe Iran’s laws oppressed Christians since he did not believe in evangelism.
“We have freedom of religion in Iran and the Islamic government grants its Christian citizens every right to practice their faith, including observing their feasts such as Christmas. They’re just not allowed to share their faith publicly as it is forbidden under the Islamic government’s law,” Sarkisian said. “I do not approve of the idea of evangelism. Each individual should adhere to their own religious, national and ethnic identity.”
The Iranian Christian news agency rejected Sarkisian’s claim and his position on evangelism, and described evangelism as “an essential part of practicing Christian faith” as it was “a command given by Jesus Christ to all His followers.” The news agency argued that, given evangelism’s integral role in the Christian faith, Iran’s laws forbidding the practice actually inhibit the religious freedom of Iranian Christians.
The news agency also accused Sarkisian of hypocrisy, saying despite his position that everyone should adhere to their own religion and identity, he had not spoken out against the Iranian government’s overt celebrations of non-Muslims converting to Islam. The government calls this a “triumph of Islam over infidelity,” the agency said.
Sarkisian’s anti-evangelism position and his claim that Christians enjoy full liberties in Iran, according to Mohabat, indicate the Armenian Orthodox church in Iran is far from free and has actually lost its autonomy.
“Bishop Sarkisian’s remarks are a perfect example of the Armenian Orthodox Church’s lack of freedom in following the teachings of the Bible in Iran,” the news agency wrote.
Mohabat alleged, however, the Armenian Orthodox church might not exist today had they stayed true to their Christian beliefs since the Iranian government has shut down official churches for engaging in evangelism and arrested many individual worshipers.