Iran is once again embroiled in national protest. The demonstrations started a week ago as an economic protest, but have taken on an increasingly anti-government tone, resulting in twenty-one deaths and over 450 citizens imprisoned. This protest marks the largest demonstrations in Iran since the Green Movement of 2009, when disputed presidential election results sparked public outcry. That movement was violently put down, while the Obama administration sat idly by. The Trump administration is not remaining so quiet. President Trump and United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley have publicly sided with the protesters, calling for democracy, freedom, and human rights. However, they have thus far stopped short of calling for regime change.
Regime change, however, is precisely the hope among many in the West because of Iran’s sponsorship of Islamic terrorism. Presumably, the United States government would prefer different rulers in Iran, and who among us would choose an Islamic theocratic state that financially backs global jihad over an emerging democracy in the Middle East? Yet, geopolitics are rarely so simple. Faithful Christians will prayerfully follow this story, keeping several truths in mind.
The first is that regime change as foreign policy has not always worked out for us. At this point, we have no way of knowing if the United States government’s fingerprints are on this latest uprising, though we would be naïve to simply rule it out on principle. I get nervous when all the neoconservative voices join in unison to call for the ouster of this or that ruler, even if I would prefer that ruler to go, like Iran’s Supreme Leader. After all, our government successfully changed the regime in Iraq, installing democracy, liberty, and free elections—everything American, except apple pie. Yet, because we installed these false gods, the unclean spirit was allowed to return with seven of his friends more evil than himself, and the last state is worse than the first: we ended up with ISIS (cf. Matt 12:43-45). For too many Republicans, foreign policy is performance art, a public display of their fortitude and morality, but with little concern for the aftermath of our intervention. I agree with John Allen Gay: “Let’s just hope they continue to virtue-signal with tweets and not cruise missiles.”
The reason forced regime change often fails is because our leaders refuse to recognize the world as God made it. In God’s world, liberty grows on one type of tree: a cross. Where there is no forgiveness of sins, there is no true and lasting liberty. Geopolitical leaders think that a different Christ-denying regime will yield what only a people submitted to Christ can produce. This is folly. While we are right to appreciate any short-term blessings gained by a more moderate government in Iran, Christians must keep in mind that what we are talking about is trading one set of unbelievers for another set of unbelievers. That is, one regime in rebellion against Christ for a different regime in rebellion against Christ. In other words, while we may have prudential preferences, we really don’t have a dog in this fight. Our hope for Iran is not currently flooding the streets.
Our hope for Iran is Jesus, His Gospel, and His Church. True regime change is not top-down at the behest of protestors or foreign intervention. Regime change that lasts for the public good is bottom-up. It is a people hearing the good news that Jesus saves them from their sins. It is people repenting of sin and turning to Christ, obeying everything that He has commanded. In Iran, there is good news on this front:
“The Iranian revolution of 1979 established a hard-line Islamic regime. Over the next two decades, Christians faced increasing opposition and persecution: All missionaries were kicked out, evangelism was outlawed, Bibles in Persian were banned and soon became scarce, and several pastors were killed. The church came under tremendous pressure. Many feared the small Iranian church would soon wither away and die.
“But the exact opposite has happened. Despite continued hostility from the late 1970s until now, Iranians have become the Muslim people most open to the gospel in the Middle East.”
Iranians are coming to Christ in massive numbers. Operation World lists the Iranian Church as the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world, with anywhere from several hundred thousand to over a million believers. The greatest threat to the Supreme Leader’s iron grip on Iran did not start seven days ago when protesters walked onto the streets. It started two thousand years ago when Jesus walked out of the grave, and it came into acute focus over the last two decades as “more Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries put together since Islam came to Iran.” Solomon declared that righteousness exalts a nation (Prov. 14:34). Therefore, when a nation’s people in critical numbers put on the righteousness of Christ by faith, God will exalt them and grant to them true liberty and just governance. In fact, that is the only way to get it.
The Christian hope, then, is not in protest, but in proclamation. We proclaim Christ and Him crucified, and the Father gives the nations to His Son. Our hope is not in revolution, but in patient rebuilding. The Holy Spirit rebuilds men, women, and societies through the Word of God. This work is slow, like leaven working through dough, but it is sure. The CIA or other shadowy organizations may be able to make quicker work of despotic rulers, but they build their regimes on sand. The Church of our Lord Jesus is built on a rock, so that when it is at the center of any society, that society will flourish with the brightness of a thousand suns. True liberty and biblical justice for all. This is Iran’s future—and ours—in Christ.