Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Voices of Faith Leaders on Iran

Jeff Weiss, is a Dallas Morning News reporter whom I have known since the early '90's. On and off he's interviewed me for stories, or on background for stories that he's written for years. For a number of those years he had covered religion for the paper and I have grown to really appreciate his curiosity and perspective on the values of different religious traditions. One thing he's helped me to understand is that things that I consider to be common knowledge about my faith tradition and denomination, are not necessarily common knowledge. He's also provided great insight in his stories on other faiths that have provoked my curiosity as well, and increased my level of understanding and appreciation for them.

I came across this piece that Jeff wrote for the Politics Daily, and again it is thought and curiosity provoking. Entitled, "Where Are the Voices of Faith on Iran?", he comments on the paucity of commentary by religious leaders on what is happening in that country as they are experiencing religious/political turmoil. And just on the face of it, it appears Jeff may be right, there hasn't been much perspective provided by high profile, religious leaders on this issue - at least not in the mainstream media.

My own point of view, at least at present, is neither expert, nor is it fully formulated, so for right now, I'll take a pass. But I have found some others that may (or may not) be useful to Jeff or for any other reader....

Susan K. Smith, senior pastor of Advent United Church of Christ, in Columbus, Ohio, writes, "The fact that there is such tumult in Iran seems not to bother the clerics who are actually in control. Were they bothered or concerned with the desires or wishes of the people, they would simply have to demand a new election. As it is, the clerics have endorsed the election results, and that, it seems, is feeding the frustration of the people...That being said, I think President Obama is doing what he must do - and that is, voice his concern about what is going on but be steadfast about not meddling in the affairs of Iran."

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi, founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence and journalist for Times of India say, "What has happened in Iran lately, more so since the election of President Ahmadinejad, is rule by fear, hate-mongering, anger and violence, everything that is contrary to decency and civilization. Why should it surprise anyone that he resorted to manipulating the elections and making a mockery of democracy?"

"If Ahmedinajad retains power, can he be trusted to abide by any agreements we might make with him on nuclear arms? One who has no respect for the verdict of the people is unlikely to have respect for any agreements. This is not to say that President Obama is wrong in attempting to dialogue with the Iranian Government."

And Willis Elliott, a minister in both the American Baptist and United Church of Christ posits, "Against the political monarchy of thirty years ago, Iranians took to the streets to demand an Islamic republic which would grant freedom to think and speak and write. What came of the collapse of the political monarchy was something even tighter, namely, a virtual religious monarchy ruled by mullahs through a "supreme leader" ayatollah fronted by a political-puppet "president" elected from a pool vetted by the "supreme leader." The unintended consequence of the revolution of '79 was the replacement of a secular monarchy by a theocracy Potemkin-clothed as a democracy, with even less of the basic human freedoms than the people had under their Cyrus-dreaming Shah Pahlevi, who had replaced the two-year Westernized secular democracy of Mossadeq (whom the mullahs saw as enemy, as did Britain and America after he appropriated the Anglo-American Oil Company, "nationalizing" oil). Given the declining age of the electorate, another try at secular democracy seems probable. I'm hopeful for a soon better distribution of power in Iran's evolution of government."

Of course this is no hard core journalistic research, these are clergy and religious people quoted in one source. And I really have no answer as to why national denominational leaders are not interpreting the drama in Iran more visably. There could be very legitimate reasons. But what these leaders and commentators do assure us that there is some thought to what is happening. World peace is at stake, which means what type of nation among nations we must be hangs in the balance. With so much at stake, a spiritual perspective is more than important, its crucial.

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